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Preseason possession numbers are meaningless but let's look at them anyway

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The preseason is over and cuts are imminent but first here's a look back at how some of the players fighting for spots performed in exhibition action.

Christian Petersen

Having an informed discussion about the NHL preseason is always a nearly impossible task. For starters, almost none of the games are televised which makes scrounging for reliable information about player performance in road games particularly difficult. There's also the issue of sample size; players generally don't draw into more than three games apiece, usually against a wide variety of opposing rosters, each with a significant contingent of non-NHLers. But most importantly, everything is made up and the points don't matter. The games are meaningless and it's difficult to begrudge a veteran for not giving it his all in September when he's staring down the barrel of 82-plus meaningful contests over the next nine months.

But since there's nothing else going on before teams announce their final roster cuts tomorrow, I thought I'd take a look at the Sharks' preseason performance by the numbers. Again, these are hardly more meaningful than the games in which they were compiled and I wouldn't draw anything resembling a conclusion based on them. But they aren't available elsewhere and might provide some clues as to coaching staff decisions on who to cut, so why not take a look? As a reminder, Corsi refers to a team's shot differential (including misses and blocks) when a player is on the ice at even-strength. Relative Corsi, which should help correct for the effects of playing against some of the really weak rosters Arizona and Anaheim sent to San Jose last week, is the difference between the team's Corsi with a player on the ice and off it. First up, the forwards:

Player Corsi For Corsi Against Corsi +/- Corsi For% Corsi For% Relative
Joe Pavelski 44 35 +9 55.7 +3.2
Andrew Desjardins 16 24 -8 40.0 -8.6
Patrick Marleau 52 47 +5 52.5 +1.9
Mike Brown 22 29 -7 43.1 -13.0
Joe Thornton 38 35 +3 52.1 +2.3
John Scott 12 15 -3 44.4 -4.8
Tye McGinn 44 61 -17 41.9 -14.7
Adam Burish 32 35 -3 47.8 -9.5
Micheal Haley 10 3 +7 76.9 +12.0
Logan Couture 59 52 +7 53.2 +4.4
Tomas Hertl 49 41 +8 54.4 +5.3
Chris Tierney 56 48 +8 53.8 +5.2
Tommy Wingels 57 45 +12 55.9 +3.7
Travis Oleksuk 14 9 +5 60.9 -0.7
Melker Karlsson 20 21 -1 48.8 -21.2
Daniil Tarasov 18 22 -4 45.0 -14.4
Rylan Schwartz 14 8 +6 63.6 -5.1
Freddie Hamilton 21 18 +3 53.8 -9.2
Eriah Hayes 28 24 +4 53.8 +0.5
Tyler Kennedy 15 7 +8 68.2 +1.5
Nikolay Goldobin 33 34 -1 49.3 -3.2
Matt Nieto 69 52 +17 57.0 +10.2
Barclay Goodrow 50 35 +15 58.8 +15.0
  • It probably isn't a huge shock that a player like Chris Tierney or even Nikolay Goldobin remains on the training camp roster with final cuts looming but I don't think anyone expected Barclay Goodrow, signed as an undrafted free agent last March after a decent but unspectacular junior career, to be this close to making the opening night lineup. His preseason shot differential (along with the fact that he scored three goals) seems to provide a glimpse into why that is. Goodrow is a speedy, hard-working winger who meshed really well with Tierney, posting exceptional possession numbers over four appearances. It's looking more and more likely that those two and Tommy Wingels will comprise the team's third line on Wednesday.
  • Another reason Goodrow has ostensibly earned a spot on the team is that the player initially penciled in as third-line left wing in the wake of Raffi Torres' injury, Tye McGinn, was a bit of a preseason bust. His team-relative possession numbers were the worst of any forward despite spending much of the final two games alongside Joe Pavelski or Logan Couture. Granted, McGinn has shown he can be a passable NHL depth guy in spurts, was acquired for a third round pick (so it's clear management thinks highly of him) and would have to pass through waivers in order to be sent down to Worcester so it's still possible he makes the cut. But I wouldn't expect him to be any more than a fourth-line winger to start the season.
  • It took Matt Nieto a little while to adjust to playing his off-wing last season but once he became acclimated to the position and had the opportunity to play with Couture and Patrick Marleau, he was easily one of the team's best forwards in the playoffs. It looks like he was one of the team's best forwards in exhibition action as well and I'm excited to watch him terrorize opposing lead-footed defensemen for a full year the way he did Robyn Regehr for seven games last spring.
  • I like to think I'm at the acceptance stage of grief regarding Mike Brown's inexplicable two-year contract but here's some more evidence, in case anyone needed it, that he isn't a NHL player. He couldn't even hold his own against the AHL-caliber competition he was facing in the preseason.
The defensemen:

Player Corsi For Corsi Against Corsi +/- Corsi For% Corsi For% Relative
Jason Demers 52 47 +5 52.5 +1.1
Scott Hannan 52 56 -4 48.1 -8.8
Mirco Mueller 79 68 +11 53.7 +5.7
Taylor Fedun 45 36 +9 55.5 -2.8
Marc-Edouard Vlasic 38 30 +8 55.9 +0.7
Matt Irwin 69 75 -6 47.9 -2.6
Justin Braun 49 45 +4 52.1 -0.3
Dylan DeMelo 14 13 +1 51.9 +9.0
Taylor Doherty 40 34 +6 54.1 +3.0
Matt Tennyson 9 9 +0 50.0 +4.5
Brent Burns 89 87 +2 50.6 -0.2
  • Mirco Mueller seems like an extremely safe bet to at least get a nine-game tryout with the Sharks and it would appear that was earned on merit rather than first-round pedigree. Playing with both Matt Tennyson and, after Tennyson was cut, Brent Burns on what figures to be San Jose's second pairing in Los Angeles, Mueller seems to have had a very positive impact on shot differential. He won't be a dominant offensive player but if his 19-year-old rookie season goes nearly as well as Marc-Edouard Vlasic's back in 2006-07 did, the Sharks' gaping hole on the left side of their blueline will at least be partially filled.
  • Again, I really don't think much, if any, stock should be put into these numbers when it comes to making long-term judgments about players and, in that vein, I really doubt Taylor Doherty is a threat to be a reliable NHL defenseman at this point despite his preseason Corsi. Both in his skating ability and decision-making he really seems to struggle with the pace of the big league game. I'm surprised he lasted this long but his waiver eligibility may have had something to do with that.
  • I'm also a bit surprised the Sharks didn't, for the most part, experiment with breaking up the Vlasic-Braun pairing. Depending on how Burns' transition back to the blueline fares, Vlasic and Braun are San Jose's two best defensemen and perfectly capable of anchoring separate pairings. It would have been interesting to see how someone like Mueller or Demers looks alongside Braun or to test out a Picklesnake reunion while the games were still meaningless but now that type of tinkering is going to have to wait for the regular season.