Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I can't believe we have to do this again

Okay, look. I'm getting sick of explaining that Sean Avery is a valuable hockey player. But it seems to be necessary again, in light of his replacement by Erik Christensen over the last two games, including Tuesday night's absolute sleeper against Avery's former team (against whom he generally plays very well). So here we are again, using math where common sense seems to have failed. If anyone has John Tortorella's email address, do me a favor and send him this stuff. I hear he's coaching the Rangers these days, and this information could probably help him out. Also, find out if he's hiring?

The Rangers are 17-7-4 this season, a pretty good record even despite Tuesday night's snooze-fest (if only the Rangers had some sort of energy guy who can turn a slow, boring game around by getting his legs moving and throwing some checks). That's 38 points in 28 games, or 1.36 points in the standings per game.

Sean Avery has participated in 15 of those 28 games, and the Rangers, despite his limited ice time, are 11-3-1 in them, a remarkable 1.53 points per game (if maintained all season, this would give the Rangers the best NHL record since the '95-'96 Red Wings went 62-13-7). In games without Avery, the Rangers are a mediocre 6-4-3, or 1.15 points per game (on pace to beat last year's Rangers by exactly one point). That is a difference of .38 points per game, or about one more win every five games all by himself.

As a point of comparison, let's take a look at Mr. Softie the Backstabber himself, Erik Christensen, the colossal piece of garbage Torts uses as an excuse to not play Avery because he doesn't like him for some reason. With Christensen in the lineup, the Rangers are 10-6-2, or 1.22 points per game. Without him, they are 7-1-2, or fucking 1.6 points per game! For those of you keeping score, that means Christensen's presence in the lineup has actually lowered the Rangers by .38 points per game! (NB: It is a coincidence that Avery's effect and Christensen's effect are exactly equal and opposite - the point is that Sean has a big positive impact and Erik has a big negative one.)

To sum up:
Rangers this season - 1.36 points per game
With Avery - 1.53 points per game
Without Avery - 1.15 points per game
With Christensen - 1.22 points per game
Without Christensen - 1.6 points per game

Of course, team record with or without a given player, though it is the bottom line, only tells us so much. Some of it is coincidental. But it's a pretty good answer to the asinine "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" argument some people hide behind.

But let's move on from the undeniable difference in the Rangers' across different lineups, to look at a more specific impact: scoring goals.

Avery, as you likely know, has scored 3 goals this season. This ties him for 7th among his team's forwards, a dubious accomplishment at best. If we assume there may be problems in other areas of play, it may well not guarantee a spot among a team's top 12. But Avery has spent half of this season benched, and he's barely seen the ice when he has dressed. Kinda makes you wonder what kind of an impact Avery would have if he were played regularly, huh?

Let's learn, using mathematics. In his 15 games, Sean Avery has played an average of 7 minutes a game, a total of 105:13 (yikes). So, if he were to retain his current level of efficiency, but he played a reasonable amount of time, how would Sean Avery be doing this season?

Let's give him a perfectly average ice time for a forward: 15 minutes a game. And let's throw him into every game so far this season. 28 games at 15 minutes a game would be 420 minutes played this season, 4 times what Avery has been given by his misguided coach. At his current rate of production, that would give Avery 12 goals on the season, tying him with Ryan Callahan for second on the Rangers. His +2 on the season so far, adjusted, would be a +8, tying him with Artem Anisimov and Ryan McDonagh for third on the Rangers.

And bear in mind, this is only giving Avery 15 minutes a game. Callahan, for example, gets 21:20 a game (and no, you can't blame that all on the PK - only 2:02 of that comes shorthanded). These are some pretty promising numbers already, but when you factor in everyone's ice time, the comparison becomes even starker.

Let's normalize by comparing a forward's total ice time to his total goal production. We can calculate Time on Ice per Goal: how much total ice time has the player needed to produce each of his goals this season? For example, Brandon Dubinsky, who has only scored once in his 483:56 of ice time this season, would have a disappointingly high 483:56 of Time on Ice per Goal. If a forward gets 15 minutes of ice time an night, and his Time on Ice per Goal is 15:00, we can expect him to score a goal a game. See?

Good. So. Sean Avery? Leads the fucking team in Time on Ice per Goal. He's scored a goal for every 35:04 he's been on the ice, narrowly edging out Carl Hagelin, whose 3 goals in 108:09 give him a Time on Ice per Goal of 36:03, and Marian Gaborik, whose 15 goals in 541:27 give him a Time on Ice per Goal of 36:06.

For reference, Ryan Callahan scores a goal approximately every 48:50, Brad Richards every 54:11, and Derek Stepan every 74:27. Erik Christensen can be expected to score every 148:39, in which time Avery will be a quarter of the way to his fifth. And that's all without power play time!

Avery is dead last on the team in power play time this season, unless you count Brendan Bell's single game. He's been given just 14 seconds on the power play this season - behind Kris Newbury, Jeff Woywitka, Mike Rupp, Mats Zuccarello, Anton Stralman, and Andre Deveaux (and every other Ranger). Erik Christensen, for reference, has spent 25:29 on the power play this season, resulting in his only goal (without that PP goal, Christensen's Time on Ice per Goal would, like Wojtek Wolski's, be infinite).

So, there are some factors stacking the numbers against Avery: he has spent most of his time on the fourth line, he hasn't had regular linemates, he hasn't had time to get into any kind of rhythm, and he is not used on the power play at all. And despite this, he leads all Rangers in Time on Ice per Goal, and he's exhibited a .38-point swing in standings points per game when he is played, even for minimal minutes.

Look. I know that these numbers are somewhat affected by small sample size. I'm not suggesting that if Avery were getting Marian Gaborik's minutes, he'd be putting up better than Marian Gaborik's numbers. But what could the coach possibly be basing his decisions on, if not this small sample? He can't wait until Avery has more ice time before deciding whether or not to give him more ice time.

These numbers certainly indicate, at the very least, that Sean Avery has a good deal to offer the New York Rangers. So what gives? Why the insistence on diminishing or removing Avery's role? Don't give me the "defensive responsibility" argument: Avery's a +2, and he's received only 3 minor penalties all season despite his sweater saying "Avery 16" on it.

To summarize, Avery has been scratched for half the season and played 7 minutes a game in the other half, largely on the fourth line and not at all on the PP. He leads the team in time on ice per goal, scoring once every 35:04, and the Rangers average 1.15 points per game without him and 1.53 with him.

Look at these numbers, consider all the things that stack those numbers against Sean Avery, factor in the "small sample size" thing as much as you see fit, and then ask yourself this: is the Ranger coach putting out the 12 forwards most likely to win him a hockey game each night?


  1. No, they're clearly not the 12 best with Erik instead of Sean. What's been more interesting about this particular Avery slight as compared to many of the previous ones in recent years, is that based on (most of) what I've read, even people that aren't fans of Avery seem to be admitting that he's a better option than Christensen - and the hate is usually pretty strong in those ones.

    I mean, even beyond all of this about how Sean is offensively performing really well this season, when Christensen isn't putting pucks in the net he's relatively useless. He's not putting pucks in the net. I'll let the conclusion there stand unsaid.

  2. The reason is simple....Avery's just an unlikable dick.

  3. So, Anonymous, what you're saying is the coach isn't putting out his best 12 forwards every night. Because Avery is unlikable.

    OK, I don't know him personally, and you might, but the coach definitely does, and he definitely doesn't like him. So, fine. But is that what a head coach should be doing: putting out a worse lineup than he otherwise could be, because of a personality disagreement?

  4. Totally agree with analysis. Did a similar thing with the Buccos. Keep writing and doing math! -Paul

  5. Sorry. Wrong link. Try this one. -Paul