Sunday, March 8, 2009

Shawn Horcoff - Mandelbaum on Ice

Slipper and Bruce were having a very interesting discussion in the comment thread of Thursday's game against Ottawa. Slipper asked the following question and/or statement:

"Can you find any other forward in the whole NHL who leads his team in d-zone draws? Then take into consideration that while with every other team the defensemen lead the charge over the forwards by a wide margin, Horcoff leads his closest defenseman (Souray) by 70 faceoffs.
.. But this team's "numero uno finito benito #1!!1!" centerman has been 120th out of 120 in terms of position to succeed all season long where, considering the margin, 119th place might as well be 75th... There's barely a handful of defensemen who have been on then ice for more d-zone draws."

The discussion continued but I was struck by some of what Slipper was asking/saying and decided to see how tough Shawn Horcoff really has it and how well he's handling his assignment compared to others in a similar situation. First things firts though, finding the comparables. The following chart includes the forward and defenceman on each team that has taken the most defensive zone faceoffs. The columns include: dzone draws - ozone draws - the difference between the two - % of possible dzone draws given the number taken by the player's team - % of possible ozone draws given the number taken by the player's team. Defenders will be in grey and forwards will be in black. The data is all taken from Vic's site and is as of games ended on Friday March 6.

To start off by answering Slipper's question: Horcoff (Edm), Carter (Phi), Staal (Pit) and Richard Park (LI) lead their team in defensive zone faceoffs as forwards but Horcoff certainly is an outlier. There are only two defenders that outstrip him in % of defensive zone draws taken for their team and his 45% is 4% clear of the next highest forward. There are some other interesting things here like the use of Draper compared to his rank in QC by Desjardins, the crazy use of Adam Hall in TB, the impressive nature of Jay Bouwmeester's minutes, Mark Streit's easy yet not-so-easy ride, the appearance of Matt Greene and Jan Hejda etc. Perhaps I'll get to some of those things later but for now I'll focus on determining how Horcoff is doing in comparison with some of his peers doing the heavy lifting.

For this second part I picked out the forwards that are starting from a similar hole to Horcoff (italicized above, the criteria is at least 50 more dzone than ozone draws, at least 34% of team dzone draws and at least a difference of 8 in the percentage of ozone and dzone draws). The list is: Carter, McClement, Ladd, Malhotra, Staal, Smithson, Kesler, Niedermayer, Hanzal and Richard Park. Before going further it's interesting to note that none of these guys is really considered a star player. There's no Joe Thornton, Henrik Zetterberg, Jarome Iginla etc. Granted most of those guys play on better teams who take fewer dzone draws, but still, most of the elite players in the league aren't thrown into the position of having such a heavy defensive burden. Anyway, I will compare these players by looking at their Corsi(*3) as compared to their team and their goal differential (*3) as compared to their team under the assumption that each player plays about one third of his team's even strength minutes. It's not perfect by any means but it should give a reasonable reference for comparison. This list will be organized top to bottom by the difference between their Corsi (*3) and that of their team.

I think that this shows that Shawn Horcoff is doing a fantastic job in his defensive role. Not only is he taking more dzone faceoffs than any other forward in the league but he's also excelling. Horcoff has had a rough last ten or twenty games but even still, his season has been terrific. It won't show up in the boxcar statistics but Shawn Horcoff may well be the most valuable forward on the Edmonton Oilers.

As for the other guys on this list, if the Canucks sign Kesler to an affordable extension sometime in the next two years, that team will be in fantastic shape. Martin Hanzal looks like a terrific young player by this measure, even allowing for his poor real numbers. The kid's only 21 and is outperforming his team taking on a difficult role. Richard Park at 0.75M is a great deal for LI. Andrew Ladd is an outstanding player. Rob Niedermayer is lucky he's famous for playing tough minutes because even considering that, he probably shouldn't be playing in the NHL.


shepso said...

This is really great work here guys. I have long been a Horcoff supporter, including in my recent post over on bringing back the glory (on leadership and heart) and included him as one of the few consistent players on a very inconsistent team. The guy is a horse, but every thoroughbred needs a rest every now and again. As interesting as these stats are to the importance of 10 to this team, it also shows just why he's been playing a little lower than we know he's capable of as of late. I hope this doesn't run him into the ground; we need him, perhaps a bit too much.
And you're right, it's interesting to see Stoll, Greene and Hejda on this list too, in a sort of painful kind of way.

Scott said...

Thanks Shepso. It sure does look like Greene or especially Hejda would do this team some good. Horcoff made a comment a while back on how he felt like he was out there all of the time on faceoffs because MacT didn't really have other options. I think this confirms his perception. To be honest, I think some of this falls on MacT's shoulders. His usage of Horcoff is well off of league norms and although he doesn't have many good options he hasn't exhausted himself trying the options he does have, and I'm thinking specifically of Pouliot as 3C here.

Icecastles said...

Are we talking about Michael Mandelbaum, director of the American Foreign Policy program at Johns Hopkins University? Because I just don't see the comparison. Though I do love Horc. And I suppose if you consider d-zone draws a metaphor for having a strong protectionist foreign policy, I can see the comparison.

shepso said...

@Icecastles...think Seinfeld. Mandelbaum was the old guy who Jerry's dad convinced to get Jerry into shape. It didn't work so well, but the old guy's conditioning was excellent, and he was convinced that he, not Morty Seinfeld, was the world's number 1 dad. (Why I have so much useless trivia in my head I will never know...)

Scott said...

Yeah Shepso has it. If you have no ever-loving idea what he's talking about though, there's a link to the youtube video in the middle of the post... or you can just search for "mandelbaum" in youtube and it will come up.

Icecastles said...

I was kidding actually. Though I do kind of like my foreign policy mandelbaum too. :)