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Lightning year-end review: Bottom six forwards

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A numbers-based look at the bottom six forwards plus two bonus young guns for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015-2016 NHL season.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With the season officially over for the Lightning but the draft and free agency still several weeks in the distance, now seems the appropriate time to reflect on the past eight months and attempt to quantify the performance of each player on the roster. Over the next week or so, we will be posting a series of pieces highlighting some numbers for each Lightning player. This is the second piece in that series and it will focus on the bottom six forwards on the roster as well as two bonus players whose usage doesn't really fit in either the top or bottom six. The bottom six is based largely on perception and admittedly, is entirely subjective. For the purposes of this article, the bottom six is considered to be Valtteri Filppula, Vladislav Namestnikov, J.T. Brown, Brian Boyle, Cedric Paquette and Erik Condra in no particular order.  And as a bonus, this piece also includes young guns Jonathan Marchessault and Jonathan Drouin whose usage varied widely throughout the season.

If you read the first piece on the top six forwards, you'll recognize this first graph, which shows the primary scoring (x-axis) and possession impact (y-axis) of all forwards who played at least 300 minutes this season. The Lightning forwards are represented by the blue dots labeled with their numbers. The basic idea here is that the green areas are well above average, the red areas are well below average and the point where the axes cross is exactly average by both measures. For those who are interested, the dotted lines represent one standard deviation. Players who are far to the right on the x-axis score at a high rate and players high up on the y axis have a positive impact on their teammates possession statistics.

The previous article on the top six forwards could be summed up largely as: these guys are good and they deserve to be on the top two lines. Looking at the performance of the forwards in the bottom six is a more nuanced process. Vlad Namestnikov stands out among his peers in this area. Marchessault and Drouin excel in opposite ways by these two measures. Cedric Paquette is lonely as by far the worst scorer of any Lightning forward. While this is a nice way to get a quick idea of each player's performance, a wider variety of measures will give us a better idea of their performance this season.

In the following graphs,the numbers shown are the percentile ranks among forwards with at least 300 minutes TOI. Just as a refresher, 50th percentile would be average with lower percentiles being worse and higher percentiles being best. As a rough contextual tool, given that teams use four lines, top line forwards are likely to be in the 75th percentile or higher, second line forwards in the 50th percentile or higher, third line forwards in the 25th percentile or higher, and fourth line forwards below that. The definition of each statistic is provided at the bottom of this article.

Of this first group of three, Vlad Namestnikov is particularly interesting. He has a reputation as an offense-first skilled forward. But his numbers don't indicate that. His numbers show him to be an elite defensive forward whose only drawback is his scoring rate. Situations like this where the numbers contradict the eye test are the most interesting. One potential explanation for Vladdy's numbers is that his usage put him on the ice with more defensive minded players thereby inflating his defensive numbers but somewhat deflating his offensive numbers. Whatever the cause for the disparity, he is clearly ready for a top six role.  Unfortunately for him, the Lightning's absurd forward depth might prevent him from the usage he deserves. If Steven Stamkos re-signs in Tampa, Vladdy would have to pass one of Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson or Jonathan Drouin on the expected depth chart. And even as good as he is, that's going to be tough to accomplish.

The other two forwards on this chart appear pretty much as expected. Valtteri Filppula is declining as would be expected of a player his age. And J.T. Brown is just the purest version of a modern bottom six forward. His possession numbers are excellent. Teams don't get dangerous chances when he's on the ice. If he could score, he'd be a top line forward but he can't and so instead he's the perfect type of player to keep the game at the opponents' end of the ice while the scoring lines aren't on the ice.

The first piece in this series showed what elite offensive forwards look like by these measures.  The next chart shows what elite defensive forwards look like.

When these three players are on the ice, nobody is getting scoring chances. Not the Lightning and not the opposition. Erik Condra in particular is a shut-down defensive forward. He's one of the best depth forwards in the NHL and signing him to a discount contract last offseason was a smart move by the Lightning. Finding that kind of a player for a cheap is the perfect way to round out a roster. While neither Condra or Boyle generate much offense, Paquette's lack of scoring is concerning. Rumors persisted throughout the year that he never fully recovered from his broken foot early in the season and if that's the case, that could be a mitigating factor. But as good as he is defensively, he's going to have to contribute something offensively if he want to maintain a roster spot long term.

The first piece in this series looked at the top six forwards. The previous 800 words looked at the bottom six forwards. Anyone willing to read this many words and numbers is probably wondering about Jonathan Marchessault and Jonathan Drouin. Both players saw uneven usage playing in the top and bottom parts of the rotation at various points in the season. And both players' numbers are interesting.

Have a player's statistics ever more perfectly fit a popular narrative than Jonathan Drouin's do? Anyone who wants to make an argument that Drouin is a scorer who has zero interest in being responsible defensively has all the ammunition needed in the numbers above. While nothing can fully explain how bad his numbers are defensively, one partially mitigating factor is that his most common linemates were Valtteri Filppula and Ondrej Palat according to corsica.hockey. That line was destroyed by the Penguins in the playoffs with absurdly bad shot and scoring chance differentials. Given that Drouin barely qualified for the 300 minute minimum threshold, his numbers are a bit more skewed by that particularly terrible stretch than they would be if had played more minutes throughout the season. All of that said, he's 21 years old and he's in the top 10% of NHL forwards in scoring rates. He is a unique talent and even if he only becomes a mediocre possession player, he'll  still be an elite forward.

Jonathan Marchessault's numbers are the exact opposite of Drouin.  He does everything except score.  His possession numbers are great. The team is creating scoring chances and high danger scoring chances when he's on the ice. He just isn't compiling points. As discussed above, the competition for top line minutes among Lightning forwards is going to be tough next year. Given the opportunity, Marchessault could probably produce at a top six level but likely has a ceiling at the third line in Tampa. Even so, he's another excellent depth player that brings a scoring threat to the bottom six.

After the top six forwards, the Lightning have an impressive collection of defensive specialists and talented young players working their way up the roster. The mix of skills is ideal and ensures that the Lightning will not wilt while their top lines are on the bench. Depth players who can contribute are one of the signs of a well-run organization and if the Lightning can continue to use a mix of youth and reliable experience to support their highly skilled top two lines, they should be able to maintain their success.

All data in this article comes from War-On-Ice.com and is 5v5 score adjusted. It includes all games including the playoffs through the conference finals.

P160 -€” Primary points per 60 minutes of TOI.  Primary points include first assists and goals, which are more indicative of talent than second assists.
CF60 -€” Cors for per 60 minutes of TOI.  CF60 measures the total number of shots (including missed and blocked shots) a team generates while the player is on the ice.
CA60 - Cors against per 60 minutes of TOI.  CA60 measures the total number of shots (including missed and blocked shots) a team allows while the player is on the ice.
CF% - Corsi for percentage.  CF% measures the percentage of total shots a team takes while the player is on the ice.
SCF60 -€” Scoring chances for per 60 minutes of TOI.  Scoring chances are shots from the home plate area.
SCA60 -€” Same logic as CA60
SCF% - Same logic as CF%
HDSCF60 -€” High danger scoring chances per 60 minutes of TOI.  High danger scoring chances are based on location and shot type as calculated by War-On-Ice.com.
HDSCA60 -€” same logic as CA60
HDSCF% - same logic as CHDSC%
RelCF%TM -€” Relative cors for percentage teammates.  This is the difference in how a player's teammates perform with him as opposed to without him.  It serves as one way of quantifying a player's impact on his teammates.