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Tampa Bay Lightning 2016-2017 player evaluations: Forwards, part 2

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With the season over, now is the time to review each players’ individual performance. This piece looks at the bottom half of the Lightning’s forward group.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs

Introduction

Earlier this week, we ran the first part in this series in which I examined the numbers for the top seven forwards on the Lightning roster this season. I recommend looking over that if you missed it for a little bit of context on what to expect.

This piece will focus on the bottom portion of the Lightning forward group. Because of all the injuries, deciding who to cover here got a little subjective. I’ve chosen the seven forwards that I think will be of the most interest but will also include notes on some other players who deserve attention for their contributions.

Like with the first article, most metrics are relative to team performance. They show how the team performs in that metric when the player is on the ice compared to what they are not. For example, relative shots per 60 minutes is shots per 60 when the player is on the ice minus shots per 60 when the player is off the ice. All data is 5v5 only and adjusted for score, venue, and zone starts via Corsica. Numbers are presented as percentiles comparing each player to others at the same positions. For forwards, this includes the top 390 forwards in ice time in 2016-2017.

Metrics Used

Game Score (GS): Dom Luszczyszyn’s stat that assesses player performance on an individual game basis.
(P1/60): goals and primary assists per 60 minutes of ice time
Rel.ShF/60: Relative shots for per 60 minutes of ice time
Rel.xSh%: Relative expected shooting percentage. This is a measure of shot danger.
Rel.xGF/60: Relative expected goals for per 60 minutes of ice time
Rel.ShA/60: Relative shots against per 60 minutes of ice time
Rel.xSv%: Relative expected save percentage. This is a measure of shot danger.
Rel.xGA/60: Relative expected goals against per 60 minutes of ice time
Rel.Sh.Share: Relative shot share
Rel.xG.Share: Relative expected goal share

The only two remaining players who meet the TOI requirements described above are Cedric Paquette and JT Brown so we’ll start there before moving on to some of the big names who suffered major injuries and the recalls from Syracuse who helped nearly drag this team into the playoffs.

Player Evaluations: Qualified Forwards

Cedric Paquette turned in a solid year of pretty much exactly what we’d expect from a fourth-line player. His defensive impact is impressive and puts him among the best in the league especially when it comes to limiting dangerous shots against. He doesn’t offer much offensively but that’s to be expected from a player in his role. If he can stay healthy and play like this consistently, he’ll have a spot in the NHL long term. It might not always be in Tampa but there will always be teams who need a reliable player who offers shut down defense in their bottom six.

The first part of this series was full of top-six players who did not live up to expectations. Relative to my expectations, JT Brown is another player who had a setback. In the previous two seasons, he emerged as the prototype for a bottom-six winger. He was an excellent play driver. The puck was constantly in the offensive zone when he was on the ice.

When I heard his name before this season, I thought of a player who would recover the puck in the defensive zone, fly up the right side with incredible speed, fire the puck on net to create a rebound, and chase the puck down deep to keep the game in the offensive zone.

This season, Brown sometimes looked to make hits at the expense of his positioning and was too involved in after-the-whistle activities. He seemed to take on an enforcer-ish mentality. His defensive impact was still impressive, but he offered very little offensively. He had the second-worst penalty differential on the team despite playing 576 total minutes.

I’m not sure what drove the change in style this year, but hopefully it doesn’t continue next season. He showed in the previous two seasons that he can be a valuable contributor on a winning team. Here’s hoping he can get back to being a dynamic player who did everything he could to help the team put the puck in the net.

Player Evaluations: Non-Qualified Forwards

With that, we’ve covered all of the Lightning forwards who meet the TOI requirements to be included in these assessments. From here on, we’ll be looking at players whose sample size is too small to have confidence in the results. Their percentile rankings are still relative to the top 390 forwards in TOI but they aren’t included in that 390.

Steven Stamkos only appeared in seventeen games before suffering a season ending knee injury. Making the injury even more frustrating, those were some of the best seventeen games of his career. The Lightning started the season with Stamkos centering Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov on the first line, and that line was dominant. Stamkos looked renewed playing with two skilled players as opposed to the previous two seasons where he had played mostly with Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn.

Before the injury, Stamkos was scoring at 5v5 at a rate that would have led the NHL this season. Even though he likely would not have continued to score at that rate had he played the whole season, he seemed ready to make a run at the Art Ross as long as that line stayed together.

These early season trends should be encouraging to Lightning fans. If head coach Jon Cooper returns to this line to start next season, fans should expect similar results. And if that happens, we could be in for one of the best seasons of Stamkos’ career.

As good as Stamkos was in a limited number of games, Ryan Callahan was the opposite. Callahan appeared in eighteen games and put up numbers that are about as bad as they could possibly be. He sits in the bottom ten percent of NHL forwards in five different metrics including impact on expected goal share. That’s disconcerting from a player who is making $5.8 million per season.

There is likely a reason for this drop in production. Callahan hasn’t looked himself since suffering a hip injury at some point in the spring of 2016. He’s had three different surgeries on the hip since then and while he has indicated that he is ready to play, one hopes he has a lot more to offer at this point in his career.

Expectations for Callahan entering the season were that he would be a reliable skater in the bottom six and a leader in the locker room. Instead, he missed most of the season and looked ineffective in his limited minutes. At this point, a return to the role envisioned for him last season is the best case scenario. But I’m skeptical that even that is feasible. If he can’t get healthy enough to contribute on the ice, the Lightning will have to start considering their options for freeing up some of the cap space taken up by his contract.

Gabriel Dumont played the most minutes of any of the forward call-ups from the Syracuse Crunch this year. He did more than his share to contribute to the Lightning’s late season playoff push. He drove play on the third and fourth lines. He’s not a scorer but he did just about everything else. His defensive impacts would have been in the top ten to fifteen percent in the league if he had qualified. Even his offensive impacts were meaningful.

Dumont certainly earned a serious look for a bottom six role for next season. Much like Cedric Paquette, even if he doesn’t stick long term in Tampa, this type of play should be enough to keep him in the NHL somewhere.

Adam Erne’s numbers are a bit tougher to interpret. He had a big positive impact on the team’s expected goal share but not so much on shot share. With such a small sample size, that likely means that his real impact is somewhere in the middle of those two metrics. Even so, this was a positive year of development for the 33rd-overall pick from 2013.

Erne seemed comfortable in his role filling in on the third line. Ideally, the Lightning would like to see more of a scoring touch than he showed in his time this season. His numbers indicate the potential for him to drive play fairly well so if he is able to add some scoring to that, he could emerge as a solid third line option for the Bolts next season even when the rest of the roster is healthy.

In a year fraught with frustration, angst, and false hope, the Hockey Gods provided us some solace in the form of a small-sample-size wonder named Yanni Gourde. I want you to take some time to look at the numbers this undrafted dynamo put up in his 243 minutes. Seriously. Just look at them. I’ll give you a minute.

If Gourde made the TOI cutoff, his impact on shot generation would have been in the 99th percentile, and his impact on shot suppression would have been the best in the NHL. That is absurd. Comically absurd. He even scored like a second line player. His game score was that of a high end second line player.

243 minutes isn’t a lot. But it also isn’t nothing. Gourde would almost certainly not score at this rate over a full season with more minutes. And his impacts on shots and expected goals would also come back to some sort of non-Patrice Bergeron level. But looking at these numbers, I would be wary of letting him get away this summer. He’s an unrestricted free agent and will be incredibly cheap to re-sign.

If the Lightning let him walk, they will be taking a risk that he shows up on somebody else’s roster as a solid third liner or maybe even second liner if that scoring wasn’t a complete mirage.

This isn’t a Jonathan Marchessault situation. Marchessualt had a track record of high-end scoring at lower levels and while no one could’ve predicted that he would score 30 goals in Sunrise, someone (maybe even me in this exact series last year) could have looked at his numbers and his history and identified him as a second line talent. Gourde doesn’t have quite that history of scoring. But given what he showed in his limited opportunity, I hope he comes back next season and competes for a spot on the third line.

Other Notes

Before closing, Michael Bournival deserves mention. I didn’t do a full work-up but he had a similar impact to Gabriel Dumont in fewer minutes. He had a high-end defensive impact and a positive offensive impact without offering much scoring. He’s another player who could be in the discussion for a depth role next season.

Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula did their part to keep the team afloat while they were here this season. Boyle in particular had one of the best seasons of his career. But for each of them, their greatest contribution to the team was the cap space they freed that allowed the Lightning to maximize their flexibility this summer.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was a tough year for the Lightning forwards. The players on the top half of the roster, aside from Kucherov, Palat, and Namestnikov, failed to live up to expectations. They weren’t able to drive play the way they have in the past. The bottom half of the forward group was better in that area but as would be expected, didn’t have the skill to finish their scoring opportunities.

Next season, the Lightning need their top lines to control play better than they did this season. The bottom six forwards showed that they can pull their weight. It will be up to to the top of the roster to get healthy and rediscover their form. If they do, this will be a dangerous team again next season.