Monday, June 27, 2011

Laich vs Semin

The Caps' second line wingers this past season were fairly exceptional. Brooks Laich played tough minutes, beat them, and as a result received Selke attention. Meanwhile, Alexander Semin too played tough minutes, and almost came out with the best relative Corsi rating among Caps forwards, trailing Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. While they didn't score as much as in years past, Laich and Semin drove the play in the right direction.

With Brooks Laich looking like he'll be an unrestricted free agent in a few days, and Semin a UFA a year from now, it's critical to know how much credit each deserves for their success at puck possession, considering how often they played together. Did they each share the burden of their heavy lifting? Did Laich benefit from extended periods of dominance from Semin? Did Semin benefit from Laich's attention to defense?

I wrote some code to get the NHL play by play data, and used that to generate a Laich WOWY (more on that below). I am not sure beyond doubt that these numbers are correct, but all my checks had them "in the ballpark" (I cross-checked with Vic Ferrari's Timeonice, which includes 4v4 and 3v3 events as even strength, whereas I only counted 5v5), both in single-game (almost identical) and on a multiple-game basis. With that in mind, here's the first of the series of Corsi WOWYs I'll be publishing this summer.

Data is 5v5 only, not including empty net situations, with all scores and locations (i.e. not only score tied, not only road or home). I wanted to keep the sample size as big as possible. You can see the spreadsheet here. It's sorted right-to-left by decreasing number of Corsi events with Laich on-ice, beginning with goalies, then defensemen, then forwards. The 3-0 shutout win over Carolina was not included, as the NHL did not publish that game's play-by-play.

There are six "sections" for each player.
  • The first is that player's season totals. They will remain the same for each WOWY and serve as a reference point. 
  • The second is that player with Brooks Laich. 
  • The third is that player without Brooks Laich. 
  • The fourth, Delta1 is how much that player's Corsi% is with Brooks Laich than without Brooks Laich. Since Laich is a good player, most Caps benefited from Laich's presence, meaning their Corsi% numbers are higher, which I marked in green. Red means the player's Corsi% was better without Laich. 
  • The fifth is Laich without the player. 
  • The sixth is how much better Laich is with the player than without the player. If the other player is good, he will elevate Laich's Corsi% and the cell will be marked in green.
I also listed Laich's season long numbers in the first column for forwards.

First, goalies:

All three goalies saw better play in front of them with Laich on ice. No surprise there. What's most interesting to me is those season-long Corsi% totals. Holtby received the most possession dominance from the team in front of him, which is even more special considering his win-loss record suggests that the Caps were leading quite a bit (score effects would suggest Holtby to have the lowest Corsi%). Similar reasoning makes Neuvirth's and Varlamov's Corsi% numbers a bit surprising. Varly received the worst play from the team in front of him.


It's staggering just how good Carlson-Alzner were with Laich as a shutdown trio. For sake of comparison, Nicklas Backstrom last season was just over 56% Corsi. Meanwhile, I think the numbers for Erskine, Sloan, Poti, and Collins indicate that Laich played well against the weak opposition those players were facing. Wideman and Green likely normally saw better forward help and lesser competition than Laich received. Schultz's Delta1 is roughly even (only a 2% difference, which is basically insignificant, I think), so while he was on the ice, the team basically played the same in terms of possession (though they may have seen an uptick in competition faced).


What we see here is that Laich helped out almost everyone he played with. The only factor that seems to turn those Delta1 cells red is tougher zone starts (as with Gordon and Steckel).

Returning to the original question, Semin's Corsi% improved 2.8% with Laich on the ice. Laich's Corsi% fell 5.7% without Semin on the ice. Semin did receive better zone starts without Laich, but I bet faced lesser competition as well (he would likely be asked to play offense instead of defense, and Semin did see plenty of ice time in trailing situations, which would boost his Corsi thanks to score effects).

I'd say their contributions are roughly even based on this information. What does that make Laich worth? I'm not quite sure. I think this information suggests Laich should get a decent raise and Semin a small pay cut. If Bruce Boudreau is willing to aggressively match Laich as well as Alzner and Carlson (and Semin...I can dream, can't I?) against top units, then Laich could be worth north of $4 million. He cannot drive scoring on the power play and isn't nearly as adept at driving possession against tough competition without good support, but can contribute with some help and can line up at any forward position (and even defense, at times).

I think that if the Laich camp is asking for over $4 million with term (remember, Carlson and Green are RFA in a year, and Semin is UFA), I think it's safer to find a couple of cheap free agents to replace Laich. He's versatile, but not a Zetterberg.

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