Photo: Sergei Belski
Last week, Brian MacLellan spent time answering questions from the media. During the session, MacLellan spoke about his two big off-season acquisitions, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. “I think they’ve added a lot of stability to [John] Carlson and [Karl] Alzner,” MacLellan said of Orpik and Niskanen. When it comes to Orpik, MacLellan is wrong. Very, very wrong.
There’s no way to put a positive spin on this: Brooks Orpik is weighing down John Carlson. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as since 2007 Orpik has played 400+ minutes with six different defensive partners and only one of those partners saw an improvement in possession when playing with Orpik, and that is Sergei Gonchar who saw a 0.1 percent improvement.
Just how badly is Carlson being dragged down by Orpik? For starters, Carlson has played 280:48 of 5v5 play so far this season, 230:24 of it with Orpik. When Carlson is on the ice with Orpik, the Caps see 44.7 percent of shot attempts go in their favor. When Carlson is on the ice without Orpik, the Caps see 64.6 percent of shot attempts go in their favor. For context, the Caps own 51.57 percent of all 5v5 shot attempts so far this season. Yes, these sample sizes are small, but they don’t even remotely hint at Orpik having any sort of stabilizing effect on Carlson.
“But Carlson and Orpik are our shutdown pair, playing the toughest minutes,” you say? Yes, they are the Caps’ “shutdown” pair. They are arguably the worst shutdown pair in the NHL. (Although there is evidence that the Caps are changing their deployment of Orpik, as he’s faced the second easiest zone starts of any Caps defender since November 1st.)
On top of that, while Carlson has faced tough minutes this season, he has faced tough minutes before and fared better.
|Season||Relative SA%||Relative ZS%||Quality of Competition|
Relative SA% is the number of unblocked shot attempts that go in the Caps’ favor with Carlson on the ice vs. with him off. For example, this season the Caps see -6.73% of shot attempts with Carlson on the ice vs. with him off.
Relative ZS% is the number of shifts a player starts in the offensive zone relative to his teammates. For example, this season Carlson has started 1073.% less shifts in the offensive zone zone than his average teammate.
Quality of Competition the quality of opponent a player faces, measured by opponent’s time on ice. The higher the %, the tougher minutes that player is playing,
The Caps are bleeding shots this season with Carlson on the ice. He is facing competition comparable to what he’s faced throughout his career. His zone starts are much tougher this year and are definitely a factor in his possession. But given Carlson’s numbers away from Orpik, and Orpik’s horrendous impact on his defensive partner’s possession throughout his career, I’m not ready to say Carlson can’t handle the assignments he’s being given, thought it is possible. What is clear is that Carlson, much like just about every partner Orpik has had since 2007, is suffering because of playing with Orpik.
These are all partners Orpik has played 400+ minutes with since 2007, plus Carlson.
|Player||SA% with Orpik||SA% without Orpik||The Orpik Effect|
I wish there were a way to sugarcoat how much of a possession anchor Orpik is. Maybe each of these guys improved away from Orpik because their minutes got easier once separated? Well, if Orpik’s numbers are bad because he’s assigned tough minutes, then he’s not fit to handle tough minutes. Not every shutdown defender bleeds shots.
On top of that, there’s reason to believe that quality of competition is perhaps an overstated factor in possession numbers, and that quality of teammate is perhaps a bigger factor. Orpik has seen more time with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom than any others Caps’ forwards this season (and he’s dragging their possession numbers down, too), so he’s not suffering as a result of the teammates he plays with.
I was opposed to the Orpik signing before I knew it was a possibility, but I’ve made an effort not to re-evaluate the contact with every poor performance. However, when MacLellan claimed that Orpik has stabilized Carlson, I couldn’t sit on my hands. Brooks Orpik doesn’t stabilize anyone.
I’m not sure what the solution is for minimizing “The Orpik Effect” over the next 4+ seasons of Orpik’s contact. Perhaps putting him with a possession monster like Mike Green will allow Orpik to be stabilized by #52, much like Gonchar did in Pittsburgh.
What is clear is that Orpik is not stabilizing Carlson, as Carlson is putting up the worst possession numbers of his career during the time he’s spent with Orpik. When MacLellan says he doesn’t “value the corsi,” one has to wonder if he’ll value the goal differential once it inevitably catches up to corsi.
Asked MacLellan about Orpik's advanced stats. Said he doesn't "value the Corsi," for Orpik thinks it'll go up with a better puck-moving D.
— Alex Prewitt (@alex_prewitt) July 1, 2014
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