Photo credit: Christian Petersen
Coming into 2014-15, Jay Beagle had never scored more than four goals in a season. For a fourth line center, that’s fine. Under Barry Trotz, however, Beagle’s playing time has increased. When the Caps took the ice against the Leafs on Sunday, Beagle was slotted in the top-six alongside Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer. By the end of the game, Beagle was the top-line right wing, a position he has occupied many times this season.
But here’s the rub: despite a career-high nine goals and 17 points for Beagle, he brings Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom down. I love Beagle. He’s a great face-off man, a solid fourth liner, and a fantastic guy. He is not, however, qualified to play on the first line. Analytics — and the singularly important eye test — back this up. Trotz disagrees though.
“Beagle’s like my lucky charm,” Trotz told reporters when asked about the rotating right-wing spot. “When I put him up there ,we score. I know you analytics guys don’t like his numbers, but we score and get back in the game. There’s reasons for that.”
Trotz’s comments, though, aren’t backed up by facts. This is what the analytics guys don’t like, via smart dude Peter Hassett:
The Capitals get outshot when Ovechkin and Beagle play together. They take just 43.6 percent of the total shot attempts in that time. When Ovi plays apart from Beagle that number goes up to 55.2– which would be in the top 40 among forwards in the league.
Among all Caps forwards, only Kuznetsov, Brouwer, and Chimera hurt possession more when they’re on the ice.
Even if you only care about goals, the Capitals do markedly worse– about 8 percentage points– when Ovechkin skates with Beagle.
The one thing Beagle does well is slow the pace of the game. There are fewer offensive events at both ends of the ice when Beagle is on– though it’s debatable whether that’s a skill Beagle brings or even a good thing at all. I wonder what Tim Barnes, the pioneering analyst MacLellan hired this summer, makes of all this.
Trotz is miles ahead of Adam Oates as a coach. Brian MacLellan seems to embrace analytics more than George McPhee. Unlike his former boss, MacLellan will actually mention possession stats. In October, he hired Barnes, a driving force in bringing statistical intelligence to hockey. At times, MacLellan and Trotz have cited analytics as reliable evidence.
However, when the numbers don’t align with their ideas, MacLellan and Trotz dismiss them. Trotz’s “lucky charm” comment was light-hearted, but he believes it, at least in part. Hockey is played on the ice rather than on a computer, but knowledge should always trump blind faith.
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