Nate Schmidt was good last season. We wrote about it a lot. During 5-on-5 play when Schmidt was on the ice, the Caps scored 42 goals and their opponents scored 22 – a goals-for percentage of 65.6.
Nate’s most common linemate, Brooks Orpik, was right behind him with 63.9 percent. Put another way: Schmidt and Orpik were the most successful D in the world, when measured by the scoreboard, which matters I think. They were also in the top 10 out of 187 full-time D when measured by expected goals and top 30 when measured by shot attempts.
It was a good campaign for Schmidt, and this season is no different. Except it’s completely different. Schmidt’s on-ice shot-attempt percentage has plummeted since he moved to Vegas. It seems like he’s finally been exposed as fraud.
Or has he?!?!?!?! OoOoOoO I dunno… guess we’ll find out below.
Welcome to Talkin’ Schmidt, the column where we talk about Nate Schmidt. This week, in a very special episode of Talkin’ Schmidt, we talk about Schmidt.
So here’s how Schmidt ranks among 180 defensemen in on-ice goals, expected goals, and shot attempts this season in Vegas.
The mighty has fallen, at least when measured by process (shot volume and quality) and not results (goals). Schmidt is no longer dominating play like he did last season, even if the puck is generally staying out of the Knights net thanks to limited shot quality and a 93.6 on-ice save percentage.
Playing context helps us understand what changed since 2016-17. What follows is a Vollman player usage chart, named after the fella whose Hockey Abstract would make a great last-minute holiday gift. In the chart, each Vegas defender is a dot. The location tells us where they start their shifts and against whom.
Schmidt is a lovely shade of blood orange at the top left. Woof. That means playing against good opponents, starting in your own zone a lot, and getting outshot.
That’s a big switch from last season, when Schmidt had it pretty easy. Among all 2016-17 defensemen, Schmidt’s competition ranked 6th easiest (out of 187) by time-on-ice and 4th easiest by average puck possession. Now Schmidt’s competition ranks 176th easiest (out of 180) by time-on-ice and 100th easiest by average puck possession. The easy deployments are long gone, and a massive change in playing context like that should inform our expectations for the player.
And that context would be incomplete without mentioning Luca Sbisa, Schmidt’s most common defensive partner, who has been on the shelf since December 12. In 323 minutes together, Sbisa and Schmidt have been outshot 361 to 285 (44.1 percent), though they have managed to outscore opponents 14 to 11 (due to excellent goaltending mostly).
When Schmidt is away from Sbisa, the Knights’ shot-attempt percentage jumps up almost 10 points – to 53.6 – even while Schmidt’s playing context does not change too much (though his offensive-zone start percentage goes from 23 percent to 30). (Tyler Dellow also touched on this last night on The Athletic.)
It’s apparent that Sbisa, whose mobility was an issue even in Vancouver, is a drag on Schmidt, and there’s some suggestion that Schmidt would succeed with another partner even if his assignments remain pretty tough. The Knights have outshot opponents 73 to 54 (57.5 percent) and outscored them 2 to 0 with Schmidt on the ice since Sbisa got hurt.
Schmidt Linemate visualization from hockeyviz
Instead of Sbisa, Schmidt’s lately been taking shifts with Brayden McNabb, recently of the Los Angeles Kings. That’s an exciting partner for Schmidt. While Schmidt ruled the roost in on-ice goals last season, McNabb’s 60.3 percent of shots and 59.6 percent of expected goals were best and second best, respectively – in cushy deployments similar to Schmidt’s. With Schmidt eating the tough ice time this year, McNabb’s been free to drive play, which he mostly has.
Schmidt and McNabb will probably be Gerard Gallant’s top defensive pairing against the Caps on Saturday. We’re about to get a close-up look at what Schmidt can do. He’ll probably be good, because he is good.
Headline photo: Jeff Bottari
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