|16.6||time on ice per game|
|52.3||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|54.3||5-on-5 expected goal percentage, adjusted|
|66.1||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows lots of information for the player over the season. A short description of each chart:
About this visualization: At three times during the season (end of January, end of March, and end of May), RMNB shared an open survey with fans, asking the following question for each player:
On a scale from 1 to 5, how HAPPY are you to have this player on the team?
1 means VERY UNHAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
2 means UNHAPPY
3 means NEITHER HAPPY NOR UNHAPPY
4 means HAPPY
5 means VERY HAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
The numbers above show the average score for the player in each survey period.
Yeah, I dunno.
A lot of what I’ve written on this site about Evgeny Kuznetsov, at least since the Cup win, might give the impression that I don’t like him. I adore Evgeny Kuznetsov. He brings joy to a sport too often bereft of it. He’s witty with a soundbite where other players would just give the usual get-pucks-deep line. And his highlight reels are– as the kids say — jokes. He’s got undeniable talent and skill, and all that just makes this conversation tougher.
Let’s start with the obvious part. Evgeny Kuznetsov missed most of the season’s first month while on COVID protocol. He’d end up back on the protocol at the end of the season. He returned for the last three games of the playoffs, going without a point in sixty minutes.
I don’t blame Evgeny Kuznetsov for getting COVID. Getting sick isn’t ever a personal failing. It’s just that both of Kuznetsov’s absences began with disciplinary suspensions (one from the league, the other from the team) for breaking the rules. Even if those rule-breakings weren’t followed by COVID, we would still have a pattern of this player being inconsiderate of his team, his teammates, and their families. That’s the durable problem and the only one I care about.
Ugh. This sucks. I don’t want to finger-wag. This isn’t what I want to write about.
There’s a lot of this story that is below the water line, so to speak. There’s a ton we don’t know, and there’s a good bit we hear only through whispers and innuendo. I’m not going to into any of that now, except to say there’s some kind of rift between Kuznetsov and his team, and now the team is open to trading him.
Again: This sucks. Let’s be robots without feelings for a moment. Let’s talk about numbers.
Here are Kuznetsov’s individual offense rates during five-on-five play for each season. They are color-coded from red (worst) to green (best).
We can see that Kuznetsov had a noticeable drop-off in his point rate, but it’s entirely attributable to a halving of his secondary assists, which are basically statistical noise and don’t mean much to me. While Kuznetsov’s raw shot stats (the first few columns) are all down, his finishing ability remains elite — to the continued bafflement of quant nerds.
And there’s more. Kuznetsov’s on-ice stats were the best they’ve been in years, really since the start of the Cup run in 2018. Below is the difference between Washington’s expected goals rate and their opponents since the start of the Trotz years. I’ve annotated it.
This graph is all over the place in an inscrutable kind of way. He was darn good before Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams left, then pretty bad until the 2018 trade deadline. After a Conn Smythe worthy performance in the Cup run, Kuznetsov crashed hard with spotty on-ice numbers until Peter Laviolette came to town. In the 2021 season, Kuznetsov’s expected-goal and shot-attempt numbers have been straightforwardly good.
Except that “good” comes with a cost. A quick pause to revisit something I wrote last summer when the Caps hired their new coach:
For Peter Laviolette, Kuznetsov is problem A1. He either needs his game rebuilt from the ground-up, or he needs someone else to take responsibility for the 160 feet where he’s terrible. To continue to pretend like he’s a top-line center can no longer be an individual failing; it’s now an organizational one.
I think Laviolette knew this, so he tried a reasonable experiment. He made Evgeny Kuznetsov one of the most sheltered players in modern NHL history. Below is the same graph I used in Hathaway’s review, but this time Kuznetsov’s 2020-21 season is noted.
Again, zone starts have fallen out of fashion among analysts, and I would not cite them if they weren’t so far outside the norm. Out of more than 5,000 seasons by forwards, just ten were more offensively deployed than Kuznetsov — and several of those ten are Sedins. Laviolette simply didn’t want Kuznetsov taking faceoffs anywhere close to his own team’s net. By late in the season, it would happen just once or twice a game.
Maybe Laviolette knew Kuznetsov is not good at faceoffs. Maybe he knew Kuznetsov isn’t a very strong defensive player. Maybe he was given a mission from the front office to inflate the player’s value in anticipation of a trade. If it’s the last one, I don’t think anyone fell for it.
And though Kuznetsov’s goal production was solid in the games the played, his role in the offense was a bit suspect. Kuznetsov rarely forechecked and even more rarely forechecked successfully, which in combination with his faceoff struggles makes him barely a center in any meaningful way.
So, here we are. Kuznetsov has three more years left at $7.8 million per season, a contract he mercilessly negotiated under RFA status with the threat of going back to Russia. That would be a hard contract to move for a troubled asset under a flat salary cap….
(dramatic turn here)
And I’m not sure the Caps should. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s talent and skill are undeniable. We know he can be an elite player if given the proper support. Maybe he just needs the same kind of support off the ice too.
I am down for the redemption arc. KUZY FOREVER.
Read more: Japers Rink
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