With the Minnesota Wild in the process of buying out the remaining year of Tom Gilbert’s contract, MacTavish has been given an opportunity to claim a stud defenceman at what could possibly be a very reasonable cost. One of the most polarizing players in recent Oilers history will be a UFA this Friday and I believe a tremendous opportunity exists to claim excellent value.
I’m a big believer in the realm of “fancy stats” and over the years of reading article upon article, I believe that analytics have a part to play in the management of a hockey club. They’re able to illuminate areas of the game that not all fans (or even management-types apparently) have seen before and allow us to be more effective in our valuations of teams, players and even specific elements of a game. I don’t believe that they’re perfect or tell the whole story, but using advanced stats does grant us another level of knowledge, and if knowledge is power, then I’d be doing my research if I was running the show.
So keeping that in mind, let’s start with the obvious: the Oilers defense stunk last year. It stunk last year, just like the year before that, and it didn’t come at a surprise at all. Why? Because former-GM Tambellini apparently had a philosophy of only adding fringe 3rd-paring defencemen when the team’s biggest weakness was always its top-4. But at least now we know that when a team lacks a legitimate 1st defensive pairing and tries to correct that by adding the likes of Kurtis Foster, Cam Barker, Andy Sutton and Mark Fistric, the outcome is apparently three straight 1st overall picks. Thanks, I guess? What this team needs is at the least, legitimate top-4 defencemen, with proven track records, that can move the puck forward and stop it from moving backwards. This team needs the mentality of grabbing players that are good, not “good enough” and Tom Gilbert is a great “re”-start.
Let’s look at some “fancy” stats:
For those of you who aren’t too familiar with the funny lingo in the table above, I’ll do my best to make these numbers as clear as possible, but if you want a more detailed (and probably better written) explanation, you can find it at behind the net. If you understand this jibberish however, you can scroll down to the “* * *” section.
To start, I’m only evaluating Gilbert here on his stats while playing even strength, 5v5 hockey. In addition, for the columns on the left-hand side of the table, I’ve only included his rankings among regular starting defencemen (played >50% of the season) on the teams that he played, instead of his actual stats, so you can see how he fared in relation to his teammates. The first thing you really need to know however, is what “corsi” is.
Corsi is simply a measure of puck possession that tracks the difference in number of shot attempts for (shots hit, missed and blocked) and shot attempts against when player “X” is on the ice and expressed over a rate of 60 minutes. It’s basically +/- except it measures shot attempts, not goals, and displays it as a rate of 60 minutes instead of a running total. “Corsi relative” (or Corsi Rel.) then, is the difference in corsi when player X is on and off the ice. So if player X has a corsi on the ice of 5 (his team takes 5 more shot attempts than they allow per 60 minutes when he’s on the ice) and the corsi of his team when he’s off the ice is -10 (team allows 10 more attempts against), then player X would have a corsi rel. of 15. So knowing all this, the stats I’m looking at above then are:
- TOI/60: Even strength time on ice.
- Corsi Rel. QoC: “Quality of competition” faced. We can calculate which players get matched up against which. So if a player is continually matched up against opponents with high corsi rel’s, then we can say he faced a higher level of competition.
- Off. Zone Start %: The % of zone starts started in the offensive end instead of defensive end. If a player is continually started in the offensive end, we would say that he were given “easier” minutes than a player whose zone starts were focused more in the defensive end.
- Corsi Relative: A measure of possession when player X was on the ice. (Corsi of team with player X on the ice – corsi of team with player X off the ice).
- On-Ice Sh %: Shooting % of team when player X is on the ice. League average is generally around 8.5%.
- On-Ice Sv %: Save % of team when player X is on the ice. League average is generally around 91.5%.
- PDO: (On-Ice Sh % + On-Ice Sv %). Over time, this number strongly regresses to 1000.
* * *
If you’re still with me, you’re a trooper. So in looking at this table I noticed right off the hop that Gilbert’s 12-13 season looks very different than the 5 years previous. He seemed to struggle, possession-wise even with easier zone starts and being matched against easier competition. I would do some research into this to see if maybe he was playing hurt, although it could be possible that this year was an anomaly. Looking past that in the previous 5 seasons however, Gilbert really did shine. He was always given top-3 minutes, if not the most amount of 5v5 minutes, indicating a great deal of trust from his coaches. The quality of competition he faced was also always at least 2nd highest out of all defenders on the squad. His off. zone start % seemed to vary quite a bit, but it seems as if he was generally given slightly easier minutes in that regard, starting more time in the offensive end then defensive end. And then to top it all off, his corsi relative was highest out of all Oilers defenders for the last three years he was on the squad. That’s impressive given the fact that he was playing some of the toughest competition in that same time span.
So we have a pretty decent player here. Granted, he was playing on an Oilers team that lacked real quality defenders towards the end of his time here, so you’d expect his numbers to stand out a bit, but the positives are too strong too ignore. And where does the “excellent value” come from that I mentioned at the start? Well first of all, being bought out suggests that teams aren’t willing to pay the $4m so you know he won’t cost you an arm and a leg. What I think would really allow the Oil to sign “Gibby” cheap however is his apparent decreased market value brought on by his horrible 12-13 on-ice sv %. This is something that is in no way Gilbert’s fault, but it could be part of the reason that The Wild soured on him. Being SECOND LAST IN THE LEAGUE for regular defencemen definitely wouldn’t put him in a good light at first glance, but only because a piece of swiss cheese was apparently playing behind him whenever he stepped on the ice.
Again, his possession numbers weren’t very good for this past season, and I hope that management would do their homework and try to find out why, but if you can get him at a reasonable price, I don’t think you’re taking a very big risk at all. He played good to great hockey for the near 400 games he was in Edmonton and if he comes back to an organization he’s familiar with, maybe those 43 games he struggled with end up becoming a thing of the past.
What say you?