In the Fall of 2007, the Edmonton Oilers were selling two ever-popular commodities: youth and hope. They were coming off a disastrous, injury-ruined season that saw the club crash from near-playoff contention to within an ill-timed last-game-of-the-season comeback victory of a lottery pick. (The goal that did us in was Patrick Thoresen from Danny Syvret and Toby Petersen, go figure)
The Oil brought some new young faces to camp that fall, including the new hot shot high draft pick, 18-year-old Sam Gagner, and a not-quite-so-high-a-first-round-pick-but-highly-regarded Andrew Cogliano, turning pro and turning 20 all at once. One a fresh-faced draftee, the other an excellent prospect on the "normal" path to a professional career. Stop me if this is sounding familiar... and I haven't even mentioned the talented young Swede coming to his first Oiler training camp!
To the surprise of many, both made the team right out of training camp that year. Neither spent a minute in the minor leagues, that year or to date for that manner. Gagner skipped out of his last two years of junior hockey and right into the biggest league of all, while Cogliano completely avoided the expected apprenticeship in Springfield. Both have been full-time pivots with the Oilers since the day they broke in, with the exception of time they spent together on the Kid Line where one of them, usually Gagner, would slide over to the wing.
Their careers have developed before our eyes in parallel, as teammates and occasional linemates, but in some ways as rivals within the team as each made his case for ice time. In recent days I have looked at a range of stats and microstats for each of Cogliano and Gagner in an attempt to parse the career curve of each. But having made it this far, I thought, why not do a direct comparison between the two as they both tried to make their way at the same position (offensive-minded young centre) on the same team. More after the jump, although you may want to change the settings at right to "Wide Screen":
So here we have the data for each player as presented earlier, Cogliano in copper, Gagner in blue. My methodology, for lack of a better word, was simply to colour in the background rectangle to highlight which player got the better of that category. Riffing off an idea of Scott's, if there was what I deemed to be a significant difference between the two I used a deeper shade of that colour. In the case of a tie or virtual tie, I simply left the background white.
In the above example, Cogliano gets double credits for good health in 2009-10 as Gagner battled injuries, while Sam gets double credit for nearly maintaining his PP ice time even as Cogs' was severly cut back. Thus a change in background colour can be triggered by an upswing of one player's performance, the downswing of the other, or some combination of both. As we have already seen, the arrows are not exactly pointing straight up for either guy. A factor that I found equally concerning for both players was the apparent lack of growth in their roles as measured by ice time.
Gagner has surged ahead (see all the deep blue in the 2009-10 column) by virtue of not dropping off quite so sharply. Not a promising development for Oiler fans.
This is one of the most interesting comps of all. Cogliano always has had the much worse QualTeam (I rated on toughness of assignment, so from weakest Qualteam to strongest). Moreover, Cogs has gradually assumed tougher competition over the three seasons while Gagner has been heading the other way. These results are somewhat offset by Gagner's superior Relative Corsi, but the question has to be asked: is that Gagner's doing, or his linemates? (More on this at bottom.)
A solid edge to Gagner in the shots department, while Cogs was riding the percentages until crashing to Earth in 2009-10.
Cogs has also been riding the save percentages the last couple of years, while Gags has been all over the map.
Cogliano was the more dynamic goal scorer the first two years before crashing out with poor percentages last season. Gagner has been the steadier of the two, although he too has seen a troubling drop of his points rate in each season.
Cogliano's advantage here can largely be attributed to Sv% ON. Whether that's him allowing fewer golden opportunities than Gagner is one interpretation (likely, a dangerous one).
I've added a couple of RTSS stats to this group, which is either worthless or a loose indicator of "good at hockey" depending on your point of view. What's clear is that Cogliano has a huge edge in these types of things, some of which may be role-related (e.g. more blocked shots on the PK).
The two players had very similar ZoneStarts and Finishes in years one and three, but for whatever reason Cogliano had a far superior performance by this metric in the middle season. Note I have added Zone Differential to this basket. Gagner has a clear advantage on the faceoff dot, even as his own numbers are well below the break-even point. The number of faceoffs taken by each man has turned sharply in Gagner's favour as well.
|Powerplay||( / 9 )||( / 9 )||( / 9 )||( / 9 )||( / 9)*||( / 9)*|
Another area where Gagner has a significant edge, especially in 2009-10, is on the power play. Cogs saw his PP ice time and production sharply reduced, while Gagner's time remained steady and his rates improved. In fact, Cogs didn't earn the 1:00 PP TOI/G that was my minimum threshold, although I have ranked where he would appear on those lists. This area would appear to be the single greatest difference between the two. I didn't even bother to rank PK, where Cogliano plays a little and Gagner hardly at all.
Having made it this far I couldn't resist a simple scoring system, where I gave a player 1 point for winning a category (light shade) and 2 for doing so convincingly (dark shade). Obviously there were a few judgement calls in there, and more importantly it must be noted that, of course, not all categories are of equal value. You may value scoring points a heck of a lot higher than blocked shots, and fair enough. That said, things like points tended to show up a few times over (in boxcars, per 60, Sh% and PP stats), so the system weighted itself to some extent. Nonetheless, take the "result" with a gargantuan of salt ... it's a "just for fun" thing.
Well, let's just say that's a heckuva lot closer than their relative contracts would indicate. Surely the key here is that Gagner had the better season in 2009-10. The other major key is that Gagner was two years younger when they started, and remains two years younger today. It stands to reason that he "should" have the steeper career curve, with the more challenging rookie season but higher upside. The above would appear to support that that hasindeed happened with the two young Oiler centres.
An alternative judgement is that Cogliano's 2009-10 season was torpedoed by the role and linemates he was saddled with. I think there's some validity to that, so let's pursue it briefly. I used to access the excellent statistics at Hockeyanalysis.com which tracked even strength ice time shared by every pair of teammates. Unfortunately, that resource has gone down for the count. But have no fear, your intrepid researcher has come up with an alternate method of estimating teammate ice time, namely percentage of all Corsi events. Using the outstanding "&shawn" function introduced by Vic Ferrari at timeonice.com last season, we can determine how many shot attempts occurred for our two protagonists, and exactly how many with each teammate. For example, Cogliano was on the ice for a total of 1970 attempted shots last year. Ethan Moreau was on the ice for 803 of those, or 40.8%. I would imagine that is an excellent proxy for the amount of actual ice time they spent out there together.
So here's the summary of the percentage of Corsi events Cogs and Gags spent with each teammate. Note that Sam and Andrew were on the ice together for 355 Corsi events, but that the result is a different percentage with each player as Gagner had less overall ice time due to his injuries.
||13 - 89|
I have highlighted in red in each column the three defencemen and three forwards who played the most with each player. In the right column, I have highlighted those who played much more with one kid than the other. In blue, Gagner's preferred linemates, Penner, Nilsson, and Hemsky. (The latter played only 22 games of course, but had more than 10 times as much ice with Gagner than Cogliano.) He also spent significantly more time with Visnovsky and Grebeshkov. Meanwhile, Cogs got much more ice time with Moreau, Potulny, and Stortini up front, and on the blue, Strudwick and Chorney. There's not much more to say about that, other than score a massive vote of confidence for Gabe Desjardins' QualTeam metric.
Needless to say, there is more than one way of interpreting the foregoing, but my own conclusion is that the gap between Cogliano and Gagner is less than we might suppose at the present time, although Gagner still has relative youth on his side. Neither guy has made as great progress as Oiler fans might have hoped, and one wonders if the losing environment in which they have been developing has had a retarding effect. Their case is doubly interesting in that it parallels the relative age and background of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, who this season will begin to carve out their own paths at exactly equivalent career points three years on.