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Andrew Cogliano: A Microstatic View

News gushed across Twitter Friday afternoon that the Oilers have finally come to terms with Andrew Cogliano. The two sides have agreed on a one-year pact that will pay the speedster a cool million bucks in 2010-11, about 12% more than the Oilers' qualifying offer of $892,500.

I suspect this may have been a difficult negotiation in that the Oilers tried to trade Cogliano a couple times during his entry-level period, leaving him dangling for a month on one occasion.

It's been interesting to watch the club deal with these RFA situations. Short-term has been the choice, with both Sam Gagner and Gilbert Brule re-upping for two years at about $2 MM, and now Cogs for the minimum term at about half the dollars. This strikes me as being the classic "show me" contract that should suit the agendas of both sides. Cogliano needs a big year almost as much as Oilers need one out of him. (Assuming, that is, that they're legitimately trying to improve as opposed to hanging out in the deep end of the draft tank.)

It seems to me that Cogliano doesn't get a lot of love on the 'sphere; he's been "virtually traded" many more times than a couple, often as a throw-in with Sheldon Souray to get something the franchise really needs, as if Cogs himself doesn't fit the bill in that department.

I beg to differ. Cogliano's speed is the sort of weapon that used to characterize the Oilers as a team, and at the moment is lacking in way too many sets of legs on this squad. He may not be Todd Marchant, but he's got Todd Marchant speed, and that's a weapon. I will agree somewhat with those who point to his declining offensive numbers as a sign of stagnation; that said, his opportunities were greatly limited by Pat Quinn, who'd prefer to match the speedster with plumbers like thecaptainethanmoreau and Zack Stortini than with guys who could get him the puck in space. (Which was how the old Kid Line used to work.) The trio was reasonably successful at keeping the puck out of Oilers' net, but offensively they just didn't click. At all. Finally freed from Moreau's "steadying" (like a boat anchor) presence in the late stages, Cogliano responded with a pretty nice run, posting 5-8-13, +4 over his last 16 games, much of that time centering a solid line with Dustin Penner and the aforementioned Brule. No doubt the linemates made the man to a large degree, but surely that was equally true when Cogliano was dragging a plumb line around with him. It seemed to me he looked a lot less out of place with the top sixers.

Cogliano fulfilled his entry-level contract to the max, playing 246 games in the NHL. The three-year period also nicely coincides with certain advances in the world of microstats, meaning we can actually compare his relative performance across all three seasons. It's an interesting exercise...  

  2007-08 Rank  2008-09 Rank 2009-10 Rank
GP 82 1 82 1 82 1
TOI/G 13:39 11 14:24 9 14:10 12
EV TOI/G 10:49 11 11:51 8 12:31 7
PP TOI/G 2:01 8 1:57 7 0:54 10
SH TOI/G 0:48 7 0:35 8 0:44 8

Ice time: Let's stop to admire that top line for a moment. Cogliano has been with the Oilers for three years and has never missed a game. A maximum 246 GP on an entry-level contract, with none in the minors, none in the press box, and none on the shelf. Wowie. This ability (talent?) to stay healthy is a rare commodity, especially on this team. Only Tom Gilbert and Dustin Penner have been able to stay anywhere close to Cogliano's perfect attendance record. At a comparable point in his career, Marc Pouliot had played 78 NHL games total. Just in case you're still thinking Cogs is a slow developer.

The ice time totals are running relatively flat, however, around 14 minutes a night all three years. Cogliano has never made it into the top 6 among Oiler forwards (min 20 GP) overall, at even strength, or on either special team. Pat Quinn saw fit to curtail Andrew's powerplay opportunities pretty sharply, which had to both sting a little bit and cut into Cogs' production somewhat. I'm disappointed that his PK contribution remains minimal; that's an area where a guy with his speed could be exceptionally useful. Presumably his faceoff woes have cut into PK opportunities, but I would expect Tom Renney to give Cogs a full shot on perhaps the second PK unit. Options are limited, after all. It's a different story on the powerplay where things got a whole lot more complicated with the likes of Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle, and Linus Omark all looking to stake a claim.  

Goals 18 4 18 2 10 9
Assists  27 5 20 4 18 6
Points 45 5 38 4 28 7

Boxcars: Going backwards which is definitely cause for concern. He was in the top 5 on the team in every category in his first two years, and in none of the above last season. Presumably role is a large contributor here: last season Andrew wasn't exactly getting cherry minutes on a second scoring line. The loss in powerplay time also resulted in his powerplay goals dropping from four to just one.

QualComp -0.032 12 -0.037 9 -0.023 7
QualTeam -0.060 6 -0.032 9 -0.036 5
Rel Corsi -8.9 15 +1.0 8 +1.5 8

Here's where the underlying numbers appear to turn in Cogliano's favour, especially on the Corsi side of things. The 2007-08 season featured that out-of-body run at the end, where the Kid Line would get over the blueline once in a while and the puck would go straight into the net. He's gradually playing tougher comp (I'm using the traditional QC only here) with teammates that are no flaming hell and doing better than the average Oiler on the shot clock.

Shots 98 9 116 7 139 6
Sh% 18.4% 2 15.5% 3 7.2% 13

Shooting: Cogliano's shot totals have risen steadily, but not as fast as his percentages have plummeted. But assuming another increase to, say, 160 shots, and a return to a Sh% of, say, 12.5%, that's a 20-goal season. Not impossible in the right role.

Sh% ON 11.42% 1 8.63% 9 8.42% 7
Sv% ON 0.911 7 0.924 5 0.920 5
PDO 1.025 3 1.011 10 1.005 5

Stats from this point are all at even strength, and are drawn from Behind the Net. It's surprising that Cogliano's on-ice Sh% dropped only a little bit last season despite his personal numbers plummeting off a cliff. He has benefited from solid on-ice Sv% for the most part, and his three consecutive years of positive (but declining) PDO suggest that he's played in reasonably good luck, a tiny portion of which may be player-driven, although the jury's still out on that apparently.

G/60 0.85 4 0.78 7 0.54 10
P/60 2.28 4 1.69 7 1.39 10

See Sh% and Sh% ON, above.

GF ON/60  2.92 3 2.34 11 2.48 6
GA ON/60  2.99 6 2.40 4 2.78 5
+/- ON/60 -0.07 5 -0.06 7 -0.30 6

Encouraging that Cogs has been in the top 6 in the GA category all three years. Appearances sometimes to the contrary, he's not getting killed in his own zone.  His +/- numbers overall are pretty meh - a low minus on a minus team, so middle of the pack. Again, not bad for a guy on an entry-level contract.

Hits 25 9 57 7 80 5
Pen Drawn 1.6 3 1.4 4 1.1 6
Pen Taken 0.5 4 0.6 3 0.5 3

Cogs has gradually raised the physical side of his game. I was quite happy with his grinding at times last year after that being a non-factor early on. To bring the inevitable comp to Cup-winning Oilers past, he reminds me a little of Kenny Linseman or Keith Acton in that respect, small but fast and dogged. He draws way more penalties than he takes, by more than a 2:1 ratio every year, an undervalued skill.

OZS% 52.8% 12 53.2% 7 49.1% 5
OZF% 50.1% 8 53.6% 2 49.9% 11
Faceoff% 39.5% rank 37.2% very rank 43.0% less rank

In part a function of playing on such a crappy team but in part a change in role, Cogliano got more defensive than offensive starts last year. It is in this area that his year under Pat Quinn may ultimately help him. His raw (unadjusted) ZoneFinish numbers show the puck was moving slightly in the right direction the last two years, much better than his rookie year when he really relied on the bounces to achieve his results.

Finally there's that bottom line, the elephant in the room when it comes to Cogliano. Faceoff percentage. He stinks at faceoffs! cry the nay-sayers. He must play wing!  Yet that was nearly a 6% improvement last season; another such rise up the charts is both possible and necessary. I would suggest that to this point his faceoff incapacity has reduced his opportunities on both special teams. It's a skill that would set him apart from all those young wingers vying for powerplay time, if only he could master the art.  

As Scott has shown, faceoffs are an acquired knack, and young players like Cogliano learn their lessons the hard way. At least he came part of the way last year. There's also something to be said for him lining up with Brule again so that the two can share faceoff duties on a L/R basis if not switch off entirely on some nights.

* * *

I have to say I'm pleased to have Cogs back in the fold, and at a very reasonable price too. Keep those young players hungry! And keep those fans patient. As we've seen with so many young players - Gilbert and Smid, Brule and Gagner, Hemsky and Penner for that matter - development into a solid NHL player is not just a smooth, steady, ever-upwards curve. It's easy to lose sight of that when a player is apparently skating in sand for a time, but I'm reasonably convinced from the underlying numbers presented above that this guy's signal is moving in the right direction, even as the noise of erratic percentages serves to disguise that. 

It's hard to know what his role will be going forward, but one option available to Tom Renney is how Pat Quinn finished up last year, running Horcoff against the toughs and going with a Gagner-Cogliano duo on the primary scoring lines. He's got Colin Fraser nipping at his heels, but appears to be solidly in the top nine as training camp opens, and could wind up with any number of talented but raw guys on his flank. It'll be very interesting to see how Andrew responds.