I'm going to wrap up what's become a series of articles by rolling out detailed stats for two Oiler defencemen who have been developing over the last three years - Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid. Unlike our earlier comparison of Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner, these two players are as different as chalk and cheese. Gilbert is a smooth, college-trained, puck-moving blueliner, a classic late-bloomer who went unchosen in his draft year, before getting drafted late in the fourth round in his second year of eligibility . Smid, a high-profile prospect who went in the top 10 overall, took the fast track to the bigs. The budding shutdown defender crossed the pond to play in the AHL at 19 and was in the NHL to stay at 20.
They do have a few things in common. Both were acquired via trade: Gilbert for a used-up Tommy Salo, Smid as a centrepiece of the controversial Chris Pronger deal. Both broke in with the Oilers in the catastrophic 2006-07 campaign, and both have played just over 250 NHL games, all with the Oil. Both are 6'3, and both are excellent skaters.
The stats packages are each interesting in their own right as they show the year-over-year development of each player. The comparison between the two sets of columns is a study in contrasts, and at another level is an interesting test of the method. Are the differences in their playing styles demonstrated in the statistical data? Let's have a look ...
As usual I have messed around a bit with the method, which like the players it is trying to study is still very much in the development stage itself. (Suggestions welcome!)
|Cap Hit||~$835 K||$4.0 MM||$4.0 MM||~$850 K||~$850 K||$1.3 MM|
First things first. I've added information about the players' relative ages and salaries, both of which are central to expectations of the two. I have used Dec. 31 as a cut-off date, not the commonly used Jan. 31, as their respective birthdays straddle that cut-off date. Thus some sources show Gilbert as being four years older when the difference is just three years and three weeks. Tom also pulls down by far the bigger salary of the two, although in his defence it should be pointed out that with the long-term pact he committed a couple of RFA years which drove up its average cap hit during the early phase of his career. Nonetheless, while these considerations should both moderate expectations to a degree, Gilbert's relative maturity and big contract both raise the bar. We should expect his performance to be significantly better than that of the young Czech.
Gilbert is the reigning iron man of the Oilers, having suited up for 254 consecutive games, a gigantic positive. He's been putting in significant ice time throughout, playing a steady 22 minutes a night for his whole career here, generally being in the top three at evens and on both special teams. Tom Gilbert is a horse.
Ladi Smid on the other hand has had trouble staying healthy. The 77 games he played in his rookie season (the year before the review period) remains his career high by quite a margin, and it's concerning to see his GP dropping with each subsequent season. Of the several questions that still hang over Smid, the state of his health is the paramount concern. When healthy Ladi has been putting in third pairing minutes for the most part, with some PK duty but no powerplay time whatsoever. His is not an offensive game, for sure.
All rankings in this section are out of 7 defenders who finished each season with the Oilers. To balance the scales I decided to drop guys who were traded during the year, including Tarnstrom in '08 and all three of Visnovsky, Grebeshkov, and Staios in '10. Thus the comparison group is particularly weak for 2009-10, but that stands to reason if you saw the defence corps that finished out last season.
Gilbert has been a productive defenceman his entire career in Edmonton. While his totals fell off drastically in 2009-10, he salvaged his season with a red-hot finish that left him atop the scoring list of still-in-Edmonton defencemen. (For the record Lubo Visnovsky scored 32 points as an Oiler and technically led the team in defence scoring)
A number of smart people pointed to Gilbert's spectacular Sh% in his rookie year as something that he was unlikely to sustain. Surprise! They were right. Tom's shots totals have remained very consistent at around 100 a year, but he's now scoring at a "normal" defenceman rate. Smid on the other hand has barely mustered 100 shots over the 3 years combined, and a lonely one of them found net. That happened last season and raised his three-year shooting percentage to a rather impressive 0.9%. Not a number you see every day! Did I mention he doesn't have much offensive game?
Our last basket of stats from NHL.com is something of a mixed bag. Gilbert is not a physical player by nature, preferring to use smarts, positioning, reach, and a long, quick stick to get the job done. His minuscule PiM totals are almost worthy of Byng consideration. He has, however, ramped up his hits totals somewhat, although not yet to the complete satisfaction of some of the
braying paying customers. Those who consider Tom to be a little soft would do well to look at those blocked shot totals - clearly, he's willing to take one for the team on that front. Smid meanwhile has PiM and Hit numbers which are hardly suggestive of a major physical force, although he does rank among the team leaders in both categories. The Oilers' blue have been an aphysical group for the most part, and I keep hoping for Ladi to ramp up that side of his game a little more.
Turning now to the micro stats provided by the essential Behind the Net, let's start by looking at Quality of Competition and Teammates. After concentrating only on traditional, plus-minus based QualComp for the forwards, I thought let's look at all three metrics to see if they're telling a consistent tale. For the most part they are, as Gilbert consistently ranks in the top three across the board while Smid languishes in the bottom four.
QualTeam tells an opposite story, at least using my technique of ranking by toughness of assignment (worse teammates = higher ranking). Smid was playing with dregs his first two years while Gilbert was playing with and against the best. In 2009-10 that trend was disrupted as Smid's QualTeam soared, in large part due to being paired with Lubo Visnovsky for much of the year but also playing with a higher class of forwards as well.
Even parsed on a unit time basis there's no comparison between the two on the scoring front. Gilbert has led the team in points per hour in each of his three full seasons, while Smid is third pairing all the way when it comes to offence.
Here's where it starts to get interesting. Team GF/GA results while each man is on the ice show a steady and significant improvement from Smid at both ends of the ice. Gilbert's offensive totals are fine, but his defensive record is a little spottier. Note that even as he finished second on the club in '09-10 he was far behind Smid in this category.
... and here's why. Smid has seen his percentages shoot upwards at both ends of the ice. One could argue that last year's surprising +5 was built on percentages which are unlikely to prove sustainable. Looking specifically at his improving Sv% ON, it seems plausible that some portion of that upward trend is due to improvements in Ladi's own game; he allows far fewer backdoor tap-ins than he did his first couple of years here, and that should show up in his goalie's Sv% stats. Gilbert meanwhile has been pretty steady across the three years. If anything we should expect a bounceback in the Sh% side of things after a snakebitten 2009-10.
I decided to blend in shots per hour to add some dimension to the Relative Corsi figures. Gilbert has been a higher event player throughout the three years, generating 3-4 more shots per 60 but also allowing more shots. Smid has seen his shots for figures rising year over year, but this is offset by a concurrent rise in his shots allowed as he has begun to play with and against better players.
No surprise that Gilbert led not just defecemen but the entire team in his penalty rates. He's not quite Bill Quackenbush, but Tom's ability to stay out of the box is almost uncanny. Unfortunately he doesn't draw as many penalties as one might expect, given how frequently he is the puck carrier, not to mention how often opponents take a run at him. He's not a diver at all, just a very effective slipper of checks. Smid on the other hand is almost supposed to rack up a few penalties as part of his role, and last year came very close to balancing the scales between penalties taken and drawn, a relatively rare feat for a blueliner. PiM has always been one of those weird stats where you want to live in what astronomers call the habitable zone, some happy medium between too few and too many. Guys like Gilbert and Smid should balance each other, finesse and forcefulness. (I've long thought Ladi and Tom would make a real balanced pairing, but in reality they've played together so little I was unable to find a single action shot of them both on the ice at once. In case you were wondering why there are two pix up top!)
At Scott's suggestion I have added Expected OZone Finish percentage. While it's a forced figure easily calculated from OZS%, to omit that step served to rob the process of its clarity. That said, no whizzy formula or fudge factor is needed to see that Tom Gilbert was moving the puck in the right direction. All three years his Zone Differential was not only positive, but it moved right through the important 50% threshold. Each year Tom started more shifts in his own zone than the oppsoition's, but at the end of play the puck was more likely than not to be at the good end of the ice. Not by huge margins in any instance, but consistently better, and it's hard to imagine that being a fluke. Smid on the other hand was going backwards at first, but last year passed Gilbert to finish with the best Zone Diff on the Oilers blueline. If you're thinking that's the Visnovsky Effect, you're only partly right; Smid actually had much the better ZoneShift numbers than Lubo himself in 2009-10.
This one's all Gilbert as Smid doesn't register at all, other than his ridiculous double digit rates last year which were the result of a lone second assist in extremely limited ice time. Gilbert on the other hand has a very good points rate, twice leading Oiler blueliners in that department, however that doesn't translate into much in the way of team success when he's out there. That one's a bit of a puzzler, and I'm inclined to point the finger of doubt at sample size, even after three years of powerplays. The only other hypothesis is that Gilbert is mostly a second unit guy, and while they as a group are less likely to score, on those occasions they are successful the play has likely gone through Tom's stick at some point.
I've added a couple of penalty kill stats since that's an important part of both player's games, unlike the forwards we looked at earlier. SH scoring stats are trivial for defenders, so I thought let's look at Corsi rates as well as the more commonly used goal differentials. Both players have pretty meh numbers that rank in the middle of the pack among the Oilers. Of course the Oilers themselves are nowhere near the middle of the pack, they're among the worst penalty killing teams in the league. It would appear that neither Gilbert nor Smid has been part of the solution, ergo they're likely part of the problem.Since there are no better solutions waiting in the wing, let's just identify the PK as an area both guys need to step up in 2010-11.
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On the whole Gilbert has been by far the more consistent of the two, starting with that line of 82s under the GP column. Both he and his game were fairly mature when he hit the bigs to stay at 24. While I won't for a minute suggest there haven't been growing pains, Tom's learning curve has been relatively flat because it started at a high level.The younger Smid meanwhile has had much further to go, but has made steeper gains at several of our measuring stations. To some extent he's been playing in good luck, to the extent he's been playing at all, where he's had more than his share of bad luck. Injuries have cost him valuable development time and robbed him of opportunity and earning power. What the kid needs more than anything else at this point is a healthy season.