With the trade deadline coming up at the end of February, most of the focus has been on the players with either expiring contracts (Teddy Purcell, Eric Gryba) and players that have struggled to adjust to Todd McLellan's system (Justin Schultz, Mark Fayne). One player that I'm surprised hasn't really been considered as an expendable asset at this point is 29 year old Lauri Korpikoski. The winger is currently in the third year of a 4-year, $10 million contract he signed with Arizona.
A few weeks ago, I dug into Korpikoski's numbers a little more, mainly because he had played a lot of time with Anton Lander, who has been in an awful funk all season. It was all part of exploring what effects Lander was having on his teammates and vice versa, and if what I was seeing on the ice matched what the numbers were telling me. When I took a longer look at Korpikoski's history, I came away with one key finding: Korpikoski is not a good player.
Over the course of his career, Korpikoski has been a terrible possession player and has been a pretty significant drag on his most common linemates. Here we see how his teams have done possession-wise at even-strength (score adjusted) with him on the ice, and when he's on the bench (Source: War on Ice)
Here we see a significant jump in the Oiler's overall possession numbers when Korpikoski is on the bench, with common results occurring in the past with the Coyotes. These type of individual possession numbers in relation to team numbers aren't at all common among players, and actually places Korpikoski near the bottom of the league over the past three seasons. And based on the HERO charts developed by Domenic Galamini, Korpikoski has continued getting regular minutes over the past three seasons (172 games) but still performs at a fourth line level when it comes to actual point production and overall possession metrics.
So now what?
It's become very hard to justify spending another $2.5 million on a player next season that clearly isn't performing at the NHL level. Korpikoski has really become a more expensive version of Rangers forward Tanner Glass, which is no easy feat. Neither player has a history of consistent production or has had a positive impact on team possession (Source: War on Ice - Similarity Scores). Even when it comes to things like blocks and hits, Korpikoski is ranked well behind a lot of the forwards. Yet players like Korpikoski still get regular minutes due to either the coach over valuing them or because the GM has invested heavily in them. Keep in mind, the Oilers traded away center Boyd Gordon to acquire a younger player in Korpikoski, but also had to take on a more expensive contract that also had another year on it. Chiarelli took a risk here, and it clearly hasn't paid off.
Again, my take on Korpikoski isn't based solely on the numbers. The reason I even started digging into these metrics is because of the poor play I was seeing on the ice among all of the Oilers bottom six forwards. It's become apparent to me that this is an overpriced winger who should be traded at the deadline for picks or prospects as a way to clear out the much-needed cap space for the off-season. Korpikoski is a very replaceable player, whose spot could potentially be taken by Zack Kassian or one of the prospects from Bakersfield like Jujhar Khaira if they're ready. There is no reason to keep Korpikoski at this point, but as always, I'm open to feedback.