The Return of David Booth
Something was up with David Booth earlier this season, but he's been excellent for the Vancouver Canucks since returning from his conditioning stint a month ago. He's been an interesting case since the trade bringing him here from Florida at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season.
Booth was sent down to Utica for a conditioning stint on November 4, and returned for two home games against San Jose and Dallas, both losses, before finding himself back in the lineup for good a game before the Canucks' recent four-game road trip. In the 11 games played since his re-insertion, Booth has four goals on 27 shots. The shots are the more encouraging sign: in his first 11 games on the season, Booth had played reasonably-well on defence, enough to make him a plus player and lead the team in penalties drawn, but his offence was lacking, having averaged just over one shot per game.
"Shots per game" is a fine way to judge an offensive player's contribution. Goals are sporadic occurrences and shots are a more repetitive indicator of a player's ability. Shooting percentage acts as a sort of random walk that tends to revert to the mean over long stretches, and the players that generate the most shots consistently tend to be the top scorers. Most notably, perhaps, is that since the 2005-2006 season, Alexander Ovechkin, the league's best goal scorer by 90 goals, averaged over five shots a game, and eight of the top ten individual seasons for shots per game, including the top six, belong to him.
So after 11 games, how did David Booth look compared to the rest of his career?
Shots/60 Min 5v5
(Data from Hockey Analysis and Hockey Reference)
The first column is just shots on goal per game. The second column is shots on goal per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, and while you could argue that the decrease in Booth's shots rate between 2011 and 2012 is due to lesser ice-time, that definitely wasn't the case at the start of the 2013-2014 season. Booth had gotten unlucky in his limited time in the 2013 season due to it being shortened by injury, and just 3.7% of his shots reached the back of the net. Unlucky, but that excuse vanished at the start of this year.
Here is his shot production since his conditioning stint:
Shots/60 Min 5v5
(Data from ExtraSkater's game logs)
Whether the stint gave Booth more time to heal, or simply lit a fire under the Detroit native, Booth's recent numbers look very much-more like his 2012 numbers than those from the early part of the season. Also, since being re-inserted into the lineup permanently, he's taken 2.45 shots per game and his shots per 60 minutes rate is back in the double digits, at 10.39. He's been rewarded through that time with four goals, bringing his "goals per 82 games" rate back up to 17 on the season and 20 over his brief stint as a Canuck. It's still below 25, which is what Booth came to Vancouver advertised as, but 17 goals is just above average production for a second line player in the National Hockey League. We'll see what happens from now until the end of the season, of course, but there are some very encouraging signs for Booth in the individual shot department. Again, he's a very interesting case because his production has been extremely volatile over the last five seasons, but in the NHL, volatility breeds opportunity, and capitalizing on a hot scoring streak is something the Canucks need to do right now.
As for the rest of Booth's numbers, he remains a tough nut to crack. The Canucks have put up good Corsi numbers with Booth on the ice, out-shooting their opposition 197 to 172 in score-close situations with Booth on, for a rate of 53.4%, slightly higher than the rate when he's off the ice. His penalty differential is still a strong +3, which is tied for second on the club with Dan Hamhuis, Alex Burrows, and Mike Santorelli behind Daniel Sedin's very strong +7. Getting more penalties called in your favour generally happens when the puck is on your stick, so, again, encouraging signs for Vancouver, who seemed to be missing an extra 20-goal winger through the first bit of the season. Booth's return has been more consistent with his career-to-date, and I expect that kind of performance going forward. Anything above 2.50 is a good and sustainable shots per game rate, and with a normalized shooting percentage, should add up to a goal every four or five games. Booth is just below that, but ought to get more minutes in the days going forward as he improves.
Chris Tanev's penalty killing proficiency
For an individual player perspective, the best story this season has been Mike Santorelli, but over the last four years, would anybody deny that the distinction goes to Chris Tanev's rise from an undrafted free agent to a player on the team's number one defensive pairing?
There are several ridiculous things about Tanev this season. The first has been his minutes played. He's one of 18 defencemen in the league to have more than 20 minutes played per game, including at least two more minutes shorthanded than on the powerplay. At 2:29, Tanev leads the Canucks in shorthanded ice time per game, and has had just 14 seconds of powerplay time per game. A lot of big-minute defencemen rack up minutes on the powerplay, such as Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler and Jason Garrison, but among the 94 defencemen at 20 or more minutes, Tanev has the 12th fewest powerplay minutes, there with notorious stalwarts Brayden Coburn, Andrew Ference and Johnny Oduya.
Second, his quality of competition. There are several different ways to quantify the level of competition against, but my favourite is counting the ice-time of the opponents a player lined up against. Tanev's forward opponents play 26.5% of their team's shifts, which is second on the Canucks defence behind Hamhuis' 26.7%, and also 36th in the NHL, ahead of guys like Ryan Suter, Victor Hedman, P.K. Subban and Drew Doughty. Quality of competition does not "make" the defenceman, but the Canucks have been a better team with Tanev on the ice at even strength than off of it. They've had a 53.4% share of all shot attempts (Corsi) in score-close situations, which is half a percentage point better than the team when Tanev is off the ice. That makes his team-leading shot blocking number (51 at even strength) even more notable. A lot of shot blockers rack up numbers because they spend a lot of time in their own end, but that doesn't appear to be the case for Tanev. When he's on the ice, the Canucks have the puck more than they don't, and force the other team to block the shots.
Third, though, is this incredible statistic from Thomas Drance dug up Saturday night after his shorthanded tally against Boston:
Chris Tanev is now over 88 minutes of 4-on-5 icetime this season. Vancouver's goal differential in those 88 minutes? +1.
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) December 15, 2013
The Canucks conceded a powerplay goal against in the Minnesota game, but it was Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison on the ice for Vancouver, so the statistic continues to hold up. The .944 save percentage goaltenders have put up with Tanev on during 4-on-5 situations helps, but through Sunday's game, Tanev was 7th in the league among defenceman in the fewest shots conceded per 20 minutes of shorthanded ice-time.
In May of 2010, do you think that the Canucks scouting staff envisioned Tanev would be one of the league's elite penalty killers before his 24th birthday?
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