Kyle Brodziak has been subject to a lot of criticism from Wild fans over the last couple of seasons for his lack of production, with many fans seemingly misunderstanding his role in the team, which is to play the "tough minutes" to make life easier for the Wild's scoring lines to dominate the opposition's weaker lines. Not only does Brodziak's line take on tough competition, it also usually starts shifts in the defensive zone, which makes it very tough for them to produce offensively.
What I'm gonna look at here is how Brodziak's performance compares to other forwards who have played an extremely defensive role this year. I want to find out if he has been one of the better "shutdown" forwards in the league, or at least doing a good enough job to excuse his lack of production.
The 19 forwards I will be analysing here have (A) played at least 50% of the season thus far, (B) have started at least 40% of their shifts in the defensive zone and (C) have accounted for at least 20% of their team's total even-strength TOI.
Firstly, let's see how much these forwards see the ice at even-strength to get an idea of how important they are to their team outside of just their "defensive specialist" role. "EVTm%" refers to the percentage of a team's even-strength ice time a player is on the ice for.
|7||Jay McClement||C||Maple Leafs||24.70%|
- It's no coincidence that Stajan and Jones of the Flames are high on this list, while Kruger and Smith of the Blackhawks are low. Teams with good forward depth can afford to use specialist players in limited minutes. Teams like the Flames have to use their best players in all situations to stay afloat.
- Still, as we know, the Wild have pretty decent forward depth this year, yet Mike Yeo still puts Brodziak, along with his constant partner, Matt Cooke, on the ice very regularly at even-strength as he trusts them to contribute both defensively and offensively against whatever line the opposition deploy.
|1||Jay McClement||C||Maple Leafs||62.50%|
- As you can see, Brodziak is one of the key penalty-killing forwards in the league. He is on the ice for more than 50% of the team's shorthanded minutes. This, coupled with his heavy even-strength usage, is why he plays a lot more minutes than most 3rd line centres in the NHL.
Here are the players ranked by the percentage of shifts they have started in the defensive zone, a key trait of a defensive forward. I have also listed their offensive and neutral zone start percentages just to make sure that there aren't any players who are balancing a heavy defensive load with a lot of offensive zone starts:
|9||Jay McClement||C||Maple Leafs||21.80%||30.10%||48.10%|
- Brodziak is middle-of-the-pack in terms of defensive zone deployment. Bear in mind, this is a very small group of players in context of the entire league, so his deployment is still tough, but not quite as severe as Boyd Gordon or Manny Malholtra, who start over 60% of shifts in front of their own goalie.
- Brodziak also starts a high percentage of shifts in the neutral zone, unlike Chris Kelly, who is equal to Brodziak in defensive zone deployment, but counters the negative effects with a lot of offensive zone starts.
Quality Of Competition
Aside from zone-starts, the other important factor to consider when evaluating defensive forwards is the quality of competition they face. One way of doing this is by using TotTm% QoC, which measures the percentage of 5v5 ice time a player's on-ice opponents account for. More simply, it tells you whether or not a player is going up against the other team's best players (who account for a higher percentage of TOI) or the lesser players (who account of a lower percentage):
|Player||Pos.||Team(s)||Tot Tm% QoC|
|5||Jay McClement||C||Maple Leafs||28.50%|
- Brodziak is right near the top in this category, with only Stajan and Jones facing more of the opposition's top players. As I mentioned earlier, this is a key part of Brodziak's game and the main reason he struggles to produce. His job is to occupy the other team's best players and minimise the damage they can cause, while the Wild's star players try to dominate the lesser players on the other team.
- Boyd Gordon, Manny Malholtra and Dominic Moore get buried in terms of zone-starts, but their job is made easier because they don't face particularly tough competition.
Kyle Brodziak-Most Regular 5v5 Opponents 2013-2014
- As you can see, these are pretty much all top-line forwards or excellent top-6 contributors.
Now, let's look at how effective each player is at tilting the ice in favour of their team. This is where all the context provided by zone-starts, competition faced and the effect of teammates needs to be applied when looking at each player's numbers. You expect a defensive forward who starts more shifts in their own zone and against the other team's best players to end-up with a negative Corsi number, but the really effective ones should be able to keep it from being too ugly:
|18||Jay McClement||C||Maple Leafs||40.70%||-2.30%|
- Brodziak's Corsi For % is right in the middle of this group. The other team gets just under 64% of shot attempts while he is on the ice. I'll take a closer look at this in a little bit to see how much this was affected by his zone-starts etc.
Here are the forwards ranked by their Even-Strength points production (EV P/60):
|19||Jay McClement||C||Maple Leafs||0.43|
- Brodziak ranks towards the bottom of this group, with 0.86 points per 60 minutes. I'll go into more depth on his scoring in a little bit.
Numbers Relative To Difficulty Of Minutes
To get a better idea of how good or bad Brodziak's possession and production numbers are, I've narrowed this list down to the guys with at least 44.40% D-Zone starts, under 25% O-Zone starts and a TotTm% QoC of at least 28%:
|6||Jay McClement||C||Maple Leafs||40.70%||-2.30%|
- Among these players who are deployed in similar minutes, Brodziak ranks 3rd behind Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith of the Chicago Blackhawks in Corsi For %, which is pretty good. He's not setting the world on fire, but his performance in terms of driving puck possession is perfectly fine for a player who gets the tough minutes he does.
Using the same group of similar players, let's take a deeper look at Brodziak's production issues this season. Below I have listed the players along with their Even Strength Points per 60 minutes (EV P/60), their individual shot-attempts per 60 minutes (EV CF/60), their goals and shooting percentage in all situations this season, their career shooting percentage before this season, their even-strength assists this season and their On-ice Sh%:
|Player||Pos.||Team(s)||EV P/60||EV CF/60||Goals||Sh%||Career Sh%||EV Assists||5v5 On-Ice Sh%|
|6||Jay McClement||C||Maple Leafs||0.43||7.7||1||3.20%||8.80%||2||5.80%|
- It's pretty clear why Brodziak's production has been so low this year. He is generating shot attempts at a pretty good rate, but has been completely snakebitten in terms of shooting percentage. You can criticise his offensive ability all you want, but when a player is shooting more than 6% below his career average, you can put it almost entirely down to bad luck. Shooting percentage has been shown to regress to the mean over time, and Brodziak's will, and the goals will start to flow.
- The other side of the coin is that he is also not getting as many assists as he should, and this probably has a lot to do with his drastically low On-Ice Sh%, suggesting that he has been somewhat unlucky in terms of his teammates not finding the back of the net with their shots while he is on the ice. That is something I would also expect to get better as the season progresses.
So, in conclusion:
- Brodziak has played some of the toughest minutes of any forward in the league this year.
- His performance in this role has been okay. It could be better, but I certainly wouldn't pinpoint him as a reason for the Wild's recent struggles, or as a weak point in the team.
- His offensive production needs to be better, but the numbers suggest that he is doing a lot of things right and just needs to get some puck luck. His Sh% and On-Ice Sh% should regress to the mean and his goals and assist totals should increase as they do.
- I understand why he cops a lot of flak, but his role is vitally important and extremely thankless. If you take him out of the team, who plays those tough minutes? Sure the Koivu line could do that, but then who steamrolls the oppostions's weaker lines? The Wild have some decent forward depth, but they're not the Chicago Blackhawks, who can roll 4 effective lines in any situation. Having players away from the top line who can handle those tough minutes is vital for a team like the Wild to compete.
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