[Wild About Numbers]: Trying To Make Sense Of Ryan Suter's Negative Puck Possession Numbers

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Suter's poor underlying numbers have been something of a controversial topic around here at times over the last year or so. I've decided to take a closer look at them to see if I can figure out whether or not they are justified or if he is just flat out under-performing.

Below are two player usage charts showing each of Ryan Suter's seasons from 2007-08 (his 3rd year in the league) up to the current season. The bubble colour indicates positive (blue) or negative (red) Corsi relative to the rest of his team. The bubble size is the amount. The X-Axis indicates "Offensive Zone Start%". The Y-Axis represents "Quality Of Competition" in the first chart and "Quality Of Teammates" in the second.

(Right-click on the images and select "open link in new tab" to see them full size)

Season-By-Season Corsi Relative

-Quality Of Competition:

Suter_qoc_medium

  • What this chart tells us is that Suter was a majorly positive influence on his team's puck possession for 5 seasons in Nashville, but suddenly became a negative influence when he arrived in Minnesota.
  • What's stranger is, in terms of deployment, Suter has played the easiest minutes of his career in Minnesota. His usage this season is very comparable to the 2007-08 season.
  • His best season was his last one in Nashville, in which he played tough competition with hard zone starts and yet put up great numbers.

-Quality Of Teammates:

Suter_qot_medium

  • The quality of teammates is another factor that needs to be considered, and this chart shows that Suter had fairly normal QoT last season and slightly below average so far this year.
  • Just to underline how great his 2011-12 season was, not only did he play tough competition, he did so with his lowest quality of teammates of the seasons in the chart above.
  • There is nothing in these charts to suggest that Suter's deployment in Minnesota has been the cause of his dramatic turnaround in underlying numbers.


This Season

-Here's a player usage chart for the Wild's defencemen this season:

Suter_wild_qoc_medium
  • You can see that Suter faces the toughest compeition but the negative effects of this are somewhat mitigated because he also has the highest percentage of offensive zone starts.
  • His usage is about the same level of difficulty as that of Jared Spurgeon, but Spurgeon's results are much better.


-To get some more perspective, here's Suter's usage this season compared to every other d-man in the league (55+ games played):
Suter_vs_nhl_medium
  • Players towards the top left of this chart are playing tougher minutes, while ones to the bottom right are being sheltered.
  • You can see that Suter is somewhere in-between. He doesn't play a shutdown role, but he isn't sheltered either. He is in the "two-way" section of the chart.


-Here is that chart zoomed in so you can see who else is deployed in a similar way to Suter:
Suter_vs_d_oz_medium
  • It's somewhat surprising that Suter and Erik Karlsson have almost the same deployment, given that Karlsson is generally considered an example of a typical offensive defenceman.


Defensive Partners


Over the last two seasons, Suter has spent most of his time with Jonas Brodin and when he hasn't been paired with the young Swede he's been with Jared Spurgeon. Last year, Brodin was amazing and made life a lot easier for Suter as they got into a good groove together. This season, Brodin has struggled defensively and was eventually demoted to the 2nd pairing, with Suter and Spurgeon as the 1st pairing.


-Here are the Corsi For% numbers for Suter with and without Brodin and Spurgeon over the last two seasons:
Suter_wowy_medium
  • Last season, Suter with Brodin was a solid 50% Corsi top pairing but this year there has been a big drop off and they are hovering closer to 45%.
  • On the other hand, Suter with Spurgeon has been above 50% for two seasons. The evidence here suggests that they should remain as the top pairing for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see what Suter's numbers look like by the end of the year if they stay together.
  • It's possible that Suter's poor numbers this year are a result of time spent with the struggling Brodin. Though a counter argument could be made that Suter should be good enough to carry the load on that pairing and still break even in Corsi.


Ice Time

-Here is Suter's total TOI/G and in various situations from the last 7 seasons:

Season

ES TOI/G

PP TOI/G

SH TOI/G

TOI/G

2007-08

15:01

3:24

2:08

20:34

2008-09

18:09

3:52

2:13

24:15

2009-10

18:51

3:12

1:53

23:58

2010-11

19:44

3:25

2:01

25:12

2011-12

20:27

3:41

2:20

26:30

2012-13

21:22

3:46

2:07

27:16

2013-14

23:31

3:50

2:33

29:56

  • Suter's TOI/G has increased by nearly 3.5 minutes since 2011/12, with most of the increase coming at even strength. It could be argued that this is effecting his numbers by making him more fatigued.
  • It's been discussed here ad nauseum, but Suter's over-usage could come back to bite the Wild down the stretch if he ends up hurt. I know he's a great athlete but that doesn't make him invincible.
  • It could also be argued that he would be more effective if a few minutes were shaved off his ice time and he was a bit fresher.


Scoring

-Here are Suter's scoring rates overall and at even strength in each of the last 3 seasons:

Season

P/60

P1/60

ES P/60

ES P1/60

2011-12

1.32

2nd

0.77

2nd

0.64

4th

0.23

6th

2012-13

1.47

1st

0.60

2nd

0.90

1st

0.30

2nd

2013-14

1.08

1st

0.46

3rd

0.73

5th

0.24

4th-T

  • It's not just Suter's underlying numbers that are suffering this season, his even strength scoring has nose-dived somewhat.
  • Last year he was pretty much the sole generator of offence on the Wild's blueline, but this year he has found it much tougher. He is still producing well on the powerplay, but he is just not scoring with anywhere near the same efficiency at even strength.


Limiting Shot Quality

There was an interesting point raised by ThatGuy22 in a thread a while back that went like this:

Suter plays a positional hockey game. His goal is to let the shooter come to him, and keep himself between the shooter and the goalie. He is perfectly happy to let shooters take long range shots, as long as they don't get into a decent scoring position to do it. It saves energy allowing to play half the game, but does a number on his Corsi/Fenwick.

Arguments against Corsi based around shot quality have been researched and disproven many times, but these normally focus on the a team level, so this concept regarding individual players is very interesting and warrants further attention.

The numbers at the time backed the theory up somewhat, with Suter allowing a lower percentage of close range shots than some other notable NHL defencemen. The issues of course were sample size, the possibility of it just being randomness and whether or not this tactic was actually producing positive results in terms of stopping the other team scoring goals and helping the Wild to do so at the other end of the ice.

I decided to look a bit further into this, so I looked at the average distance of shots allowed while Suter and 49 other defencemen were on the ice over the last two seasons. I discounted shots from 30 ft or greater because these outliers would skew results.


-Here are the 50 defencemen this season and last season ranked by average shot distance allowed (This is road data only to minimise noise created by scorers bias):

2013/14

2012/13

NAME

AVERAGE DISTANCE

SH%

NAME

AVERAGE DISTANCE

SH%

CARLE

20.4

15.50%

CARLE

20.3

17.30%

HEDMAN

19.7

16.90%

CAMPBELL

20

11.80%

BIEKSA

19.6

12.40%

HEDMAN

19.7

17.30%

CAMPBELL

19.3

16.20%

SCHULTZ

19.5

16.80%

GILBERT

19.1

16.40%

PHANEUF

19.3

15.70%

BOUWMEESTER

18.8

13%

GILBERT

19

22.20%

GREENE

18.8

18.40%

SUTER

19

16.70%

GREEN

18.7

15.50%

ZIDLICKY

18.8

15.60%

PIETRANGELO

18.7

13.40%

GREENE

18.5

10.20%

SCHULTZ

18.6

12%

CHARA

18.4

11.40%

SUTER

18.3

13.00%

PETRY

18.3

8.70%

EKMAN-LARSSON

18.2

10.90%

YANDLE

18.3

9.60%

HAMHUIS

18.2

11.50%

CARLSON

18.1

11.30%

WEBER

17.9

16.90%

HJALMARSSON

18.1

13.40%

KEITH

17.9

15.20%

EKMAN-LARSSON

18

18.80%

JOSI

17.8

18%

ORPIK

17.9

14.10%

CARLSON

17.8

14.60%

GIRARDI

17.9

14.10%

PETRY

17.8

17.60%

MARKOV

17.8

15.70%

CHARA

17.7

10.70%

WEBER

17.7

12.80%

PHANEUF

17.6

9.30%

BOGOSIAN

17.7

14.50%

VLASIC

17.5

13.00%

DOUGHTY

17.6

9.90%

FOWLER

17.5

7.70%

GREEN

17.5

11.60%

HJALMARSSON

17.4

15.50%

MARTIN

17.4

13.80%

HAMONIC

17.2

11.60%

KEITH

17.3

12.80%

ZIDLICKY

17.2

14.30%

FOWLER

17.3

7.90%

ORPIK

17

21.10%

VLASIC

17.2

12.70%

WISNIEWSKI

17

13.30%

HAINSEY

17.1

20.00%

BRODIE

17

15.70%

PIETRANGELO

17

17.40%

MACDONALD

17

15.20%

JOSI

16.9

11.20%

GIORDANO

17

12.20%

HAMHUIS

16.9

18.50%

SUBBAN

16.9

10.80%

HEJDA

16.9

14.90%

KRONWALL

16.9

17.30%

STREIT

16.8

10.60%

YANDLE

16.7

13.40%

BRODIE

16.8

15.70%

DILLON

16.5

7.80%

KRONWALL

16.7

16.50%

MARTIN

16.4

16.70%

SEKERA

16.5

12.10%

COBURN

16.3

16.00%

MCDONAGH

16.5

14.70%

MARKOV

16.2

9.80%

BIEKSA

16.3

13.90%

KARLSSON

16.2

18.40%

COBURN

16.2

19.60%

HAINSEY

16

13.00%

SUBBAN

16.1

7.40%

GOLIGOSKI

16

14.30%

WISNIEWSKI

16

8.50%

JOHNSON

16

11.90%

GIORDANO

16

23.20%

ENSTROM

15.7

18.30%

KARLSSON

15.8

11.10%

DOUGHTY

15.7

14.00%

JOHNSON

15.8

21.30%

HEJDA

15.7

15.80%

FAULK

15.7

15.80%

FAULK

15.6

19.30%

GOLIGOSKI

15.7

16.10%

BOGOSIAN

15.6

15.00%

MACDONALD

15.5

14.60%

SEKERA

15.5

18.20%

HAMONIC

15.4

17.60%

GIRARDI

15.4

10.20%

ENSTROM

15.3

13.20%

MCDONAGH

15.3

11.70%

BOUWMEESTER

14.9

23.50%

STREIT

15.1

13.30%

DILLON

14.7

15.10%

  • It's interesting that there are some players who registered very similar "average shot distance against" numbers in both seasons, but there are also some who posted two years of wildly different results so it's hard to say how repeatable a skill this is.
  • The opposition shooting percentage numbers fluctuate wildly, suggesting that it's a stat largely driven by luck and randomness as opposed to shot distance.
  • Some of the guys who are near the top both years, such as Brian Campbell, Victor Hedman, Tom Gilbert, Jay Bouwmeester and Andy Greene post positive Corsi numbers while seemingly doing a great job at forcing opponents to shoot from further away. This puts something of a knife in the idea that playing that style of game results in ugly underlying numbers.
  • There are some guys near the top of both tables, such as Matt Carle and Justin Schultz who have poor puck possession numbers but seem to be good at forcing longer range shots against like Suter.
  • What this all suggests is that there's a whole lot of randomness at play here.
  • Also of note, last season, Marek Zidlicky's average distance of shots surrendered was about the same as Suter's but the Devils conceded goals on a lower percentage of those shots than the Wild. Likewise, this year Justin Schultz has similar average distance to Suter but a lower Sh% against. You could read into that and say that they were better than Suter at limiting "quality shots" against, but it's most likely that it's just randomness and driven by goaltending.



-Just to illustrate the point, here are the top-15 defencemen out of this group in average shot distance allowed and the correlation between the average distance of shots they surrender and their Corsi relative:
Corsi_rel_shot_distance_medium

  • The R-squared value 0.0017 means that there is no correlation between the average distance of shots against while a defenceman is on the ice and their Corsi relative, or at least not within this sample of players.


-Here is the two year average for shot distance against and opposition Sh% for the 50 defencemen:

2_year_average_medium

  • Once again, there is no suggestion here that forcing the opposition to shoot from greater distances positively effects the numbers of goals your team gives up.

*

Let's say Suter is employing a technique of allowing shot attempts against but preventing quality scoring chances, then surely the positive effect of this technique would show up in his numbers compared to the rest of the Wild defence.


-The following table shows the Wild's 5v5 goals, shots, unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) and shot attempts (Corsi) for and against per 20 minutes this season with Suter on the ice and where he ranks among the Wild's defencemen:

GF20

GA20

SF20

SA20

FF20

FA20

CF20

CA20

0.515

7th

0.515

3rd

8.528

3rd

9.425

2nd

11.896

3rd

13.351

2nd

16.057

3rd

17.630

4th

  • Suter is fairly middle-of-the-pack in all areas, but the one that stands out is he has the lowest on ice goal rate of all Wild defencmen.
  • If he is employing defensive techniques to limit shot quality against, it isn't having any major effect on his numbers by the looks of things. He's seeing goals being scored while he's on the ice at a fairly normal rate.


Summary

I've gone into as much detail as I can on this. I can't say for sure that Suter's poor puck possession numbers aren't a result of some kind of shot quality-limiting technique, but I have reason to believe that is not the case. A key thing to consider is that he posted excellent numbers in Nashville so, unless he drastically changed something technically when he arrived in Minnesota, he could just be underperforming or suffering from not playing beside an experienced elite defenceman like Shea Weber.

A key thing to consider is that he posted excellent numbers in Nashville

You can dismiss the numbers and say that anything that insinuates Ryan Suter isn't playing at an elite level must be wrong, but it's worth bearing in mind that the accepted elite defencemen in this league such as Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara and P.K. Subban are all positive Corsi players. Isn't it strange that Suter isn't?

In my opinion, whether by the eye-test or by the numbers, the Wild need more from Suter. He is often talked about as a top-5 or top-10 player in this league but I don't think we've seen that this season. He's been good, but he needs to be great if this team is gonna turn into a serious threat come playoff time.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So, what are your thoughts on all of this, Wilderness? Any suggestions of other things I could've looked at here, or anything I missed? Leave a comment in the comments section. I'm interested to hear some opinions on this.

Follow me on Twitter for more Wild talk and analysis.


[P.s. Major props to SomeKindOfNinja, the site I used for all the shot location data and some of the player usage charts. Also, thanks to Stats.HockeyAnalysisBehindTheNetExtraSkater and Hockey Abstract for various other numbers.]

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