[Wild About Numbers]: Mikko Koivu Isn't Going To Be The 3rd Line Centre Next Season

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

If you think Mikko Koivu should be the 3rd line centre next season, then you urgently need to read this.

Yesterday, I noticed some anti-Koivu sentiment floating around the Wild blogosphere. Some Wild fans seem to think that next year the team's 1st and 2nd line centres should be Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula, with the defensively responsible Koivu playing on the 3rd line. This is coming in the wake of a big showing from the two young "Finnesotans" in Game 3 of the Wild's 2nd round series against the Blackhawks. Koivu's recent scoring slump (which I covered in some detail on Tuesday) hasn't helped matters, not that he is spared criticism at the best of times. Once again, we're hearing about how Koivu is overpaid, how he isn't a good leader, he's not a good skater, he's not good at zone entries, he's not fast, he doesn't score enough etc. etc.

As good as Haula has been, he is a long way from being a top-6 centre. Bearing in mind that he is 23 and reasonably close to being in the typical scoring prime for an NHL player, he had a good season both in terms of scoring and his all round game, but it was playing 10 minutes a night mostly against 4th liners. In particular, he looked impressive in a short stint covering for Granlund at 2C towards the end of the regular season and he has been very useful in the post season. Still, overreacting to small sample sizes is foolish. That's the kind of thinking that gets Ville Leino $27 million over 6 years. Haula is yet to have a full season in the NHL, whereas Koivu has a long track record of success. I think Haula will be a really good 3rd line centre in this league, but let's wait awhile before crowing him as a top-6 NHLer.

As much as he is derided by sections of the Wild fanbase, Koivu is one of the best two-way centres in the league. He's the club captain and lead Wild forwards in TOI/G once again this season. The idea of him being demoted to 3rd line minutes in favour of Haula and Granlund is just foolish. Everyone that watches Koivu seems to have a different opinion about his value, so let's use some good 'ol unbiased numbers to see if we can work that out.


Basic Stats

KOIVU - 2013/14

STAT

TEAM RANK

P/60

2nd

A/60

1st

Setup Pass/60

1st

FO%

1st

Sh%

11th

On Ice Sh%

13th

CF%

1st

TOI/G

4th

PP TOI/G

3rd

SH TOI/G

9th

  • Koivu was 2nd on the team this year in terms of P/60, thanks to his playmaking ability (as you can see by his A/60 and SP/60).
  • He was the Wild's best player at the dot, best possession player and played important minutes at EV, on the powerplay and shorthanded.
  • A big factor to consider when looking at his production rate is that he had a down year in terms of Sh%, shooting well below his career average. That, coupled with his extremely low On Ice Sh% (13th on the team!), definitely hurt his production.


Puck Possession


So, we know he's important to the Wild, but lets compare him to other NHL centres. I have compiled a couple of Player Usage Charts featuring Koivu and a bunch of the top centres around the league in terms of TOI/G.


-Y Axis =Quality Of Competition/X Axis=OZSt%:
Koivu_qoc_medium


-Y Axis =Quality Of Teammates/X Axis=OZSt%:

Koivu_qot_medium

  • You can see that, among these centres, Koivu has one of the higher percentages of offensive zone starts, but also one of the highest levels of quality of competition. Also, his quality of teammates is below average.
  • His closest comparable in terms of usage is Henrik Sedin, who only has slightly better corsi. Sedin has a reputation as one of the best puck possession players in the league, so that is pretty impressive.
  • The point I'm making is, Koivu's possession numbers are ELITE. He played tough competition with lower quality teammates (on a negative puck possession team) and put up better corsi than Sidney Crosby in similar usage.
  • Looking at Corsi Rel for all forwards in the league last season, only Patrice Bergeron could best Koivu's +9.2% (beating him by +0.5%).
  • Trust me, if Koivu was as slow or as bad at skating or as incapable at gaining the zone as some people suggest, he wouldn't be dominating possession the way he does. He is an incredibly gifted two way player who couples strong play in the offensive zone with elite defensive skills.



Scoring

Player

Pos.

Team(s)

GP

G/60

A/60

P/60

1

Evgeni Malkin

C

Penguins

60

1.15

2.44

3.59

2

Tyler Seguin

C

Stars

80

1.43

1.82

3.26

3

Claude Giroux

R

Flyers

82

1.00

2.08

3.08

4

Nicklas Backstrom

C

Capitals

82

0.67

2.25

2.92

5

Jason Spezza

C

Senators

75

1.01

1.89

2.90

6

David Krejci

C

Bruins

80

0.75

1.96

2.71

7

Jonathan Toews

C

Blackhawks

76

1.08

1.54

2.62

8

Anze Kopitar

C

Kings

82

1.02

1.44

2.45

8

Mikko Koivu

C

Wild

65

0.49

1.90

2.38

10

Valtteri Filppula

C

Lightning

75

1.00

1.32

2.32

11

Eric Staal

C

Hurricanes

79

0.79

1.50

2.28

12

Henrik Sedin

C

Canucks

70

0.46

1.62

2.07

13

Brad Richards

C

Rangers

82

0.78

1.21

2.00

14

Marcus Johansson

C

Capitals

80

0.34

1.54

1.88

15

Sam Gagner

C

Oilers

67

0.49

1.32

1.80

16

Travis Zajac

C

Devils

80

0.66

1.11

1.77

  • Here are a bunch of the centres from the charts above who had similar enough zone starts to Koivu sorted by points per 60 minutes. Critics of Koivu often cite the fact that he doesn't score as much as other top centres, well this table dispels that notion to some degree.
  • Koivu slots in half way down the list, just behind Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews and just ahead of Valterri Filppula and Eric Staal, which is pretty respectable.
  • Once again, it's important to remember that Koivu had a really bad year in terms of Sh% and On Ice Sh% that definitely hurt his points total pretty badly.
  • I don't think there's anything wrong with that production rate for a guy who's most regular linemates were Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle. No disrespect to Parise, but he isn't a point-per-game scorer anymore and Coyle produced like a 3rd liner all season. Koivu didn't have an Ovechkin or a Benn or a Marleau or a Pacioretty or a Kessel on his wing.


Summary

This stuff about Koivu being the 3rd line centre next year is why people really need to start factoring deployment and possession numbers into their analysis. Granlund and Haula were both negative corsi players in easier minutes. Expecting Granlund to just waltz into those top minutes Koivu plays without any drop off in performance is ridiculous. The same goes for Haula stepping into Granlund's minutes.

I think Koivu is going to have a big bounce-back year in 2014/15 in terms of production thanks to some Sh% regression and the Wild hopefully having better depth. I'm sure the doubters will continue to doubt but right now the onus is on them to prove why Koivu should be a 3rd line centre, because there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Vague statements about his game (that don't in any way line up with what I, or I'm sure many of you,  see when watching him) aren't going to cut it. I need to see something a bit more conclusive to convince me. Saying "Granlund's a good fit with Parise" or "Haula would be a good  fit with Vanek" is just baseless speculation


What's your take on all of this, Wilderness?

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Thanks to Extra Skater, Hockey Analysis, Hockey Abstract and SomeKindOfNinja for all the data.

For a quick advanced stats 101, read this. For more in-depth stuff, read this.

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