clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

[Wild About Numbers]: Stop Talking About Nino Niederreiter's +/-

New, comments

Nino's a -13 on the year. Find out why that number tells you almost nothing about his play on the ice and should never be mentioned again in the context of any kind of serious analysis of his game.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

We make no effort to hide our love of Nino Niederreiter around here. Since he arrived in Minnesota via trade in the Summer of 2013 he's quickly risen to folk hero status among the Hockey Wilderness community. His relentless, aggressive play in the offensive zone endeared him to us and by the end of the season we were all fairly irritated by Mike Yeo's unwillingness to give him a bigger role at even strength and on the powerplay even as other players (notably Charlie Coyle) produced less with better deployment. Nino's now famous Game 7 OT winner to sink the Avs in the 1st round of the playoffs felt like vindication for his efforts down the stretch.

He's come back this year looking like an even more complete player and there was a feeling that he may break into the top-6 thanks to his versatility (being able to play LW or RW). Unfortunately, Mike Yeo, for all the systematic improvements he has made this year, has continued to marginalise one of his brightest stars. Niederreiter is 8th in TOI/G and ES TOI/G among Wild forwards despite being tied for the team lead in goals with 14. Whenever there's an injury in the top-6 it seems that Nino is never the first guy in line to take the free spot.

So what's Yeo's reasoning for not giving Nino a bigger role? Well in recent weeks his team-worst +/- has become a much quoted stat. It seemed to start with a quote from Yeo in which he pointed out Nino's +/- and said he needs to be more consistent. Before that I don't think I read a single negative thing about him all season. Every Tweet and comment about him during games seemed to just be people purring about his great play. Yet since Yeo's comments it seems like people have started trying to build a narrative to fit the number. His +/- is bad and he's scoring goals so obviously he's just not playing well defensively, right? Well actually, it isn't that simple.

*

Not to beat a dead horse, but +/- is a fairly meaningless stat. With a host of superior metrics readily available out there, it's really just a lazy way to evaluate a player. +/- isn't a measurement of offensive or defensive skill, it's just a measurement of On Ice Shooting% and On Ice Save% both of which, it has been shown, players exert a fairly small degree of control over at best and are driven by teammates shooting talent, goalies ability and luck.


Nino's -13 stems from a couple of things. Firstly, out of 298 forwards who have played at least 300 minutes at 5v5 this season, he ranks #265 in On Ice Sh%. Despite scoring at a good rate himself, his teammates have been shooting a dismal 5.58% when he's on the ice. Now you could make an argument that this is because Nino's giving them such poor service that they're just not getting quality chances but then you're also making the same argument for Anze Kopitar, Eric Staal, Aleksander Barkov, Milan Michalek, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Elias who all have a lower On Ice Sh% than Nino.

SHOT ATTEMPTS

GOALS

FenSH%

NINO NIEDERREITER

83

6

7.23%

TEAMMATES

201

5

2.49%

The main reason Nino is a -13, more than his awful On Ice Sh% is his league-worst (86.89%) On Ice Sv%. The Wild goalies have been awful this year and Nino has felt the brunt of it as they have just failed to make any saves behind him. Just ahead of Nino, ranked 291st, is outgoing Selke Winner Patrice Bergeron. Now unless Bergeron has forgotten how to play defence in the space of a few months, maybe On Ice Sv% is merely driven by the goaltending behind you and not by your defensive play?

Look at it this way, if On Ice Sv% was a measurement of defensive skill SHAWN THORNTON WAS THE BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE FROM 2007 TO 2014. I mean, if that's a point you want to defend, feel free to make an argument in the comment section. I'm all ears. While you're at it, you can argue that THOMAS VANEK IS A BETTER DEFENSIVE PLAYER THAN HENRIK ZETTERBURG, DAVID BACKES, JONATHAN TOEWS AND JOHN TAVARES and that BENOIT POULIOT HAS BEEN THE 9TH BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN THE NHL SINCE HE WAS DRAFTED. Maybe Sidney Crosby (#185) and Jonathan Toews (#209) need to work on their defensive play. Maybe they should have paid more attention to how Dany Heatley (#113) does it. Do you see what I'm getting at, here? Sorry for yelling.

*

Sure, a player can have a huge screw up and leave his goalie with no chance or give his teammate a bad pass that gives him a really low percentage shooting chance but over a large-ish sample size there's no way a winger can be having that big an effect. Maybe a winger who's bad defensively can knock a fraction of a percentage of his goalie's Sv%, but there's no way he's turning good goalies into the worst in the league or making good shooters shoot 3%.

If he is so bad as to have that kind of colossal effect then I'd like to see some hardcore evidence because his play has looked great by the eye test. In fact, as  I mentioned previously, complaints about his play didn't arise until after Yeo mentioned his +/- and his "inconsistent" play.


I asked my Twitter followers how Nino has looked to them this year and didn't receive any responses that suggested anyone had seen how Nino is turning his goalies into sieves. Here's a sample:

The frustrating thing about complaints regarding Nino's defensive play is they've been so vague. "He needs to be better defensively". How? What is he not doing? No one seems to actually have an answer for this. I'm not suggesting he's playing perfect defence, but if he's making his goalies into 86% sieves then it must be something dramatic wrong with his play to say the least. It's a bold claim to make and needs to be backed up with some serious analysis if I'm gonna buy it.

*

To get more perspective on his actual performance with numbers that somewhat reflect his play on the ice, I've used Usage Adjusted Corsi (from ownthepuck.com). This is your basic 5v5 Corsi (on ice shot attempts for vs against) that has been adjusted for who the player has played against, who he has played with and his zone starts. Context is everything when it comes to shot metrics like Corsi and Usage Adjusted Corsi provides just that.


Here are the Wild's players this season ranked by their Usage Adjusted Corsi For and Against:

Usage Adj Corsi For/60

Usage Adj Corsi Against/60

ZACH PARISE

63.3

JUSTIN FONTAINE

41.1

JASON POMINVILLE

63.1

JONAS BRODIN

43.8

JARED SPURGEON

60.3

MARCO SCANDELLA

46.9

MIKKO KOIVU

58.6

MIKKO KOIVU

47

MARCO SCANDELLA

58.2

JASON ZUCKER

49.3

MIKAEL GRANLUND

58.2

ERIK HAULA

49.3

NINO NIEDERREITER

56.8

NINO NIEDERREITER

50.5

CHARLIE COYLE

55.8

KYLE BRODZIAK

52.1

JUSTIN FONTAINE

54.5

RYAN SUTER

52.5

RYAN SUTER

53.9

CHARLIE COYLE

52.9

JONAS BRODIN

53.6

JARED SPURGEON

53.1

JASON ZUCKER

53.3

MIKAEL GRANLUND

54.1

ERIK HAULA

52.4

ZACH PARISE

55.9

NATE PROSSER

50

THOMAS VANEK

55.9

KYLE BRODZIAK

47.2

JASON POMINVILLE

56

THOMAS VANEK

43.9

NATE PROSSER

56.4

So, by this measure, Nino has been equally solid both offensively and defensively. Possession/shot differentials aren't everything for a forward, but Nino's production has been fairly solid too when one considers how few assists he's been able to get thanks to his teammates' low conversion rate. He's ahead of other young Wild forwards Granlund, Coyle and Haula in 5v5 P/60 and is 4th on the team in Shots/60. He's way ahead of any other Wild player in P/60 on the powerplay with a 4.7 (equal to Ovechkin on the year).

...............................................................................................................................................................

I think the ball is firmly in the court of the Nino-doubters to provide strong evidence that he has been bad defensively because I've watched every game this year (re-watched some) and crunched every number I can get my hands on and I can't see how his +/- is related to his play at all.


Leave a comment with your thoughts and please share this around the internets so we can get some discussion on going what is surely a hot button issue among Wild fans right now.

(Thanks to ownthepuck.net, war-on-ice.com and stats.hockeyanalysis.com for all the data)