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March 31, 2010
Howe and Why
Slideback Players

by Robert Vollman

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Last week we looked at players who have bounced back from one or two disappointing seasons and are back to their previous level of excellence. This week we'll look at those who have slid back to previously disappointing levels of play after one or two seasons of great performance.

The Method

Once again we've used GVT to measure each player's performance. For each player, we determined their high point as their GVT for the previous season, or the season before if it was still quite high, but a little lower. Then we looked at the GVT of the previous season, and determined the slideback GVT as the distance between the high point and either this season or the low point, whichever is less. Once again we didn't include players whose slides can be attributed to injuries. Here are the top 15 slides:

Legend:

GVT: 2009-10 GVT as of March 22, 2010.

HIGH: The minimum GVT in the strong period.

LOW: The GVT prior to the strong period.

SLIDE: Difference between either current or low-point GVT, and the GVT in the strong period.

Skater            Pos Age Team           GVT HIGH  LOW SLIDE
David Krejci        C 23 Boston          4.9 18.3  1.9  13.4
Devin Setoguchi    RW 23 San Jose        4.3 13.9  4.1   9.6
Michael Ryder      RW 29 Boston          2.9 12.0  2.0   9.1
Rob Blake           D 40 San Jose        6.0 14.9  2.5   8.9
Jeff Carter         C 25 Philadelphia   13.2 21.8 10.0   8.6
Craig Conroy        C 38 Calgary         1.1 11.4  3.0   8.4
Todd White          C 34 Atlanta         0.5  9.4  1.3   8.1
Marc-Edouard Vlasic D 22 San Jose        3.4 10.9  1.9   7.5 
Shane Doan         RW 33 Phoenix         7.1 14.5  7.1   7.4 
Evgeni Malkin       C 23 Pittsburgh     11.7 23.4 16.0   7.4 
Slava Kozlov       LW 37 Atlanta         0.7 11.7  4.8   6.9
Dennis Wideman      D 26 Boston          3.5 10.0  1.8   6.5    
Brad Boyes          C 27 St. Louis       3.7 10.2  2.4   6.5 
Cory Sarich         D 31 Calgary         1.0  7.4 -0.9   6.4
Denis Grebeshkov    D 26 Nashville       3.7 10.4  4.1   6.3 

Last week we saw lots of Philadelphia Flyers and Phoenix Coyotes among our list of bounceback players. The equivalent in the slideback category is Boston and San Jose and, to a lesser extent, Atlanta and Calgary.

Before we look at those two teams, you can see that even the surprising Flyers and Coyotes can have slideback players. Jeff Carter followed up a season where he went from 29 goals, 53 points and +6 to 46 goals, 84 points and +23. But by scoring only 1 point in the postseason, he signalled that he was at risk of sliding back down to 33 goals, 60 points and +3,

As for Shane Doan, the former Winnipeg Jet (only a few of those left!) scored 27 goals, 55 points and was -14 at age 30, perhaps foreshadowing an early end to his career. Instead the celebrated Canadian leader enjoyed back-to-back plus seasons (+4 and +5) for the first time in his career and also scored 70 points for the first two times in his career. Unfortunately he has only 17 goals and 53 points this year at age 33, with a shooting percentage of 7.7 -- his lowest since he was 22 and skating alongside the likes of Mike Stapleton.

Brutal Boston

Things really came together for the Boston Bruins in 2008-09 (well, at least until the playoffs). About a dozen players had career seasons well above their established level of play, so while a regression to the mean should come as no surprise, the Bruins drove right past that mean all the way to the other end of the statistical spectrum.

For example:

  • David Krejci went from 27 pts and -3 to 73 points and +37 and back down to 46 points and +3.
  • Veteran winger Michael Ryder went from 31 points and -4 to 53 points and +28 back down to 31 points and +2.
  • Blueliner Dennis Wideman rose from 25 points, to 36, to 50, and now back to 25. Meanwhile his plus-minus rating went from -10 to +11 to +32 and now down to -13.

It says a lot about the talent level of the Boston Bruins that they can swing from being so very hot to so very cold and yet still find themselves in a playoff position. It takes more courage than I have to make a prediction for 2010-11.

Sliding San Jose

After two seasons in Los Angeles where he topped out at 34 points and suffered a combined -45, some people thought that the Sharks had wasted $3.5 million on a 39-year-old blueliner. Instead Rob Blake responded with 45 points and +15 -- his best plus-minus rating since playing on those dominant Colorado teams early this decade. Unfortunately he's slid back down to 27 points and the lowest shooting percentage of his illustrious career.

It's one thing for a 40-year-old to take a bit of a slide, but what about those in their early 20s? Last year Marc-Edouard Vlasic went from 14 points to 36, and -12 to +25. As a 22-year-old his defense has remained strong, but he has slid back down to 14 points. As for Devin Setoguchi, he went from 17 points in a rookie half-season to 31 goals and 65 points with a +16 for the Sharks last year. At 23 this season he's regressed to 34 points and +2. The offensive contributions of younger players can sometimes be quite volatile, Shark fans should hope that they eventually settle closer to 2008-09 levels than 2009-10.

No Leafs?

While it's interesting to see certain teams and players show up on this list, it's almost as interesting to see who isn't on this list. Despite their disappointing positions in the standings, the league's worst teams aren't making many appearances on this list. Many of their players have either been on a one-way downward slide for years, or else they're playing at consistently inadequate levels year-after-year.

Wrap Up

It's more fun to study the great players that have bounced back and re-discovered their games, but we can't ignore those whose careers have moved in the opposite direction. With a few possible exceptions (Blake, Conroy, Kozlov), the list of players is populated mostly by younger players whose established levels of performance are yet to be written in stone. Keep a close eye on teams like the Bruins and next year we might be writing about their remarkable comebacks.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Player Power Rankings (03/30)
<< Previous Column
Howe and Why (03/22)
Next Column >>
Howe and Why (05/17)
Next Article >>
Driving To The Net (03/31)

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