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January 10, 2011
Stats and Fury
With or Without Bobby Ryan

by Kent Wilson

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When Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in 2006-07, Randy Carlyle employed a meticulous bench management scheme that privileged his young forwards with soft circumstances. Gifted with a unique forward roster featuring capable, established top six players (Andy McDonald and Teemu Selanne) as well as a completely suffocating checking unit (Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen), Carlyle was able to consistently deploy the up-and-coming trio of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Penner against the opposition's lesser lights. The result was a unique one-two-three punch where Pahlsson et al soaked up the most unforgiving of minutes, ceding the higher ground to the other two scoring units. The kids, and team as a whole, obviously benefitted. Getzlaf and company established themselves as NHLers and the Ducks won The Cup.

Four years hence and the ravages of time and budget constraints have all but decimated the Ducks' depth. Gone are Chris Pronger (traded), Scott Niedermayer (retired) and the entire "Nothing Line" (UFA's). All that remains of that previous championship squad are Perry, Getzlaf and the somehow-still-dangerous Teemu Selanne. The kids have grown beyond their entry level deals and sheltered roles however. Perry and Getzlaf now fill multiple functions on a club that can no longer afford to build matchup schemes three lines deep: they routinely play against other top players and are depended upon to carry the bulk of the offensive load. The pair have effectively evolved into functionally elite forwards, but that hasn't halted the club's backwards slide from league champion to Western Conference also-ran.

Of particular relevance to this discussion were the contentious contract negotiations of former second overall pick and 30-goal scorer Bobby Ryan. A restricted free agent, Ryan held out for a majority of the summer and won a raise to the tune of $5.1 million over the next five years.

It was a high price to pay for a player with just two seasons worth of noteworthy counting stats under his belt. That said, Ryan's five-on-five Corsi rate of +5.25/60 was the best amongst regular Ducks skaters last year. Leading a team in terms of possession at the age of 22 is an impressive accomplishment given the degree young players typically struggle in this regard during their formative years in the league. Perhaps "the guy chosen after Sydney Crosby" isn't such a bad bet at $5 million per?

A Corsi WOWY ("With Or Without You") analysis seems to underscore Ryan's value to the club. His linemates at even strength last season were mostly limited to Perry (52%), Getzlaf (40%) and Saku Koivu (26%), so we can restrict our inquiry to those three players.

With Ryan

Player		Total	Corsi+	Corsi-	Corsi+/-	Ratio
Getzlaf		969	518	451	+67		0.535
Perry		1,252	660	592	+68		0.527
Koivu		647	370	277	+93		0.572

Without Ryan	

Player		Total	Corsi+	Corsi-	Corsi+/-	Ratio	WOWY
Getzlaf		1,024	494	530	-36		.482	+9.8%
Perry		1,226	581	645	-64		0.474	+10.1%
Koivu		1,096	521	575	-54		0.475	+16.9% 

The results seem unambiguous: the puck spent decidedly more time at the good end of the rink when each player was skating with Ryan. The results were so good, however, that they seem to fly in the face of common sense. After all, Perry and Getzlaf are highly capable players and it's suspicious that Bobby Ryan would tilt the scales of possession so completely and singlehandedly. So unless Ryan has somehow become the best forward on the club in the space of a season and a half (possible, but not probable), it behooves us to search for moderating influences.

Knowing what we know about Carlyle and his penchant for putting high octane youngsters in a position to succeed, a glance at each player's zone start ratio is in order: amongst regular Ducks skaters who appeared in a minimum of 60 games, Bobby Ryan had the second easiest ratio (54.7%) behind checker Mike Brown (60.5%). Koivu (49.7%), Perry (49.3%) and Getzlaf (49.1%), despite spending a lot of time with Ryan over the course of the season, had more difficult assignments. This suggests that Carlyle was occasionally pulling Ryan off the ice for own zone draws and/or putting him on when the puck was dropped in the offensive zone.

Which turns out to be the case. Here is each player's offensive and defensive zone draws and zone start ratios with and without Ryan last year:

With Ryan

Player		O-zone		D-zone		Zone start	
Getzlaf		125		110		53.2%
Perry		164		145		53.1%
Koivu		105		88		54.4%

Without Ryan

Player		O-zone		D-zone		Zone start
Getzlaf		126		156		44.7%
Perry		141		177		44.3%
Koivu		142		166		46.1%

Although he didn't have the depth to shelter an entire line, clearly Carlyle wanted to at least put Ryan in a position to succeed: not only did the young sniper play with some of the club's best players, Carlyle goosed his circumstances by starting whatever line Ryan was on in the offensive zone more often. Each of Ryan's most frequent linemates saw an almost 10% bump in his zone start ratio whenever he skated with the kid. So although Ryan was probably seeing a decent level of competition while playing with Perry and Getzlaf, the coach made sure to gift the trio the high ground as much as possible.

With the specific zone start and possession numbers, we can normalize the Corsi WOWY analysis in order to get a better understanding of Ryan's true effect on his linemates. While it's clear that the disparate zone starts had an effect on Ryan's perceived influence on possession, we don't know the degree to which the greater amount of offensive zone draws skewed the results. What we do is know that each additional offensive zone draw is worth about +0.8 in terms of Corsi, allowing us to theoretically control for Carlyle's influence:

With Ryan

Player		Corsi+/-	Zone start+/-	Corsi Norm.	Delta
Getzlaf		+67		-15		+55		-12
Perry		+68		-19		+53		-15
Koivu		+93		-17		+79		-14
 
Without Ryan

Player		Corsi+/-	Zone start+/-	Corsi Norm.	Delta
Getzlaf		-36		+30		-12		+24
Perry		-64		+36		-35		+29
Koivu		-54		+24		-35		+19 

The tables show the raw Corsi stats for each player with and without Ryan as well as their zone starts (defensive zone minus offensive zone) and the resultant normalized Corsi differential. The Delta column displays the difference in possession stats after the normalization.

Overall, we can see that Ryan's influence remains positive, but less pronounced. The initial WOWY analysis can be redone with the new, normalized Corsi stats in order to capture Ryan's "true" effect on possession:

	
Player		With Norm Corsi ratio		Without Norm Corsi ratio	WOWY
Getzlaf		0.522				0.505				+3.3%
Perry		0.515				0.498				+3.3%
Koivu		0.550				0.493				+10.4% 

Much more sensible. Koivu still sees a fairly significant bump in his possession despite the correction, which speaks both to Ryan's influence, and likely, the difference in the level of competition faced by Perry and Getzlaf versus Koivu on a nightly basis.

A potential ancillary conclusion to this investigation is the apparent superiority of Bobby Ryan over other options in the Ducks' current top six forward rotation. Even after normalizing for zone starts, Perry and Getzlaf's Corsi stats remain rather uninspiring. The truth is, Anaheim's forward pool is as shallow as a puddle and when the top pairing wasn't skating with Ryan, they were played with guys like Matt Beleskey, Kyle Calder, Nick Bonino and Joffrey Lupul. That's two rookies in Bonino and Beleskey, a marginal NHLer in Calder and a guy who has been underwater in terms of possession for the last three seasons in Lupul. Considering the difficulty of Perry's and Getzlaf's assignment (particularly since they tended to start out in their own zone more often when away from Ryan), the dip in their possession rates without Ryan on their wing seems…inevitable.

The result is an unfortunate paradox for the Ducks organization moving forward. Ryan's perceived value to the team is doubly inflated by the relative dearth of talent elsewhere on the roster: his benefits as viewed by the fans and the club are augmented not only by Carlyle tilting the scales, but because the other options paled so completely in comparison. That sort of leverage no doubt raised his asking price as an RFA and ended in the club acquiescing to a significantly pricey second contract. At about $5 million per season, it may not be a terrible overpay depending on the degree to which Ryan continues to develop.

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