It doesn’t take many viewings to recognize what Brandon Dubinsky brings to the Blue Jackets.
He’s a fiery, intense competitor with a relentless motor. In many ways, he’s the lifeblood of a young Blue Jackets team that took quantifiable steps forward in 2013-14. At 28 years old, he could be considered a grizzled veteran but has been playing a rejuvenated, lively brand of hockey since arriving in Columbus two years ago.
First, you see the surface numbers: a 50-point performance in the regular season (after a respectable 20 points in 29 games in 2012-13), a strong showing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a 53.2 percent success rate in the face-off circle that fifth-best among all centers in the Metropolitan Division – all while playing at least 70 games for the fifth time in his NHL career.
Taking those numbers into account, it would be fair to say that Dubinsky had a pretty darn good year. And then he signed a six-year contract extension a couple of weeks ago, cementing himself as a core piece of the Blue Jackets roster for the foreseeable future.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a next-level look at Dubinsky and his importance to the Blue Jackets and delve into his #fancystats.
Wait, what? “Fancy stats?”
Well, they’re not exactly fancy. Let's dispel that notion right away.
Analytics, or “advanced metrics,” in hockey have boomed over the last few years and they’ve become a hot-button issue in the media. The truth of the matter is that these numbers are used by far more NHL teams than don't, and if applied properly, can help answer important questions during the decision-making and evaluation processes.
What do these numbers tell us? In a nutshell, the most popular metric - Corsi (pronounced core-see) - measures total shot attempts for and against. Corsi can be applied on a team scale and also on an individual basis, and is primarily used to track puck possession to see what teams/players do when they have the puck.
But what about “the eyeball test?”
It’s still very helpful, and in most cases, is used in conjunction with analytics to make better-informed decisions on players and trends within a team. The Blue Jackets have been tracking and applying analytics for several years, from hockey operations and management downstairs to the coaching staff.
Josh Flynn, the team’s director of hockey administration and resident analytics guru, said the Blue Jackets will never discredit advanced metrics when discussing a player or the team.
"I'd take it a step further than that," Flynn told BlueJackets.com. "Anything we can find that makes us take a second look at what we think we know, question it, make sure we're confident, or cause us to re-think what we thought we knew, is a good thing."
They want to pose and answer as many questions as possible when they make decisions, and they strongly believe in the application of analytics as a valuable tool in that process.
And now, on to Dubinsky’s analytics breakdown…
PLAYER POSSESSION STATS
CORSI FOR – 52.2%
One of the impressive things about Dubinsky is his team’s ability to drive play when he’s on the ice. By “drive play,” we’re referring to generating shot attempts (goals, as well as blocked and unblocked shots), and in the process, possessing the puck and controlling the game. His 52.2 percent Corsi For (the percentage of shots in favor of the Blue Jackets when he’s on the ice) is second on the team behind James Wisniewski, who boasts a CF% of 54.1.
Why do we keep track of shot attempts? It's a strong indicator of what a team or player does when they have possession of the puck. More shots = more possession = more opportunities = more goals = well, you know.
Dubinsky’s Corsi 'relative' (the difference in the team’s Corsi performance when he’s on the ice as opposed to not) is third-best among all Blue Jackets to have played at least 62 games in 2013-14. According to the advanced metrics hub ExtraSkater.com, Dubinsky’s Corsi relative is a +2.6%.
What does that mean? When Dubinsky is on the ice, the Blue Jackets own the puck possession battle at a rate just above 52 percent, i.e., they’re responsible for 52.2 percent of all the attempted shots. When he’s not on the ice, the Blue Jackets attempt 2.6 percent fewer shots, read, possession, than when he’s present.
FENWICK FOR – 51.8%
Fenwick is another metric used to track puck possession. It’s basically the same as Corsi, however, Fenwick does NOT take blocked shots into account. Fenwick is most often tracked and applied in “close” situations; “close” is defined by ExtraSkater as “game situations where the score is tied in any period or within one goal in the first or second periods.”
One of the more useful applications of Fenwick in terms of puck possession is showing it over a period of several games; 10 or 15-game rolling Fenwick charts are often used to show a team or player’s possession trends with blocked shots – widely considered a skill in hockey – removed from the equation.
Dubinsky’s Fenwick For (FF%) percentage is slightly lower than his Corsi (52.2) which is not uncommon. The difference between his Corsi and Fenwick is essentially a few blocked shot attempts.
ZONE STARTS AND DEPLOYMENT (5-on-5)
Deployment metrics are another intriguing avenue to look at players, and specifically, how they’re used in game situations. Dubinsky, a strong two-way center who wins a lot of face-offs, often plays against the opposition’s top players and is used in a match-up role (see: the Stanley Cup playoffs against Sidney Crosby).
Whereas possession metrics like Corsi and Fenwick track shot attempts and possession, deployment metrics show where players begin their shifts (offensive zone, neutral zone, defensive zone) and how much of their teams' total minutes they play (TOI%).
In the regular season, Dubinsky began one-third of his shifts (33.3 percent) in the defensive zone and maintained a Corsi of greater than 50 percent, which is a strong representation of how well he drives possession for the Blue Jackets.
He started 29.4 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 76 regular season games, and the numbers became even more impressive during the playoffs.
In the Blue Jackets’ six-game playoff series against the Penguins, Dubinsky played 30 percent of the team’s total TOI and started 43.8 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone – and more often than not, he was lined up opposite of Crosby.
You already knew that Dubinsky was a key cog in the Blue Jackets' present and future, but after reading this, hopefully you can see his strongest on-ice assets. He has become a solid possession player on a solid possession team (the Blue Jackets' 50.8 FF% was 12th-best in the NHL and sixth-best in the East last year), and when he's on the ice, good things seem to happen for Columbus.
Stay with us throughout the summer and into the season on BlueJackets.com, as we'll continue to analyze the analytics (that makes sense, right?) on both Blue Jackets players and team-based trends.