I opened my email this morning to the following short message from a Flyers fan. Her name is Alex:
Hi! Since the beginning of the year, it seems like each time Claude Giroux plays less than 21 minutes a game, he gets more points on the scoreboard. I can't watch every game because I live in Quebec, but I think this is interesting thing to watch and analyze.
Thanks and continue your good job!
It was one of those, “Hmmm…” moments that brought about a series of questions:
-Is it possible that there is a time threshold for Giroux that, once he crosses it, takes him from elite status to just being an ordinary player?
- Is it possible that Giroux creates more offense with less time on the ice?
- Is it possible, crazy as it sounds, that the Flyers have had better results in games when Giroux plays less than 21 minutes than when he plays more?
I was intrigued. So I hit the books for some good, old-fashioned research, and I couldn’t believe what I found:
Giroux is actually more productive and the Flyers are more successful the less he plays.
|THe numbers say that there will be more Claude Giroux celebrations with Steve Mason - like this one - if the captain plays a little less frequently. |
That isn’t a typographical error. The Flyers have a better record, and Giroux scores more points when he plays fewer minutes.
Now, before I get into all the statistics that prove this point, let me make a few things clear:
1.I’m not suggesting a significant cut in ice time for Giroux. His average is right around the threshold of 21 minutes that Alex originally suggested in her email. We’re talking about one-two minutes per game, really, which is two-to-three shifts at most.
2.It is definitely understood that special teams sometimes skews ice time numbers for players on a game-by-game basis. A significant amount of power plays or penalty kills could throw off the average.
3.Also, it is certainly understood that in games when a team is trailing and trying to tie the score, top line players are used with a bit more frequency in an effort to score as the attacking system changes.
All of those factors stated, here’s the Figgy pudding (hey, it’s the holidays) with all the proof in it:
-So far this season, Giroux has played 19 games where he has exceeded 21 minutes of ice time and had 17 games where he has had less than 21 minutes of ice time.
-In the 19 games where he exceeded 21 minutes, he has a stat line of two goals, seven assists and nine points. The team’s record in those games is 5-12-2.
-In the 17 games in which he clocked in with less than 21 minutes, Giroux’s scoring has been superb (7-15-22) and the team has an excellent record of 11-4-2.
Oh, wait… that’s too small a sample size for you? 36 games isn’t enough to hammer home the point?
Good thing I researched it further then, eh?
Looking back at not only this season, but the past two seasons as well, really since Giroux was elevated to the role of top-line center, he has played in 161 games for the Flyers, missing just five in December, 2011 with a concussion.
In those 161 games, Giroux has eclipsed the 21-minute plateau 89 times and been below it 72 times.
Want to take a guess at the numbers?
Fine, I’ll just give them to you. Here goes:
Let’s look at the 89 games with more than 21 minutes played first. All told in those games Giroux has posted a stat line of 22-54-76. It’s very good, just not elite. It amounts to the equivalent of a 70-point season (per 82 games), which for most top-six forwards in the NHL is a solid number to strive for.
But Giroux is an elite center in the sport, and as such needs to be producing at a better rate.
Which brings us to the second sample.
In the 72 games he has played fewer than 21 minutes, Giroux has a line of 28-68-96. That’s 1.33 points per game and equates out to a 109-point season in 82 games.
Oh, and if that weren’t enough, here are the Flyers records in those games:
-More than 21 minutes (89 games) 37-40-12 (.416 winning percentage)
-Less than 21 minutes (72 games) 46-23-3 (.639 winning percentage)
The defense rests, your honor.
Seriously, what does all this mean?
The easy answer is… I’m not particularly sure just yet.
Far more in-depth research would have to be done to determine third period – or late third period – stats for Giroux in games when he is getting more than 21 minutes as opposed to fewer than 21 minutes. That might indicate where he is at fatigue-wise. But that could take until New Year’s Day, and I don’t have that kind of time right now (Paging you advanced stat-heads out there…)
But, on the surface, it sure seems that in games when he has to skate more, and in turn deal with more fatigue, he’s less effective and the team is less successful.
As I mentioned before, there are definite reasons that require more minutes from a star player like Giroux, and those will continue to exist and surface during the course of a hockey season.
But if anything, the numbers are indicating that if Giroux were to take just a few less shifts per game on average, he can be one of the top scorers in the NHL.
So, I took this research directly to Flyers coach Craig Berube to get his feedback on the fruits of my labor, and I was
|Craig Berube doesn't want any forwards playing more than 20 minutes per game if he had his druthers. |
happy to find out that he was intrigued by my findings.
“That’s a really good stat,” Berube said. “I like to keep the forwards to less than 20 minutes in a game as a rule, but I’ve always made exceptions for Giroux and [Sean] Couturier,” Berube said. “Special teams don’t help sometimes as some guys play too much while others are just sitting there. But this is one of the reasons I want us to be more of a 5-on-5 team. We spend the least amount of time playing 5-on-5 hockey among all the teams in the league.
“Because of that, guys get fatigued and don’t always make good decisions.”
Specifically Giroux has seen his shooting percentage diminish with each passing season. He is currently scoring goals at an 8.7 percent clip, the lowest of his career.
Always considered an accurate shooter, one has to wonder if his ability to snipe the smallest of openings is affected by fatigue later in games.
Also, is it possible that when trailing in a game, and therefore getting more ice time, Giroux’s ability to weave through traffic, dangle, or make the perfectly-timed pass is affected – even if it’s ever-so-slightly – by having to play those extra few shifts?
“This is one of the reasons why I’m preaching to our guys to stay out of the box,” Berube said. “The less special teams the better. I know that when you are taking fewer penalties you are also getting fewer power plays, but we’re a good even strength team with our system. It allows us to use more players more regularly and keeps the game flowing and the ice time distributed properly.”
When that happens, Giroux or Couturier will still lead the Flyers forwards in ice time, but rather than playing 22-24 minutes a game and being less productive, they can play 18-21 minutes and be more productive.
“That’s interesting,” Berube said. “I’ll look at that a little more.”
And if it proves out to be useful, you can thank Alex in Quebec for the idea.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers