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Behind The Numbers

NHL metrics help players on professional tryout contract show value

Winnik, Franson, Booth, Chiasson among those to take advantage

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

Each season, a raft of unsigned veteran players try to extend their NHL career by attending training camp on a professional tryout contract (PTO). It is a last-gasp effort by each player to prove he belongs in the NHL and a risk-free opportunity for each team to see what the player has left.

This preseason was no exception. Veterans across the NHL showed up at camps looking to earn a job; some succeeded, others failed. Here is a look at, and one telling statistic about, the higher-profile players who made the most of their opportunity:


Daniel Winnik, Minnesota Wild

Winnik, a 32-year-old defensive specialist, averaged 2:31 per game killing penalties during the past five seasons, fifth among active NHL forwards to have played at least 100 games in that span. 

At 5-on-5, Winnik, a left wing who played for the Washington Capitals last season, has taken 1,429 face-offs in the defensive zone and 1,158 in the offensive zone during the past five seasons for a zone-start percent of 44.76. He has ranked among the bottom three of his team's regular forwards in zone-start percent since 2009-10, when the data first became available.

Despite the defensive nature of his assignment, Minnesota can expect Winnik to remain plus in shot-based metrics and to maintain scoring rates not far removed from the NHL average. For those who are skeptical of some of the newer metrics, Winnik's combined plus-61 during the past five seasons ranks No. 19 among NHL forwards.

Video: ARI@WSH: Winnik beats Smith for late go-ahead goal


Cody Franson, Chicago Blackhawks

For a team that's known for its shot-based metrics, it's no surprise the Chicago Blackhawks signed Franson, 30, as a depth defenseman. 

Last season, the Buffalo Sabres outattempted their opponents 971-942 at 5-on-5 with Franson on the ice, for an SAT of plus-29 and an SAT percent of 50.76. That may sound average until you consider that Buffalo's SAT percent was 45.6 when Franson wasn't on the ice. The resulting relative SAT of plus-5.2 percent ranked No. 7 among NHL defensemen last season (minimum 60 games played). 

The Blackhawks should expect continued shot-based success because this was not an unusual result for Franson. He has had a relative SAT percent above zero every season, going back to when this information was first available in 2009-10.


David Booth, Detroit Red Wings

Booth played nine seasons in the NHL with the Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs as a forward who got a lot of pucks directed at the net. He played the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Booth, 32, has taken 1,345 shots in 502 NHL games, an average of 2.7 per game, tied for No. 42 among the 392 active forwards to play at least 100 games. 

His high shot volume has led to excellent shot-based metrics. Like Franson, Booth has had a positive relative SAT percentage in every season of his NHL career. From 2009-10 through 2014-15, his team's share of all 5-on-5 shot attempts increased from 48.8 percent to 52.48 percent when he was on the ice. The resulting relative SAT of plus-3.7 ranked No. 47 among the 535 forwards to play at least 100 games in that time span.

If there's one concern, it's how few of those shot attempts go in. The team's shooting of 6.3 percent when Booth is on the ice at 5-on-5 ranked No. 453. Booth will be most effective in Detroit if he is placed on a line with forwards who can convert those shot attempts into goals with some deflections and rebounds.


Alex Chiasson, Washington Capitals

Chiasson, a right wing, has breathed new life into his career with a solid preseason performance after a productive 2016-17 season with the Calgary Flames. It resulted in the one-year, $600,000 contract he signed Wednesday.

According to the calculations at XtraHockeyStats, Chiasson, 27, improved his scoring rate from 0.73 points per 60 minutes with the Ottawa Senators in 2015-16 to 1.29 with the Flames in 2016-17. In terms of shot-based metrics, Chiasson improved from a relative SAT of minus-4.6 percent to plus-2.1 percent.

Video: CAR@WSH: Chiasson finishes tic-tac-toe passing play


Jimmy Hayes, New Jersey Devils

In contrast to Chiasson, Hayes, a right wing, almost ended his NHL career with a statistically disappointing 2016-17 season for the Boston Bruins. His relative SAT improved from minus-3.7 to minus-3.3, but his scoring rate dropped from 1.36 points per 60 minutes to 0.59. Hayes, 27, is one of 12 active forwards who have scored five points or fewer in 58 or more games in a season.


Scottie Upshall, St. Louis Blues

Unlike some other players on this list, we know what to expect from Upshall, 33, who is back with the St. Louis Blues for a third season. He signed Sunday after a PTO with the Canucks. 

Upshall will likely continue to play left wing on the fourth line with Kyle Brodziak and Chris Thorburn, who replaces their former linemate, Ryan Reaves, now a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Upshall will contribute hits, penalty-killing and defensive-zone play, but not much in the way of scoring and/or shot-based metrics. 

During the past two seasons, Upshall ranked No. 3 among Blues forwards with 217:10 spent killing penalties and No. 6 with 191 hits. His zone-start percent of 31.11 is the fifth-lowest among NHL forwards who have played at least 100 games during that time span.

Video: STL@CAR: Upshall scores a beautiful shorthanded goal


Tanner Glass, Calgary Flames

Glass, a left wing, is a perfect example of the type of player whose contributions are difficult to capture with numbers. His average of 0.14 points per game ranks No. 381 among the 392 active forwards to play at least 100 NHL games, his SAT percent of 42.07 is third lowest, and his relative SAT of minus-9.7 is last.

Hitting is the one category where Glass, 33, shines. In the book "Stat Shot," Iain Fyffe introduced a statistic that accounts for the different rates at which hits are recorded from one arena to next. During the past three seasons, Glass averaged the neutral-site equivalent of 14.11 hits per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, which ranked No. 12 among active players, just behind new teammate Micheal Ferland (14.37).


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