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Attempting To Explain Paul Stastny’s Down Season

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Halfway through the season, Paul Stastny is on pace to have the worst statistical year of his career. The 34-year-old center is a career 0.77 points per game player meaning he should be pushing 60 points per season if he plays all 82 games. Instead, this year he has just 15 points in 41 games and is staring at a career-low 0.37 points per game season, less than half his career average.

However, the eye test to me doesn’t really match the drop in production. Watching Stastny carefully (which I went back and did during the holiday break) he still looks like the exact same player. His vision is still there, he’s still an excellent passer, he’s defensively responsible, and he’s still dangerous in front of the goal on the power play. He’s never been a high-end skater, so while he may not look like the fastest guy on the ice, he certainly doesn’t look any slower than he did last year, or even while in Winnipeg or St. Louis.

So, I went to the numbers, which confused me even more. The first numbers you look at on the page of any hockey player are goals, assists, and points. For Stasnty, the goals are right where they should be midway through the season. He has nine, on pace for 18 which would be in line with his last five years or so. But then there’s the assists, six. That’s not right. He should be a 40-50 assist guy and he’s on pace for 12.

How can a player be 15-20 assists off where he should be 41 games into the season? The easiest argument is age has led to a slip in production, but I’m not ready to make that case because I simply can’t see it anywhere but in one column on the stat sheet. Instead, I tried to find other underlying causes, which I did, and for the most part, they aren’t controllable by Stastny. So, I’m here to make the argument today that Paul Stastny’s down season is not his fault.

Here, let me show my work.

First off, Stastny’s time on ice is at an all-time low this year. Having “fallen” into a 3rd line role with the Golden Knights attempt at a balanced lineup (I’d argue they’ve put him there to help the team cause not as a demotion to the player), Stastny is playing 16:44 per game. Over the course of his career, he’s never played less than 17:38 and in only six of his 13 completed seasons has he been under 19 minutes per game. Three minutes less per game is a 16% decrease in time on ice. Thus, if he would be expected to get 0.77 points per game, or 63 points a season, his lessened TOI alone lowers that to 0.65 points per game or 53 per season. POINT DIFFERENCE: 10 points or 0.12 PPG

The next biggest detriment to his production this season has been shooting percentage. The Golden Knights are shooting just 7.6% with Stastny on the ice. The Golden Knights as a team are shooting 8.8% and they shot 8.7% last season. Shooting percentage tends to find its way back to the norm over time, thus it can be expected that Vegas will shoot at least 1.2% better in the next 41 games with Stastny on the ice (they’d actually have to shoot around 2.4% better to get him back to the norm, but we’ll ignore that for now). The Golden Knights have attempted 424 shots with Stastny on the ice, scoring on 32 of them. If the shooting percentage was just that 1.2% higher, they would have scored five more goals. So, now we need a calculation as to how many points Stastny would have if he were on the ice for five more goals. To solve that issue we’ll go by Stastny’s career with the Golden Knights. He’s put up 57 points in the two seasons with 45 of them coming at even strength. The Golden Knights have scored 66 even-strength goals with Stastny on the ice. Thus, he factors in on 68.2% of even strength goals while on the ice. 68.2% of five goals is 3.41 points for Stastny. Multiply it by two for the goals he’s already missed and the points he may get the rest of the year and we’re looking at a seven point difference. POINT DIFFERENCE: 7 points or 0.85 PPG

Then, there’s zone starts. Stastny has an offensive zone start percentage of just 44% at even-strength, the second-lowest of all Golden Knights behind Mark Stone. He’s one of four players under 50% and one of just eight below 56%. For Stastny, there are 150 shifts that figure into that number. If he were near the team average of 56%, that would mean 18 more shifts that were started in the offensive zone as opposed to the defensive zone. There’s really no way to truly show how many more offensive zone starts it would take to generate more offense, but undoubtedly any player would have a better chance to put up points the more they start in the offensive zone. For the exercise, let’s be super conservative and say he’s missed out on one point in 41 games or two over the course of 82. POINT DIFFERENCE: 2 points or 0.02 PPG

Finally, the always controversial expected goals. According to Natural Stat Trick, with Stastny on the ice at even strength the Golden Knights were expected to score 24 goals. They’ve actually scored 17. That’s a difference of seven goals in 41 games. There are two issues here in adding points to Stastny’s total using this metric. First off, the Golden Knights are notoriously bad at converting expected goals into actual goals (they are 3rd worst in the NHL with 19 fewer actual than expected). We’ll offset that by chopping the number in half. So we’re down to 3.5 goals as opposed to seven. The next issue is whether or not Stastny would actually factor in on the goals, which we’ll use the same calculation as we did above saying he factors in on 68.2% of the goals scored while he’s on the ice. So, of the 3.5 expected goals, Stastny would get 2.38 points. Again, multiply by two for the half-season completed and the half-season left, and we’re at five points. POINT DIFFERENCE: 5 points or 0.061 PPG

TOI = 0.122 PPG – 10 points
Shooting % = 0.085 PGG – 7 points
Zone Starts = 0.o24 PPG – 2 points
xGF vs aGF = 0.061 PPG – 5 points
Total = 0.292 PPG – 24 points

This is an explanation of why his numbers are down, not necessarily an indication that they will go up over the next 41 games. Unless he moves back to the 2nd line, his TOI is likely to stay the same, as will the zone starts. The expected goals and shooting percentage numbers could lead to a bit of a resurgence, but we’re looking at maybe an added three or four points over half a season.

The key to all of this is how Stastny is playing. As a 3rd line center, he doesn’t have to put up 60 points to have a successful year. Instead, he needs to hold down the fort defensively and allow his wingers to do the heavy lifting offensively. Since he’s been there, I’d argue he’s done that, even if the production is down.

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11 Comments

  1. He needs to move up the lineup to where he should be. The more you see Stephenson you understand that he should be down in the lineup.

  2. Lt

    a more important stat is production compared to cap hit. and Stastny is a $6.5 mill slow albatross around the neck of the Knight forwards. He clearly does not fit with the speed of Tuch at all.
    and the speed of Stephenson is the main reason that he replaced Stastny on the 2nd line. and the VGK would be better off with 2 faster, younger forwards for the cap cost of Stastny

  3. Ken – you have way to much time on your hands – while this stuff makes for (interesting??????) reading I have yet to understand your motivation as to it’s importance. Lets get down to the real issue – these guys are well paid, with nothing to prove and a lengthy contract to boot. They are being paid to play superior hockey and they are falling way short of that obligation. Reading a number of posts about not being anything special equates to attitude. Your don’t have to be special to win when you have a winning attitude. Your a history buff tell me Team USA was special when they beat the Russian in Lake Placid – the win made them special and no doubt will go down in history as such but they were far from special before they won – they were misfits not exactly in the same manner as the original VGKs but they sure weren’t expected to win. VGKs at this point don’t possess a winning attitude – you can see it – often they are doing nothing more than going thru the motion – I won’t call it actions as that would suggest they are doing something worth while. Please address the real reasons for their inept performance you are much closer to the situation than your readers.

    • As a trained journalist I have a very hard time blaming games on lack of effort because I can’t see proof of it. If anyone can point out specific shifts where you can show that Stastny or anyone else is resting on their contract, I’ll be glad to delve into each and every shift. However, I don’t see it with my own eyes, so I’m always going to look for physical evidence to prove things.

      Please, if you believe it is that obvious, watch a game, write down player names and shifts that you saw lack of effort and send them to me. I’ve watched for it and I can’t see it. Just because their record isn’t as good as it’s been in the past isn’t a good enough explanation for me.

      • It happens all the time . Guys get paid and then they don’t scratch and claw for every puck. Hockey bus a complete effort game. All players excellent. Winning battles in the corners and both zones is how you win hockey games. That is 100 % based on effort. Back checking 100% effort and digging down to get back and cover when your lungs are burning ……..the knights have taken nights off on the effort department this year but they are starting to get their intensity back …..but with the talent the knights have , they only way they lose is lack of effort. Gallant would tell you the same thing. Until they are playing a team that over powers them as the Washington capitals did in the cup final any loss is lack of effort

  4. Rob

    With all the SOG we get, how much of our scoring issues are simply a matter of a skill gap getting the puck where the goalie isn’t defending? We seem to get so many chances (even breakaways) that we just don’t convert.

  5. Slr82

    I simply have to laugh at some of the comments and insight that our fans express on this site. Most have probably never played the game and simply don’t realize how tough thing game is to play. Each game there are equally experience players trying to do the same thing against our Knights, something has to give and it either for us or against us. If you look at the rest of the league over the past 3 years, you will see it changing and evolving. Teams rise and fall, teams struggle and succeed. Last thing the Knights are still playing with other teams players, we have yet to see our own drafted and developed players. Glass and Hague don’t count, as they have only put in a partial season. The original time line of playoffs in 3, cup in 6 is where we are at. Yes we are a playoff team and yes we could win a cup now but realistically we are still a few years and a few players out.

    • You’re not wrong – but expectations by non-fans (read: people who have covered and played the game) had this team top-5 to top-2 going into the season. I’m as reasonable as they come as fans go, and I just want to learn more about expectations vs. reality. I think it’s a fair question whether or not we are lacking goal scoring skills (aka “shot placement”) because we seem to be up there in shots and scoring chances but that isn’t translating to goals.

      I’ve watched every VGK game this year either on Center Ice or in person – I’m not a local – I live in Oregon. I am traveling 3 times this year to see the Knights on the road or in Vegas @ T-Mobile.

      So why isn’t the puck going in? I find it hard to believe it’s all “puck luck” as Turk would have us believe. I’m sure he’s not telling the whole truth and the GMs and coaching staff don’t think it’s as simple as “puck luck”.

      I’m not down on the team – I just want to learn more about what I see.

      • Slr82

        There’s a guy between those Pipes trying to prevent you from scoring. There are always openings, plus the puck is rubber it bounces and rolls sometimes or there’s another player on you or stick the king.They change the Puck constantly to keep them frozen, that cuts down the bounces. I’m not saying I don’t get frustrated as a fan, but I do know what it’s like out there.
        If we were the only team or players struggling I would be concerned. But we’re not. This is a very competitive league and evolves constantly. We are not a top 5 team, we are top 10.

  6. THE hockey GOD

    his wingers are not picking it up, a very important consideration; did you look at whole picture including back testing all the stats on wingers on each line he’s played with in past ?? Got to carry the whole load in any analysis, not do a half baked one.

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