Like “Henry the 8th“, it’s second verse, same as the first. Once again we find ourselves nearing the end of the NHL offseason with no contract for Kyle Wellwood in sight. This season it is even more inexplicable than last season. Long time Bulies will remember my impassioned defense of Kyle Wellwood’s defensive abilities after the 2009-10 season, pointing out that he led the entire NHL in the admittedly oddball statistic of Ratio of Goals Against to Total Time on Ice. To put it simply: when Kyle Wellwood was on the ice in that season, the opposition didn’t score. At least, not very often.
Instead of other NHL teams noticing his surprising defensive responsibility, the epic saga of Wellwood’s World happened, as Welly signed in the KHL, saw the coach who had him signed fired and replaced, rode the bench, was released from his KHL contract, had a baby, signed a contract with the St. Louis Blues, was picked up off re-entry waivers by the San Jose Sharks, and made it to the Western Conference Final, where he was eliminated by his former team, the Vancouver Canucks. It was a crazy, crazy year for the easy-going Wellwood, and likely one he doesn’t want to repeat.
History definitely shouldn’t repeat itself, as Wellwood once again proved himself a worthy addition to an NHL roster, continuing his strong two-way play that he started in Vancouver. Wellwood played 35 regular season games for the Sharks, recording 5 goals and 8 assists. He added 7 points in 18 playoff games, all while playing out of his natural position. But what was more impressive was his consistent ability to keep the puck out of his own end of the ice.
In the regular season, Wellwood led the team in Relative CORSI. It certainly helped that he played on a line with Torrey Mitchell and Joe Pavelski, who were third and fourth on the team in the stat, but Wellwood was a solid contributor, finishing 7th in the entire NHL in the statistic, just ahead of Ryan Kesler. He also led the Sharks in Goals Against per 60 Minutes at a minuscule 0.65. This number was good for second in the NHL. Once again, when Wellwood was on the ice, the other team did not score.
Once you hit the playoffs, his numbers stay strong: Wellwood led the Sharks in Relative CORSI again and in fewest Goals Against per 60 Minutes. His performance with the Canucks in 2009-10 and in the regular season for the Sharks was not a fluke. Wellwood has consistently proven that he prevents the opposition from scoring goals. So why isn’t he signed?
Now, to be fair, Wellwood wasn’t exactly playing against the opposition’s top players. He’s not a shutdown center like, say, Manny Malhotra. He was 17th on the team in CORSI Relative Quality of Competition in the regular season and 18th in the playoffs. But he was absolutely dominant against this level of competition, making me wonder how he would fare against tougher foes.
He’s unlikely to get that opportunity, unfortunately, because of the perception that Wellwood is soft. He doesn’t pass the eye test: his face is too chubby and his stick is too short. He’s not tall enough — as Kevin Bieksa once said, he’s the smallest third-line centre in the league — and he’s not tough enough. He doesn’t hit, he doesn’t fight, and he doesn’t score enough to make up for those deficiencies. But if you stop looking at his body and style of play and start looking at the results, we see a remarkably efficient and effective player.
In many ways, Wellwood is the definition of a Moneyball player. By all appearances, he’s a mediocre hockey player, but appearances don’t win hockey games. Scoring and preventing goals do. Wellwood adds a pinch of scoring but prevents goals by the bucketload. And that is the type of player that deserves to be in the NHL.Tags: featured, Off-Season Blues, Sharks, Statistics, Stats, wellwood's world