Drance Numbers: Andrew Ebbett’s better than you think

Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at Andrew Ebbett’s underlying numbers and discovers: he’s actually pretty good.

Andrew Ebbett is kind of a badass.

Every summer, Mike Gillis manages to find value in the unlikeliest of places on the free agent market. Whether he’s signing a diminutive offensive defenseman who provides the team with a game-winning goal (then promptly retires), a lanky, undrafted goalie who now looks poised to develop into an NHL regular, or a power-play ace like Aaron Rome, Gillis tends to the scrap heap efficiently and with care.

He’s become the NHL’s Wall-E.

Chris Tanev, Aaron Rome, Lee Sweatt, Eddie Lack, Jeff Tambellini, Alexander Sulzer and Aaron Volpatti are all names on the list of unheralded, seemingly undesirable Gillis recruits who have morphed into productive members of the team or into tantalizing prospects. This week, another castoff had his coming-out party, as the team was propelled to two big wins over the Sharks and the Oilers thanks in part to the contributions of Andrew Ebbett.

A quick look at Ebbett’s counting stats tells you that he’s scored 4 goals in 10 games this season, which is pretty impressive, even if it is a mirage: two of those goals were total flukes that went in off skates. (On Boxing Day against the Oilers, it was his own, and on Remembrance Day against the Kings, Willie Mitchell’s skate provided the deflection.) Ebbett has 4 goals on 17 shots, and obviously Gillis didn’t sign Ebbett expecting him to shoot 23%. The offense he’s provided is a nice surprise, but there’s no way he’s going to maintain his on-ice shooting percentage of 11.11%.

Anyways, offensive production isn’t what’s impressive about Ebbett’s play in spot-duty this season.

What’s really been impressive about Ebbett is his ability to break roughly even in extremely odd and surprisingly difficult circumstances. Alain Vigneault has used Ebbett on a grand total of 5 offensive zone starts, giving him an O-zone start rate of 13.5%.

There is no other NHL skater who has played more than five games this season with an offensive zone start rate below 15%…

Ebbett’s most productive season occurred a couple of years ago when he was spotted the considerable luxury of centering Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne. So far this season, it’s been the polar opposite, he’s spent most of his time with grinders. And it’s not as if Ebbett has been sheltered in terms of his opposition either. Though 10 games is a very small sample, Andrew Ebbett’s qual comp (a measurement of the average relative +/- number of the opposition a skater goes head to head against) is the highest on the Canucks.

Yet somehow Ebbett has managed to make his Baltic Avenue circumstances seem a lot more like owning both utilities and a railroad.

While I’m singing his praises, and crediting Gillis with making a savvy personnel decision by signing the Vernon born forward, I have to temper my enthusiasm. After all, in an ideal world, the Canucks won’t go into this postseason with Andrew Ebbett as a top-9 forward.

But what has made Ebbett valuable to the Canucks is his ability to move the play in the right direction, no matter how tough the minutes he’s deployed in. He’s Vancouver’s 12th or 13th forward, but the point remains: when other forwards go down with injury, Ebbett can fill in on the bottom-6 and allow the Canucks to play their possession game without missing a beat.

Let’s look at Ebbett’s possession stats, for a moment. His Corsi number (an advanced stat that counts all events like shots, blocked shots, misses and goals for and against) comes in at -8.11, and his fenwick number (an advanced stat that counts the same events excluding blocked shots) is a -6.5 (per sixty minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time). But if you adjust it for the circumstances he’s been placed in, both numbers end up well in the black (+8.55 Adj Corsi, +10.46 Adj Fenwick).

It’s a similar story with the scoring chance data that Cam Charron and I track over at Canucks Army: Ebbett’s chance for/against percentage is at 41% on the season, but adjusted for circumstance (using George Ays’ adjustment number) he’s controlled 48.6% of on-ice scoring chances.

That’s good stuff for the 13th forward on the team’s depth chart, who happens to make the league minimum.

In a league with a “hard” salary cap, the ability to maximize value and to find it in unexpected places is essential, especially for a team like the Canucks who have bled draft picks at the trade deadline for three straight seasons. Despite what looks like a couple of recent whiffs (Darren Archibald and Sebastian Erixon haven’t impressed like Tanev and Sweatt did last season), Mike Gillis has consistently managed to fill out the Canucks roster with surprisingly effective, undervalued guys on the league’s fringes.

Andrew Ebbett’s impressive showing in a cameo role so far this season is the latest example of this and it’s a big reason why the Canucks are at the top of the table yet again heading into 2012 (though admittedly not as big a reason as having two Sedins and a Kesler).

Happy New Year, Bulies.

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8 comments

  1. Anonymous
    December 30, 2011

    Good stuff and Happy New Year to you!

    Who would have realized this about Ebbett, huh? That’s one of the great things we might take for granted during this era of the Canucks, it’s MG’s great underrated and undervalued pickups and how they seem to work well with our core. This team really is firing on all cylinders in every way, enjoy it while it lasts fans!

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  2. Zach Morris
    December 30, 2011

    Yep. Gillis’ shrewd pickups, combined with the drawer of incriminating photos he has of Dale Tallon have turned him into one of the best GMs in the league.

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  3. Earl MArtin
    December 31, 2011

    First off I am a believer in Mike Gillis’ abilities as a GM – I think he has done a great job of maintaining and building a great core group on the Canucks. But I take issue with a ocuple of things in this article. On free agent signings I think he’s really taken the quantity over quality route – sign enough guys with potential and some of them will work out. But it’s worked for him. And the second issue is consigning Archibakd and Erixon to the scrap heap so early in their careers. Personally I’m more concerned about Schroederat this point.

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    • Nee
      December 31, 2011

      I like what Gillis has done as far as helping the team NOW. Those trades and signings have helped alot.

      But it seems like our prospect depth at forward is really weak. Which is okay right now, with the roster we have, but needs to be worked on in the future. That is concerning.

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      • Daniel Wagner
        December 31, 2011

        While the Canucks prospect depth at forwards isn’t fantastic, I don’t think it’s as bad as you’re suggesting. Nicklas Jensen looks like the real deal: he looked like he could have made the team this year out of training camp. Joseph Labate from this most recent draft is a really interesting prospect: he’s got both size (6’4″) and skill. He has 12 points in 18 games with the University of Wisconsin, which is quite impressive for a freshman. He’s actually fourth in scoring amongst freshmen in the NCAA. Bill Sweatt can contribute as a checking line player at minimum at the NHL level.

        I still have hope that Jordan Schroeder can get things going and I think it’s far too soon to write off Darren Archibald. I think he just needs a few years in the minors to develop his game. Power forwards tend to peak later than other types of players.

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  4. ArtemChubarov
    December 31, 2011

    Not sure anything I wrote indicated any “writing off” of Archibald + Erixon. All I said was that they haven’t impressed like Tanev + Sweatt did last season. Not sure how anyone can disagree with that.

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  5. Earl MArtin
    January 1, 2012

    Describing Erixon and Archibald as “what looks like a couple of recent whiffs” seems to be straying over into the write off area. Especially when one’s just turned 22 and the other is still 21 for a couple more months.

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    • ArtemChubarov
      January 1, 2012

      The early returns on Erixon and Archibald have been discouraging, and I think that’s fair to point out. With Tanev, Lack and Sweatt – they were surprisingly ready to contribute the first season after Gillis signed them! I think some of us were expecting similar things from Erixon + Archibald and that hasn’t panned out. They may be contributors yet, but they’re clearly “longer term” projects, which is what I was getting at.

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