If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ve likely figured out by now that Daniel is far more of an advanced stats guy than I am. That said, while I may not be a massive fan of tables and math, I’m still of the mind that it’s absolutely vital to pay attention to a few of the underlying numbers, especially in regards to the Canucks. Otherwise, you run the risk of coming to some spotty conclusions.
If you’re not following Alain Vigneault’s deployment strategies, for instance, you’re simply not getting the full picture. No NHL head coach pays more attention to zone starts, and it informs every aspect of his players’ statistical production. In Manny Malhotra’s case especially, if you understand his role, you’ll discover that his scoring and plus/minus stats border on completely irrelevant.
If you were only looking at Malhotra’s basic numbers, it would be reasonable to make the conclusion that Sportnet’s Mark Spector made on Friday, when he wrote the following:
You have to believe GM Mike Gillis would move Manny Malhotra, whose job has been claimed by Cody Hodgson. But with 13 points and a minus-7 this season, we are sad to come to the accepted conclusion that Malhotra’s game has simply not returned in whole after the serious eye injury he suffered last season.
While there are elements of this paragraph with which I agree (I’ll get to that), there are also elements that show a misunderstanding of how Hodgson and Malhotra are deployed.
We’ve gone into this in more detail here, here and here, but here’s a cursory rundown: Malhotra starts almost exclusively in the defensive zone, even moreso than he did last year, when he started there more often than any other NHLer. His role is defensive-minded in a way no other player’s is, and it’s not just his zone starts that show this: it’s also his average shift length, which is the shortest in the NHL. Basically, Manny is counted on to win the draw in the defensive zone (both at even-strength and on the penalty kill), move the puck towards the offensive zone, and get off the ice. That’s it.
You can see why a poor plus/minus and a lack of offensive production is something of a given. His chances of being on the ice for a Canuck goal are slim.
Hodgson, on the other hand, struggles with faceoffs and isn’t yet trusted with tough defensive assignments. But clearly he can score. Thus, he starts mainly in the neutral zone, on the fly or, if he’s on the powerplay or the top two lines are tired, in the offensive zone.
Now, in the broadest sense, Cody has indeed taken Manny’s job. Malhotra was the third line centre last year and Hodgson has stepped into that spot this year. At the bare bones level, that’s a truism. But Hodgson has not, in any way, shape, or form, stepped into Malhotra’s role. He doesn’t even touch it, as Jonathan Willis explains:
Manny Malhotra is a defensive-zone specialist at even-strength, a penalty-killing specialist, and one of the league’s greatest faceoff men. He has supposedly lost his job taking defensive zone draws, killing penalties and winning faceoffs to Cody Hodgson, who a) doesn’t take defensive zone draws b) doesn’t kill penalties and c) doesn’t win faceoffs. They aren’t remotely comparable players. They’re doing entirely different things.
All that said, Malhotra had a similar role last year from the third line, but because the Canucks were only three-deep up the middle, he occasionally saw O-zone time and was counted to pitch in offensively. He has taken a step back this year in terms of his ability to do so, but it hardly matters. The emergence of Hodgson, a far superior offensive player, has effectively allowed Alain Vigneault to split Malhotra’s role from last year in half, strengthening both aspects.
In short, the two centres aren’t really in competition at all — they complement each other. Malhotra is a defensive specialist. Hodgson is, at this point, offense only.
So has Hodgson takes Malhotra’s job? Yes and no — he’s only taken the offensive part of it.Tags: Cody Hodgson, Malhotra, Manny Malhotra, Statistics, Stats