Drance Numbers: Investigating Cody Hodgson’s monster January

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 Cody Hodgson’s best month as an NHLer, and discovers some startling changes in his usage.

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I don’t need to tell you that Cody Hodgson’s performance in the month of January was incredible. Cody Franchise picked up 6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points and an “NHL Rookie of the Month” Award, catapulting himself into the Calder trophy discussion, something I considered a longshot as recently as 10 days ago.

It was also revealed yesterday on Twitter, that Chicago Wolves captain Nolan Baumgartner has a nickname for Hodgson. That nickname is Dr. Headson. Apparently “the Franchise” always knows what’s up with his teammate’s injuries.

It makes sense that a nerd like Hodgson would fancy himself a doctor: it fits in well with his poorly dressed, chess-master persona. Also, considering many Canuck fan’s summer obsession with finding “Vancouver’s answer to Mark Recchi,” it’s nice to finally have a doctor on the team.

The last four weeks of Hodgson’s rookie season have been an unmitigated, high-profile success. But looking at the underlying numbers, there is some pretty interesting stuff going on with Hodgson’s deployment, possession and on-ice percentages. I figured we’d delve into them, and look at what exactly happened with Hodgson in the first month of 2012.

We’ll begin with Hodgson’s ice-time, a source of constant preoccupation in the Vancouver market, at Pass it to Bulis itself, and of course, by Hodgson’s long-winded, essayist player agent. Hodgson’s ice-time spiked in January, and he hasn’t played less than 12 minutes in a game since he sent that ridiculous rush slap-shot past Tea Party Timmy in Boston. Hodgson received two minutes more per game in January than he did in December and November.

The increase in Hodgson’s ice-time went mostly unnoticed by Vigneault’s usual detractors, as did the massive change in the rookie’s deployment beginning in 2012. I figured I’d bring in a table to show you how the usage rate of the Canucks’ four centremen has evolved throughout this season:

Oct. Ozone Start% Nov. Ozone Start % Dec. Ozone Start % Jan. Ozone Start %
H. Sedin 78.3% 78.5% 80.3% 80.1%
Kesler 45.6% 49% 51.4% 47.7%
Hodgson 52.2% 40.9% 33.3% 83.3%
Malhotra 26.3% 16.5% 0.09% 0.01

 

There are a number of major trends that are visible in the above table. The first and most obvious is that the Sedin line is consistently given the highest proportion of offensive zone-starts. You may have already known that. The other steady trend is that Kesler, the team’s best two-way forward, starts an equal proportion of his shifts in the offensive end, and defensive end.

But the two most interesting trends involve Malhotra and Hodgson.

Malhotra’s role has changed throughout the season, and has become increasingly radical in its defensive orientation. That’s not a typo or a calculation error you see above: his O-zone start rate for the month of January actually was one-hundredth of a percent (or to be super exact: Malhotra started 1.0106383% of his shifts in the offensive end). As Daniel Wagner put it, Malhotra is a “clear the puck and get off the ice” specialist, who excels on face-offs and on the penalty-kill.

Finally we get to Hodgson, the man who has “claimed Malhotra’s job” (but hasn’t really). In the first three months of the season, Vigneault protected Cody Hodgson competition-wise, but not situationally. He trusted the rookie to hand it to the opposition’s bottom-6 forwards, and third defensive pairings, without requiring offensive zone starts to do so.

For the most part, Hodgson was up to the task, and produced at a reasonable rate in this sheltered situation while posting impressive possession numbers. That has changed in a big way in 2012. Now Vigneault gives Hodgson the “Sedin treatment” in terms of situational deployment, but the rookie faces harder competition, and his possession numbers have cratered.

In fairness, the possession numbers have cratered for the entire team. The Canucks have been riding the percentages over the past month, and Cody Hodgson is no exception. As a team, the Canucks were extremely lucky to escape January with a 7-2-2 record, considering how badly they played.

In January, Hodgson had a 12% on-ice shooting percentage, shot 28.6%, and carried a PDO of 107.7. No wonder there have been a rush of articles, some genuine and some tongue-in-cheek, praising Hodgson for being “clutch” – he scored on every third shot he took in the month!

I have no doubt that Hodgson possesses the raw tools to be an elite finisher at the NHL level, and partly that’s what we saw this past month. But, obviously, there’s no way he’s going to keep scoring at January’s rate over the balance of the season. Hodgson’s January performance was a lot of fun, but it was something of a mirage and he’s bound to regress, especially if the Canucks continue to get their teeth kicked-in from a possession standpoint.

It’s odd, because, the Canucks were a dominant possession team through about mid-December. Over the past six weeks, however, they’ve become completely reliant on superior (and lucky) goaltending for wins. The team’s 5-on-5 shot ratio graph (courtesy Behindthenet.ca) shows us that their run of recent wins are as unsustainable as the prices in Vancouver’s housing market.

It has been masked by the fact that every puck he’s touched recently has found the back of the net, but no Canuck has fallen off as sharply, possession wise as Hodgson has. In some ways, January was the perfect storm for him, the team was playing poorly, so they were often in need of offense late in the game. As a result Hodgson saw his ice-time increase. Partly as a result of his increased ice-time, steady diet of offensive zone starts and a dramatic spike in his on-ice and personal shooting percentages: Cody Hodgson delivered a whole whack of goals in “clutch” situations. This isn’t to take anything away from his performance over the past month, Hodgson’s shooting ability is high-end and he’s immensely creative. That said, if the team, and Hodgson personally, don’t find a way to turn it around and control play on a more regular basis, both their record and Hodgson’s production are going to plummet over the next 31 games.

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10 comments

  1. Rituro
    February 3, 2012

    Sure, kill the buzz, Drance…

    But seriously, great analysis. Keep up the good work.

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  2. Nero
    February 3, 2012

    What a great piece. Thanks for this analysis.

    Some of the best work I’ve seen in Vancouver, ever.

    If you could take out more time to explain the PDO and other stats at Behind the Net, that would be great also.

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  3. JW
    February 3, 2012

    The numbers sure back up what I’ve been seeing the last month. Teams getting lucky.

    Shouldn’t that be 0.0106383%?

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  4. caj
    February 3, 2012

    BLASPHEMER!

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    • caj
      February 3, 2012

      I hope you called Rich about this

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  5. Tom_F
    February 3, 2012

    Good Read! I enjoy reading an article from a writer who is trying to be as objective as possible with their assessment of a team. Stats, stats, stats…. finally! As boring as stats are, they are the only way to see what is actually going on.

    Great blog guys! Keep ‘em coming!

    Some VS and Province writers thought Cody would be a bust and wouldn’t make it in the NHL. I’m glad the Canucks have handled Cody as delicately as they have. We didn’t require him to jump into the line-up right away and be a Kane or a Toews (sp?). The whole point of having a farm team is to bring guys along slowly and promote them when they are ready and use them in situations they can excel in which is exactly what the Canucks have done with Cody.

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  6. Kevin
    February 3, 2012

    “Malhotra started 1.0106383% of his shifts in the offensive end”

    Likely all because of Icing.

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  7. Anonymous
    February 3, 2012

    Great piece here, it’s nice to see the facts behind the ‘clutch Cody’ ideal

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  8. stathead
    February 4, 2012

    actually was one-hundredth of a percent (or to be super exact: Malhotra started 1.0106383% of his shifts in the offensive end)

    Those statements have two very different meanings… :) you mean 0.001etc%

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  9. Alviator
    February 4, 2012

    Unbeliever! How dare you bring Hodgson down with common sense!

    Bring out the pitch forks and torches! Tie him to the stake!

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