Marc-Andre Gragnani is on a three-game point streak, but you wouldn’t know it from the chilly reception he’s receiving of late from the Canucks faithful. To be fair, Gragnani is coming off his worst game as a Canuck on Tuesday against the Ducks. He was on the ice for 3 of the Ducks’ 4 goals and 2 of those goals came as a direct consequence of his defensive gaffes.
It could even be argued that if it weren’t for Gragnani, the Vancouver goalie controversy wouldn’t have been reignited, and the fact that he did it right after Alexander Sulzer posted a three-point night for Buffalo made Gragnani’s performance even more stark.
We weren’t shy about calling him out on his errors either; the errors that he made against the Ducks are the kinds of mistakes that get you benched or sent to the press box, particularly on a team coached by Alain Vigneault, who loves his low-risk, low-event defencemen.
And yet, even after his defensive gaffes, Gragnani played 18:52 against the Ducks, including 1:43 in overtime. While this was still fifth in icetime among Canuck defenceman, he saw a lot more of the sheet than many expected. Some are quick to attribute this to favouritism, as Gragnani was previously coached by Vigneault in Juniors. Many draw a parallel to Keith Ballard and wonder why Gragnani doesn’t get the same treatment for his defensive mistakes.
The reason, as I see it, is a simple one: they’re two different players.
I don’t say that to be dismissive. What I mean is that they only seem like similar players who make similar mistakes. While Ballard is the stronger skater and plays a more physical game, Gragnani is much more creative offensively and is very adept at identifying chances to join the rush or the cycle. While both Gragnani and Ballard make mistakes in the defensive zone, Gragnani creates a lot more in the offensive zone to make up for it. Remember: Gragnani was a point-per-game in the AHL last season. As a defenceman.
Both are high-event players: there are a lot of shots and scoring chances at both ends of the rink when they are on the ice. But there is a distinct difference in which end of the ice sees the bulk of those shots and scoring chances.
For instance, despite being a minus-2 against the Ducks, when Gragnani was on the ice, the Canucks had 21 attempted shots compared to 12 for the Ducks, giving him a plus-9 Corsi for the game. Vigneault kept putting him on the ice because the Canucks were down and Gragnani creates opportunities to score.
For the season, Keith Ballard has the second worst Relative Corsi among Canucks defenceman; Gragnani has the best, albeit having played for the Sabres for the bulk of the season. On the Sabres, Gragnani was one of only a few players on the team with a positive plus/minus at plus-10. While plus/minus is a fundamentally flawed statistic, it is certainly notable that his was so much better than his teammates.
It’s possible that Gragnani’s possession numbers reveal a flaw in the Corsi and Fenwick statistics. It’s possible that the shots and scoring chances he allows in the defensive zone are qualitatively better than the ones that he creates in the offensive zone. Subjectively, I think Keith Ballard is a better defenceman than Marc-Andre Gragnani.
But the objective statistics seem to indicate otherwise, and Vigneault and the Canucks coaching staff tend to use such statistics (or similar ones at least). This may explain why Gragnani gets a longer leash.
That leash may certainly shorten come playoff time, but let’s keep in mind one other statistic: last year, Gragnani had 7 points in 7 playoff games for the Sabres.
Don’t write him off just yet.Tags: Ballard, Marc-Andre Gragnani