David Booth has received his share of criticism from Canucks fans, essentially centred around his lack of production compared to the size of his contract. His start to this season hasn’t helped matters: he has zero goals and just 1 assist in his first 8 games. Considering he’s currently the fourth highest paid forward on the team, it’s understandable why some fans would be upset.
Still, there’s no need to be quite as upset as many are. Given the scoring chances that he has created recently, Booth shouldn’t be goalless for long, and he should start picking up more assists as well, if his chemistry with Zack Kassian over the last few games is any indication.
In addition, I believe that much of the criticism of Booth stems from unrealistic expectations, created by both his contract and a flawed perspective on what it means to be a first line, second line, or third line player in the NHL.
I’m not going to argue that Booth has a great contract, but I will say that it looks worse thanks to the best forwards on the team being underpaid. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are two of the top forwards in the NHL, but they don’t get paid like it, earning $6.1 million per year through 2013-14. While that places them in comparable range to quality players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Martin St. Louis, they’re making $1.5-2 million less than players like Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Vincent Lecavalier, and, as of next season, Ryan Getzlaf.
Then you compare Booth to Alex Burrows, who is getting paid $2 million per season to play on the top line with the Sedins to go with great penalty killing, and the sting of $4.25 million for Booth is felt even more. Of course, Burrows will be making more than Booth as of next season, when his $4.5 million contract kicks in. It’s worth noting that Burrows has no goals in his last 7 games: will people be criticising him as harshly as Booth if he has a similar dry spell next season?
Booth signed his current contract right after a 31-goal season for the Panthers, so the contract made sense at the time. He suffered a concussion the next season and you could argue that he hasn’t been the same player since. Still, he put up 23 goals the following season with the Panthers and scored 16 in an injury-shortened season after being traded to the Canucks, putting him on a 20-goal pace.
For some fans, however, 20 goals isn’t enough for a player to be on the second line. In my mind, this stems from an incorrect picture of what it means to be a second line player in the NHL.
I put together a quick spreadsheet of all the players who played in at least 20 games last season, ordered them by points-per-game, then split it to give me four chunks of players that should at least come close to correlating with four lines. It’s not pretty analysis, but it should give at least a grainy picture of what it means to be on each line in the NHL.
First-line players averaged from 1.68 points-per-game (Sidney Crosby) down to 0.63 (Sam Gagner). Now, Gagner wasn’t actually on Edmonton’s first line last season, mainly because Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are above him on the list. But right there with Gagner are Tyler Bozak, Dustin Brown, and Alex Burrows, who all do play on the first line.
Second-line players averaged from 0.62 points-per-game (Derek Stepan) to 0.38 (Chris Stewart). Third-line players averaged from 0.37 points-per-game (Alexander Burmistrov) to 0.21 (Eric Belanger). And fourth-line players averaged from 0.20 points-per-game (Mathieu Darche) to no points-per-game (Eric Boulton).
Obviously there’s some leeway here: a player who doesn’t score enough points to be considered a first line or second line player but tends to score more goals will tend to get bumped up a line. Andrew Ladd had 50 points in 82 games for the Jets last season, putting him on the second line in my spreadsheet, but 28 of those were goals, making him a first-line player. Sean Bergenheim had 23 points in 62 games for the Panthers, putting him near the top of the third-liner section, but he scored 17 goals, bumping him up onto the second line.
In an 82-game season, then, a second-line player should be expected to score between 31 and 51 points, or to tally 15 to 25 goals.
Obviously, when constructing a team you want to have players at the upper end of those totals, or beyond. Ryan Kesler, even though he had a down season last year, finished with 0.64 points-per-game, putting him up into first line territory. That makes sense, as Kesler would be a first-liner on a worse team.
As for Booth, he had 16 goals and 30 points in 62 games. Even before you consider that he missed 20 games, he’s already at the lower echelon of second-line players in the NHL. When you consider his injury, he was on a 20-goal, 40-point pace for the season, placing him around the middle of the pack when it comes to second-liners in the NHL.
Essentially, that’s what Booth is: he’s a good, but not great, second-line player. He’s unlikely to be more than that on the Canucks, largely because he’s not going to get first-line ice time or first unit powerplay time, as that belongs to the Sedins, and his style most definitely does not a fit with their style.
Both Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins also fit within the bounds of second-line players, while Mason Raymond struggled last season, and scored at a third-line rate. With the way he’s playing this season, however, Raymond is clearly a second-line player, giving the Canucks the nice problem of having too many second-liners once Kesler returns.
The points will come for Booth this season. Not everyone cares for advanced statistics, but I find them very useful for understanding how a player is performing overall. Since few of Booth’s forays into the offensive zone have produced goals, they’re less noticeable, making it easy to ignore the impact he’s had on the ice.
It’s harder when you look at the underlying numbers. Booth’s Corsi rate is at Sedin levels. He’s currently third on the team in Corsi with a rate of 26.30, right behind Daniel (27.32) and Henrik (26.51). The next highest player is Burrows at 15.03. But it’s more than that. Booth is managing to push puck possession into the offensive zone at the same rate as the Sedins while starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. Booth’s Offensive Zone Start Percentage is 45.3%; the Sedins are at 70.5% and 68.3%, respectively.
That is insanely good. The reason that hasn’t resulted in more points for Booth is his On-Ice Shooting Percentage. When Booth is on the ice, the Canucks have scored on only 2.33% of their shots on goal, the lowest percentage of any player on the team. Even if Booth is the type of player that drives down shooting percentages, as some argue, that is ridiculously and unsustainably low.
As a result, Booth’s PDO is the lowest on the team among active players (Manny Malhotra’s was lower). He is due for a pleasant regression to the mean throughout the rest of the season.
As for those who argue that his Corsi is artificially high because he takes low-percentage shots from the outside, that’s certainly part of it. But the other thing to consider is that the puck is rarely in the defensive zone when Booth is on the ice, which is a massive benefit even when he’s not scoring.
For every 60 minutes that Booth has been on the ice, the Canucks have given up just 17.1 shots on goal, the lowest among Canucks forwards. On average, the Canucks have given up 28 shots on goal per game. Essentially, in a hypothetical situation where Booth was on the ice for every single shift in a game, the Canucks would surrender 11 fewer shots per game. (In this hypothetical situation, Booth also never gets tired.)
That sounds like the kind of player that should be on the ice a lot. Such as, perhaps, second-line minutes on a good team.Tags: david booth, Statistics