On David Booth, expectations, and what it means to be a second-liner in the NHL

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.

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31 comments

  1. Scott Taylor
    March 8, 2013

    It’s fair to say that he would benefit from more ice time, like the minutes he got in Florida. And he has a dimension to his game that makes him a decent second liner for sure. But that dimension is also brought by guys like Hansen and Raymond. The problem for him, and the Canucks, is that he’s a depth winger on this team though getting paid like a top six guy. In a cap constrained world, something has to give. And will before next season.

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  2. Brent
    March 8, 2013

    I can’t believe Chris the C has not replied yet. maybe he is copying and pasting all his previous comments on Booth into the mother of all replies?

    On a more serious note, I really hope you are correct and Booth increases his production, even if it is just to trade him at the deadline. So when does the cap space not matter any more? When the playoff start?

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    • chinook
      March 8, 2013

      Perhaps Chris C. remains mired in the task I asked of him – whom would he trade Dave Booth for? I didn’t know he was voted by fans last year as “most exciting player” but I’m not surprised.

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      • best behaviour
        March 8, 2013

        Wrong – I think you’ll find that Aaron Rome won last year’s most exciting player award. At least, according to some masking tape on the night Dallas came to town.

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        • chinook
          March 8, 2013

          Not according to Daniel Wagner (PITB, March 6 post on the San Jose), it was David Booth.

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          • chinook
            March 8, 2013

            I should add that Wagner’s statement is far down in the Comments section, in case you look for it. If its not true, take it up with him.

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            • Daniel Wagner
              March 9, 2013

              No worries, chinook, it was a joke. When Aaron Rome came into town with the Dallas Stars, his former teammates on the Canucks took masking tape and a pen and put Rome’s name on the wall for all of the Canucks’ awards last season.

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      • steveB
        March 9, 2013

        well, Kyle Wellwood is in a similar situation in Winnipeg: performed well last season, got a raise and isn’t putting up the expected numbers.
        Simple solution?
        -trade Booth for Wellwood! :-)

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        • Doop
          March 10, 2013

          I like the way you think.

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  3. nlklw
    March 8, 2013

    Problem is, he was dealt for and has never produced or contributed as expected, given his performance in Florida, and yes, his contract.

    Vancouver’s biggest issue with the low-ball deals that guys like the Sedins and Kesler took is that they put an arbitrary cap on the team. Other guys get brought aboard being paid market, but the team is pretty limited in who they can acquire without upsetting the salary structure in the locker room.

    That means, despite any rumours to the contrary, no Kovalchuk, no Parise, no Suter, none of the guys rumoured over the past several years are possible to acquire, and instead Vancouver pays market for second-tier players like Garrison, Hamhuis, and yes, Booth.

    There’s no way around it, if Vancouver’s top liners don’t perform at their peak, and their other guys don’t overperform, they are a weak team. Fortunately for them (until next season) they’ve been playing against a very weak division the past several years, making them look much better than they actually are.

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    • chinook
      March 9, 2013

      I agree there is a downside to paying top players like the Sedins at below market value when it comes to attracting SOME players. But definitely not Hamhuis, he took less to sign in Vancouver and I don’t consider him second-tier. A lot of others have re-signed for less than they could get elsewhere; Burrows on his current contract, Higgins, Hansen come to mind. Why? Probably being a quality organization has a lot to do with it. From my perspective the Canucks intent has been to build a strong, balanced team, rather than a couple of superstars and a bunch of pluggers.

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  4. akidd
    March 8, 2013

    well, daniel, i dunno…i think you’ve been huffin’ too many stats. it’s a dangerous sport, trying to order the world through statistics. the argument that it enhances observation is in theory correct, but in practise it influences perception to the degree where…the degree where you’re still defending this guy basically.

    behold the thing itself. that he takes a lot of shots means in part that those are shots that somebody else isn’t taking. there are a lot of nba players who would be ’2nd liners’ if they took as many shots a kobe bryant. but they don’t because that takes the ball out of more skilled hands.

    those corsiish stats don’t mean much i’m sorry. booth is almost a good argument against them in a way. i wouldn’t be surprised if he, and other players, adjusted their games to reflect on the possession charts, like directing a marginal shot on net rather than risking trying to generate a genuine scoring chance. when you think about it, why wouldn’t they?

    it’s all a quagmire when that perception of the beautiful northern game starts taking over. everyone else sees it. you must be the last booth-booster left in this city. even valk is on board. booth just doesn’t have the skill and should be traded he basically stated yesterday. and gary knows the game pretty good.

    there are all sorts of guys who flash the first couple of moves but just can’t pull off the last finishing one. brashear, lewtowski, weiss, to name just a very few guys who could make it to the net but no further. booth will score a few nice goals in his career but so could a lot of guys given the linemates and icetime that booth’s been given.

    booth is just not the right fit on the top six of a skilled puck possession team. next.

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    • Zach Morris
      March 8, 2013

      I find your lack of faith…disturbing.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 9, 2013

      You keep talking about puck possession: Corsi is a measurement of puck possession, as in, when you have the puck and are shooting it at the opponent’s net and they’re not shooting it at your own net, you’re possessing the puck more often. If you don’t think Booth, who is one of the best players on the Canucks in Corsi, fits on a puck possession team, then there’s nothing more to talk about because you’re not making any sense.

      Look, I know you don’t think Corsi or Fenwick or any of the other shot-based statistics are any use. I get that. But comparing Booth to Brashear, Letowski, and Weise is just absurd. Seriously, if you think that’s the class of player that booth is, then you’re not paying attention to either the stats or the games. Sheesh.

      Goodness gracious, you actually think that Booth takes shots just to try to influence his Corsi statistic? REALLY? You think he’d rather boost a still relatively obscure advanced statistic than SCORE A GOAL? You’ve really gone around the bend, mate…

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      • akidd
        March 9, 2013

        1.by puck possession, i’m referring to the cycle game favoured by the canucks and the amount of skill required to hold on to the puck in that system, not who directs more shots where or who’s shifts end in faceoffs where. i’m talking about passing around the puck until you find a hole in the defense and then hopefully capitilizing on it, all the while eating up minutes where your oppoent doesn’t have the puck nor the opportunity to score. that possession game.

        2.of course booth would rather score a goal. and i’m not accusing anyone of anything but am just musing that once these stats become a measurement of merit(the canucks use them, you use them,they’re not that obscure) then maybe occasionally a player when faced with the option of a safe wrister on net from a bad angle or something less corsi may choose the wrister. just musing how the observer affects what is being observed.

        3. my brashear comparison was just making light of guys who can string a skillful sequence or two togther but can’t quite finish.

        but basically, i’m just talking about stats in general and perhaps how our ongoing dispute over david booth can be a tidy little example of how stats can be misleading. and even to continue down this path, at this late hour, how this fluid, protean world may not be so easily pinned down.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          March 9, 2013

          1. See, that’s the game the Sedins play, but not the game the team as a whole plays. The fourth line tends to do that, mainly because they don’t have much in the way of finish and cycling the puck down low on the boards and battling for it takes up time, like you say, that the other team doesn’t have the puck. The second and third lines don’t play that way, with Raymond, Hansen, Kesler, Higgins, and Booth all more likely to make something happen off the rush. They can cycle the puck, but that’s not their default.

          2. The Canucks tend to use scoring chances more than Corsi. Vigneault’s talked about it a fair amount during post-game interviews. Booth shooting from the outside from a bad angle isn’t a scoring chance, so if Booth is trying to get in Vigneault’s good books, he needs to get to the net. He’s been doing that. We outside of the team analyze Corsi as it’s generally been found to correlate really well with scoring chances and it’s easier to calculate.

          3. Okay. I don’t recall Brashear stringing together many skillful plays, but sure.

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    • tom selleck's moustache
      March 9, 2013

      Well, I have to agree with Daniel on this one in that I think that people, in their criticism, are forgetting that Booth is only a second line player. By definition, there is going to be some flaw in a second line player’s game that puts them in that category of scoring: either they generate a lot of chances but have poor finish, or have great finish but can’t generate the chances on which to capitalize, or some combination in the middle (which is where I see Corsi having its usefulness).

      So the idea that you can just replace Booth and things will be better isn’t necessarily true because any player that comes in, if they have better finish, will likely be generating fewer scoring chances and have poorer possession numbers (if you think about it, a player that did generate as many scoring chances as Booth with better finish would be scoring at a first-line rate, in which case, the Canucks aren’t getting them). It basically becomes a situation of which flaw would you rather have; in Booth’s case, his flaw fits exactly in the Canucks’ puck possession model that they’ve built this team around. True, the puck eventually does have to go in the net; but his past history and current level of play indicates that it’s not going to stay out forever. So I do think that this is a situation where you do have to “trust the process”.

      And I’m pretty skeptical of the idea of players getting away with “gaming” their Corsi numbers by purposely taking more shots just for that. I really just don’t see that happening.

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      • tom selleck's moustache
        March 9, 2013

        Oops, looks like Daniel beat me to the punch.

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  5. BakerGeorgeT
    March 9, 2013

    No one is gaming their Corsi numbers. But the thing is, second liners need to generate chances, which Booth simply is not. I have yet to see him take the puck to the net, playing a Mason Raymond like game on the perimeter, but without the hands to do it. It kinda seems sissy like for a guy who likes to obliterate bears with a rifle.

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    • Alex Levy
      March 9, 2013

      Have you been watching the games?

      Do you even lift?

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 9, 2013

      Okay, now this just crazy. If you think Booth hasn’t been taking the puck to the net, then you haven’t watched a single game he’s played.

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      • BakerGeorgeT
        March 9, 2013

        It’s not crazy at all. He even was quoted in an Elliot Pap piece THIS MORNING that he needs to take the puck to the net more. So, either Pap misquoted him, or I have been seeing what Booth is saying. And don’t be childish by questioning whether or not I have been watching games this season. That’s the silliest of criticisms. You guys are much better than that. Just sharing an opinion.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          March 10, 2013

          Goodness gracious, if Booth thinks he needs to bring the puck to the net more than he already is…well, then.

          You’re not just sharing an opinion, though, you were also making a judgement of a person, calling Booth a “sissy.” And that was based on him not going to the net, which doesn’t seem the least bit true from watching his last few games. If Booth thinks he’s not going to the net enough, then I’m looking forward to him going to the net even more, which hardly seems possible.

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    • chinook
      March 9, 2013

      oops I hit ‘thumbs up’ instead of reply – yikes!
      Isn’t Booth a bow-hunter? At least I think thats how he killed a bear.

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  6. Unknown Comic
    March 9, 2013

    It must be hard for Daniel to write this very intelligent piece, only to get sucked into a simplistic debate with the ignorant who are unable to comprehend the complexities of the piece.

    Godspeed Dan…

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    • akidd
      March 9, 2013

      seriously?

      stating the outside(best and worst) ppg of nhl 2nd liners does not tell us the average ppg of nhl 2nd liners.

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      • Daniel Wagner
        March 10, 2013

        You want average points-per-game of NHL 2nd liners from last season? Fine. The average came out to 0.50 or, to be more precise, 0.499869. Booth’s points-per-game last season: 0.48 or, to be more precise, 0.48387. In Booth’s case, having played 62 games last season, the average NHL second liner would have scored 31 points. He scored 30.

        Average goals-per-game for an NHL second liner: 0.22 or, to be more precise, 0.217448. Booth’s goals-per-game last season: 0.26 or, to be more precise, 0.258065. In 62 games, the average NHL second liner would have 13-14 goals. Booth had 16.

        So he was ever-so-slightly below average in points and slightly above average in goals. Certainly, you want a bit more from him as you hope for your second liners to be well above average. Both Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins were significantly above league-average for second liners last season, while Booth was basically right at average. Personally, I think he’s capable of being better than he was last season, but even then he was a legitimate NHL second-liner.

        It’s worth noting as well that Booth had 11 powerplay goals in 2008-09 when he scored a career-high 31 goals and 8 powerplay goals in 2010-11 when he had 23 goals. Booth gets second unit powerplay ice time when he is used and had just 3 powerplay goals last season. Booth had more goals at even-strength last season in 62 games than he had in 82 games in 2010-11.

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        • akidd
          March 10, 2013

          good work!

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  7. jdm
    March 9, 2013

    This is a subject that exposes how unbelievably stupid Canucks fans can be, by and large.

    Booth’s possession numbers are frighteningly good. I don’t care if he finishes the season with 0 goals (he won’t), if the Canucks generate twice as many shots as their opponents – and therefore play the vast majority of the time in the other team’s zone – while Booth is on the ice, he is earning his money for me.

    The goals will come.

    People are complaining about 2 things: Booth and the power play. Solution to both issues: put Booth on the first unit with the Sedins, move Burrows to the point – essentially Booth replaces Kesler on the normal first unit. The guy was 3rd behind the Sedins in power play points per 60 minutes last year and is a shoot-first player, which solves the #1 issue facing the PP right now, which is pucks on net.

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  8. BBoone
    March 10, 2013

    I do not know Mr. Booth but I have a feeling that he gets the short end of the ” benefit of the doubt stick ” not only because of his goals per cap hit dollar but also because of his tweets and pictures. He is living in a country that is 1) has very strict weapons laws because we it is basically against killing defenseless creatures as a hobby and 2) is small c conservative when it comes to bragging about ones’ spiritual realization ( apparently the ten commandments are ” situational ethics to his sect ” ) Therefore since he; a) makes enough money to buy meat , b) can shoot his bow at an archery range c) take his tent and a camera to hike in the wilderness and d) can display his realization simply walking the walk. Then he should contemplate that tweeting about yourself risks Shakespeares’ ” methinks he doth protest too much ” tip, and spend some of his hobby time learning how to shoot a puck and advance from an overpaid third liner to a legitimate goal scoring power forward. If he played for Dallas and not in Canada of then perhaps it would be different. Maybe it shouldn’t but that is another story. The reality is it does. Words , actions ,do and especially self aggrandizing optional tweets ,do matter . It is part of what he signed up for when he took the 4 mil per year from , incidentally, us.

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  9. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    March 11, 2013

    There is absolutely a disconnect between what people think of as “an Nth line player” and reality. I think for those of us who began following hockey before the Dead Puck era, the ranges from another time period got cemented in our brains. I mean, 30 points just doesn’t *sound* like a lot in hockey, so it’s hard for people to accept how much that amounts to in the real-life 2013 NHL. I mean, if you have it in your head how Joel Otto used to put up 50 points for the Flames in a third-line checking role, that installs itself as some sort of measuring stick. (Analogy: ignoring inflation and concluding that life is more expensive now since a movie used to only cost 25 cents, etc.)

    The other half of it is grass-is-greener syndrome. Since everyone can think of at least one player on another team better in his role than one on their own, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that “that’s what everybody else has” and make that the yardstick. (Analogy: people who think taxes are objectively high in Canada just because they’re higher than they are in the U.S… without reference to the rest of the developed world.) Remember how long the Sedins were “OK second liners at best” when they were already putting a point per game or thereabouts? That’s because Team X had a 100-point scorer or Team Y had a superstar winger, etc.

    I’m so tired of the term “bona fide #1 defenseman” on the Internet (mostly in the context of “The Canucks do not have a…”) just because they don’t have one of the top superstars in the game.

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