Tom Sestito should spend more time in the press box

Tom Sestito is better at hockey than I ever will be. At 19 in the OHL, he scored 42 goals in 60 games for the Plymouth Whalers and he’s a legitimate point-producer at the AHL level, with 112 points in 246 games. Combined with his size and penchant for punching, his ability to play hockey has allowed him to carve out a nice professional career.

What he isn’t, however, is good enough to be playing every game in the NHL, like he has apart from two games missed due to injury. That’s why it’s baffling to see John Tortorella send him out on the fourth line, game after game, when the Canucks have better options. As harsh as this may be to say, the Canucks are undeniably a better team when Sestito is in the press box.

This isn’t about Sestito’s defensive blunder on the second goal by the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. Or rather, it is about that blunder in the sense that it’s part of a much larger pattern.

Despite receiving minimal ice time and playing mainly against the opposition’s fourth lines, Sestito has the worst on-ice goal differential on the team at 5-on-5, at minus-8. That means the Canucks have been out-scored by 8 goals when Sestito is on the ice, even though he’s barely on the ice at all.

Sestito averages just over 5-and-a-half minutes of ice time per game, but they have been costly minutes for the Canucks. A rule of thumb in hockey analytics is that three goals is equivalent to a point in the standings. By that rule of thumb, Sestito has cost the Canucks two points in the standings so far. While that may not seem like much, we’re not even halfway into the season and, in the hyper-competitive Pacific Division and Western Conference, a couple points in the standings can be the difference between making the playoffs and finishing on the outside looking in.

To be fair, goal differential isn’t always the best indicator of a player’s value. After all, Alex Burrows doesn’t have a particularly good goal differential at 5-on-5 this season, thanks to his absolutely rotten luck in the shooting percentage department.

The Canucks’ goaltenders have a save percentage of just .897 when Sestito is on the ice and, while an argument could be made that his defensive shortcomings drive that save percentage down, it seems unfair to assume that’s entirely on Sestito. It’s possible that he could be having the same rotten luck with save percentage that Burrows has had with shooting percentage.

So, let’s look at some of the underlying numbers to see if they say anything positive about Sestito. Spoiler warning: they don’t.

Sestito has the second worst shot differential on the team; the only player with a worse differential is Brad Richardson, who has played more than twice as many minutes at even-strength as Sestito. Looking at shot attempts just makes matters worse for Sestito.

Not only does Sestito have the worst Corsi% on the Canucks, but he has one of the worst in the entire league. Among players who have appeared in at least 19 games, Sestito has the fourth worst Corsi% in the NHL at 37.6%, ahead of only Luke Gazdic of the Edmonton Oilers, Cody McCormick of the Buffalo Sabres, and Frazer McLaren of the Toronto Maple Leafs. What do those three teams have in common? They’re all black holes of puck possession, sitting 27th, 28th, and 30th in team Corsi%.

It’s not the least bit surprising to see fourth liners on the worst puck possession teams in the league at the bottom of the Corsi% rankings, but the Canucks are not a bad puck possession team, making Sestito’s brutal Corsi% especially notable.

The worst part is that Sestito drags down everyone around him. Every single player who has spent at least 10 minutes on the ice with Sestito has a worse Corsi% than they do without him.

Everyone on the Canucks has a Corsi% at least 4 points lower with Sestito than they do without him, except for Ryan Kesler, who has only been on the ice with Sestito for just over 14 minutes and happens to be one of the best two-way forwards in the league.

The players that are particularly interesting here are Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh, numbers 21 and 13. Not only are they significantly better without Sestito, but they’re actually positive possession players, each with a Corsi% above 50. Imagine a fourth line that actually spends more time in the offensive zone than the defensive zone: it’s not going to happen with Sestito on the ice, but a line of Dalpe, Welsh, and either Dale Weise or Darren Archibald might be able to manage it. At the very least, they won’t get buried in shots against.

This may seem like I’m piling on Sestito. After all, he’s an enforcer or goon — depending on what terminology you prefer — and isn’t supposed to be particularly good at hockey. His job is to protect the players who are.

But how is that supposed to work, exactly? He’s never on the ice with any of the Canucks’ most skilled players, so how is he supposed to effectively protect them? If the other team targets the Sedins with big hits, is Sestito supposed to go out and target their skilled players? That won’t work either, as he’s rarely on the ice against the oppositions’ skilled players and, when he is, he’s too busy getting hemmed in the defensive zone to do anything to them. In any case, he doesn’t have the footspeed to close the distance and hit the opposition’s best players.

If he’s supposed to fight those that cause trouble for the Canucks’ skilled players, that’s not exactly happening either. Looking at his fight card, it’s just a bunch of similar, one-dimensional goons/enforcers, with Nick Foligno and Chris Neil being the exceptions. All that he’s accomplishing by fighting those players is keeping them both employed.

Is having him around to occasionally punch the other team’s designated puncher worth turning the fourth line into a liability every time they come over the boards? Is his fighting worth the goals against the team gives up when he’s on the ice? At what point does his lack of ability on the ice overcome his supposed added value as a fighter? Is it any coincidence that the two games that Sestito spent injured were the two games that the fourth line looked the best it has all season?

The worst part of this is that it isn’t Sestito’s fault. Mike Gillis is the one who signed him to a two-year contract. John Tortorella is the one who keeps putting him on the ice, game after game. Sestito is just going out and playing his best, which isn’t good enough for regular NHL action.

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12 comments

  1. laplander
    December 20, 2013

    Maybe put him out with the Sedins – if he can get in front of the net he would be hard to move. Maybe even bounce a few pucks off him into the net?
    Or we let him go (send him down?) and bring up a placeholder. Or a spare defenceman – we could use one of thos…

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  2. flyingv
    December 20, 2013

    I was astounded at how much better the fourth line looked when Sestito was out. Then astounded to find him back on the fourth line again as soon as he was healthy. If it’s that easy to spot how much of a liability he is, I just can’t understand why they keep putting him out there.

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    • laplander
      December 20, 2013

      Same reason the keep Alberts and won’t try Kassian with the Sedins?

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      • flyingv
        December 20, 2013

        I dunno, you could have a reasoned debate about those things. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody try to argue for more Sestito anywhere. Or even try to defend the minutes he gets right now, for that matter.

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      • Matt
        December 21, 2013

        Alberts didn’t get into the line-up until two other defencemen were injured. He’s perfectly serviceable as an 8th defenceman. If Tom Sestito was getting time on the fourth line because of injuries, that’d be fine. He’d be perfectly serviceable as a 15th forward.

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  3. Iceman
    December 20, 2013

    I asked the exact question on the previous post. While I have been applauding for most of Tort’s decision, his never-dying favoritism for Sesitito at the expense of team’s overall performance just cannot be explained with any logic.

    I really want to hear a medial member asking Tortorella this question: “Coach, do you think Sestito is playing so well that maybe he should be playing with Sedins?”

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  4. Chris the Curmudgeon
    December 20, 2013

    I think you’ve touched on what is actually a much more general conversation surrounding fighting, and specifically the role of the “enforcer”, in the NHL. Namely, if a player is good enough to play against other good players, then he isn’t just a goon, and if he’s only good enough to play against other goons, then you can’t play him against the skill players he’s supposed to be intimidating anyways and you might as well give his spot to someone who actually can play with them. In that sense, it’s not just Tortorella, it’s a general question as to why anyone would care to have a rehearsed fight happen between 2 guys who aren’t good for anything else. I’m sort of on the fence about fighting either way, but I do think that if more coaches stopped dressing their goons, and more GMs stopped signing guys for anything other than their ability to play hockey, with fighting ability being secondary, other teams would take notice that they are crippling their own depth by only dressing 11 players instead of 12. Then, maybe the fights that do happen would mean something because they’d be between guys who matter to their teams and have more of a disincentive to fight than just having to watch the game from the opposite side of the ice. I don’t mind seeing the Backeses, Browns and Simmondses etc fighting every now and again, but could certainly do without the Colton Orrs, the Frazer McLarens and yes, even the Sestitos.

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  5. jenny wren
    December 20, 2013

    I could conclude I’m not too bright
    For clearly Torts knows more than I
    And bottom line has reasons why
    He still ignores the hue and cry
    From those for whom it’s black and white
    And could a dozen reasons cite
    That benching Tom is only right
    To each of which I would say aye
    But I am dull and don’t deny
    Some hidden truth may come to light
    That I can see and justify
    But still I wish with all my might
    That Sestito sits tonight

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  6. PB
    December 21, 2013

    What remains so baffling is exactly what you’ve pointed out, that the fourth line without Sestito actually looks decent and seems to earn enough of Tortorella’s trust to get more than 4 minutes a game. Welsh, Dalpe and Weise seem to be energy guys, with both Dalpe and Welsh capable of winning face-offs and Weise and Welsh able to lay on a few hits. All seem responsible enough defensively. I just don’t get why Sestito’s out there. And it’s not even as if he goons it up that often. Absolutely perplexing. Is he that popular around the dressing room? There doesn’t seem to be any indication of it.

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    • tom selleck's moustache
      December 22, 2013

      I couldn’t agree more as having Sestito in the line up has basically meant that, because Tortorella can’t trust a Sestito-fourth line with more than 4-5 minutes a game, he has add more minutes to his other lines and at a rate that likely isn’t sustainable and has yet to be shown to be successful (if the ultimate goal is to win the Cup) while taking minutes away from the two other fourth liners that deserve it aka the trickle-up effect. So, in a nutshell, he’s having to adjust the usage and playing time of 15 players to accommodate the inclusion of one who really shouldn’t be there. That just doesn’t make any sense to me.

      And I think Wagner’s closing thoughts are among the best because Sestito can’t be blamed in any of this; you can see his effort and you know that he’s just trying to do his job the best he can. He’s just not being put in the place that he would be most effective and where he’s most suited, which would be the AHL.

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  7. Fic
    December 21, 2013

    May be Torts is putting him there as a deterrent and also give other Canuck players courage to play harder and not worry about answering the bell. If all you have are skiled players on the team, you might not play as hard physically because you know you might have to answer for a big hit.

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