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.Tags: Tom Sestito