A while ago, I saw a post on another SB Nation site making the case that one of their players is currently the Most Valuable Player in the league. Interestingly, when noting potential rivals for this title, a certain Claude Giroux wasn't mentioned. So this post is about examining how much of a great player Claude Giroux has become, and moreover comparing him to some of his nearest rivals in the MVP race. This post will imagine what the arguments for Claude Giroux's MVP candidacy would be if the Hart was awarded midway through the season. If you're interested, take the jump and let's see where it takes us.
Note: All stats are dated to Saturday 7 January. The advanced stats were manually taken from behindthenet.ca, however hopefully no typos were made.
Let's get a few things out of the way first. Firstly, I am analyzing the current level of play of the league's leading players at roughly around the halfway point of the season. That is to say, if we were trying to decide who deserves the Hart right now, we would perform this analysis. This analysis isn't considering the effect of unsustainable shooting percentages etc. which could alter future performance.
Secondly, you will notice that this will essentially be a comparison of elite forwards. Only one defenseman has won the League's MVP title since Bobby Orr (Chris Pronger in 2000). It is therefore probably unlikely that we see a defenseman winning my imaginary January 7 Hart. A goalie could potentially be considered as the league MVP, and I think there is a case to be made for the likes of Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas, but let's avoid trying to compare forwards to goalies.
So where do we begin? For the entire post-lockout era, the winner of the Hart has been either one of the league's leading point scorers or one of the league's leading goal scorers (or both for that matter). It is probably not a far cry to say that anyone outside of the top 10 in goal scoring or points scoring isn't in consideration of the MVP award. This gives us the following list of 17 players:
Claude Giroux, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Phil Kessel, Steven Stamkos, Joffrey Lupul, Jordan Eberle, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Jason Pominville, Marian Gaborik, Jonathan Toews, James Neal, Milan Michalek, Thomas Vanek, Patrick Sharp, Radim Vrbata
It should be noted that many of those players have teammates also on the list: the Sedin twins; Kessel and Lupul, Malkin and Neal; Hossa, Toews and Sharp; and Pominville and Vanek . That is to say, 11 out of 17 players on the list above have teammates who are also good enough to make the list. One of the common arguments used when considering the league's MVP award is 'who would the team have to take their place if they weren't there'. It is tough to apply this argument here without a proper analysis of how these guys play with and without their prolific teammates, but it is still probably worth noting that most of our candidates aren't 'one man teams'. The 6 that remain: Giroux, Stamkos, Eberle, Gaborik, Michalek and Vrbata are probably not 'one man teams' either, but certaintly have less prolific teammates.
So first let's look at some conventional stats. Points per game and goals per game. It is fair to say that you're a long shot for the league MVP award if you're not putting up a fair few of these per game. Below is the table of results, including a rank of all players.
And here's a link to the table.
So I think we can exclude Radim Vrbata (10th in goals/game, 16th in points/game) and Patrick Sharp (10th in goals/game, 13th in points/game) from our analysis. That leaves us with 15 candidates. Now let's delve into some more advanced stats to look at who is the 'best' out of these 15.
Production per minute at even strength
We're going to again firstly focus on basic production. Here we are looking at goals/60 (how many goals does this player score in 60 minutes of even strength ice time) and A1/60 (how many primary assists does this player achieve in 60 minutes of even strength ice time). I have discounted A2/60. Secondary assists are often big parts of a play, but over the long term primary assists and goals are probably the best measure of production. The results are in the table below:
And here's your link
Here we see an interesting fall for some of the league's top point scorers, including the Sedin twins. Remember that this is even strength, so an unexpectedly low G+A1/60 can mean either of three things:
- The player plays a lot more ice time than everyone else
- The player scores a lot of points on the powerplay
- The player has a lot of secondary assists inflating their points total
In any case, the key fact we want to take out from this is that Claude Giroux's production is amongst the best of the best. He has the highest G+A1/60 of that list with a middle of the range G/60.
The next step is to compare production on and off the ice for the team. This is using GFON/60 (goals for while player is on ice per 60 minutes), GAON/60, GFOFF/60 and GAOFF/60. The way I conducted this analysis was to find the goal differential while the player was on the ice, the goal differential while the player was off the ice, and then compare the two, to measure the impact the player has on the goal scoring patterns of the game from being on the ice. Results are below:
Edit: I probably should have included save % in this analysis. One of the reasons Giroux's GAON/60 is low is a 0.903 save%, while Daniel Sedin gets a 0.934 save%. But I forgot to do this for everyone.
Giroux falls to the middle of the pack here - 8th. His GFON/60 is actually the highest of the 15, but his GAON/60 isn't far from the 'top' either. What this essentially means is that Giroux being on the ice roughly makes up a one goal advantage for the Flyers. With Giroux off the ice the Flyers score around 2.5 goals/60 and allow 2.5 goals/60. With Giroux on the ice the Flyers score 4.15 goals/60 and allow 3.15 goals/60.
Our top players on this list include Hossa, the Sedin twins, Stamkos and Toews. Down the bottom end of the range we have James Neal and Milan Michalek for whom the team actually performs with a better goal differential when they are off the ice than it does when they are on the ice. Interestingly, Sean Couturier performs around the middle of the range on this stat with a difference of 0.88 - but I digress.
There are many factors influencing this, including the competition the players are out against, the teammates they are out on the ice with, the save % they enjoy or suffer from, and the opportunities they are given to score based on their zone star etc. I didn't account for all these factors, but this is probably still somewhat indicative of the impact these players are having on their team.
Possession and driving play forward at even strength
The next thing we're going to look at is a rough measure of how well the players are driving play forward when they are on the ice. This involves their Corsi Rel (which takes into account how good their team is) and their O-zone start %. Here I'm going to use the Balanced Corsi Rel formula I worked on in an earlier fan post. Read that post for more information, but basically this will compare a player's Corsi Rel to how well the average player in the league would perform with a given O-zone start %. It was designed to work on O-zone start ranges from 40-60, so unfortunately the Sedin twins with their 80% O-zone start fall out of the range of accuracy. I will post up their Balanced Corsi Rel anyway though. The results are below:
Interestingly, only 5 of our 15 are in the top quartile, and for Daniel Sedin and Evgeni Malkin we cannot be too sure as to what their results mean given the fact that they start in the offensive zone well over 60% of the time and my formula is meant to be working on the 40-60 range. Only one of our players started more in the defensive zone than in the offensive zone - Claude Giroux. Based on the formula, only one of our players was expected to have a negative CorsiRel based on his zone start - Claude Giroux. This table really shows how Toews, Stamkos and Giroux are elite in driving the play forward.
On the other end of the scale, we've got 7 of our 15 MVP candidates with a Balanced CorsiRel below the league median. While Gaborik, Michalek, Hossa, Eberle, Lupul, Pominville and Vanek may be producing at an elite level - they are more often than not starting in the offensive zone and not maintaining possession or not pushing the play forward at a high enough level given that zone start. If Claude Giroux can manage a 3.9 CorsiRel with a 46.5% zone start, Marian Hossa should be able to exceed that with his 60.3% zone start - but he doesn't.
Interestingly, Sean Couturier's balanced Corsi Rel of 5.98 beats everyone on this list apart from Toews - but I digress.
Below is also a table of the O-zone start % and O-zone finish %. The function this table serves is to show who is able to push play forward while their on the ice and leave the ice with their team in a more favorable position to where it was when they entered the ice.
Claude Giroux starts in the offensive zone 46.5% of the time and finishes there 55.6% of the time. The only other one of our MVP candidates who even manages to finish in the O-zone more often than they start there is Joffrey Lupul. While it may appear that Giroux just blows the competition out of the water here, it should be noted that you have to be doing something amazingly right to finish in the O-zone 79% of the time, even if you do start there 79% of the time. Which is why I also included the ranking jump
Pominville had the 9th highest O-zone start %, and finishes with the 2nd highest O-zone finish %. Toews had the 7th highest O-zone start %, but finishes with the 12th highest O-zone finish. Not sure how much you can read into this made up comparison method though. There are a whole host of problems with comparing rankings which I won't get into - suffice to say that one of the major reasons Giroux only jumps up 4 ranks is because there is no-one even near his O-zone start %. In other words he is 15th by a long way, so jumping up 4 ranks is a lot more impressive for Giroux than it is for any of these other guys.
The final thing is factoring in quality of competition. All of our candidates had a CorsiRelQoC around 0-1, so there isn't a massive difference between any of them in this regard. Still, it is something we should take a look at. I decided to do this graphically: Balanced CorsiRel (on the y-axis) vs. Quality of Competition (on the x-axis):
Note: Thomas Vanek's -11.60 CorsiRel doesn't appear on the chart as I wanted to keep it symmetrical and look at the scores that matter. For the record, Vanek's CorsiRelQoC is 0.623.
Basically top right corner = good. Bottom left corner = bad. Good: Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Claude Giroux. Bad: Jordan Eberle and Marian Hossa. The rest are somewhere in the middle, although you're probably not going to discount Jason Pominville's crappy Corsi Rel solely on the basis of mildly more difficult competition.
So from our driving play segment, our best players are Giroux, Toews, Stamkos, the Sedins (albeit with high zone start) and Malkin. We're probably zoning into our MVP candidates here.
All of our MVP Candidates get solid powerplay time - but who can be said to perform well on the powerplay? Advanced stats are mostly used in even strength situations and you should probably be deciding on the most valuable player in the league through even strength; but here are some stats anyway.
Kessel and Toews are not big producers on the powerplay. At the top of our list are the Sedin twins, Vanek and Giroux.
More interesting is the penalty kill analysis. Being able to play responsibly in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill is a valuable asset, and surely should play a factor in deciding whether someone is adjudged the Most Valuable Player in the League. Well it turns out only 5 of our candidates play more than 1 minute per 60 on the penalty kill. Out of those 5, Giroux plays the most time on the PK, and allows the fewest shots on the goalie.
Reasoning through the facts
Claude Giroux's points/game and G+A1/60 beats all of his competitors. This alone, is enough to ensure that he is a more likely MVP candidate than many of the other players in the league whose main asset is their point scoring. After all, if the Sedin twins' main argument in the MVP race is that they score a lot of points, then they have no argument against Giroux.
But of course, points scoring is not everything. There are other candidates who may have scored fewer points per game than Giroux but also offer their team other benefits. When we look at the ability to drive play forward, players who are doing this effectively while putting up a fair few points include Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos, Giroux, Malkin and Phil Kessel. Toews manages to do this against stronger competition than the rest, with Stamkos and Malkin facing slightly less tough competition on the ice. However, it should be noted that while Toews O-zone start % is 14.6% higher than Giroux's, his O-zone finish % is actually 1.1% lower - meaning that Giroux is much better able to swing play into the favor of his team while on the ice.
Stamkos, Malkin and Kessel also lose out in comparison by not spending much time on the ice as penalty killers. Per every 60 minutes of ice time, Giroux spends 2.62 minutes on the PK and Toews spends 1.93 minutes. While on the ice, Giroux allows 42.4 shots against per 60, while Toews allows 47.9.
I think we can begin to see why Giroux should not be forgotten when considering your MVP candidates.
I believe this midseason MVP race can be brought down to Giroux, Toews, Stamkos, Kessel, Malkin, H. Sedin and D. Sedin. 7 outstanding players.
Giroux is producing more points per game than any of them. He also produces more G+A1/60 than any of them. He also starts in the defensive zone more than any of them - and manages to turn that into a finishing position in the offensive zone more often than not. He also plays more on the penalty kill than any of them, and limits the shots on his goalie while on the penalty kill more than any of them. He and Stamkos are also the only ones of those 7 who do not have another high scoring partner that is also in the top 10 points or goals list this season. The only notable area Giroux 'falls short' is that his Balanced CorsiRel is 3rd - behind Stamkos and Toews - although Stamkos does not face as tough competition as Giroux and Toews. But Giroux's Balanced CorsiRel is still in the top quartile of players, which is more than many of his competition can say.
In all honesty, it's probably not much of a jump to say that, at this moment, Claude Giroux is the league's most valuable forward. While Tim Thomas and Henrik Lunqdvist might have something to say about the MVP award, I have to think that if the Hart voting was done now, we'd have some hardware coming back to Philly.
What do you think? Feel free to argue the cases of the other candidates!