PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 1: Matt Carle #25 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates out to practice for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park on January 1, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
I like Matt Carle. I like Matt Carle a lot. This is mostly because he's very good at hockey, but if you know anything about me, it's that I like going against conventional wisdom. Some people would rephrase this to simply say I like telling other people they are wrong. Po-ta-toe, po-tah-toe.
We've been over this before on BSH, not once but twice. It's not a stretch at this point to say Carle is my favorite Flyer, since he's clearly my favorite player to write about. The guy is really, really good and yet many people have absolutely no idea that this is true.
So on Tuesday, Frank Seravalli wrote a story on Carle and his impending free agency. It was a solid look at Carle and how he's perceived by those who are going to decide whether or not to sign him in a couple months, and it included this from Seravalli:
The fact is that is not how Carle is viewed around the NHL, where opposing general managers see him as an under-appreciated, cerebral skater who fluidly transitions from zone-to-zone with little effort. While not overly physical, Carle does not shy away from contact and he is durable. He’s missed just 2 games over the last 3 seasons.
Most noticeably, Carle is consistent nightly, strong positionally and steady with the puck on the power play.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Matt Carle is viewed favorably around the league. He can skate, he plays the point on the PP, he puts up points, and he has a solid plus/minus. Even the dumbest GM in the league thinks that's worth $33 million over six years.
If you were to read only the comments on Frank's story, however, you'd think Matt Carle was atrocious. Jump for some of the lowlights and yet another comparison of Carle to the NHL's elite defensemen.
I must be watching different games. He is brutal and "blossoming" into one of the best turnover machines on the planet. I wouldn't pay him $750,000.00 us dollars.— nuggetlips
The problem with paying matt carle that much money is that he isnt really a 22 minute a night kind of d man. Hes a nice player, but is currently being exposed by his bigger role.— frstrm
Assuming Kubina and Grossman stick around, Carle is gone because they have Bourdon and Gustaffson to be the 6th defenseman.— logicandreason
Matt Carle is a slightly above average dman and nothing more, not elite, not worth prime time money. Bring him back if its a reasonable deal thats all.— Bob Sacamano
I wouldn't keep him. I think they have enough guys in the AHL who can do his job.— HandNik
If he's ur 7th defenseman that's fine otherwise he's got to go. He can't be one of your top 6 guys. He's just not good enough, yet he flys under the radar with the local reporters. Hard to believe.— rssjkr
Maybe I don't know hockey either because I'm pretty sure this dude is garbage! I can't watch every game cause I live down south now but I watch every playoff game and this guy is always making bonehead plays. You can throw out all the stats you want but there are alot of things on the ice that you can't measure with stats.... I see what I see, and I see this guy messing up... a lot!! Spend the money on Weber or Suter— BuddyBall92
There are more, but you get the point. Let's look at how Carle's 2010-11 season stacked up to some of the NHL's elite blueliners.
All columns are sortable, all data from behindthenet.ca.
|Name||Team||GP||TOI/60||OZ Start%||CorsiRel QoC||OZ Fin%||GF/60||GA/60||CorsiRel||G/60||G+A1/60|
This is a handpicked - cherry picked? - list of but a few defensemen I think most people would call elite. There are certainly others and maybe we don't agree on everyone above, but it's what we're going with for comparison.
Let's start with how they were used last year. In terms of ice time, Carle got the least amount of even-strength play in the group outside of Timonen. He got roughly 2-3 shifts per game less than the others last year, which is informative if unconvincing. Why? Because Carle still ranked 1st among Flyers defensemen in even-strength ice time, so his coaches used him more than anybody else. While he plays less than the elite defensemen, his team rank suggests there is some depth issues behind it. Afterall, he's the only one on this list to have someone many would consider elite on the same team, but on a different pairing.
Further, Flyers coaches put Carle out in the defensive zone over 52% of the time, putting him right in the middle of this group, where Chara, Weber, and Suter are used in the defensive zone more often. If we once again look at team rank, however, we see that Carle was put out for defensive zone starts 3rd most frequently compared to 3rd for Suter, 4th for Weber, 1st for Chara, 6th for Doughty, 4th for Keith, and 7th for Yandle.
Put simply, he was trusted by his coaches in the defensive zone as or more often than anybody not named Chara.
In terms of opposition, Carle faced the easiest competition of the group, ranking 4th on the Flyers. While Chara, Timonen, Suter, and Weber were clearly given tougher opponents last year, Carle isn't far from Yandle, Keith, or Doughty. Mostly, this isn't surprising as there is a clear divide between perceived offensive defensemen (Doughty, Keith, Yandle, and Carle) and perceived defensive.
It's also worth noting here (we'll get to this more later) that 91.9% of Suter's ice time was with Weber on the ice as well. Contrast this with the 76.4% Carle spent with Pronger in 09-10, when the narrative was how Pronger made Carle look good. All of that to say: Weber/Suter is a really good pairing where the sum is clearly better than the individuals, who are quite good individually.
How effective was Carle at generating offense? Only Keith and Doughty ended their shifts in the offensive zone more frequently than Carle. But since we know strict percentage of offensive zone finishes is heavily dependent upon how often one starts there, we look at balanced zone shift. In terms of offensive zone finishes above expected, only Zdeno Chara was better.
We see in the chart above that Carle leads the group in GFON/60, but what about comparing that to how well their teams generate offense without the player on the ice? After all, it's not exactly fair to Weber or Suter to compare how effective the Flyers' offense is to the Predators'. But if we compare how effective the Flyers' offense is with and without Carle to how effective the Predators' offense is with and without Suter, we can eliminate some of those team effects.
Carle comes in second to Drew Doughty, generating 0.99 more goals for his team compared to Doughty's 1.05. The only player who sees their teams score even 0.20 more goals per 60 minutes with them on the ice is Chara, who makes the Bruins over half a goal better.
Only Drew Doughty improved his teams offense more than Carle, and it wasn't even close.
What about at generating shots? Once again, only Zdeno Chara is better. This isn't much of a surprise, since Carle is generally perceived to be an offensive defenseman. The Flyers got 3.9 additional shots for when Carle was on the ice compared to when he was off, which was once again better than everyone not name Chara.
Lastly, the Flyers may do better with Carle on the ice, but how much of is it Carle individually? Last year, Carle only scored one goal, ranking last in the group in goal scoring. But if we look at his primary assists as well - which we know are a repeatable skill, unlike secondary assists - we see a much different picture. Carle ranks third in the group above in goals + primary assists per 60 minutes, coming in just below Yandle, both trailing Weber.
So what does all that tell us? Matt Carle is an elite offensive defenseman. He matches up as well or better offensively as any of the defensemen above. Whether you use zone shifts, points scored, shots generated, or goals created, Matt Carle is as good or better than some of the best names in the NHL.
Let's start with the big one: goals against. With all those turnovers, surely the other team has converted on those at a high rate. While Carle ranks fifth in this group in goals against per 60, he's just above Shea Weber in goals scored against his team while on the ice. But if we once again compare this to how often his team gets scored on, Carle ranks third behind only Suter and Chara. No other defenseman improved their team's goals against ratio when they were on the ice.
Put another way, fewer goals were scored against the Flyers when Carle was on the ice than when he was off.
How about shots? Carle gave up the 6th most shots of the group, once again being nearly identical to Shea Weber. And yet despite this high rate of shots against, the Flyers gave up more shots when Carle was off the ice than on. He suppressed shots compared to his teammates, even if he is not as good as the elite d-men listed above.
If you're looking for an elite shutdown defenseman, Matt Carle is not it. And yet, Carle is still very good at suppressing shots and goals. He may not be as good at it as Chara, but he's better than Keith or Yandle and very similar to Weber and Suter.
Everything above includes things we've already been over. Carle is an elite offensive defenseman, his defense is severely underrated for someone as good at it as he is, and he did it all regardless of whether Pronger was next to him or not. For most of you, that is nothing new and will not affect your opinion of Matt Carle.
After all, Carle is still a turnover machine who doesn't hit people, right? Sure, but it's all about context.
Last year, Carle was tied for 21st among NHL defensemen in turnovers with 59. This tied with Jack Johnson and Dustin Byfuglien. Among those NHL defensemen with more turnovers than Carle last year were Keith Yandle, Hal Gill, Victor Hedman, James Wisniewski, Tyler Myers, Brent Seabrook, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, John Carlson, Duncan Keith, and Zdeno Chara.
That's a long list of elite and/or highly paid defensemen. Not coincidentally, there's a lot of overlap there with the list above: Yandle, Doughty, Keith, and Chara all turn the puck over more often than Carle.
But what about his lack of hits? Carle had more hits than Keith, Karlsson, Rafalski, Lidstrom, and Yandle. He was within 5 hits of Dan Boyle, Sergei Gonchar, Christian Ehroff, Victor Hedman, and Zbynek Michalek. Again, a list of very good and/or highly paid defensemen. Simply put, you don't have to hit people to be a good defenseman.
One way you can compensate for the lack of physicality is by blocking shots. Matt Carle was 17th in blocked shots last year, thwarting 157 opponent attempts. That's more than Hal Gill, Duncan Keith, Keith Yandle, Drew Doughty, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, and Zdeno Chara. Maybe blocked shots aren't sexy and maybe they're an unappreciated skill, but it certainly seems that Flyers fans pick and choose who they praise for certain attributes.
Most of what is above we have already been over. I've spent a lot of time reiterating some things, adding some information and changing the comparables, but it's mostly review.
Part of that is because if we were to look at that same group's numbers from 11-12, Carle would join Keith Yandle as the only two that clearly don't belong in the elite status.They are just not up to par with the others as they were last season.
What has changed? If we look at the primary defense partners, we should get a clearer picture:
|10-11 Teammate #1||10-11 Teammate #2||11-12 Teammate #1||11-12 Teammate #2|
|Keith||Seabrook 59.4%||Leddy 18.0%||Seabrook 51.3%||Leddy 21.7%|
|Chara||Boychuk 37.2%||Ference 20.9%||Boychuk 66.4%||-- > 17.6%|
|Doughty||Mitchell 44.3%||Johnson 23.8%||Scuderi 66.4%||Mitchell 20.3%|
|Suter||Weber 91.9%||-- >17.7%||Weber 83.5%||-- >20.2%|
|Weber||Suter 79.3%||-- >17.3%||Suter 84.2%||-- > 19.9%|
|Carle||Pronger 43.9%||Meszaros 28.3%||Bourdon 40.8%||-- > 20.7%|
|Timonen||Coburn 83.9%||-- 17.9%||Coburn 82.1%||-- > 16.9%|
|Yandle||Morris 73.6%||-- >20.6%||Morris 49.5%||Aucoin 23.2%|
As an explanation, those boxes without a name signify that the player only had one defensemen among their top-ten most frequent linemates. The percentage next to those dashes signifies the amount of time spent with the tenth most frequent linemate, showing how infrequently they were paired with someone else.
What does this show us? Most elite defenders are paired with someone who is at minimum a very good NHL defenseman. The worst partner in the group is probably Derek Morris, someone who's best years are clearly behind them, but who was at one point a solid NHL defenseman.
The knock against Carle that he's nothing without Pronger was proven false last year when Carle was as good, if not better, in his time spent with Andrej Meszaros. With the 60 mediocre games this year, it's certainly possible that those ~30 games Carle was paired with Meszaros were a fluke and that Carle is merely a good defenseman without Pronger.
But I don't believe that to be true, mostly because of what has changed since. Why do Yandle and Carle stick out as no longer elite this year? All one has to do is look at their most frequent partners this year and the most frequent partners of the others in this grouping.
Keith, Timonen, Suter and Weber have seen nothing change from last year. Chara, Doughty, and Yandle have seen their partners improve and/or spend more time with the better defender.
Only Carle has spent less time with a solid NHL defenseman. He was elite when paired with Pronger for 50 games. He was even better when paired with Meszaros for 30 games. This year, when he's been with Marc-Andre Bourdon, a guy who entered the year either 10th or 11th on the team's depth chart, he's been merely good.
If you took Ryan Suter away from Shea Weber and put Mattias Ekholm next to him instead and played them both against second line opposition, would Suter look any better than Carle does this year? Who knows, but the fact that you have no idea who Mattias Ekholm is should give some perspective to how people view Carle's season dragging around Marc-Andre Bourdon.
When paired with a top-4 NHL defenseman, like most elite NHL defensemen, Matt Carle is elite. When paired with a second-pairing AHL defenseman, Matt Carle is simply good. Surely, this is impressive in and of itself.
There isn't much in the way of new information for most of you. Matt Carle is an elite offensive defenseman in the NHL. He suppresses goals and shots against for his team, even if he is not as good at it as the Chara's and Weber's of the world. He has a lot of giveaways, but no more than the other big names out there. He doesn't hit many people, but he's as physical as many other great defenders.
Dustin Leed already looked at how similar Matt Carle and Ryan Suter are and yet many Flyers fans still want to replace Carle with Suter. Just for a frame of reference on how Suter stacks up in the areas where Carle is often criticized:
It's not as if Ryan Suter is this physical defenseman who never turns the puck over. Suter will have one less giveaway every five games and two additional hits every seven games games compared to Carle. I highly doubt anyone will notice with their eyes.
It is really hard to imagine how those criticizing Carle will view Suter any differently. Suter spent 83.5% or more of his time with Shea Weber, who surely makes Suter look better. Suter doesn't hit often. Suter turns the puck over fairly frequently.
The two are not the same player, despite achieving similar results. Both men help their team spend more time in the offensive zone. Both men help their team outscore the opposition. Both men look fantastic when playing next to Pronger/Weber. Both men are looking at a very large payday this summer. Both men are less than physical defensemen. Both men have a fair amount of turnovers.
But Suter is better at suppressing shots while Carle is better at generating offense. Why is one player deemed far superior to the other when they are so similar?
If it is physicality fans want, the Flyers already possess Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, and Andreas Lilja on defense next year. They can re-sign Nicklas Grossman for relatively cheap if that's not enough and they can also hope Chris Pronger returns. If you think the Flyers lack big, strong defensemen, there is not much I can do to convince you otherwise.
In either event, it's time to stop demanding Matt Carle be someone he's not and romanticizing Ryan Suter into someone he's not. Matt Carle provides the Flyers with a top-4 defenseman in the mold of Kimmo Timonen, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Keith Yandle, and yes, Ryan Suter.
Let's stop pretending that's not good enough.