Print and save this rare photo of Knuble carrying the puck into the offensive zone; some day it will be worth millions. - Nick Laham
MIke Knuble is a Flyer again, but he's 40 years old now. What can he bring to the table? We analyze the acquisition using zone entries.
One of the tools that we have developed at Broad Street Hockey for assessing player performance is the monitoring of zone entries. Each time the puck was advanced into the offensive zone, Geoff recorded who sent it in and whether they carried the puck in or dumped it in. We found that gaining the zone with possession generated more than twice as many shots, scoring chances, and goals as playing dump-and-chase did.
Some players are much better than others at gaining the zone with possession, and it appears that shot differential (which is a strong predictor of winning) may be almost entirely driven by neutral zone performance. So we believe that a player's zone entry results are an important component of evaluating his contributions.
During the lockout, Geoff worked on tracking zone entries for the 2011-12 Capitals. He got through 38 games, which means, as luck would have it, we have pretty decent statistics on the Flyers' newest acquisition, Mike Knuble.
In those 38 games, Knuble had the puck for 102 zone entries, and retained possession on just 34 percent of those entries. That ranked 10th among Capitals forwards (ahead of only Jeff Halpern, Jason Chimera, and Matt Hendricks), and would have been dead last among the Flyers' regulars (well behind Max Talbot's 40 percent). That's not good.
It is possible that a player might make off-puck contributions that set the team up for positive zone entries -- maybe they make a good pass early in the breakout, maybe they position themselves well, etc. Unfortunately, there is no sign of that for Knuble -- the Caps gained the zone with possession on just 41 percent of their entries when he was on the ice, versus 51 percent when he was off the ice. Knuble just did not help the team set up in the offensive zone.
One last defense of Knuble would be that maybe he was playing his role well by making the safe play and dumping the puck in. There is some evidence that dumping the puck actually isn't any safer, but even setting that aside, it doesn't look like that claim holds water here. For the Caps games, Geoff tracked failed entries -- usually plays where an attempt to carry the puck in is broken up, often resulting in a turnover. This data reveals that Knuble's lack of entries with possession aren't because he was taking the safe play; he failed on 29 percent of his attempts to carry the puck in, roughly twice the team average (15 percent) and significantly more than the second-worst forward on the Capitals (Joel Ward, 20 percent).
Mike Knuble might be able to eat a few minutes to cover during this rash of injuries to NHL and AHL forwards, but don't expect much more than that from him.