If you go on the Flyers website and look at the stats, you can see why people have been talking about the Sophomore Slump of nineteen-year-old center Sean Couturier. 7 points (only 2 goals) in 28 games is nothing to write home about; as a matter of fact, his per-game-pace is down from last year. In less than a year after the Flyers supposedly kept Couturier instead of involving him in a trade for Shea Weber, people now want to trade him after only 28 games this season. The tipping point for me in this scenario was last game against the Lightning. Couturier played 5:30 of even strength ice time and another 2:30 on the PK totaling 8:10 (10 seconds of PP time is added into that) while Zac Rinaldo had 10:02 minutes of total ice time (all even strenghth). Rinaldo had roughly double the even strength ice time than Couturier and we’re all left to wonder why on earth that was the case. The previous game vs. New Jersey both Rinaldo and Couturier had roughly 8:30 of even strength ice time, and two games ago vs. NJ Rinaldo had more even strength minutes than Couturier at 7:35 to 6:43.
This post is designed to dig a little deeper and see what is causing Couturier’s poor play. In order to evaluate how a player is playing you need to evaluate the situations in which that player is being played in. What I’m saying is that it’s easier to put up numbers if you are surrounded by good teammates, if you play against lesser competition and if you start in your offensive zone more than your defensive zone. Let’s break down Couturier’s deployment step by step, starting with the quality of his teammates.
Quality of Teammates/Competition
The table below represents every Flyer forward who has suited up in at least 20 games ordered by their offensive skill in my opinion:
*= rookie season, **= two years ago due to injury last year, ***=Tye McGinn’s rookie season is this year
It’s not difficult to decipher this chart. There is a clear drop-off in skill right around Couturier. Guys like Gagne, Read, Simmonds on upward are expected to score. Guys at the bottom of this list like Talbot, Knuble, Fedetenko, and Rinaldo are not. A few keys to point out: Talbot’s 34 points last year were a career high by 8, he is usually around 22-25 points per year. Knuble’s past three seasons he’s been in a nose dive: 53 three years ago, 40 two years ago and 18 last year---he is clearly a shell of his former self. Fedotenko’s in a similar slide: 39-30-25-20. Rinaldo’s career high in points was 17…in juniors, he’s obviously and unarguably the worst skill player on the team.
This next table is courtesy of behindthenet.ca, an advanced stats website that has come up with metrics to quantify the quality of teammates and the quality of competition that you play with (Corsi QoC/QoT) where a positive number is above average competition/teammates and a negative number is below average:
Couturier and Talbot take on the toughest competition while Rinaldo is playing against the easiest competition. As for quality of teammates; Talbot, Couturier, Fedetenko and Rinaldo all generally play with each other, making their QoT scores easily the lowest. For those trying to keep score at home, the picture is beginning to shape up. Couturier’s struggles are partly due to the fact he plays against the other team’s best players with the worst possible teammates he could have on the Flyers. Is there anything else we can find?
Offensive Zone Start %
The OZS% is the percentage of non-neutral zone face-offs taken in the offensive zone. Someone with a 100% takes all of their non-neutral zone draws in the offensive zone and someone with a 0% takes them all in the defensive zone. Let’s look at how the Flyers stack up:
|NAME||Off Zone Start %|
The vast majority of Flyers are within 45-55%, meaning they take an even amount of draws in the offensive zone as the defensive zone. The outliers are again, Talbot and Couturier. A 35% offensive zone start is absurdly low, for comparison let’s take a look at the lowest OZS% in the league:
|NAME||TEAM||TOI/60||Corsi Relative||Off Zone Start %||Off Zone Finish %|
The table above includes all NHL players with 20 games played averaging 10+ even strength minutes per game. Talbot starts in his own zone more than everyone in the NHL except 7 players and Couturier is right on his tail behind only 12 players. Corsi Relative is basically a +/- using shots instead of goals because it creates a bigger sample size and is a better predictor of future success than regular +/-. As you can see, when you start in your own zone (regardless of the quality of teammates/competition you play with/against) it is difficult to generate more shots at the other net than your own. Of the 20 players who have an OZS lower than 40% in the NHL, only 6 generate positive Corsi scores, with one of them being Sean Couturier. The average Corsi Rel for this sample is -4.34; Couturier’s +1.5 is very impressive considering the company he is in. The Offensive Zone Finish % for the group is 44.83, with only 9 players registering OZF%’s above the average. Couturier’s ability to end the play in the offensive zone while starting it in the defensive zone is consistent with his ability to generate shots at the other net given his ridiculously tough minutes. One other thing to point out is this chart doesn’t have the QoC/QoT measures, so it is possible that these other players have good teammates vs. bad competition, a luxury that Couturier does not have.
So if Couturier is still able to generate shots at the other teams net more so than his own net, end the play in the offensive zone given that he starts in his own zone, then where are the points? The answer is luck. Coots has been remarkably unlucky this year, take a look:
|Player||On Ice Sh%||On Ice Sv%||PDO|
Slightly under 10% of NHL shots find the back of the net. When Coots is on the ice, only 5.67% of Flyer shots find twine when coots is on the ice, second worst on the team behind only Rinaldo. 13.5% of opponent shots beat Bryz (or Boosh/Leights) when Couturier is on the ice, a percentage higher than everyone’s but Voracek. PDO is a combination of the two previous stats, 1000 is average, above 1000 is lucky, below is unlucky. Sean Couturier’s PDO of 920 is easily the lowest on the team, and that number has nowhere to go but up. It is unsustainably bad. To help put things in perspective, Couturier’s on-ice shot percentage is 24th worst in the NHL, his on ice save percentage is 8th worst in the NHL (behind Voracek, Mike Richards, Jamie Benn and Blake Wheeler to name a few), and his PDO is 2nd worst in the entire NHL (Richards is 3rd worst).
When you add it all up you can see why people think Couturier is having the dreaded sophomore slump, but for those really paying attention you can see its really just very tough minutes and horrible luck. To help paint that picture, here’s one final chart:
|NAME||SF On/60||SF Off/60||SF Difference||SA On/60||SA Off/60||SA Difference||On Difference||Off Difference||Positive Categories||Average Difference|
The first two columns are the Flyers even strength shots on goal per 60 minutes of even strength ice time, with the third column being the difference between the two. When Couturier is on the ice we get 1.4 shots on goal more than we get when he is off the ice. When Rinaldo is OFF the ice we get 10 shots more on average than when he is on. When Fedotenko and Rinaldo are on the ice, it’s not difficult to see why there aren’t many goals---they just can’t get the puck to the net. It’s no surprise that the Giroux-Voracek-Hartnell line generates the most shots on goal when they are on the ice. Columns 4-6 are the same as 1-3 except for shots against. It’s no secret that Danny Briere is no defensive whiz, and when he’s on the ice opponents get the most shots to the Flyers net. Only 4 of the Flyers 14 Forwards manage to allow less shots at their own net than Couturier---which is exceptional for Coots given his ridiculously tough minutes. Looking at the differences (column 6) Giroux, Briere, and Simmonds struggle with keeping pucks away from the Flyer net, while McGinn, Knuble, Voracek and Couturier excel at it.
The “On Difference” column is simple, Shots for while the player is on less shots against. Positive numbers mean the Flyers generate more shots than they allow with that player on the ice and negative numbers are the opposite. Once again there aren’t any major surprises. Voracek, McGinn, and Hartnell are dominating while Rinaldo and Fedetenko are getting crushed. Coot’s 3.7 rank 4th best. The “Off Difference” is the opposite of the “On Difference”: negative numbers are good, meaning the team does poorly when that player is off the ice. The top three players (meaning the Flyers are the worst when these guys are off the ice): Read, Voracek, Couturier. The players that the Flyers do the best when they are on the bench: Fedetenko, Simmonds, and Rinaldo.
There were 4 “difference” categories. In the first three (excluding off difference), a positive number is good and a negative is bad. The “off difference” is opposite meaning a negative number is good. The “positive category” column is simply asking ‘how many of the four difference categories did the player yield a positive result?’ The best is 4, the worst is 0. Voracek, Hartnell, Couturier, Schenn, and Read were positive in every category. Talbot and Fedetenko were negative in every category. The “average difference” category took the averages of the first 3 ‘difference’ categories and the inverse of the last one (because it is negative) to create a final number that the whole table was sorted by.
Conclusion: Every rookie to perform well knows about the potential of the sophomore slump. I’m sure Sean knows all too well about the phrase, but I’m here to say that you shouldn’t worry about his ‘slump.’ Aside from the fact that it’s only been 28 games, Couturier has actually been playing very well, but he’s just been getting unlucky (nearly historically unlucky may I add). He’s playing with the worst possible line mates on a consistent basis, he routinely goes out against the opposition’s best players, he starts in his own zone more than nearly everyone in the entire NHL, he’s gotten horrible shooting luck (both offensively and defensively) and with all of that considered he still finds a way to get more pucks at the other net than at his own. His luck will turn around. He will score points in this league, a lot of them. Do not worry about Sean Couturier. This year has been the year from hell for all Flyers fans, but once he gets a steady wing or two that can actually play good two-way hockey (not just defensive hockey like Talbot/Fedotenko) his offensive game will start to kick in. Back away from the ledge, everything will be okay. As for Rinaldo getting more minutes than Couturier... I can only hope that ends very soon. Rinaldo is a pest, nothing more nothing less. He'll never be a goal scorer and he's got a long way to go if he wants to be a shutdown player because he is not that right now. Although he may be good at drawing penalties, his hockey ability is minimal and this is hockey, ya know? His minutes need to be roughly 6-8 of good, hard, energy. No stupid turnovers and no stupid penalties. Take those extra 5 minutes and give them to Couturier.