Philadelphia Flyers 2013-14 Year In Review: Matt Read

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The less-publicized second half of Philadelphia's top even strength and shorthanded shutdown unit, Matt Read was able to deliver a season of consistently responsible defense, while still chipping in with his usual offense. But could he be better suited in a different role?

Matt Read

Age: 27 (June 14, 1986)
Contract Status: $3.625 million per year through 2018

2013-14 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
75 18:48 22 18 40
Corsi For Corsi Rel Quality of Comp. (TOI%) Zone Start % PDO
49.9% (5) -0.4% (5) 29.4% (2) 42.8% (11) 99.8% (8)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Flyers players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top eight defensemen or top 13 forwards.)

Most frequent forward lines

Linemates Goals For% Corsi For% OZ/DZ%
Sean Couturier, Steve Downie 50.0% (+15 / -15) 51.6% 51.4%
Michael Raffl, Sean Couturier 25.0% (+1 / -3) 51.1% 52.4%
Sean Couturier, Vincent Lecavalier 60.0% (+3 / -2) 47.5% 52.4%

Dependable, reliable Read

Matt Read is the type of player that every contender would welcome on their roster. He's not the first player that comes to mind when thinking about the Philadelphia Flyers -- most likely, he's not even the fifth or sixth. But Read's value cannot be understated.

In three years as a member of the Flyers, Read has been tasked with almost every role imaginable at some point -- second line scorer, third line checker, power play point man, penalty kill workhorse -- and has succeeded in almost each one. Overall, he settled in as the ideal middle-six forward, and one fully capable of contributing on the power play and establishing himself as part of one of the league's best penalty killing tandems with Sean Couturier.

In terms of raw point production, it seems clear that you can basically pencil Matt Read in for at least 20 goals and 40 points every season. His production over his three-year NHL career puts him at an 82-game average of 24 goals and 46 points, and his 2013-14 season was right in line with that, as he added 22 goals and 40 total points in 75 games.

Add his usual stellar penalty killing and his 5v5 defensive work on the tough minutes line alongside Sean Couturier, and it's clear that Matt Read's season was a definite success.

And now, due to a contract extension that looks nothing short of fantastic, Matt Read is locked up for four more seasons with a steal of a $3.625 million cap hit.

Matt Read should remain reliable for years to come with the Philadelphia Flyers.

His toughest assignments yet

Matt Read has been called the "Swiss Army Knife" of the Flyers, which spoke to his ability to play multiple roles without missing a beat. In his first two seasons as a Flyer, Read moved up and down the lineup constantly, helping to fill whatever void existed at the time.

But in 2013-14, Read really only had one role at 5v5 -- Sean Couturier's shutdown sidekick.

Read had played with Couturier before. In his rookie and sophomore seasons, Read spent 19.7% and 31.3% of his even strength ice time with Sean Couturier, respectively. Read saw that percentage jump dramatically this season.

Out of 992:55 5v5 minutes, Read spent a whopping 829:07 of them playing on the same line as Sean Couturier. To break it down via percentages, that means that Read played with Couturier during 83.5% of his even strength minutes.

Couturier has always received difficult matchups, particularly noticeable in the amount of defensive draws that he took under Peter Laviolette. But his line never received sufficient minutes to be considered a classic shutdown line, as Laviolette often preferred to send out Claude Giroux out against top competition, in a strength-on-strength showdown.

That all changed under Craig Berube. Couturier's even strength icetime skyrocketed, and on a nightly basis, he was almost exclusively matched against the opponent's top line. And alongside of him for all of it was none other than Matt Read.

As Kevin Christmann wrote in March, there were few players in the NHL receiving the level of tough matchups that Couturier and Read were facing, and even fewer were performing as well as the Flyers' shutdown tandem in those situations.

Read (and Couturier) are in rare company with respect to their defensive role. There are only fifteen forwards that see zone starts and competition as skewed as he does (less than 45 percent zone starts and greater than 29 percent Opponent Rating which measures the quality of the competition a player faces).

Among those players, Read has the sixth best rating with respect to shot attempt differential. And this isn't just a case of Couturier being the exceptional player and bringing Read along for the ride.

When Couturier is apart from Matt Read on the season his shot attempt differential is 46.2 percent. Matt Read is 47.4 percent when without Couturier. Together they climb to 48.9 percent. They make each other better.

Read's offensive numbers did fall a bit in 2013-14. For the first time in his career, Read did not finish with a Points/60 (the amount of points a player scored per sixty minutes of 5v5 ice time) over 2.0. But his 1.75 P/60 was still good for fourth on the Flyers, and considering the increased difficulty of his matchups, it's pretty darn impressive.

Time for an increased role?

Matt Read undoubtedly did a fine job in 2013-14, playing the role of shutdown winger on the Flyers' second-most used line at even strength. His line essentially broke even at 5v5 despite skewed zone starts and top-tier opponents. Read also proved that he can still provide his usual offense in a more difficult role.

But is it possible that the Flyers may be better served using Read in another role entirely?

Let's take another look at the previously-mentioned Points/60 statistic. Over the past three seasons, Read ranks 55th in the NHL (among forwards with over 2000 5v5 minutes) in Points/60 with a 1.97. Not impressed? Then take a look at his company.

Rank Player Points/60
46 Marian Gaborik 2.03
47 Rick Nash 2.02
48 Anze Kopitar 2.02
49 Benoit Pouliot 2.02
50 Evander Kane 2.00
51 Logan Couture 2.00
52 Jaromir Jagr 1.98
53 James van Riemsdyk 1.98
54 P.A. Parenteau 1.98
55 Matt Read 1.97
56 Daniel Sedin 1.97
57 Carl Hagelin 1.96
58 Clarke MacArthur 1.95
59 Loui Eriksson 1.95

Sure, there are a few under-the-radar guys on this list -- Benoit Pouliot (if NYR lets him hit free agency, maybe the Flyers should do their homework), Clarke MacArthur (LOL Leafs), P.A. Parenteau and Carl Hagelin aren't exactly household names. But the rest of the names on this list are either no-brainer first liners or borderline superstars.

And at 5v5, Matt Read has been right there with them through his first three NHL seasons.

Aside from the usual pipedreams that Philadelphia will somehow acquire a top-pairing defenseman, a main topic of conversation for this offseason looks to be the first line left winger slot with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Scott Hartnell filled that role in 2013-14, and while his performance was solid, there was definitely room for improvement.

Also, Hartnell seemed to play some of his best hockey with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, so maybe moving him down to that line and replacing him on Line One with a pure shooter would be the best move. After all, Giroux and Voracek are playmakers at heart, so a high volume or high percentage shooter would likely make that top line even more dangerous at evens.

More than one source has hinted that this could be a focus of the Flyers over the next few months, and names like Matt Moulson, Evander Kane, Mike Cammalleri and Mason Raymond have all been mentioned as possible options. But the Flyers could always look to fill the void internally, with Read as one such possibility.

Matt Read, the sniper

Shooting percentages for individual players are extremely subject to variance in small samples. Cory Conacher is a classic example -- shooting 17.0% in Tampa Bay as a rookie turned him into a Calder Trophy contender, and allowed the Lightning to move him as the centerpiece in a deal for Ben Bishop. Less than a year later, his shooting percentage cratered for the Senators, and he was unceremoniously waived.

But a high shooting percentage can be a sustainable skill, as well. Alex Tanguay and Ilya Kovalchuk are classic examples of players who were able to pot goals at a rate substantially higher than the league average over a long career. And after three years of doing the same, it's time to consider the possibility that Matt Read has this skill as well.

Eric Hartline / USA Today

In his three NHL seasons, Read has finished with shooting percentages of 15.5%, 15.3% and 14.6% - percentages that are both remarkably consistent and well above league average. It is possible that his rates are elevated due to variance, but as the sample grows larger, that looks less and less likely. It appears that Matt Read may just be a really good shooter.

His modus operandi in shootouts lends credence to the theory. Unlike Claude Giroux, who utilizes an array of Datsyukian moves in his attempts to score, Read basically just skates in on the goalie and lets loose a wicked wrist shot, usually aimed at the top corners. Only a player with supreme confidence in his quick release and accuracy would be so predictable yet still effective.

If Read does have the ability to sustain high shooting percentages, the idea of putting him with Giroux and Voracek becomes pretty exciting. Let the best two forwards on the team feed Matt Read pass after pass, and watch him take 265 shots at a 15% shooting percentage and become a 40 goal scorer.

There's only one problem with this theory --  Matt Read doesn't shoot at a particularly high rate.

Read's career average in terms of Shots/60 is 7.01, which ranks him sixth on the Flyers among forwards. Scott Hartnell, for all his physical limitations, actually shoots the most on the team, averaging 8.38 5v5 shots per sixty minutes over the last three seasons.

There are a few ways to read this. Maybe Hartnell takes more shots because he plays with Giroux and Voracek, not because he has an inherent skill of shot creation. And in turn, if Read takes his place, he'll shoot more as well, just with a more accurate, dangerous shot.

There's also the alternative -- that Read isn't a particularly good shot creator, and his high shooting percentage is precisely because he picks his spots so carefully. In that case, any increase in shot volume would be forced, and his high shooting percentage could drop dramatically. Or, he would shoot at the same volume rate as he does now, and the top line would struggle to put pucks on net.

In any case, it's something worth exploring. This past season saw Read essentially receive second-line 5v5 minutes with Couturier, so he's certainly not hurting for ice time. But giving him more offensive opportunities would appear to be a good idea, so it's up to the Flyers to figure out the best way to do so. Maybe a move to the first power play unit would make sense, taking over Jakub Voracek's spot in an attempt to both add a great shot to the top unit and ignite the floundering second unit by letting Voracek serve as the centerpiece.

Regardless, the question of how to get Matt Read more chances to score goals is a great problem for the Flyers to have.

Preseason expectations

Let's check back on our season preview for Matt Read and see what we thought could happen with him this year.

Best case...

Read brings some offensive punch to the defensively-oriented third line, and he and Couturier more than hold their own against the other team's top lines while also putting pucks in the net in the process. He also continues to do a good job on the power play and penalty kill, while filling in elsewhere in the lineup when necessary.

Worst case...

Read is still a bit slow from his injury last year, and he and Couturier end up buried in their own end under the burden of too much defensive responsibility. On top of that, his shooting percentage swings in the other direction and he has the worst offensive year of his career.

Verdict

Looking back at our best case scenario, it's like Kurt was channeling his inner Nostradamus. Read did exactly what we were hoping for -- he helped Couturier have the best offensive season of his career, broke even in tough assignments, and was one of the league's best penalty killers. About the only thing he wasn't able to do was provide much offense on the power play, but the second unit was a mess all season, and not simply due to Matt Read.

The Flyers knew they had a reliable middle-six forward going into the season, and locking up Read to a reasonable contract through the remainder of his prime years may go down as one of Paul Holmgren's most underrated moves as GM. This season, Read proved he can be a defensive specialist while still providing offense, mostly due to a high shooting percentage that looks less and less fluky with each passing game.

Under Berube, the checking line was basically the Flyers' second line in terms of ice time, with Read & Couturier proving to be a very effective tandem. While Read has certainly earned an extended audition on the first line, it's tough to justify separating a pairing that can take the toughest shifts, allowing others on the roster the opportunity to feast on offensive zone draws and lesser competition.

Long the Flyers' Swiss Army Knife, Read was given a set role for the entirety of 2013-14, and he performed admirably. When a player receives the most ice time of his career and the big question following the season is whether he's being underutilized, it's tough to argue that his year wasn't a smashing success.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Matt Read's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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