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Counterpoint: The Case Against Jody Shelley

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Travis Hughes contributed to this story. Collaboration is what the kids are calling it these days.

Jody Shelley's presence on the Flyers roster has been a point of contention around here since the day he signed with the team in July. Is he worth the money? Is his role outdated and unnecessary? Is he valuable at all? Or, on the flip side, what value does he bring, and is it more than we see on a nightly basis at the rink?

These are all questions that we've asked this season. Some of them have answers and some of them do not. Others are a matter of opinion, and our good friend Steve Whyno at Philly Sports Daily gave us his opinion (an opinion shared by Peter Laviolette, he says) on Shelley's role with the Flyers in a story posted Wednesday night.

We respect the hell out of Steve (and he knows this) but as you'll see after the jump, we vehemently disagree with him on this topic. Before making the jump, we'd recommend reading Steve's story to get a full hold on his argument. 

Let's look at Steve's four main points one-by-one.

1. Shelley is more than just a fighter for this team; he’s an enforcer in the true sense of the word. Sure, Carcillo has done that a little bit, but there isn’t the kind of emphatic style that "If you mess with one of our guys, you have to deal with me" as there is with Shelley.

It's fitting that this argument is number one, since it is the argument that everyone immediately goes to when discussing why heavyweights are still important.

For starters, we have to ask: Why do players "have to" deal with Shelley? In today's NHL, there's a thing called the instigator rule. It prevents guys from initiating fights. Sure, the referees don't call it as often as they should, but it's there. 

More convincing is the simple truth that guys just don't have to fight. Let's use an example. 

Matt Cooke comes over and lays a solid hit on Kimmo Timonen -- legal or not, it doesn't matter in this example -- and Jody Shelley wishes to "enforce" the message that you can't take runs at the Flyers. What does he do? He waltzes over to Cooke and has a few choice words, attempting to defend his team's honor. Cooke will laugh and skate away. 

What was enforced? Nothing. Matt Cooke will continue hitting people and Jody Shelley can't do anything about it, except maybe run him and get suspended for five games. This isn't the Wild West of the 70s when guys actually manned up after running their mouths or committing a less-than-clean foul. 

Hell, we were all ecstatic last season when the pest, Dan Carcillo, refused to fight Colton Orr, the thug, because it showed good hockey sense. And what happened? The Flyers got four minutes of power play time. 

So while players may say they feel safer with Shelley on the bench -- where he spends about 56 of the 60 minutes of the game and where he's not allowed to do um, anything -- why do we take their sense of safety as fact? And let's not forget Justin Bourne's fantastic article saying that heavyweights are useless and harmful in today's NHL.

In that piece, Bourne said...

For me, I knew there was a zero percent chance that I would ever end up in a fight against our opponent's heavyweight, so when that guy was out there, it was like being on a powerplay.    

And if you're not willing to take an ex-player's word for it, take it from a current player, Paul Bissonette (ahem, tough guy) of the Phoenix Coyotes. Here's what he said today on Twitter...

Like last night when we were down against Vancouver. I asked [Tanner] Glass to fight, he declined, that doesn't make him soft. Its the right play.    

So, let's ask again: how does Shelley make the Flyers safer by being in the lineup, and how does his presence in the lineup threaten the other team? When two enforcers go to battle, the only accomplishment is that there are two wasted spots on the roster. 

Point number two... 

2. Shelley is a smart player. He leads the team with 108 penalty minutes, but only nine of his penalties are minors. That’s the same number as Zherdev, who often gets whistled for penalties of frustration more than being too physical.

For starters, Nikolay Zherdev is on the ice a lot more frequently than Shelley -- about twice as much, actually. So in terms of how frequently they take penalties, Zherdev takes half as many per minute. Look at the numbers. Per 60 minutes of ice time, Shelley takes a team-leading 1.8 minors. Zherdev takes 0.9.

Every time Shelley steps on the ice, he's much more likely to leave with his team a man down.

In fact, Shelley is 13th in the entire league in penalties per 60 minutes. That's not very disciplined, even if you concede that the Zherdev comparison is poor. You can say his penalties-drawn subtracted from his penalties-taken ratio is decent -- it's no worse than Chris Pronger, Scott Hartnell, Braydon Coburn or Jeff Carter -- but it's second-worst on the team.

Jody Shelley is not disciplined. He puts the Flyers on the penalty kill far too often for how little he plays. Is he a complete disaster and liability on the ice? No, not by any stretch of the imagination, but there are better hockey players on the Phantoms who can fill his "don't be a liability" role much, much better.

On to the third point... 

3. Shelley knows when to fight. Perhaps this is his best argument over, say, Carcillo, who has been known to get into some ill-advised bouts from time to time.

This is a really hard thing to prove -- actually, there might be no way to prove it at present. Steve's argument is that Carcillo fights more because he's a loose cannon and that Shelley picks and chooses his fights very carefully. Our argument against that notion would go back to that first point we made about guys not fighting enforcers.

A lot of guys, like Cooke on the Penguins, won't fight Shelley no matter what happens. That's why Shelley's only been in a handful of fights this season. Nobody wants to fight him. 

4. Shelley’s a heart-and-soul guy for the Flyers. Perhaps this is the most overlooked thing.

There's no arguing that Shelley's a great guy. Absolutely no arguing it. But can he not fill that role in practice, the morning skate, in the locker room before the game and at intermission, on the plane, et al?

It's really a simple point here -- how can his "off-ice leadership" be a reason for putting him on the ice? Sure, maybe he's a great motivator on the bench, but if he's that valuable just by pepping up his teammates from the bench, why not just put him in a suit behind it? Riley Cote made that change.

Besides, Steve even makes the point that Shelley's one of "several guys" to fill the hole left by Ian Laperriere in this department. Does this team not have enough "heart-and-soul" guys? Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Sean O`Donnell, and Brian Boucher aren't enough?

Now, the fourth point, which we might disagree with more than any other... 

Now, the difficult part – who comes out? Game styles and trends and momentum often dictate this, but right now it should be Andreas Nodl. [...] his offensive contributions have not added up lately and often players respond to being healthy scratches.

Andreas Nodl is not on this team for his offensive contributions. Nodl is here to be a strong forechecker, a responsible defender, and a good two-way, versatile player. On Richards' wing, Nodl faces the other teams' best line every single night -- and he shuts them down. That's despite starting his shifts in the defensive zone more than any top-9 forward on the team.

Nodl has started 55.9 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone this season. In the 16 games since the Christmas break, that number has only gone up, as Nodl has started in the defensive zone a stunning 63.7 percent of the time.

In the same stretch of time, the Flyers as a whole have started in the defensive zone 52.3 percent. Just think about that for a second. If there's anybody who can't see that Nodl is being asked to play tough minutes and is not being asked to score goals, just look at how the coaches are using him.

Oh, and despite those terrible opportunities, Nodl is a plus-player in that time. He has been on the ice for one more Philadelphia goal for than goal against, and he has a 47 percent Fenwick score, which measures shots (goals, saved shots and missed shots) directed at the net while a player is on the ice. 

A number over 50 percent means the Flyers are outshooting their opposition, so sure, Nodl's number could be better, but it's only one-tenth of one percent worse than Mike Richards'. Further, he's starting in his own end over 63 percent of the time, so it's to be expected that he would have a below average Fenwick due to the much higher probability that the opposition will get a shot off due to them already being in the Flyers' end of the ice. 

He's a defensive star on these Flyers right now, and that's a good reason for his offensive drop-off of late. In the past 23 games, Nodl has two goals and four assists. During that period, he started in the defensive zone 58.1 percent of the time. In the 19 games prior to that, where he scored seven goals and five assists, he was starting in the defensive zone 54.1 percent of the time.

Is it any coincidence that when Nodl's defensive zone starts go up, his scoring goes down? He's steadily gone from starting 54 percent of his shifts in the defensive end to 58 percent to nearly 64 percent. If he could keep his scoring up despite that gigantic tilt towards his own end, he'd be Wayne Gretzky (okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but you get the point). 

And this is the guy people want to take out of the lineup because he isn't scoring?    

Like we said off the start, we respect the hell out of Steve and his work. This is just one topic that we're in obvious disagreement with him on. That's the beauty of the Internet, though. You can read both opinions and decide which side you fall on -- or you can think we're all idiots. That's fine, too.