Max Talbot: Quietly Defying Your Expectations

Bumped from the FanPosts for obvious reasons.

Remember how awesome July 1 was? Well, yeah, it was awesome. All we were really looking for was maybe a decent winger or a good defensive forward or a depth defenseman. What'd we get? ALL THREE, obviously. Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot and Andreas Lilja made their way in, and initial reactions seemed to be "eh, whatever" in regards to Lilja and "We probably overpaid, but who cares, LOL Pittsburgh" for Jagr and Talbot. Over time, it seemed like everyone generally soured on Lilja a bit (because giving him a second year was dumb) and warmed up to Jagr a bit (because not only could we laugh at Pittsburgh, but because Jaromir Jagr is actually really good at hockey.)

Talbot, though, was a bit tougher to dissect. Some people thought that he was a guy who could shoulder some of the defensive responsibilities and PK time that we had previously put on Richards and Carter, that he would be a good source of points from the fourth line, that he would be a great character guy, and that his cap hit wasn't that bad. Others seemed to think he didn't serve any purpose that guys like Betts or Carcillo hadn't already served, that his defensive metrics weren't actually that good, that he was a fourth-line guy that we were paying third-line money to, and that all in all we were more or less paying $1.8 million so we can improve our PK and also point and laugh at Pittsburgh. A lot of this escalated again after Blair Betts was first waived, and anyone who suggested "Talbot can do what Betts did" seemed to be shouted down with a combination of (a) "No, he can't" and (b) "Even if he could, he's not worth an extra million".

Obviously, Talbot has contributed more offensively than any of us expected to, but even so, a lot of what he's done has been overlooked. I think the impact he's made on the team might be the most surprising of all of the new guys we brought in this past summer. Let's see how that's so. There's a lot to say about his season so far--be it through simple methods or more advanced ones--and some of it deserves to be mentioned. (all numbers, stats and stuff are as of the All-Star break)

Let's start with the stuff that everyone with eyes can see and work from there. Talbot has 12 goals, which is already just one off of his career high, and 22 points, four off of his career high. He's on pace for 21 goals and 38 points, and even if he falls off that pace (which he probably will a bit) it's nearly a lock that he'll set a career high in both of those categories. That's awesome, and is probably better than any of us realistically could've expected from him.

A whole lot of other things that are noteworthy can at least somewhat be said in relation to this, so let's take a look at some other facts about Talbot's season.

--Health: A grand total of seven players on the 2011-2012 Flyers have taken part in all 48 games that the team has played. Talbot is one of the four forwards who has (Hartnell, Voracek and Simmonds being the others.) Not only is this a big deal for the Flyers, who have of course been injury-ravaged all season (he's played more time at 5-on-5, for instance, than Read, Jagr, and JVR), but for Talbot himself, who was coming off of the first 82-game season of his career last season (the first season in which he's ever played more than 75 games, even) in Pittsburgh. If he's able to keep being out there every game, then he's going to keep showing up on the scoresheet, and that's a good thing.

--SHOOOOOOOOOT: I'm not quite sure how I can see his misses and shots blocked, so this part isn't quite complete. But as far as shots that have either hit the goalie or crossed the goal line, Talbot is shooting more this year than he has been in any year of his career. His 1.58 shots per game (76 shots in 48 games) would stand to be a career-high, besting the 1.43 he had last year and a healthy bit above the career 1.24 mark that he brought into the season. Obviously, something that contributes to this is...

--Linemates: One of the things that I was quick to assume was that, based on the way Talbot's kinda shifted around all sorts of different lines this year, was that he's had a chance to play with better linemates here than he did in Pittsburgh. He's had some chances with guys like Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, and James van Riemsdyk, who have to be better than the fourth liners he spent all his time in Pittsburgh with, right?

Well, sorta. Before we look at the specific guys he's been skating with, let's try some of those newfangled stats that people apparently like. Talbot's Corsi QoT this season is 0.688, the third-highest of his career (or at least of the five seasons that this information has been tracked) and seventh-highest out of 12 Flyers forwards who have played at least 34 games (yes, I picked 34 so we could shoehorn Harry Z in there and make it an even 12 forwards. So sue me), and his Corsi Rel QoT is -.015, the second-highest of the past five seasons and also seventh-highest on the Flyers.

How's that stack up to the past few years in Pittsburgh? Let's compare this year to his past four and see what we've got, with ranks compared to Pittsburgh forwards who played as many games as he did (or at least close to it):

2011-12 (48 games): Corsi QoT 0.688 (7th/12), Corsi Rel QoT -0.015 (7th/12)
2010-11 (82 games): Corsi QoT 4.727 (7th/11), Corsi Rel QoT -0.723 (9th/11)
2009-10 (45 games): Corsi QoT 3.425 (11th/14), Corsi Rel QoT -0.880 (11th/14)
2008-09 (75 games): Corsi QoT -3.808 (5th/10), Corsi Rel QoT 0.427 (3rd/10)
2007-08 (63 games): Corsi QoT -10.537 (5th/9), Corsi Rel QoT -1.238 (7th/9)

So if you believe this evil sorcery known as Corsi QoT, this is probably around the second-best group of teammates he's had a chance to play with, and the only time where he got better teammates was in 08-09 and possibly 07-08. Probably not a coincidence that he scored more in either of those two years than he did in either of the two years after, despite not playing a full year in either of the two better seasons. So the most you can say, based on this info, is that this year he is getting chances with better linemates than he's probably used to, but not overwhelmingly better. On top of that, he has had seasons where he's had better linemates than this year, and (a) those were good offensive years for him and (b) he still wasn't doing what he is this year.

So there's that. But for fun, in case you think the numbers are lying, let's just speculate a bit. Here are Talbot's four most common linemates in each of his last four seasons in Pittsburgh, and the percentage of time he spent with his most frequent linemate:

2010-11: Matt Cooke (33.2%), Pascal Dupuis, Chris Conner, Mike Rupp
2009-10: Craig Adams (28.8%), Sidney Crosby, Mike Rupp, Bill Guerin
2008-09: Miroslav Satan (29.5%), Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Sidney Crosby
2007-08: Jarkko Ruutu (28.7%), Jordan Staal, Georges Laraque, Colby Armstrong

Not exactly a group of world-beaters, though I hear that Crosby guy who shows up twice is OK. But here's an interesting thought: take a look at the percentages for his most frequent linemate. Per Behind the Net, in each of the last three seasons, the percentage of time Talbot has spent with his most frequent linemate is the lowest among all Penguins forwards*. So last year, for example, while Pascal Dupuis had Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal had Tyler Kennedy and even Craig Adams had Mike Rupp, Talbot barely got to spend a lot of time with any one linemate. And this held over at least the last two seasons in Pittsburgh. So you can at least speculate that Talbot never had much of a chance to get anything going with any two or even just any one other forward, and that inability to get chemistry going with anyone may have hurt his offensive abilities.

*Not going to link to all of those, but you can check Pittsburgh's TOI reports at Behind the Net.

Now as for this year, here are his four most frequent linemates: Jakub Voracek (57.6%), Daniel Briere, James van Riemsdyk, Wayne Simmonds

First of all, I'd contend that's a far better group than he had in any of those other four years, but I'm a homer and Sidney Crosby is really good, so we'll ignore that. Take a look at that number. 57.6% of the time, he was out there with Jake Voracek. Two things to take note of here. First, Voracek is a much more offensively skilled player than any of those four guys (Cooke, Adams, Satan, and Ruutu) that Talbot spent the most time with in the past four seasons (you could argue Satan was better, and for his whole career he was, but at that point he was on the tail-end of his career and had a season worse than what Voracek's averages would be). Secondly, he's had a lot more time on the ice to work with Voracek and possibly develop some chemistry with him out there, which obviously will lead him to better results.

Is there an actual connection? Maybe. Between the November 3 game against NJ and the November 5 game against Columbus, Voracek switched from a line with Danny Briere to a line with Max Talbot, and he's spent a lot of time in the games since then with Talbot. Of Talbot's 15 even-strength points since then (a span of 35 games), nine of them have either been goals from Voracek assists, assists on Voracek goals, or assists with Voracek assists on other people's goals. Out of the other six even-strength points Talbot's picked up, Voracek was on the ice for four of them. Now, given how much time they spend together on the ice, this isn't overwhelmingly surprising and would probably be true for a lot of guys and their common linemates, but that's kind of the point--he DOES have a common linemate now, and it's working for him. 15 points in 35 games is a notable improvement from his typical averages. And on top of just the points is the fact that Talbot was getting more opportunities once he started playing with Voracek: he tallied 13 shots in the 13 games pre-Voracek (1 per game) and has tallied 63 in the 35 games since the change (1.8 per game), a substantial increase. And while he was also scoring at a good rate before that November 5 game where he shifted to Voracek's line, with six points in 13 games, that was almost certainly due to some shooting percentage luck, which we'll talk more about shortly.

So if there is something to this Talbot-Voracek connection, then that's awesome. Credit him for taking advantage of that chance, credit Voracek for helping him to get there, and credit Peter Laviolette for putting them together and seeing that work as it is. Hope he's not jealous of Voracek and Rinaldo's crazy post-game handshake. Anyways. That's all I have to say about teammates. Moving on.

--Luck: Yeah, you could say Talbot's been a bit lucky this season. His shooting percentage of 15.8% would be a career-high and well above his career average of 11.5%. He's had the benefit of empty netters or goals accidentally knocked in off of defenders or goals coming off of absolutely brutal turnovers or just goals that were, in the words of his former linemate BizNasty, softer than baby shit. But here are four quick thoughts in regard to that. First, though Talbot has had his fair share of ugly goals, so has everyone, and he's also had his share of nice-looking ones as well. He's worked well with Voracek, as we've seen, and they've combined for a few good ones. Second, since I'm talking about Voracek and talked about him above, I want to bring up that what Talbot's done with Voracek is hardly just fueled by shooting luck. While he tallied four goals and six points in the 13 games before Voracek shifted to his line, Talbot tallied those four goals on only 13 shots for a ridiculous 30.7 shooting percentage. In the 35 games since, Talbot has tallied eight goals on 63 shots for a still-somewhat-high-yet-feasible 12.7% shooting. The fact that he's been getting more shots to the net is what's important. Third, while shooting percentage year-to-year is close to impossible to duplicate, we've seen Talbot come close to this twice, as he's hit 14.8% and 15.0% in years past, so we know he's at least had seasons where he's done this. Finally, even if Talbot's true shooting percentage is around his current career mark of 11.5% and his mark of 15.8% right now is high, he was due for a bit of a rebound this season; in the past two seasons he was shooting an incredibly low 4.1% and 6.8%, and if his true talent level is in double-digits he was bound to see some improvement soon. So while his rate this year is undoubtedly a bit high and will probably fall off a bit in the second half, it isn't completely ridiculous and shouldn't take too much away from what he's done. He'd be at about nine goals if he had fired this many shots and was at his average percentage, so while he wouldn't have been this good, he'd still be at a 15-goal pace, which would be a career-best.

--Jack of all trades: This doesn't really have to do with anything, but I just want to throw this out there, since it falls in line with the idea that he's had a bit more opportunity here: he's done whatever we've asked of him. Go play in the offensive zone, go play in the defensive zone, go play with Zac Rinaldo, go play with Claude Giroux, go play on the PK, go play on the power play--wait, what? Yeah, with three of our top six forwards injured last weekend, Talbot played on the power play. And not like how he and Shelley and Rinaldo do in the third period of a blowout. This was Talbot, going out on the power play, not with Claude Giroux or Scott Hartnell but with a pair of rookies--and tying the game 5-5, against the best team and arguably best goaltender in hockey, in the third period, on a very nice deflection. For his first ever power play goal. That goal more or less made me want to write this post and look up the stuff I've looked up, so I hope you all enjoyed that.


"But everybodyhitswoohoo," you say unknowingly, "Talbot still isn't the heavy lifter kind of guy that we needed to get in the offseason! He was overrated defensively in Pittsburgh and nothing has changed from that here! Points alone don't make him worth that stupid contract!"

Hm. Dr. Cox, what do you have to say to those people? Hey, me too! Cool!

Now, then. If you recall Todd's article from the week of the Richards/Carter trades about heavy lifters, he throws out names of a few guys who were free agents that filled the tough-minutes need we were looking for. Basically, guys who faced above-average competition, started in their own zone a lot, did a respectable job pushing play out of their end and into the other end, won faceoffs, played on the PK, and would come at relatively cheap prices. Check it for the exact numbers being used.

(Of note, you may also remember Eric's post about a month into the season that showed that the Flyers had split up a lot of their tough minutes early on in the season, denying the need for a heavy lifter kind of guy. As you'll see, some shifts have occurred in the three months since then.)

Here's how Talbot stacks up, with the ranks relative to Flyers forwards with at least 34 games (let's keep it consistent here):

Corsi Rel QoC: 0.615 (6th/12)
Corsi Rel: 0.8 (7th/12)
OZ Start %: 43.6 (12th/12)
FO%: 42.0
PK TOI/G: 3.40 (1st in the entire NHL)

If you look at the six guys Todd listed there (Vernon Fiddler, Marty Reasoner, Michal Handzus, Eric Belanger, Marcel Goc, and Jeff Halpern) and compare their raw numbers last year to Talbot's raw numbers so far this year given above, Talbot would have the third-highest Corsi Rel QoC, the third highest Corsi Rel, the fourth-lowest OZS%, the worst faceoff % (by a lot), and the highest PK time (by a lot). I think that at least puts his performance this year in the ballpark of those guys, and while I know that comparing raw numbers to raw numbers like that is a bit flawed, I don't think it's debatable that Talbot has done an admirable job fighting off respectable competition while starting off in his own end. He's kinda sucking it up on faceoffs, but if he was doing a better job on those he'd arguably be better than any of them--just based on the defensive numbers, that is.

What Talbot is currently bringing to the table that those kinds of third- or fourth-line, heavy-lifter types aren't, though, is points. We've already mentioned that, of course, but let's put it in perspective a couple more times. First of all, Talbot is seventh among Flyers forwards in points per 60 at 5-on-5. Ahead of him includes the Giroux line, Couturier, Read, and Voracek. So he's ahead of no-names like Danny Briere and James van Riemsdyk. Not bad.

But then there's this, which puts his performance in a more league-wide scope: among all NHL forwards with at least 34 games played who are starting in their own end 46% of the time or less (in Talbot's ballpark of 43.6%) and are facing a Corsi Rel QoC of .6 or higher (also in Talbot's ballpark of .615), Talbot is fifth in points per 60 at 5 on 5. The guys ahead of him? Loui Eriksson, Claude Giroux, Martin Erat, and Ryan Callahan. Not bad company. Granted, you wouldn't expect that many guys facing competition at the level Talbot's been facing to be putting up that many points, but it's impressive. Not only do not that many guys face the kind of minutes that Talbot does, but not that many guys score like he does despite facing those minutes.

And while we're at it, here are two more fun facts about Talbot's minutes and his performance in them:
1. If you take those same three qualifications (34+ games, CRelQoC>=.6, OZ=<46), there are only thirteen forwards with a positive Corsi Rel. Talbot is one of them. And only one of the twelve other guys, Chad Larose, has started in his own end more frequently than Talbot. And Talbot has a higher P/60 than all but two of them (Eriksson and Giroux). [Note: I also learned from putting together this post that Loui Eriksson is really freaking good, and that Claude Giroux is somehow even more awesome than most people realize.]
2. Out of those thirteen players, only six of them have a positive total Corsi rating while on the ice: Eriksson, Giroux, Talbot, Ryan Getzlaf, Frans Nielsen, and Mikael Backlund. None of those guys are starting in their own end more frequently than Talbot.

Again, we're whittling the group down a bit with these qualifications, and it's expected that given these minutes not that many guys will put up the kind of results (both in shots/Corsi and in points) that Talbot is. But the fact that his name is on these lists is pretty impressive, I think. Basically, of all of the forwards that have managed to push play into the other team's end (both relative to his team and relative to the other team), Talbot is getting some of the toughest minutes out of any of them.

The most-PK-time-in-the-league thing is also pretty impressive, though he's probably been the least impressive of the Flyers' four usual PK guys (Read, Couturier, Giroux) as far as results go.


Now, to be fair, the people who were saying "he didn't do this in Pittsburgh" are completely correct (with the exception of 2007-08, in which he had a year very similar to this one, actually). The past two years he started in the other team's end often, against middling-to-poor competition, and got pushed back more often than not. But whether it's something he changed or something Lavy is doing or something we can't possibly figure out at this moment, this year he's been handed some tough minutes and he's playing very well in them, taking on a huge defensive forward role for the team. A price of $1.8 million for that, considering that four of the six guys on Todd's FA list got about that much (and arguably none of those six guys, by the way, have made the impact for their new teams that Talbot has), is pretty fair--in hindsight, at least.

And that's what comes into focus here, in closing, I guess: does his performance so far justify the seemingly excessive contract that we gave him? I'm not really sure. On the one hand, a guy's market value is what it is. If a guy is worth a certain amount on the market based on what you already know about him, and you pay him more than that, it's an overpayment no matter what. There are all sorts of silly metaphors and comparisons I could come up with that make this point. But he is, at the very least, matching the production that his contract calls for--you'd expect about .43 points/game from him, which is just under what he's given us, and that coupled with his defensive efforts makes this a good deal so far. Did the Flyers kinda just get lucky with what Max has given them for the first 60% or so of the season? Probably, because like I've said, he's never quite had a season like this. But no matter what, good on Max for, at least for now, justifying the contract that we gave him. He's done what he can to fill the defensive gaps left by guys like Richards and Carter and Betts, and if he can come close to keeping this up, it'll end up being a better deal than most of us could've expected. Let's not remember Max Talbot because we paid him a lot of money to in order to stick it to Pittsburgh, let's remember him because he's done a hell of a job this year.

This item was written by a member of this community and is not necessarily endorsed by <em>Broad Street Hockey</em>.