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2015-16 Flyers season review: Matt Read remains an enigma

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Matt Read's scoring totals continued to decline during the 2015-16 season. But were there any signs for optimism?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The narrative of Matt Read's career entering the 2015-16 season was questioned by very few Flyers fans. After achieving the difficult task of breaking through to the NHL as a 25-year old undrafted free agent, Read quickly established himself as a 20-goal scorer at hockey's top level. For three seasons, he delivered steady point production and strong penalty killing results, and eventually found a home for himself as part of an even strength shutdown tandem with center Sean Couturier.

Then came the 2014-15 season. Read's point production cratered, as the forward scored just eight goals in 80 games. His underlying puck possession statistics at even strength also fell into dangerously-low territory. However, the poor year was mostly written off by fans as an aberration, considering Read's admission that he was dramatically slowed during the first half of the season by a high-ankle sprain, an injury which he chose to ignore. The expectation was that a newly-healthy Read, just barely out of his statistical prime at age 29, would have a bounceback season in 2015-16.

Matt Read

Background:

Position RL
Age 29 (6/14/1986)
Contract Status Signed through 2017-18 for $3,625,000 per year

2015-16 Regular Season Numbers:

Scoring woes continued

Unfortunately, Read did not have that rebound season, at least from a scoring standpoint. While the goal totals jumped back up a bit (11 goals in 15-16), Read actually scored fewer points this season than during his injury-ravaged 2014-15. Read's first three seasons were all in the same ballpark, but the drop-off from last year that most attributed to injury clearly did not reverse itself.

Read Points Per Game

Read's production during 5-on-5 situations has fallen off even more substantially. In fact, his even strength scoring trend line showcases a very obvious, steady decline since breaking into the NHL back in 2011-12.

Read Points/60

These charts illuminate why many fans became so frustrated with Matt Read over the past two seasons. They were willing to grant him a mulligan for 2014-15 considering the injury problems, but at first glance, these trend lines imply that Read is in the midst of a dramatic decline in offensive value added to the Philadelphia Flyers. By that narrative, Read's 2014-15 season was less an injury-ravaged anomaly and more the first signs of a player quickly becoming next-to-useless.

Possession numbers tell a different story

Matt Read's 2015-16 was undeniably his worst NHL season from a point production standpoint. Every metric -- both raw and advanced -- backs up that assertion. Many have cited this trend to make the case that this past season was Matt Read's bottoming out, a year when his entire game fell apart and he barely was worthy of a regular roster spot, let alone a key role on the Flyers.

But if that is the case, why did Read do such a good job driving play this season?

While Matt Read's scoring totals continued their decline, his on-ice shot attempt differentials did the opposite. Not only did he rebound from his terrible puck possession season in 2014-15, Read's metrics were actually the best of his entire career this year.

Read Score Adjusted Corsi

For the first three seasons of Read's career, he was essentially a break-even puck possession player relative to his teammates. The Flyers didn't drive play better with him on the ice, but they didn't do any worse, either. Then, his metrics fell off a cliff in 2014-15, as Read's injury sapped his speed and forced him to spend way too much time in the defensive zone chasing the puck. As a result, the Flyers drove play three percentage points worse with Read on the ice than they did with him sitting on the bench.

Read flipped the script entirely this season. Instead of Philadelphia performing three percentage points worse from a play driving standpoint with Read out there, they performed three percentage points better. Read didn't just rebound from his poor 2014-15 -- he blew away even his prime-age seasons as well.

The usual response from skeptics when looking at a player who struggled to score but saw his team generate a solid majority of the shot attempts while he was on the ice is that the quality of those shot attempts must not have been very high. It was those weak attempts, they argue, that make Read look so good by possession metrics while failing to generate "quality" offense on the scoreboard.

Luckily, there is a new possession statistic that weights every shot attempt for quality, called Expected Goals. If Read's on-ice Corsi For percentage is truly inflated by bad shots, his on-ice Expected Goals percentage should be significantly lower than his Corsi.

But that isn't the case. In fact, Read actually grades out better by the weighted Expected Goals formula than by raw Corsi, where every shot attempt is assumed to be equal.

Matt Read 2015-16 5v5 Corsi For Percentage Matt Read 2015-16 5v5 Expected Goals Percentage
52.92% 53.05%

All statistics adjusted for score, zone and venue and via Corsica.Hockey.

Despite posting a very strong 53.05% Expected Goals percentage this season, Read's actual 5-on-5 Goals For percentage was far less impressive, checking in at 45.45%. That means that the Flyers only scored 45.45% of the goals when Read was playing. Still, accounting for his strong possession statistics, it's likely that Read was the victim of some seriously bad luck while he was on the ice this season, considering both the amount and quality of shots that occurred on his watch.

The results didn't bear out in his favor this year. But if the Flyers perform just as well with Read on the ice in 2016-17, my guess is that they'll outscore their opponents next time around.

What's changed in Read's game

Read may have been unlucky in terms of his on-ice results this past season. But simply pointing to Corsi or Expected Goals doesn't do a lot to explain why Read's personal goal scoring production has dropped off so dramatically. Even going beyond the numbers, he simply doesn't look like the same guy that was an underrated offensive threat in his first three NHL seasons.

The first and most obvious problem with Read's recent game has been his shooting percentage. After scoring at an extremely efficient rate over his first three seasons, Matt Read had much more trouble lighting the lamp over the past two.

Read Shooting Percentages

Not many players can sustain a 15% shooting percentage over a long period of time, but Matt Read found a way to do so over his first three NHL seasons. Just when it looked like Read was showcasing a skill usually reserved for the Steven Stamkoses of the league, however, Read's shooting percentage fell off a cliff starting in 2014-15.

So is this simply a case of regression biting Read hard? I'm hesitant to just chalk the decline up to just bad luck, because it's clear that Read has not shown the same accurate and deadly wrist shot that he possessed early in his career. Remember those days? Read's wrist shot was so effective, he was even becoming a solid shootout forward without much in the way of shiftiness.

He would just skate up ice, pick a top corner spot, and bury it. Now, either Read is physically incapable of the same shooting ability of his younger days, or he's just lost all confidence in the accuracy of his shot when delivered at full speed. And his high shooting percentage was a major part of Read's early career success -- give him a closer-to-league-average 10% shooting percentage in his first three years, and Read's best single-season goal total is 16 and his highest point total is 39.

If Matt Read wants to rebound from a scoring standpoint, his biggest offseason goal should be the rediscovery of his wrist shot. Even if the 15% days were a bit on the fluky side, a forward with the wrist shot from the above video really should post a shooting percentage comfortably over 10%.

Another element to Read's game that has mysteriously disappeared over the past two seasons has been his ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone with speed and possession. Once one of the Flyers' better forwards in terms of even strength Controlled Entry Percentage, Read is now often resorting to dumping the puck into the offensive zone rather than trusting his ability to beat a defender one-on-one via the rush.

Read Controlled Entry Percentage

Data manually tracked by Jess Schmidt from 2011-2015; Charlie O'Connor in 2015-16.

Even during an injury-plagued 2014-15 season, Read managed a 48% Controlled Entry percentage. This year, however, Read dropped to an uninspiring 41.75 percent, resorting to dump-and-chase methods the majority of the time.

This is an especially concerning trend for a player who (likely due to his lack of ideal size) can struggle to battle into high-danger scoring areas while on the cycle. Read himself noted this in his exit interview a few weeks ago.

I actually just talked to Hak about this. As a line, we’ve been in the offensive zone a lot, we’re getting pucks there, but there’s really no one there, there’s no one being the screen guy or getting rebounds. We’re all, I guess, perimeter players, cycling in the corner, doing the little things outside but not getting into the tough areas.

One way to avoid the issue of too much perimeter play is to gain the zone more regularly with possession of the puck on the rush. Those entries lead to more immediate shots, and with the defense in full retreat, Read would likely find it easier to get into those "tough areas." Even if the dump-and-chase game is effective in establishing a cycle, it doesn't really play to the strengths of Read's game that made him an offensive contributor in his first three NHL seasons. Back then, Read often used his speed to gain entry into the zone before letting loose with a terrifying wrist shot at the opposing goaltender.

Read definitely looked faster this year via the eye test than he did in 2014-15. In the offseason, he'll need to work on translating that speed into smarter routes through the neutral zone and more controlled entries, in addition to fixing the problems with his shot. Only then might we see the return of the old Matt Read.

How to evaluate Read's season and moving forward

Matt Read found a way to put together the unappetizing combination of terrible box score counting statistics yet strong underlying metrics, turning him into a lightning rod for traditionalists vs. advanced stat acolyte battles. His continued decline from a scoring standpoint fed into the narrative that Read's game is in the process of falling off a cliff, but the team's strong performance from a shot attempt standpoint with Read on the ice calls that hypothesis into question.

Is it possible that Read just had an unlucky season? I don't think we can rule out the possibility entirely. After all, if you look at his individual Expected Goals rate, he "should have" scored goals at about the same rate as he did in his second and third NHL seasons considering the types of shots that he created. Maybe Read got a little lucky back then and a lot unlucky this year, and that's really the only difference.

But I don't think that's a complete analysis. Read's wrist shot truly does look impotent in comparison to what it was prior to his ankle injury, and while his speed appeared mostly back, Read shied away from hitting the offensive zone with control of the puck for some reason. These are legitimate, measurable issues that he needs to address.

The good news is that even with these issues, Matt Read remains a useful player. His Neutral Zone Score of 52.28% was second only to Sean Couturier among regular Flyers, and every scorer benefits from playing alongside someone who helps push the puck in the right direction in the middle of the ice on a regular basis. If Read can retain his puck possession gains from 2015-16, it's not hard to envision him succeeding as the play-driving winger on a third line centered by Nick Cousins.

Does this make Read untouchable in trade talks? Of course not. If the Flyers were somehow able to land another play-driving winger that can also score at a high level (such as Loui Eriksson) in free agency, Read becomes an obvious choice to jettison. The Flyers could then drop Michael Raffl (a winger with a longer track record of stellar possession play and better recent scoring rates) to line three and look to move Read for cap relief.

But if Ron Hextall and the Flyers don't make any big additions this offseason, they could do a lot worse for a third line winger than Matt Read. Sure, his $3.625 million cap hit over the next two seasons is at least one million dollars too high considering Read's recent play. But the soon-to-be 30-year old forward is not a liability on the team's bottom-two lines. His strong hockey sense makes life much easier for his linemates in moving the puck up ice, particularly youngsters like Cousins and Scott Laughton. And the scoring touch could always come back, or at least rebound to respectable levels.

Matt Read is far from a perfect player, and he rightfully was dissatisfied with his 2015-16 season. But he's not quite cooked yet.

Player Card (via hockeyviz.com):

Neutral zone data via Charlie O'Connor; all other data via war-on-ice.com except where otherwise noted.