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Philadelphia Flyers 2017-18 Midterm Report Cards: Fourth-Line Wingers

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In which we discuss a rookie fourth-liner who’s fared somewhat well and two veteran fourth-liners who have, well ... not.

NHL: DEC 29 Flyers at Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After looking at the wingers at the top and middle of the lineup, our third and final report card set of the day looks at the last three wingers on the team, the ones whose average ice time is more reflective of fourth-liners than of everything else. Enjoy.

(Stats below are from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com, corsica.hockey, and hockeyviz.com. Any statistics regarding ranks relative to the NHL are through Sunday’s games.)


Taylor Leier

Overall Numbers: 1 G, 3 A in 31 GP; 10:48 TOI per game
5-on-5 On-Ice Performance: 52.6% Corsi-For, 51.6% Expected Goals For, 0.84 Points per 60

In short: Leier’s been what most have expected of him: a somewhat limited depth piece that’s useful in his role as a fourth-liner.

How so? The name of the game with Leier, who was somewhat surprisingly given a final spot on the opening-day roster over the likes of Oskar Lindblom and has kept it all season long, is defense. Shots-against, Corsi, Expected Goals-against — pick pretty much any defensive measure available other than plain old goals and sort every Flyer by it, and Leier is either allowing the fewest or near-fewest per 60 minutes of anyone on the roster. The third and perhaps least-heralded member of that fourth line that was a lineup fixture for the first two months of the season, Leier has proven to be a pretty smart defensive player who can use his speed and tenacity to get after opposing puck-carriers and make their lives difficult.

While his work on the ice has mostly come against other teams’ depth players — Leier’s near or at the bottom of the Flyers by way of pretty much every quality-of-competition measure imaginable — it’s important to win at the margins, and Leier’s been part of a group that has helped the Flyers win there. His work hasn’t always been good enough to even keep him on the ice (he’s been healthy-scratched on multiple occasions this season), but Leier’s probably been more of less what a reasonable observer would’ve expected he’d be. The fact that he’s been a positive in terms of most on-ice metrics is a welcome development for the 23-year old.

Yeah, but: If he’s so great defensively, why’s he been outscored by so much on the ice? And perhaps more importantly, can he be a net positive on the ice if he continues to be more or less a non-factor offensively? Only everyone’s two favorite punching bags (the two players yet to be discussed in this post, in fact) have been on the ice for fewer Flyers goals than Leier.

Still, though ... Leier is one of the few Flyers who’s had thoroughly rotten luck in terms of on-ice goaltending this season. Flyers goalies have stopped only 89.57 percent of shots they’ve faced at 5-on-5 with Leier on the ice; among regular skaters, only Travis Sanheim (89.87 percent) is even in that ballpark, while every other Flyer has had at least 92 percent of their on-ice attempts against stopped. Even if you think Leier isn’t a great in-zone defender — and to be fair, his expected unblocked save percentage based on where shots are taken while he’s on the ice is actually the lowest on the team — he shouldn’t expect to be on the ice for nearly as many enemy goals in the second half as he was in the first.

As for his offense, Leier’s also had some poor luck there; only Dale Weise and Wayne Simmonds have lower on-ice shooting percentages than Leier. Still, it’s true that the Flyers need more from him there, and while a total lack of offense has never prevented this coaching staff from falling in love with a fourth-liner before (see: Bellemare, Pierre-Edouard; VandeVelde, Chris), you wonder if Leier stays on the ice all year if he has more than one goal at the season’s midpoint. Leier’s been stuck in the press box lately — he hasn’t dressed for four of the team’s last five games — but a lucky bounce or two once he gets back in the lineup may go a long way for him.

Grade: C+. Ideally, Leier continues to grow offensively at the NHL level, and becomes more than a good defensive fourth-liner. If he’s able to do that — and it’s not hard to see him improve at least a bit there — it’ll be that much tougher for the coaches to keep him out of the lineup. For now, though, a good defensive fourth-liner is what he is, and there’s at least some value in that.

Poll

How would you grade Taylor Leier’s play in the first half of the 2017-18 season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A+
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    A
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    A-
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    B+
    (16 votes)
  • 10%
    B
    (69 votes)
  • 15%
    B-
    (105 votes)
  • 20%
    C+
    (137 votes)
  • 31%
    C
    (213 votes)
  • 10%
    C-
    (72 votes)
  • 4%
    D+
    (30 votes)
  • 2%
    D
    (18 votes)
  • 0%
    D-
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    F
    (7 votes)
674 votes total Vote Now

Dale Weise

Overall Numbers: 4 G, 2 A in 34 GP; 10:47 TOI per game
5-on-5 On-Ice Performance: 44.4% Corsi-For, 40.5% Expected Goals For, 1.04 Points per 60

In short: Weise has basically been everything fans feared about him coming into this season, all while not bringing any of the positive parts of his game from last season.

How so? If I may harken back to the “worst-case scenario” from Craig’s season preview of Weise:

Weise becomes the new, more expensive VandeVelde. He regresses in terms of shot suppression and watches his Corsi For percentage return to the mid-40s. On top of not playing in either man up or man down situations, Weise also fails to even reach his point total of 15 from last season and his habit of not driving to the net from early last year returns. Weise performs so similarly to VandeVelde that Hakstol refuses to scratch him and he drags down the fourth line for the entire season.

Now, this didn’t end up being totally prescient ... but that’s probably because Weise has been given even more opportunity than VandeVelde usually was. Weise has spent time in the top-9 and on the second power play unit, and yet based on his current scoring pace he would still end the season with just 13 points if he played every game the rest of the way.

The 2016-17 version of Dale Weise that the Flyers received was, honestly, not that different from the 2017-18 version of Taylor Leier that we described a few paragraphs up: a guy who didn’t do much of anything offensively, but was sound enough defensively and drove play positively enough to avoid being a real problem. That said, it’s much easier to accept that kind of play from a rookie making barely more than the league minimum than it was a guy on a four-year, $9.4-million contract, and fans were rightly hoping for Weise to step up a little bit offensively this year.

Unfortunately, Weise has instead stepped back defensively, and the end result isn’t pretty. Among forwards, only Nolan Patrick (Weise’s most frequent linemate, we should mention) has done a worse job driving play than Weise has this season, and his expected-goals percentage of 40.5 percent is downright frightening. Other than a few surprising highlight-reel plays here and there (see: this assist on Nolan Patrick’s first career NHL goal), finding positives in Weise’s play this season has been tough.

Yeah, but: Are the Flyers catching on a bit? Weise was scratched in the past two games, and he’s had a few other games this year where he’s been riding the pine. Plus, he’s playing two fewer minutes per game this year (10:47) than he was last year (12:53). At some point the Flyers have to really come to their senses on him, don’t they?

Still, though ... There have been stretches before where Weise has been scratched (remember, he only played in 64 games last year), so it’s true that the team doesn’t feel married to him. Though his spot on the roster feels fairly safe for now, his spot in the lineup does not.

Yet despite the fact that the Flyers are occasionally willing to scratch Weise, they’ve also been willing to put him in the top-9. And his playing on the power play (and the bump in ice time that has come with it) is actually something of a recent development; while he’d been there a bit last year, he’d mostly been off of it this season until after the Christmas break. So the odds that the team is going to drastically reduce his role down the stretch much further than they already have seem slim to me.

The team will probably take Weise out of games here and there, and the fact that his ice time is reflective of that of a fourth-liner suggests that they don’t think he’s infallible. But this coaching staff and front office — and this is the part that surely infuriates fans the most — see him as someone who can both play on a fourth line and occasionally play up in the lineup. Players who are seen to have that kind of flexibility, true or not, tend to get some slack from their coaches, and that’s why Weise is probably going to be in the lineup in the second half about as much as he was in the first half, perhaps barring a call-up of a Phantom who’s played so well that the team has no choice but to give him a shot.

Grade: D-. Whether it will be or not, Weise’s games and ice time should be scaled back further as the season goes on.

Poll

How would you grade Dale Weise’s play in the first half of the 2017-18 season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A+
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    A
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    A-
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    B+
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    B
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    B-
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    C+
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    C
    (11 votes)
  • 3%
    C-
    (27 votes)
  • 5%
    D+
    (36 votes)
  • 19%
    D
    (137 votes)
  • 21%
    D-
    (153 votes)
  • 45%
    F
    (321 votes)
705 votes total Vote Now

Jori Lehtera

Overall Numbers: 0 G, 3 A in 24 GP; 10:24 TOI per game
5-on-5 On-Ice Performance: 49.2% Corsi-For, 40.4% Expected Goals For, 0.82 Points per 60

In short: There is maybe not a single redeeming thing about Jori Lehtera’s season worth talking about.

How so? He doesn’t produce points, he doesn’t drive play in any meaningful way, the team gets totally gutted in terms of shot quality when he’s on the ice, he’s regularly a step or two behind the play, and he’s on the power play for some reason that I cannot for the life of me understand.

Yeah, but: I mean ... we all kind of knew that Lehtera wasn’t very good, didn’t we? The Flyers got an extra first-round pick in the Brayden Schenn trade more or less entirely because they took on Lehtera’s contract. He spent almost a full year playing alongside Vladimir Tarasenko and only tallied 22 points. If you were expecting a lot, that’s on you. Also, if we reeeeeeeeeeally want to get technical here, Lehtera’s on-ice shot attempt rates have actually been pretty respectable in the past few weeks.

Still, though ... I don’t know if anyone was expecting a lot here, but the idea that Lehtera could have been a passable bottom-6 player wasn’t a ridiculous one at the time. But right now, based on what we’ve seen so far, the idea that Lehtera can be a passable player for the Flyers down the stretch in more or less any capacity seems like a stretch. And if the Flyers themselves took on Lehtera’s contract knowing that it was a negative-value proposition, then they should be willing to play him less than they have.

And while Lehtera’s Corsi/overall possession numbers on the year aren’t ghastly — there’s much worse even just on this team — the issue with him is one of shot quality, and it’s a massive one. 336 NHL forwards had played in at least 300 minutes at 5-on-5 through last Sunday. Only one of them (Washington’s Brett Connolly) has a larger negative gap between his on-ice Corsi-For percentage and his on-ice Expected Goals percentage than Lehtera, who has been nearly nine points better in the former figure than in the latter.

In some ways, Lehtera is an ideal stand-in for so many of the frustrations that this fanbase currently has with this team. He’s on the roster and in the lineup in place of young guys that fans have been clamoring for, he’s an un-noteworthy offensive player who can’t create real opportunities for himself or his teammates at this point in his career, and he’s a big hold against the team’s salary cap. It’s tough to be at the bottom of the barrel, but someone’s gotta do it, and Lehtera seems like the guy through the first half of the Flyers’ season.

Grade: F. Lehtera is the 13th and final forward we’ve discussed in this series, and that’s pretty close to the ceiling as to where he should stand in the team’s forward hierarchy. He should only get into the lineup if there are injuries, and we have to think that the Flyers will give serious thought to buying him out of the last year of his contract this summer.

Poll

How would you grade Jori Lehtera’s play in the first half of the 2017-18 season?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    A+
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    A
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    A-
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    B+
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    B
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    B-
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    C+
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    C
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    C-
    (11 votes)
  • 1%
    D+
    (14 votes)
  • 7%
    D
    (55 votes)
  • 13%
    D-
    (94 votes)
  • 72%
    F
    (516 votes)
709 votes total Vote Now

Previously in Flyers 2017-18 Midterm Report Cards: