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Young and responsible: Why “veteran” does not equal “reliable”

Hakstol believes his veteran depth players are reliable ... but are they?

NHL: Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The number of young players on the Flyers has been a topic of discussion since training camp. The general impression from the organization has been that having too many young players in a lineup at once can be detrimental to the success of a team. More specifically, too many young players is believed to cause severe ups and downs during the course of a season. It’s logical to believe that; rookies and young players don’t have the experience to know how to handle certain situations at the highest level, so their reaction time to those situations may be a bit slower than a veteran.

However, is this a hard and fast rule? Are rookies always responsible for severe ups and downs of a team? I would argue that since January, the inconsistencies have been more due to the “veteran presence” of the team than the young upstarts.

I decided to go back and sift my way through the data since the Flyers’ first game in January through their March 8 match up against the Bruins, an even 30 games. I then separated the players Hakstol deems “veteran presence” from those that are considered the young players on the team.

I decided to look at all on-ice shot attempts (adjusted Corsi For %), which of those shot attempts were expected to lead to goals (adjusted Expected Goals For %, or xGF%), and how players fared in these categories relative to their teammates (adjusted CF% Relative and adjusted xGF% Relative).

On-ice shot share (Adjusted CF% and CF% Relative)

Below are the charts for the group of veterans (henceforth referred to as the “Glue Man Group”) and the younger players (the “Young Guns”) for each game over the 30 game span.

There appears to be more inconsistency in the “veteran presence” group than the “young gun” group, but nothing that I would say is definitive.

On-ice shot quality battle (Adjusted xGF% and xGF% Relative)

Now let’s see if taking shot quality into account paints a clearer picture.

Again, there appears to be more inconsistency in the “veteran presence” group, but the picture hasn’t become any clearer. Both groups have fairly large ups and downs.

The big picture

As it turns out, it’s not very easy to distinguish inconsistency in play over a sample of 30 games. However, when you show overall averages over this stretch of games, you can see the overall impact of those players over that 30 game span.

First, we’ll once again look at adjusted CF% and CF% Rel:

And now adjusted xGF% and xGF% Rel:

This is where the cream really starts to rise to the top, so to speak. As you can see by these tables, the “veteran presence” players Hakstol deems so reliable severely lag behind most of their young teammates. In fact, not a single member of the clan I call the Glue Man Group had a positive CF%, CF% Rel, xGF% or xGF% Rel, indicating that they did not contribute positively to the team overall and were actually a harm to their team. Val Filppula, in particular, has had a disastrous past 30 games by these metrics.

Now, not all of the young players separated themselves from the pack, so to speak. Robert Hagg, Taylor Leier, and (with respect to xGF) Scott Laughton all have had their struggles as well over the 30 game span. And not every player played all 30 games in each group. But overall, it’s fairly clear to see that the young players have had a much greater positive impact on the ice over this time period.

Interpretation

I began this mini-project attempting to demonstrate that the “veteran presence” players have been more inconsistent over the past 30 games than the young players. Unfortunately, I was unable to definitively prove this notion. Players from both groups showed wild ups and downs.

That said, this does show that the “veteran presence” players, lauded for their consistency, have not been significantly more consistent than the young players. And overall, the young players have had a far greater positive impact on the overall play of the team in terms of generating shots and quality shots. So not only have they not been more consistent than their young teammates, these steady, reliable veterans have also been a major drag on the team.

Therefore, my main takeaway from this little project is that the Flyers do not have an issue with respect to having too many young players, they have a depth issue.

Charlie O’Connor of BSH Radio and The Athletic tweeted out a Flyers depth chart a few days ago that I would like to share with you all:

As he mentions in his tweet, don’t look at it as line combos and defense pairs. Strictly look at it from an ideal placement of players based on their performance and talent level. Right away you notice that the 2LW, 3C and 2RD positions are vacant. This essentially means that in his opinion – an opinion with which I strongly agree – the Flyers are currently missing players capable of producing at those ideal levels.

Let’s also pay particular attention to the “Players Out” column. This, in a nutshell, is the ultimate point of this article. These are the players the Flyers are currently relying upon for depth, and as I pointed out above, these are players that have been largely dragging this team down, particularly over the last 30 games.

Conclusion

Youth is not the issue with this team. Depth is the issue with this team. The depth of this team is littered with the “veteran presence” players who struggle to help even a fringe playoff team win games on the ice.

I’m not here to say that the intangibles these players provide don’t matter. They absolutely carry weight. But when these same players are actively hurting your team’s on-ice level of play, those intangibles have diminished value. Veteran players aren’t a bad thing; bad veteran players are a bad thing. Being an experienced NHL player shouldn’t be enough of a qualification to lock down a permanent roster spot.

The Flyers are a young team, the sixth-youngest in the league last I checked. But on this particular team, youth has not been any more inconsistent and overall, have contributed in a much more positive way than their steady, “reliable” veteran teammates.

All numbers in this article are courtesy of Corsica.hockey.