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2017-18 Player Review: Michael Raffl drew some ire, but was it deserved?

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NHL: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

With season reviews well underway, it’s time that we turn and get back to breathing and talk about our favorite utility player—Michael Raffl, who’s coming off a pretty strong season, if we do say so ourselves.

Raffl, who in seasons past had typically been something of a fan-favorite or, at least, a guy who never really drew a ton of fan anger, seemed to inspire a lot of...feelings this season. Huh. That’s something. Let’s dig into that.

By The Numbers

We do love our numbers, here, so let’s see if they can tell us some things. Why are we feeling a little empty or wishy washy on the results of Raffl’s season, numbers? Please help.

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
82 13 10 23 30 97 13.40%

So what’s there to like here? 13 goals is a pretty nice figure, and it lands him seventh among our 15 (more or less) regular forwards in goal scoring. And those 13 goals in 76 regular season games (82 total, counting the playoffs), put him on the second highest goal scoring pace of his career with the Flyers. And that’s pretty good, too.

And what’s a little curious? He’s one of only three forwards—Travis Konecny and Wayne Simmonds being the others—with more goals than assists, and Raffl holds the sharpest disparity between these two figures. What does that tell us? He’s selfis—NO. That’s not what we’re going with. It’s just to say that the numbers suggest that he was able to close on more of the chances set up while he was on the ice than his linemates were.

Okay, cool, so we’ve got that down. No angst to be had there. We’re still digging around for the source. Let’s move on to some more numbers then.

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
49.39% -0.15% 0.13% 49.96% -0.35% 48.69% 99.6

So if we’re liking what we saw in that first batch of numbers, here is where we might grow a little more lukewarm. If we were to come up with an umbrella response to these, we might shrug and say “they’re fine.” After a strong start—with The Honey Bees averaging a 56.85 percent CF% in their 39 games together—both of Raffl’s Corsi and Expected Goals For figures grade out to just about average or break-even for the whole of the season. He wasn’t quite lighting it up, but he also wasn’t an absolute liability out there either. He was steady, and produced even to or just a little bit above the level of his teammates in CF% and xGF% (putting up a .2 RelTxGF%). And steady is more or less what we’ve come to expect from him.

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
1.18 0.87 9.16 0.61

And, in closing out with a few more numbers, our earlier sentiment of “they’re fine” more or less holds. In each of these metrics, Raffl is middling relative to his teammates—and, in a way, this kind of makes sense with the type of player we’ve accepted him to be. He’s a good middle-sixer who can play up and down the lineup as needed—not a top end producer, but a player who can hang up in the top lines for a stretch, and not get thrashed by the competition while doing so. His role is one of support, and this season he’s done what we asked of him.

Three Burning Questions

Did this player live up to our expectations for this season?

[nervous, uncertain voice] Yes? Probably? I don’t really know. There’s some tension here.

The numbers that we just went through tell us that this was a pretty good season for Raffl—he put up his second highest goal-scoring pace during his tenure with the Flyers, and kept with the sound territorial play. He had a fine season, but still some frustration seems to linger.

Maybe it’s because the scoring was so sporadic—it took him until November 27th to record his first goal of the season, and then went on to score eight more points in the next nine games, and then would later go just over a month (February 16th to March 17th) without a point.

Or maybe it’s carry-over anger about Hakstol taking Konecny off the top line and replacing him with Raffl. That anger would be misdirected. It’s not his fault that the coach reverse-optimized the lines and Raffl just happened to get the bump. But I know that you know that. And I still understand the frustration.

So where does that leave us? We can channel all of our angst back at the lineup maker, and remember that Raffl did have a very good season. The delivery may have been a little funky, but he still put up some of his best numbers in years. So we extend him a tip of the hat for that.

What do we expect from this player next season?

Given that last season was one of his best, and given that he’s coming up on 30, we might actually expect a bit of a regression next season. Maybe. Because we understand how the aging curve works, and we can’t help but get a little doom and gloom. We might expect that he isn’t able to replicate this scoring pace.

But, then again, maybe we decide to get a little more positive with our expectations. Maybe he doesn’t replicate this scoring pace, but maybe he does. Either way, we can expect that he continues to do what he’s always done—driven play and acted as a useful support player up and down the lineup. Looking at the pieces as they continue to slot in and give us a hint of what the opening night roster might look like, we can figure that Raffl will slot back into a bottom six role, and maybe that’s not the worst thing. I mean, Michael Raffl (this time getting a few more favorable bounces) on your fourth line, put up against league average fourth lines? This is a good image. Territorially, The Honey Bees were running through other fourth lines last season, and with a bit more goal luck (and fewer high danger chances allowed), they could look even more dangerous. We love this depth. Let’s get excited, folks.

What would we like to see this player improve on?

This is a tough one, because, while of course it’s possible for older players to keep improving and refining their games from season to season, we’re also not talking about a kid who needs to bulk up or work on his shot to prove that he can really hang at the NHL level. We commend Raffl for his solid work with all of the little things, so we can’t really nitpick there too much.

If we were to go hunting for one major thing we want to see improved upon, we would likely most of us land on “consistency in scoring.” We talked a few points above about how hot and cold he was last season, and how we know he has the skills necessary to be a more or less reliable scorer in the NHL, but we just need to see a little bit more consistency.

And this too is at least in part easier said than done—you can be putting in all of the right work and if you don’t have the linemate support, or happen to run into a hot goalie on that given night, or just hit a stretch of bad luck, and your production will fall short of those efforts. We understand that, too. But, all told, we need the player to also work to find a way, and that—particularly given it will be a contract year—is what we’ll need to see from Raffl.