Advanced Stats: Analyzing the Vukota projection for Marc Staal

Glen Miller

Prior to the beginning of each of the last few seasons ESPN in conjunction with the folks over at Hockey Prospectus publish their “Summer Skate” series. Using Hockey Prospectus’ Vukota projection system, the articles look at one player from each team who is projected to improve upon his GVT rating from the year before and one who is expected to fail to produce up to last season’s performance. Meanwhile, Craig Custance of ESPN identifies one prospect he believes could make a splash for his team.

Timo Seppa drew the Atlantic Division this year (here’s the post on ESPN.com) and his “trending up” choice for the Rangers is defenseman Marc Staal. Michael Del Zotto meanwhile is pegged to turn in a down season relative to his performance of a year ago. Custance concludes the piece writing about the Rangers 2011 1st round pick, JT Miller as a “player to watch.”

Today we’ll look at what Seppa says about Staal and what Vukota projects for the five year veteran defenseman. In a later post we’ll analyze Del Zotto under the same light.

Staal finished the 2011-2012 season with a very disappointing -0.4 GVT in an injury-shortened campaign. Obviously Staal’s absence due to post-concussion issues played a major role in his down performance. Upon his return he played much of the time on the third pair instead of in his customary role as a top-pair defenseman. Staal started to get his game going and consequently earned more ice time late in the regular season and into the playoffs where he played his best hockey of the season.

Seppa points out that by ’09-’10 Staal was a top-notch shutdown defender: “In 2009-10, Staal was a second-year player and only 22 years old, yet he was already one of the top-10 defensemen in the NHL by GVT. Called upon for all the tough defensive matchups — such as shutting down Alex Ovechkin — he was a legit No. 1 defenseman and formed an excellent shutdown duo with Dan Girardi throughout 2010-11.”

For 2012-2013 Vukota predicts Staal to post a GVT rating of 4.0. While that represents a sizable increase over last season, it’s still far off the GVT marks he recorded in ’09-’10 (9.0 GVT) and in ’10-’11 (8.7 GVT). In fact, Staal’s value defensively in ’09-’10 (5.7) and in ’10-’11 (6.0) was better than the 4.0 cumulative number projected by Vukota for the upcoming season.

Realistically, assuming Staal is healthy and returns to a top-four role, he should easily outperform Vukota’s conservative projection. Seppa covered that likelihood as well:” The bottom line is that, even with the emergence of Ryan McDonagh, Staal is a top-flight defenseman when healthy. It’s reasonable to expect Staal to blow away VUKOTA’s expectations if he’s fit to play.”

Seppa also points out that Staal received a heavily decreased amount of PP ice time last season than he did the prior year. In ’11-’12 he saw just 0:28 per game of man-advantage ice while the season before he was getting over 2 ½ minutes per contest. He did post a solid offensive GVT rating of 3.0 in ’10-’11 while finishing with a -1.6 offensive GVT this past season.

That suggests if Staal doesn’t return to a regular role on the Rangers man-advantage (and with Brad Richards, Del Zotto and Anton Stralman all returning that is a likely scenario) his overall GVT may suffer as a result. However Staal wasn’t a regular member of the ’09-’10 Ranger PP crew (0:39 per game) and he still finished that campaign with a 3.3 offensive GVT. That tells me he can contribute on offense, at least in terms of GVT, without a lot of PP ice time.

All the evidence points to a healthy Staal’s production returning to pre-2011-2012 levels assuming he’s healthy and able to play a full season. Count me along with Seppa as a believer that Staal will “blow away” his Vukota projections this coming year. A GVT approaching 10 sounds like a reasonable expectation if Staal is allowed to play all or at least most of the 2012-2013 season.




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