Keep Calm When Gio’s On: Truth Be Told

Photo courtesy of John Mahoney/The Gazette

It’s come to my attention in a big way that there is a disproportionately large number of fans among us who have really been bashing Canadiens’ captain Brian Gionta this season. I’ve heard he’s injury prone, he’s too old, he’s too small, he isn’t producing, cap hit’s too high etc. Essentially, I’ve heard a list of subjective reasons with no real quantifiable proof, besides of course the fact he “isn’t producing”, which these people will later regret even mentioning.

Brian Gionta has only played in 76% of the 294 Canadiens regular season games over the last 4 seasons. Any sane person will admit that having one bicep surgery is weird enough, but two of them? That has nothing to do with being prone to injury, that’s simply two freak occurrences.

I don’t even want to discuss Gio being “too old” or “too small”; how could anyone possibly have anything substantial to prove that?

As for his cap hit, it’s the last season of $5M. Bergevin could very easily re-sign him for less (although, when you see all the data that follows, you’ll realize #21 doesn’t deserve much less). Gionta was on pace for 37 goals in his first season as a Canadien while finishing with 28, he put up 29 in his second season, was on pace for 21 in his third season and finished with 8 goals in 31 games, and finally netted 14 last season, his fourth year, while being on pace for 24. Let’s not forget his 0.75 points/game in the playoffs for the Habs (which, prorated, would be a 62-point season). He’s essentially been the most productive offensively when it matters most. That equals good to me, and makes him worth his $5M per over the last 4 season. Good so far?

The thing that’s really off base is suggesting Gionta isn’t producing, or that he no longer can. Let’s first take a look at his usage, deployment, and possession numbers for this season.

In the following graph, the closer the player is to the top right corner, the better.

This outlines the players’ 5v5 percentage of shot attempts-for (CF%) versus their average quality of competition (QoC). It’s quite clear that Gionta and Plekanec face the toughest competition each and every night, and for Habs forwards, it isn’t really that close. For Gio and Pleks, this means consistent matchups with the Crosby’s, Datsyuk’s, Ovechkin’s and Eric Staal’s of the NHL; or more simply each team’s top offensive line.

Brian Gionta’s weighted TOI QoC ranks him 20th in the NHL among forwards who have played at least 28 games this season. The list of players who face tougher is astounding: Zetterberg, Marleau, Couture, Toews, Kunitz, Datsyuk, E. Staal, Crosby, Steen, Backes, Seguin, Benn, Oshie, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Little, Johansson, Dupuis and Plekanec. Unbelievable company. Yes, Gionta’s CF% is only better than Prust’s during 5v5 play, but Prust faces a significantly worse QoC (as do most Canadiens players). You could conclude that the most effective forward at 5v5 given the above data is one of Pacioretty, Gionta, Plekanec, or Gallagher this season.

As you may have guessed, players near the bottom left corner aren’t exactly “the cream of the crop”. It’s no surprise that you find Douglas Murray’s name there. (“But…he can hit and like…kill penalties and stuff.”)

In the following graph, the closer to the top left the player is, the more impressive they are.

This outlines the player’s 5v5 unblocked shot attempts-for during game situations where the score is tied in any period or within one goal in the first or second periods (5v5 FenClose%) versus their non-neutral zone offensive zone start percentage (O/D St%). The reason FenClose is used (and, in my opinion, is more important) is because it does a pretty good job of removing score effects wherein a team will go into a chip-out, chip-in defense/offense to protect a lead, or go all-out offensively because the game’s out of reach.

The only forward one could possibly say has been both more productive and relied on more heavily in important situations throughout the game other than Gionta is Travis Moen. Remember though from the first graph, Moen typically matches 3rd liners, while Gio’s accomplishing this versus top lines. #21 is carrying right around 50% of the possession while he’s on-ice in crucial game situations against the opposition’s top line. Very, very impressive.

Once again, players close to the bottom right corner are flat out awful. I’m not going to sugarcoat things here. It’s very obvious that not only is Murray the least trusted player on the Canadiens in close game situations, but he’s actually atrocious when given the opportunity. (“Uh, yeah but…he like…blocks shots goodly and things like that…”)

In the following graph, the closer the player is to the bottom right corner, the better.

Corsi Relative, which measures the difference between a player’s Corsi and the team’s Corsi when he’s on the bench, can be used for the player’s competition as well. If better players typically have the puck more often, and consequently take more shots, a player (Gionta) who sees an opposing team’s top lines each night should have a high Corsi Rel QoC rating. This graph illustrates a player’s QoC relative to their teammates, and I threw in the goals against per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time to see how successful these players are defensively.

As you can see, Gionta clearly plays far tougher competition than the Canadiens face when he’s off-ice (besides, of course, Tomas Plekanec) and he’s in with some excellent company, too. I just wanted to tell everyone that I’ve loved Logan Couture for a long, long time. That is all.

The two Canadiens players have the lowest GA/60 among these Top 15 NHL forwards in Corsi RelQoc (which makes sense, considering they play together). Need I say more?

Find me another Habs forward besides Plekanec (seems like I’m saying that a lot) that could skate those tough minutes and be effective. I dare you. The fact there’s absolutely no discussion ever about Gionta’s game in the defensive zone speaks volumes about how solid he is.

The below graph compares two Giontas: the one from the lockout shortened season last year and this season’s in 5 of the most important categories, in my opinion.

It appears to me that both Giontas are incredibly similar. The one from this season starts way less in the offensive zone yet has a slightly better FenClose with only a meagre difference in points per game. Literally, Gionta was on pace for 44 points last season, and he’s prepared to just clear 42 this season (42.17). The biggest difference is in his points per 60 minutes of ice time, which could be attributed to the decreased percentage of shifts in the offensive zone, or just simply a slight affect from his surgery. All in all, he looks darn near identical to last season’s version, only better defensively.

So, to sum up: Gionta plays the toughest minutes on the Canadiens, the majority of those minutes being in the defensive end, while being most productive when the game’s close, and still managing a respectable 1.20 points/60 (good for 8th on the Habs – ahead of Pacioretty, Subban and Desharnais). What kind of unrealistic expectations do some folks have of Gionta? That seems like more than a $5M player to me.

Hold on just a hot second – I’m confused now; why is he being criticized?

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18 Responses to Keep Calm When Gio’s On: Truth Be Told

  1. If he is resigned at a lower salary and for less than 3 years, that would be a good start. But what I really want is to take the C away from him. Why? Because Therrien will always keep him in his top6 while he has the C and Gio would be at his place on the third line. We need someone who can produce more on the top 2 line’s wings. Yeah his production is not
    bad, but what I got from you wrote is that he still has a high defensiv upside. Lets use that, put him with eller and let someone with a bit more talent and vigor play on or offensive lines. We would need to find that player (within or outside the organization) but thats another subject. Point is, Gio is fine, but hes not at his place on a team’s top 2 lines anymore, and his C prevents Therrien to act on that (for some honor reason or whatever)

    max December 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm Reply
    • I’d have to disagree with the majority of what you’re saying.

      Therrien utilizes Gionta as part of a shutdown pair with Plekanec. Gionta is third in team scoring this season and Pleka ec is first. I’m not sure how people can’t see how impressive that is.
      Removing Gionta from that line causes an unnecessary chain reaction of line juggling that could very well lead to more goals against. Montreal has enough solid forwards in their top 9 to construct a shutdown line like Plekanec/Gionta and two softer minutes lines that can take advantage of weaker competition. Not having to worry much about the opposition’s top lines is a key, as well.

      The Canadiens’ problem right now is puck moving from the back-end and running around in the defensive end; they’re being pinned in their own end to often which results in far fewer offensive opportunities to capitalize on.

      Curtis Kinden December 19, 2013 at 9:41 pm Reply
  2. Great article. I’ve rediscovered my love for Giontas play recently and this article proves my feelings are just.

    I, too, thought that Gionta was on the downhill portion of his career and his best days were left in Jersey. However, looking at some of his numbers, especially playoffs, his 0.522 Pts/gm as a Devil are strikingly similar to his 0.525 Pts/gm average as a Canadien. Now this doesn’t come close to his JrA playoffs in 1997 where he recorded 17 pts in 6 games, it is still pretty respectable. Especially given Montreals low-scoring shut-down offense (similar to the Devils during his years there as well). While unfounded by stats, I would estimate that this would involve Gio in ~25% of Montreals scoring.

    As for stripping Gio of the Captaincy, I really don’t see the need. Therien doesn’t keep him on the top-lines because of the C, it is simply due to his reliable play. Further, captaincy is about leadership which I think has little to do with on-ice statistics but is more about what he contributes to the team in the locker room as well as on the bench. I agree that he isn’t as high profile as some of the other team captains (Crosby, Toews, Chara, Benn, Getzlaf) but the Canadiens simply do not have a player on their roster that is. Subban may get there but he still has a lot to learn from a guy like Gionta.

    Hopefully they can sign him for around 3 mil. we’re going to need all the cap room we can get to keep Markov and Subban, which is the best PP tandem int he NHL in my opinion, although we’ll see tonight vs. Keith and Seabrook

    Jason January 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm Reply
    • The only reason the C should be taken from him is because Therrien seems to shy away from removing him from the top 6. Gionta is still a good defensive foward who reads the plays and uses his smarts and hands to mildly contribute to the score board. Having said that, there should not be room for players who have 7 goals in 40+ games on our top 2 lines. Same reason why Bourque has no business being in top 6 either. See I dont have Gio, I just feel that 1. Hes paid too much for what hes giving us in term of numbers. 2. If you’re going to keep him at lower salary, he DOES NOT belong in the top 6. I would much prefer they play galchy or bournival, a kid that has nowhere to go but up.

      max January 11, 2014 at 1:56 pm Reply
      • “1. Hes paid too much for what hes giving us in term of numbers”

        Brian Gionta has more points than any forward who isn’t named Plekanec or Pacioretty. How isn’t he contributing enough “in terms of numbers”? On the Habs, he’s scoring like a top 6 (or more specifically, a top 3).
        Montreal’s 21st in the NHL in GF. It isn’t as if they’re some top flight offense and Gionta’s lagging behind. He’s playing two main roles in one and doing it extremely well.

        Tonight against the Hawks, Moen-Plekanec-Gionta were matched against Sharp-Toews-Hossa-Keith-Seabrook essentially all night. and they did a spectacular job. That frees up Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher and Eller-revolving door of wingers to play softer minutes. That’s a huge, huge benefit.

        Curtis Kinden January 11, 2014 at 11:30 pm Reply
        • Your Habs vs Hawks argument shows exactly what I am saying, hes a good defensive player Who should be on the 3rd line, as its your third line who is suppose to counter the opponents best line, not your second. Second line shoild score goals and Gionta is NOT doing that. 7 goals in 45 game is mediocre for a top 6 player. Feeding plekanec sure has given him his fair share of assists, but Bournival could have done the same (as he has proven when put on the second line) while scoring more goals. Heck we could have recalled Leblanc r Andrighetto and they surely would have scpred more than 7 goals playing with plekanec. Gionta does NOT belong on a scring line, but on a checking line as he has proven against the a Hawks.

          max January 11, 2014 at 11:39 pm Reply
          • First of all, Bournival wouldn’t take Gionta’s place on the line. Gionta is a RW and Bournival is a LW, so he would be added to that line.

            Since when is the third line supposed to shutdown the opponent’s top line? I’ve rarely heard that before. If that was the case, then there would be a ton of third liners with high quality of competition numbers, right? That would only make sense given the logic you’re suggesting.

            I’ll give you the current top 30: Datsyuk, Kunitz, Toews, Couture, Crosby, Marleau, Backes, Steen, Dupuis, Oshie, E.Staal, Seguin, Hossa, Benn, Backstrom, Ovechkin, Johansson, Sharp, Little, Perry, Getzlaf, Landeskog, Plekanec, Gionta, Parise, Okposo, Tavares, Stastny, Vanek, H.Sedin.

            Those look like all top line players to me. Want to know why that is? Because the best players on each and every team are the ones that still produce while being matched against the best players on each and every other team. Gionta is producing as a top 6 forward; that’s indisputable. No one’s going to jump on Thornton’s back because of his measly 5 goals, are they? No, they aren’t. Want to know why? Because Burns/Herlt are scoring on that line. Don’t devalue assists. That line for the Sharks has 34 goals this year. Galchenyuk-Plekanec-Gionta has produced 31. And San Jose’s scored 27 more goals this season. I don’t see the problem, here.

            I’ll go a step further and give you the next 20 players after H.Sedin for toughest quality of competition this season:

            M.Koivu, Duchene, Hopkins, Wheeler, J.Thornton, D.Sedin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Ladd, O’Reilly, Kopitar, St.Louis, Fisher, Giroux, Hall, van Riemsdyk, Bertuzzi, Kesler, Read, Iginla.

            Again, 1st liners and some 2nd liners. I’m not sure what you’re trying to get it, but Gionta is perfect and really effective right where he is; among the best in the NHL, actually.

            Curtis Kinden January 12, 2014 at 1:44 am
          • I’m not sure what you mean by “high quality of competition numbers”. You’ve basically named(most of) the best fowards in the league in terms of productivity. If you truly believe that Gionta’s name belong in the same category as all the other names there, then I don’t think I need to spend more time discussing this. Speaking for myself, I believe that Gionta has nothing dto do on a scoring line. You compare him to Thornton is terms of value of assists… Granted assists are to be valued, but at his age, with his size, and his goal count, having a decent amount of assists hardly justifies keeping him in the top 6. Thornton is a big passing center who has to potential to reach 100+ points per season. Maybe more towards 80+ at his age but even then, that is still WAY more than Gionta could achieve. Comparing those 2 players is like comparing Desharnais with Toews.

            Fact is this, there is a good chance Bergevin wont resign Gionta at the end of his contract. If that’s the case, then I guess he would have felt too that he can use his money on better, more productive fowards. If he decides to resign him, it would be (most probably) in order to fill in a hole until a more talented player or prospect can take his place. Hopefully at a cheaper salary.

            Max January 12, 2014 at 2:20 am
          • In response to Max’s most recent comment:

            I wasn’t comparing the two players, I was comparing the goal counts of both players. You’re suggesting that 7 goals in 45 games isn’t enough for a top 6 forward, yet Thornton has 5 in 45 and that’s okay. That’s a double standard and illogical.

            In terms of QoC (quality of competition), you can find those numbers here:

            And yes, Gionta and Plekanec are both right there. They both consistently match the opposition’s top forwards, as do all the players on that list.

            Curtis Kinden January 12, 2014 at 2:28 am
  3. It is OK that Thornton has only 5 goals because he contributes in so many other ways. He can rack up from 80 to 100+ point per season, he plays physical, wins faceoffs and well defensively. Gionta will never make that many point in a season, he is the least physical player in the league, doesnt defend his teammates, doesnt take faceoffs… Yes he is somewhat reliable defensively, but that alone and his assist count does not justify his spot on our top 6.

    Max January 12, 2014 at 3:42 am Reply
    • In other words, when evaluating Thornton’s production it’s okay to use points because he’s capable of 80-100, but in regards to Gionta it’s strictly forbidden because he isn’t capable of it? Come on Max, can’t you see how illogical that sounds?

      First of all, forget about Gionta, when was the last time a Canadien even put up 80 points? Kovalev like a bajillion years ago? So, it’s unfair to expect any Montreal Canadien, let alone just Gionta, to put up anywhere near that number of points. Extremely unfair. They have a balanced offense, similar to the Bruins. You’re not going to see Habs players putting up that amount of points. Rarely will you see a Canadien forward even top 20 minutes of ice time, meanwhile the top lines of other teams regularly see those minutes.

      Thornton plays as physical as Pacioretty does. His physicality isn’t anything to gloat about whatsoever. Just because Thornton’s big, doesn’t mean he’s throwing his weight around (which he doesn’t). Your exaggeration doesn’t exactly help your stance.
      I’ll ignore faceoffs because we’re discussing two players that play different positions (even though I specifically said that I wasn’t comparing players, just the goal totals of those players).
      Gionta doubles the amount of SH TOI that Thornton receives because Gionta is better defensively. He isn’t “somewhat reliable defensively”, he’s solid defensively. Thornton skates twice as much PP TOI as Gionta does.

      You can’t evaluate Gionta in comparison to what a typical top 6 forward would look like, because every team has different systems, every team utilizes their players differently and every team has a different makeup.

      So, if Gionta had 3 more goals this season and 3 less assists, everything would be okay in your mind? That would place Gionta in the exact same spot point-wise, but with 10 goals instead. Would that be okay? I’m struggling to understand what your problem is with 7 goals when he’s the third highest point-producing forward on the Habs while playing the toughest minutes.

      Curtis Kinden January 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm Reply
      • I feel like this argument has gone beyond my point of interest. Bottom line is you are fine having Gionta in your top 6. I am not. Havaing the best of the worst doesn’t make it any less worst. yes he is third among our fowards in points, doesn’t change the fact that his offense production is not that of a top 6 player, whatever system you are playing. Anyway, Bergevin stated himself again that he building through draft and development and that he’s going for the long run. Meaning Gionta wont be part of the team when it’s finally ready to contend. In the meantime, he can play as our top line center for all it matters.

        Max January 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm Reply
        • “…doesn’t change the fact that his offense production is not that of a top 6 player.”

          Yes, it is on the Canadiens, because the Habs aren’t littered with Top 6 forwards capable of playing a shutdown role while still producing. If his production isn’t that of a Top 6 forward, why is his production top 3 on the Canadiens? I’m really sorry, but what you’re saying doesn’t even come remotely close to making sense.

          I know now that your problem isn’t with Gionta; it’s with any older forward that’s undersized. This can’t have anything to do with Gionta’s production, because if it did, you’d be livid with essentially every other current/potential Top 6 forward on the Canadiens besides Plekanec and Pacioretty; those are the only forwards out-producing Gio.

          If you’re expecting top-end numbers for Canadiens forwards, you aren’t going to get it. Montreal is simply a balanced attack which results in diminished numbers. Once you understand and accept that, you’ll begin to realize how important Gionta’s been during his time wearing the CH.

          Curtis Kinden January 13, 2014 at 4:15 pm Reply
          • This may be the way things are right now, and it also may be why we never come close to the stanley cup finals. Boston may be balanced, but they have a top 6 that has a great mix of Size, talent and grit. Lucic, Krejci, Iginla, Marchand, Bergerons and Eriksson are miles ahead of MTL’s top 6. When you have such players, you can win a cup without having a Crosby or Toews… Same with the Kings, or the Blues, who also have a balanced top 6 (no superstars) but the quality of those balanced top 6 is way beyond montreal’s. I am hoping that we will either build a better “balanced team” or that we will have surging prospects who will be able to put up numbers in to 70+ once fully developped.

            When all said and done, yes, you can say that my real beef is not so much with Gionta being in the top 6 NOW, just that he would not belong in a top 6 that has the potential to contend for the cup. And I guess I’m excited to finally have one of those (contenting teams) in Montreal.

            Max January 13, 2014 at 4:25 pm
          • Just to clarify, when I said “And I guess I’m excited to finally have one of those (contenting teams) in Montreal.” I meant in the future, not now, as our current team does NOT have what it takes to contend, not by a mile.

            Max January 13, 2014 at 4:31 pm
    • Max, did you just say that the Kings have no stars? The fact that you so tremendously underrate Anze Kopitar speaks volumes to your ability to evaluate talent.

      Kopitar is easily one of the top two-way forwards in the entire NHL. He’s a top 10 overall player in the West for sure and very very easily top 20 in the NHL. His 0.95 points/game over the past 4 seasons is tied for 17th in the NHL with Jonathan Toews. He’s a top 3 possession player in the NHL. Kopitar is sensational.

      After a misevaluation that bad, I don’t believe there’s any reason to continue, here.

      Curtis Kinden January 14, 2014 at 9:28 am Reply
  4. First of all, there no need to start using personal attacks to pressure your opinions. I could say that many opinions you expressed speak volume to me as of why you don’t know what you are talking about, yet I indulge you and continu this conversation for the simple fact that I enjoy talking about hockey with other fans. No need for phrases such as “speaks volumes to your ability to evaluate talent”

    Second, you failed to comment my actual point that having a balanced top 6 with quality players is completely different then a “balanced” top 6 with average to mediocre players. All you did was focus on the fact that I said the Kings have a balanced top 6 with superstars. Yes, Kopitar is an amazing player but not a superstar. We have been using the whole 80+ point as a base argument from the start. Kopitar has only had 1 season of 80+ point (81 to be exact). All this to say that it sure seems you are knitting and picking to find the smallest pharses to argue about while missing the actual point of the post. Some would see this as a quick way out of a debate you know you have lost. The phrase “After a misevaluation that bad, I don’t believe there’s any reason to continue, here” sure points to that theory.

    In any case, Gionta is NOT a quality top 6 player, as Bourque is not and as Desharnais is not. All teams who have potential to be contenders are either carried by a few star players (Caps, Pits, Ducks), or have a balanced team of quality players (Boston, Blues, Kings) OR have both (Chicago). Habs are in none of those categories for the moment. I believe Bergevin will get us there with good and carefull drafting and developing. Only the future will tell.

    Max January 14, 2014 at 11:57 am Reply
    • That wasn’t a personal attack at all. The fact that we’ve been going back and forth for days should indicate that there’s a discepancy here and you should be well aware that I’m a little skeptical about your ability to evaluate players. Just because I wrote a sentence that vaguely suggests it doesn’t come even remotely close to being a personal attack. Give me a break.

      Kopitar is a star. That’s indisputable. You mention the Ducks as having “a few star players.” Who are they exactly? Because, Getzlaf’s averaged 0.97 points/game over the past 4 seasons, a mere 0.02 points/game more than Kopitar. That solidifies Ryan Getzlaf as a star and leaves Kopitar behind? Unfortunately, that’s illogical. I presume since you made it plural (a few star players) you’re also including the guy on Anaheim who’s averaged 0.94 points/game over the past 4 seasons: Corey Perry. In other words, a guy who’s clearly less consistent than Kopitar and not known for his two-way play is a star but Kopitar, who IS known for his two-way play and averages more points-per-game, isn’t? I find that hard to understand.
      You also mention the Hawks as having a “few” star players. Only Kane (0.99) averages more points/game over the past 4 seasons than Kopitar. Toews is equal to Kopitar, Hossa’s at 0.89 while Sharp’s at 0.88. How could you POSSIBLY consider anyone other than Kane a “star player” and not include Kopitar? I’m beginning to think you may not be thinking about what you’re saying prior to writing it. This isn’t knit-picking, this is pointing out faults in your argument that you’re attempting to use to your benefit.

      I ignored your “point” about having a balanced top 6 because that has nothing to do with this article or our discussion. Our debate is solely about Brian Gionta and how since the point in which he signed his contract up until this very day, he’s been a legitimate (and at most times, excellent) contributor to the MONTREAL CANADIENS’ top 6. That’s what this is about. That’s all this is about. If you notice, I began this piece comparing Gionta to the rest of the MONTREAL CANADIENS. Because he’s unnecessarily taking heat for his play when it is very clearly among the best on the Habs (and extremely similar to his play last season when he wasn’t taking heat…strange). I expanded the comparisons to the rest of the league with similar usage to Gionta’s simply to show everyone where he stacks up among the rest of the NHL in the role he’s been given by Therrien. He’s succeeds rather well there, too.

      In any case, Gionta is a GREAT top 6 player for the Canadiens. I’ve proven that over and over and I’m beginning to get a little tired of repeating myself. Gionta is even a good 2nd line forward on the majority of the teams in the NHL given how he’s produced on a bottom 10 GF/game team while skating excruciatingly tought minutes.

      P.S. Since we’re pointing out things the other person didn’t acknowledge – you didn’t acknowledge when I told you that team’s don’t regularly use their 3rd line as a shutdown line. The Leafs like to, which is nonsensical, but rarely do you see that anymore. I’m telling you this to help you. If I were you, I wouldn’t say that aggin from this point forward.

      Curtis Kinden January 14, 2014 at 12:52 pm Reply

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