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?