2011-12 Canadiens Review: Second Line Forwards

Ezra Shaw

One of the most long lasting effects of the 2011-12 season was the constant line juggling at forward, particularly when it came to secondary scoring. Here's a look at the players that competed for Montreal at a level expected of a second line forward.

In examining the 2011-12 season in excruciating detail, I've come up with an approximate ranking for the overall value of each forward who played in the NHL last year. For the Canadiens, this was a particularly painful exercise. In the end, the Canadiens only had two forwards that cracked the top 90 at even strength, Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole. The next group, the second line forwards (91st-180th), also ended with only two forwards that finished the year in a Canadiens uniform. What started as a promising season with depth at forward ended with only four legitimate top six forwards on the team. A major injury and two trades (players included below) prevented the Canadiens from having more.

ES Scoring Rankings - Forward
Player ES Mins ES TOI/GP ESG/60 ESA/60 ESP/60 ESG ESA ESP Score
David Desharnais 59 96 245 73 124 138 34 65 5.0
Tomas Plekanec 73 115 346 201 275 214 115 159 4.0
Mike Cammalleri 180 107 64 313 168 63 217 144 4.0
Andrei Kostitsyn 174 175 219 126 154 175 108 138 4.0

Desharnais and Plekanec both played a lot of even strength minutes, probably even more after the trades of Cammalleri and Kositsyn. Desharnais managed to respond to that increased ice time with a similar increase in production. Plekanec, however, could not increase his production. In fact, in a per 60 minute rate, his even strength production was way down at 275th in the NHL, which would place him as one of the top fourth liners in the league. However, due to the high volume of ice time he got, he still did produce numbers you'd expect of a low end second liner at even strength. It wasn't a pretty year for Plekanec scoring wise, that's for sure.

Of course, a big reason for that would be the two players listed below him. Mike Cammalleri's trade mid-season and Andrei Kostitsyn's trade later in the year deprived Plekanec of the only two other wingers that were legitimate top six forwards last year. How no NHL teams found Kostitsyn worthy of a contract this offseason is quite perplexing, even though we all know the alleged baggage that follows him. Cammalleri lost some time due to injury this year, but still managed to score goals at a first line forward rate.

Next, we have a look at how the forwards did given the context provided by fancystats (a glossary of the terms used can be viewed here). I've provided both their overall rank (out of 597 forwards) and their rank amongst their peer group by minutes played, which is provided in brackets. That means that Desharnais and Plekanec were compared to first line forwards (top 90 in minutes played), while Cammalleri and Kostitsyn were compared to the second line forwards (91-180). Both groups are ranked from 1 to 90.

ES Advanced Stats Rankings - Forwards
Player Corsi Rel QOC Pen Diff ZS% PDO Corsi On Rel Corsi Goal Diff Avg On Rel GDA Fenwick On/60 Rel Fen Score Adv + Scoring Final Rank
David Desharnais 317 (87) 129 (27) 351 (42) 96 (10) 303 (68) 201 (55) 87 (19) 52 (4) 326 (70) 219 (52) 4.0 9.0 98
Tomas Plekanec 80 (30) 525 (90) 102 (4) 381 (71) 402 (80) 353 (81) 451 (87) 452 (87) 422 (84) 363 (81) 4.0 8.0 149
Mike Cammalleri 38 (8) 89 (12) 349 (54) 248 (46) 390 (73) 303 (56) 340 (68) 248 (45) 456 (80) 361 (65) 4.0 8.0 138
Andrei Kostitsyn 237 (63) 396 (61) 390 (64) 185 (30) 343 (61) 287 (50) 199 (35) 205 (34) 341 (54) 283 (48) 4.0 8.0 135

This is where my scoring probably gets confusing to the naked eye. When you're dealing with 597 different lines of data, and judging the productivity based on that, it becomes a bit more obvious to discern who is a first, second, or third line forward. If you compare Desharnais' stat line here to Cole or Pacioretty's from the first article, you'll notice that he significantly under-performed those two in these metrics despite facing similar levels of competition and zone starts. Desharnais also had a high luck factor in his scoring (10th in PDO), which also influenced his goal differential while on the ice. In reality, he didn't perform as one would expect given his softer level of competition in terms of puck possession, and so I had to penalize his score as a result and award him a second line grade.

Plekanec had the opposite problem. He faced a fairly high level of competition and extremely tough zone starts compared to other forwards with top line minutes. However, he finished at the bottom of most possession categories, unable to rise up to the challenge. His terrible penalty differential was definitely a factor in marking him down as a second line level even strength contributor as well.

Cammalleri was on Plekanec's line in Montreal, and that's probably why he has a high overall Corsi Rel QOC ranking. In the end, however, Cammalleri came out much better than Plekanec, but starting at 180th in minutes played he needed quite an impressive showing to be considered for a first line score, and he definitely did not meet any exceptional standard in terms of possession. Andrei Kostitsyn didn't play a lot with Plekanec, but he did play well facing middle of the lineup competition. His numbers were similar to Desharnais in terms of output, and he got a second line scoring as well.

Comparables and Conclusions

At 98th overall amongst forwards, Desharnais was comparable to some pretty quality players around the NHL in 2011-12. High profile wingers like Daniel Alfredsson (96th) and Alexander Semin (95th) similarly did well in terms of scoring at a high rate despite only performing moderately well possession wise. As far as centers go, Desharnais finished with one direct comparable, once hotly coveted by Canadiens fans, in Vincent Lecavalier (101st). Lecavalier took on a bit tougher of competition than Desharnais but was nowhere near as proficient scoring wise. Considering the salary discrepancy between the two, I think we can be quite thankful Lecavalier never did don the CH. Detroit's Jiri Hudler and Nashville's Martin Erat finished one spot ahead and one spot behind Desharnais in the overall rankings.

Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Cammalleri's total output can be compared to each other, as they finished 135th and 138th overall, but how they arrived at those placings doesn't really compare. Ryan Malone of Tampa (128th) was similar in terms of usage, scoring, and possession to Kostitsyn. Likewise Dan Cleary of Detroit (136th) had similar usage, better raw possession numbers, but similar in terms of the relative metrics as Cleary played on a top possession team overall. Cammalleri's most apt comparables appear to be Michael Grabner of the Islanders (142nd) and R.J. Umberger of the Blue Jackets (146th). Stretching things quite a bit one could make the argument that Cammalleri was a lesser version of Ryan Callahan of the Rangers (122nd) in 2011-12.

Tomas Plekanec's best moments on the ice in 2011-12 were at special teams. Ranking 148th in even strength performance is definitely a down point in his career. In some ways, a good comparable to Plekanec's season was Mike Richards (155th) of the Kings, who also had a tough regular season. Brandon Dubinsky of the Rangers (143rd) was another name that came up in a similar range with similar circumstances. In terms of overall forward ranking, with special teams performance included, Plekanec will be gaining some spots in the rankings. One can see the effects that playing tough minutes with little support had on Plekanec. Unlike what happened with Richards in Los Angeles, though, Plekanec's support got weaker as the year went on, rather than receiving a significant boost near the end of the season.

Again, these rankings aren't meant to be definitive, but to give an approximation of value.

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