It started with a simple question, like most non-newsy blog posts do. In this case, I was wondering which of the Columbus Blue Jackets were the greatest beneficiaries – performance-wise – of the coaching switch from Scott Arniel to Todd Richards.
So I mined the game statistics and compared, on a per-game basis, how Columbus’ top players did under Arniel and then under Richards. I arbitrarily drew the line at 10 points over the course of the entire season and skipped players who either were gone by the end of the season (Vermette, Pahlsson, Carter, etc.) or had no playing record under Scott Arniel (Jack Johnson). No point in comparing the former, and nothing to compare with on the latter.
The numbers below represent simple arithmetic. They take the per-game numbers under Richards and subtract the per-game numbers under Arniel. If a number is greater than zero, it means that the particular statistic was higher under Richards. If it is less than zero, it was higher under Arniel.
This exercise is intended to uncover which players improved their games under Richards, and by how much. It is not a suggestion of who the team’s best players – or worst players – are. For example, if you were scoring at a point-a-game level under Arniel and stayed consistent under Richards, you’d have “zero” numbers on this spreadsheet…but you’d still be a pretty darned good hockey player.
(If the spreadsheet doesn’t load, try refreshing your page.)
It’s a dangerous thing, putting statistics out for public consumption. For while the numbers are incontrovertible facts, the explanations for why statistics are what they are can lead us down a whole host of rabbit holes. Every statistic tells a story, and that story can be interpreted through an infinite number of lenses. I’ll share what I see in this statistical comparison between the Arniel and Richards regimes and encourage you to offer your thoughts in the comments.
1. FORWARD SCORING: When you look at the team’s “top six” forwards under Richards – Nash, Brassard, Umberger, Letestu, Prospal and Atkinson – five of them saw improved productivity.
R.J. Umberger was by far the greatest beneficiary on the scoring front among the forwards, improving by nearly a quarter goal per game (or an extra goal every 4 games – which works out to roughly 20 more goals over 82 games than we could have expected under Arniel!). Was it Todd Richards, or did R.J. just bust out of his slump?
On the assists front, both Derick Brassard and Cam Atkinson saw marked improvement in their games.
Of the top six, only Vinny Prospal saw his production drop. Were his legs getting tired as the season wore on, or was he busy as on-ice mentor for the likes of Cam Atkinson? Or was there something to Richards’ scheme that slowed him down?
2. DEFENSIVE SCORING: Scoring-capable blue liners must be loving Todd Richards. Look at Nikita Nikitin and James Wisniewski’s (even David Savard’s) scoring improvement. A .10 improvement like Savard’s works out to 8 more goals for a full season, and Nikitin’s .17 improvement equates to 14 more goals on the campaign.
3. PLUS-MINUS: I know there’s a healthy debate over the plus-minus statistic, but you can’t help but see the correlation between scoring and effect on plus-minus. (For those who don’t know what it is, Wikipedia has a nice explanation of plus-minus.) Those whose scoring point totals improved under Richards saw their plus-minus improve (in Atkinson’s case, a lot!). Those whose productivity dropped off saw the plus-minus dip.
4. PENALTY MINUTES (PIMs): Derek Dorsett went to the penalty box more under Richards. So there’s that.
5. SHIFTS: Mark Letestu, with over 4 more shifts per game under Richards than Arniel, can’t say he didn’t have every opportunity to shine. On a more positive note, Derick Brassard and Cam Atkinson made more of their two-plus additional shifts per game.
Here’s a nugget to chew on: The most improved goal scorers – Umberger, Nikitin and Wisniewski – all saw their shifts per game drop. Do we chalk up their productivity improvements to fresh legs? (Or do we risk heaping yet more credit on the shoulders of minute-munching Jack Johnson?)
6. IT PROBABLY WASN’T FUN TO BE RYAN JOHANSEN: Look at his numbers. Need I say more?
Those are my observations. What do you make of how the change in coaching affected the players?