After the Dallas Stars lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night Bob Sturm posted this question about Jason Spezza and Valeri Nichushkin:
I don’t really remember when this was. Maybe it was prior to this season? Some people thought (not necessarily Bob) that Nichushkin would return from Russia to magically score at a significantly higher rate than he ever did on either continent. Oddly enough that hasn’t been the case.
Komrade Val aside, Spezza has been fine I think. He isn’t the dominant Spezza of yesteryear, but he can still be a valuable player. The problem is that he needs players with him who can finish after he gets the puck in the zone.
The data collected by Corey Sznajder is invaluable. He gets everything from zone entries and exits to shot contributions. He has about ten percent of the season done so this isn’t complete data yet. However, the data he has does show Spezza to be a competent player.
Let’s start with shot contributions. These were visualized by a CJ Turturo Tableau. We’re looking at these on a per hour basis. The green bar is shots taken. Spezza is clearly behind most of the Stars forwards in shot generation, but he’s high on this list from Shot Assists, or shots his passes set up.
In 2017 Spezza was in the 90th percentile of shots per hour. Last year he dropped to the 55th percentile. This year he’s at the 22nd percentile. This tells me that Spezza, at this stage of his career, needs players on his wings who can finish to be productive. He’s still setting shots up, but he either isn’t or can’t get his shot off at a high level anymore.
His three most consistent linemates have been Devin Shore, Mattias Janmark, and Jamie Benn. Based on the image above Janmark should be the kind of shooter to do well with Spezza, but I wonder if he is being too selective.
Janmark’s heat map from Hockeyviz shows that when he is on the ice the Stars get in real close on the right side for attempts. Just about everywhere else is a disaster. If you’re being selective and the team can’t score then maybe throw a few more shots on net.
Another note with Janmark is that he has 6.33 Individual Expected Goals (ixG) at even strength. That’s good for 5th on the team out of the forwards, and basically tied with Alexander Radulov. Janmark is only shooting 4.5% though after shooting 14.5% through two seasons. He’s due for a little bit of puck luck eventually you’d think.
Benn also definitely seems like the kind of shooter who needs to be with a playmaker like Spezza, but if neither can drive the play anymore how do they get into scoring position? The roster has some poor fits at this stage due to not being really prepared for the natural aging curve.
Janmark enters the offensive zone with possession as well as any forward on the roster. Spezza and Shore are both also in the top five. Shoot the puck guys.
Benn sits at 8th on this list. I still wonder how much of that is Seguin and Radulov always having the puck, but regardless he’s low on the list. At this point he probably needs to stay with them to maximize his production. Janmark with Spezza is a good fit, but they have to get someone who can put some pucks in the net on the line.
Andrew Cogliano improved the roster, but he isn’t that guy. This line’s problem isn’t getting into the offensive zone. The problem is getting pucks on net and finishing. I don’t think Spezza is done. I think he may be done scoring many goals at even strength, but his time as a useful NHL player isn’t over.