When we last read Neil Greenberg's "Top 25 Players Under 25" list for ESPN.com, he had omitted New York Islanders star John Tavares from the ranking and caused announcer Howie Rose to call him a "housebound agorophobe." Which seems harsh.
Greenberg, a hockey stats analyst, has updated the list on ESPN.com (reg. required); it measures "career-to-date performance in the regular season and the playoffs" through both traditional and advanced stats. It also leaves any player turning 25 before Feb. 1 ineligible, hence no Sidney Crosby or Nicklas Backstrom or Claude Giroux; it also dismisses last year's rookies due to sample size, hence no Gabriel Landeskog, despite his being, you know, Gabriel Landeskog.
Here is Greenberg's Top 25 Under 25 (ESPN Insider), with No. 1 Mr. Toews repeating in that spot:
1. C Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks, 24
2. C Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, 22
3. C Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks, 23
4. C Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes, 24
5. C John Tavares, New York Islanders, 22
6. RW Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, 24
7. LW Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers, 21
8. D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings,
9. D Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators, 22
10. LW Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins, 24
11. D Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues, 23
12. C Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins, 21
13. LW Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars, 23
14. LW David Perron, St. Louis Blues, 24
15. RW Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes, 20
16. D Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning, 22
17. LW Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins, 24
18. C Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers, 23
19. C Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets, 21
20. D Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues, 24
21. C Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers, 22
22. C Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues, 24
23. G Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche, 24
24. D Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres, 22
25. LW Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers, 24
In the article's comments, Greenberg said that both Ryan McDonough and Oliver Ekman-Larsson didn't have "a large enough track record." Take that as you will. Or, if you're like us, wonder where the [expletive] they are on this list, especially in the case of the latter.
How did Tavares get on the list? How did Marchand rank above his Bruins teammates? Good questions.
The rationale from Greenberg on Tavares:
Regarded by many as an egregious omission on last year's list, Tavares went on to score 21 points (eight goals and 13 assists) over 12 games just days after the list came out, eventually setting career bests in goals (31), assists (50) and points (81). The No. 1 pick in 2009 was always a terrific point producer, but he developed more of a two-way game last season, leading the team in driving puck possession (relative Corsi 10.6) to the point that even a "housebound agraphobe [sic]" couldn't leave him off this list twice.
If that last point was the determining factor for Tavares being either fifth overall or off the list entirely, then it's a specious bit of evidence. Lighthouse Hockey was one of the sites that took on Tavares' snub last season, and spells out the curious Relative Corsi argument:
When dealing with possession numbers like Corsi, one needs to take into account context. What this means is that you can't simply use Corsi without taking into account the situations a player is put in when he's on the ice. Corsi and possession numbers don't measure a player's performance directly - like +/-, they measure the performance of the player's team while the player is on the ice. Thus to truly figure out a player's value, one needs to account for things such as competition and TEAMMATES.
… One standard way of doing this is not to look at standard corsi, but RELATIVE corsi, which compares how a team does with that player ON the ice to how the team does with the player off the ice. And once you do, Tavares stands out as the top player on the Isles (or basically tied with Parenteau). Now this isn't as impressive as it sounds - just as with his scoring, Tavares' extra offensive zone faceoffs mean that his possession numbers by definition are going to be above the team's average or at least should be.
But Tavares' relative corsi is at WORST no less than what we'd expect from an average defender with Tavares' favorable minutes. In fact - while I'm not doing the math right now - these numbers are probably above average., In other words, while Tavares may not be extremely proficient at driving possession, he's more than solid (at worst you can go with average, and that's pushing it given the competition Tavares faces). You can give some other players bonuses for D...but you can't ding Tavares.
Sorry for the gluttonous text block from Lighthouse Hockey, but it serves to add valuable context to Greenberg's argument, which succeeds in explaining why Tavares belongs on the latest list but fails to justify his exclusion previously as anything more than an attention-grabber.
Speaking of which, here's why Brad Marchand is better than Tyler Seguin:
Marchand is a two-way player who logged 17:37 per game for Boston, including 2:09 with the man advantage and 1:23 with the penalty-killing unit, and notched his second straight 20-plus goal season. His most frequent linemates, Selke winner Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin, have been on the ice for more shots at net with Marchand than without him.
Will Seguin be a better player than Marchand in the long run? Of course, even taking into account the Nose Face Killah's intangibles as a pest.
But this ranking is meant to be a snapshot of these players at this moment. The argument here, it seems, is that Marchand's body of work, defensive credentials and (one assumes) stellar postseason in the Bruins' Cup year powers him ahead of Seguin. Along with his bar dancing.
This runs counter to the optics from last season — that Seguin became a star and Marchand regressed from the promise of his playoff run — but it's not an unsound argument given where the players are today.
Now … are either of them that much better than Lucic?
What are your thoughts on the list?