Jagr better for Bruins than Iginla? Statistical analysis of 2013 NHL trade deadline

Good linkbait and clickbait pieces after the draft, the free agent frenzy and the trade deadline focus on "winners" and "losers" of such days, eons before the acquired players pay off or flop. Unfortunately, such calls can be made by pundits who may not be paying attention to the process or rationale behind such moves, but rather simply on the position of the players on the move.

For instance… does Pittsburgh need defence? Yes. Is Doug Murray a defenceman? Yes. Did Pittsburgh improve their defence by acquiring Douglas Murray? Probably not. A big defenceman, Murray is also technically limited at this point in his career and it's showed on the scoreboard.

If you look a little deeper into Murray's numbers in San Jose, you'll find signs of a player on a decline, possibly because he is 33 years old and was never particularly fast or good on his feet. According to the statistical website Hockey Analysis (scroll down to the sixth table), when Douglas Murray was on the ice in the 2010-2011 season, the Sharks out-shot their opposition 14.6 to 13.0 per 20 minutes on the ice. The next year, the Sharks were out-shot with Murray on the ice, 13.6-14.3. This season so far, Murray has been bleeding shots for the Sharks, with the team getting out-shot 13.0-14.8.

That decline can't be explained by tougher minutes or responsibilities. The fact is… Douglas Murray just wasn't a good defenceman anymore in San Jose.

So instead of looking at winners and losers, instead I'll break down some of the statistical data we have available for the big names moved in the week leading up to the deadline.

Move No. 1 - Jaromir Jagr heads to Boston

Never has a consolation prize been so sweet. When the Boston Bruins lost out on Jarome Iginla last week, they went out and got a hockey player who was much less coveted possibly because he is six years older. Jaromir Jagr has had a much better career than Iginla. He is also a much better hockey player and more versatile.

Since returning to the NHL last season, Jagr has played on the top lines for both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Dallas Stars. He has done fantastic on each, with both Claude Giroux and Jamie Benn significantly missing the other when not playing alongside the future Hall of Fame player.

Again, using Hockey Analysis and parsing through the data, you'll find that the Flyers got 54.8 per cent of the shots taken with both Giroux and Jagr on the ice over the last two seasons. With just Giroux, that rate dips to 50.1 per cent (over two seasons). For Jamie Benn, it's a much larger drop: Benn's puck-possession rate without Jagr is at a very average 44.5 per cent (again, over two seasons), and 55.2 per cent when he's with Jagr.

Why is Jagr so effective at this age? Well, work by hockey analysts like Eric Tulsky has shown that teams generate more shots when the puck is skated into the zone rather than dumped-in. The same analysts have also found that the players who skate the puck in at higher rates than even are quite rare, and Jagr led the Philadelphia Flyers last season in this obscure statistical category.

Jagr is a beast in the neutral zone, which helps out everybody on the ice. By being the primary puck-carrier, Jagr makes his teammates' jobs easier, even at age 41. (I wrote more in-depth about Jagr's addition over at The Sporting News, if you're interested)

Boston are already one of the scarier puck-possession teams in the NHL, controlling the shot clock most nights and are the best team at doing so in the Eastern Conference. On a day when the Bruins possibly lost their top two-way guy in Patrice Bergeron to a concussion, they were able to add another to the roster. If those two play together at any point next season it will be tonnes of fun to watch.

Move No. 2 - Steve Sullivan to New Jersey

Sullivan, like Jagr, is advanced in age. He's 38 now, and no longer the scorer he was when he was in his 20s. Just five goals in 33 games this season and 17 in 79 last year. That's not a lot to get excited about, but the New Jersey Devils have never been about singular offensive talent.

Sullivan has managed to do a lot of good work defensively. He rarely shoots anymore, but has been instrumental in moving the puck forward giving his teammates a chance. For each league season since 2009, Sullivan's team has taken more shots than the opposition when he's been on the ice. This year, that's +7.91 per 60 minutes of play, after the Penguins were +13.53 per 60 minutes last season. Of course, it's an easier feat in Pittsburgh than in Phoenix, hence the declining number this season.

But what else is impressive is the quality of Sullivan's opponents. Sullivan is often playing with Antoine Vermette and Oliver Ekman-Larsson in Phoenix, taking on the opposition's top lines—and spectacularly winning the possession battles.

We know Sullivan has had some offensive finish in the past and while he may never regain that form, New Jersey could use him on the first, second or third lines and there's a talent Sullivan has displayed at some point in his career that indicates he could excel at either position.

Move(s) No. 3 - The San Jose Sharks ditch Murray, Clowe and Handzus

I wrote above about how the San Jose Sharks were better off without Murray on the ice above, but the interesting thing is not that the Sharks rid their lineup of Murray for a 2nd round pick and another conditional second, but that the Sharks actually managed to rid their lineup of three of their possession "black holes" from this season. (Interestingly, Doug Wilson touted Murray's hockey IQ prior to the 2012 season, before his lack of natural ability caught up to him.)

It's gutsy, but it makes them in a way similar to the Los Angeles Kings of last season. The Kings were a good team even before the deadline. Their goal differentials just didn't sync up with their shot differentials, but they trusted the shot statistics and made a deadline push. When they traded Jack Johnson, it's possible the Kings got rid of the worst player in their lineup, and they did so for Jeff Carter, a star centreman who has been lights out for them offensively this season.

It sounds odd to say, but Michal Handzus was made redundant when the Sharks went out and got Scott Gomez. Gomez is better offensively and defensively and they faced similarly weak competition according to Behind the Net. San Jose lopped him off to Chicago when they could.

Clowe, while big and a commodity at the deadline, wasn't all that valuable to the Sharks. Plenty of his teammates were better off when on the ice without him as opposed to with him this season. The Sharks stocked up on second round picks while not losing a winger of huge significance in the lineup.

Move No. 4 - The St. Louis Blues get Jay Bouwmeester

Jay Bouwmeester was quite prescient when he said that he "viewed St. Louis as comparable to LA". Perhaps in more ways than he thinks.

Prior to the trade deadline last season, the Los Angeles Kings were generating lots of shots and were one of the league's best possession teams, but failing to convert. Shot statistics are better for predicting future records than goal differentials or even team records, and the shot differential statistic number wonks like to use is "Fenwick Close" since it's available in many places.

Basically, "Fenwick Close" is the percentage of all unblocked shots a team took at the other team's net in "score close situations" which is defined as a tie game in any period at even strength, or where the margin is less than a goal in the first or second period. This is because when one team takes a big lead, the trailing team is likely to generate a lot more shots. A 50 percent team in Fenwick Close would be defined as an "even possession" squad, while anything above that would be "plus possession" or below "negative possession".

Anyway, the Kings had a 51.4 percent Fenwick Close last season at the time they traded for Carter, which doesn't sound very dominant, but they were one of the top teams in the NHL. They weren't getting many wins because they were scoring on just 5.9 per cent of their shots. Usually shot percentages regress to a mean between 7 and 9 per cent over the course of a long season.

The Blues this season are 54.5 per cent over at Behind the Net, which is fourth in the NHL behind just L.A, Boston and Chicago. Eventually, they'll be able to buy a save, and they're primed to go on a similar hot streak to what the Kings did last year. Jay Bouwmeester, an overpaid yet decent top four defenceman, will likely get his first playoff appearance. He is currently the player in the world who has played the most career NHL games without once appearing in the playoffs.