Hockey Analytics: The Newest King Penguin

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Gus Katsaros
·7 min read
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The past few seasons have seen a flurry of activity leading up to the trade deadline, mostly getting the bigger names and sought after players into new silks, well before the established deadline. This season is no different with different factors complicating trades in a COVID-infested season. The trade and quarantine process, the constant rapid testing, and risk to adding players from another organization and added impediments due to the expansion draft to welcome the Seattle Kraken into the league.

There’s always one big deal on deadline day – that was as big a dud as it ever was. The Detroit Red Wings moving Anthony Mantha, primarily for Jakob Vrana, Richard Panik and a couple of draft picks was clearly the biggest and most unexpected trade on deadline day.

WED

4/14

7:00 PM

10:00 PM

NHL

Avalanche at Blues

NBCSN

WED

4/14

10:00 PM

1:00 AM

NHL

Golden Knights at Kings

NBCSN

To me, the biggest trade that may have not received the appropriate eyebrow raise is Jeff Carter moving to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a pair of middling draft picks.

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Part of me reflects back to 2011 and the events leading up to Jeff Carter being moved from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Columbus Blue Jackets for all of 39 games before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings. Unabashed rumours flew around Mike Richards and Carter which led to their ouster from Philadelphia. It was an interesting time, but the overwhelming idea was how Carter wanted to be part of the LA scene.

Well look out Flyers fans, he’s back in Pennsylvania and will be making his Penguins debut on Thursday night against his former team when Pittsburgh hosts Philadelphia.

About midway through the 31 Thought podcast, Elliotte Friedman described how Carter was identified and sought by the Flyers last season, where he snubbed returning to his former club. His focus was LA and family. There has been general interest in the league in acquiring him and an offer by Arizona was similarly rebuffed.

The situation has changed, though, and he agreed to be moved from Los Angeles to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He’s going from the 25th ranked offense at 5v5, to the 6th best in Pittsburgh, with the chance to play with Sidney Crosby – who’s been stellar of late. Sid is likely locked on to Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, and Malkin has moved on from Jason Zucker pre-injury to Kasperi Kapanen and Evan Rodrigues – while he deals with injury issues too. Playing Carter on the wing alongside Malkin is the likeliest option, but he will likely start at center as is moving him to the middle and pairing him with Jason Zucker – a player acquired last season at the trade deadline.

Carter’s ability to play wing or center gives the Penguins roster flexibility, with an eye to the future. The 36-year old is still under contract until 2021-22, for $2.6 million. That familiarity with ex-Flyers alumni Ron Hextall, while fitting into the mold of a Brian Burke hockey player brings an aging yet still effective player to join the Penguins.

From Pittsburgh Hockey Now:

Carter’s versatility was one of the things that made him attractive to the Penguins. General manager Ron Hextall, formerly an executive with the Flyers and Kings, knew all about that.

“Basically my whole career we’ve kind of followed each other around,” Carter said. “It’s always nice when you’re going to a new place to have some familiar faces. I’ve known Hexy for a long time. We have a really good relationship.”

Using Evolving Hockey for Carter’s GAR (0.6) it would hold 34th overall spot between the Kings and Penguins players, and yet, despite such a bad rating, it’s actually an improvement on the -3.1 expected GAR. That is one of the league’s worst ratings, truly showing an absolute rock bottom using the single metrics. There’s nothing but upside to bringing in the veteran to the Penguins fold.

Using single metrics has become more common place and in the environment where players of marginal, but similar skill levels can be isolated to discover a dynamic of one player over the other. As analytics really become more mainstream, the GAR and WAR (wins above replacement) metrics will take on greater importance, and provide some uniform clarity.

Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news and updates. Plus, it allows you to easily track your favorite players. Get it here!

Carter as a King

Carter was second in 5v5 goals on the Kings this season, trailing only Adrian Kempe, while leading the team with 88 shots on goal. And therein lies some of the problem with the Kings – a general lack of offense. As a secondary figure on the powerplay, Carter had two assists earned on four goals scored with him on the ice. Clearly falling out of favour – or being overtaken by more talented and younger players – Carter has lined up primarily with Andreas Athanasiou and Gabriel Vilardi this season at 5v5.

He ended his Kings career with a multi-point game to mimic the pair of multi-point games to begin the season. It fell apart shortly after season’s onset, taking another 12 games before his next goal and only four points in that span. He had a high danger scoring chance in half of this first 16 games – and then had 24 consecutive games with at least one high danger scoring chance.

Over the first three quarters of the season, his points breakdown in all situations is shown in the chart below.

Jeff Carter Quarterly Points Breakdown and IPP
Jeff Carter Quarterly Points Breakdown and IPP

Raw point totals aren’t a proper metric, so to accurately measure his contribution to the Kings, we can use expected goals. Carter has underperformed his expected goals in each of the three quarters, while placing a reasonable shooting percentage. There’s a distinction between team and player level metrics here. These are measuring all situations, taking into consideration 5v5 and 5v4 play for Carter.

Jeff Carter Quarterly Goals and Expected Goals
Jeff Carter Quarterly Goals and Expected Goals

Breaking down his game log (data is from Natural Stat Trick), we can see that Carter has had 14 games with five or more individual shot attempts (iCF), while generating four games with five or more individual scoring chances. The table lists the categories in the first column, and the game count is listed across the top. To read this table, e.g. Carter has 2 games without a shot on goal, six (6) with one shot, 10 with two shots, 11 with with three shots etc.

Category No of GP

Zero

1

2

3

4

5+

Goals

32

8

0

0

0

0

Assists

30

9

1

0

0

0

Points

24

13

3

0

0

0

Shots

2

6

10

11

4

7

iCF

0

5

3

9

9

14

iSCF

2

12

9

8

5

4

iHDCF

8

20

7

3

1

1

Power Play Considerations

Pittsburgh has been throwing Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, Crosby and Rust on the first power play with Malkin relegated to the second unit where Carter will likely slot in after some initial views on the main unit. Bringing the capacity to play the bumper position and net front, Carter’s size and reach will help the Penguins power play. Currently ranking 9th in the league in 5v4 goals, and 5th when considering Goals For/60.

Carter hasn’t been a prime fixture on the Kings power play for the past few seasons, but his impact has partly to do with the anemic Los Angeles Kings in general and the secondary usage. Moving to the second unit, limiting power play time in general, with secondary scoring support will erode away at the overall production.

I think when we look back at this deadline, aside form the trades leading up to the deadline day, and swaps made on that day, the Carter to the Penguins trade may hold more importance than other deals.