One of my favorite things about my immersion into the world of analytics is that I see the game of hockey in a way I previously had not.
You know what? Doesn't matter. If Erik Karlsson creates 10 goals, but is culpable for three, it's still putting the team in a better position to win than Steady Eddie who's only given up one or two but isn't creating because he's too busy defending as he never has the puck.
The concept of valuing possession is not a particularly complex one. Quite the opposite, it makes perfect sense. You can't score unless you have the puck. Your opponent can't score when you have the puck. The common denominator: possession.
Personally, it's caused me to rethink my evaluation of players. The most prominent example I can think of is Erik Karlsson and players of his ilk. I'd always been of the belief that Karlsson was a skilled offensive player, but I stopped short at further praise due to a lacking in defensive abilities.
During this past season, it became painfully obvious that changes needed to be made to the Bruins fourth line, which was by all accounts atrocious. Shawn Thornton was not re-signed. Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell remain unknowns at this point.
Recently, the idea was floated to move Campbell to the wing. But the question remains, is there still really a spot on the Bruins' fourth line for Campbell?
Campbell had a very interesting quote in a piece from WEEI's DJ Bean on whether the fourth line - as it's currently fashioned can compete in today's NHL at the highest level:
"I've heard things like that over the last little while, and I don't necessarily agree with that," Campbell told WEEI.com. "Look at the Los Angeles Kings and look at their line. Kyle Clifford was arguably their best player in [the Cup-clinching Game 5]. I don't see him as an offensive type of guy."
I suggest you read the whole piece, by the way. Good stuff from Bean as always.
When I read that quote, it made perfect sense to me that Campbell would think that way - that offense is measured by goals and assists. For a long time, I did, too.
But as I became aware of the fluctuations that can come from things like shooting and save percentages, I came to understand that offense isn't limited to points, but rather, it can be expressed as putting yourself (and your team) in a good position to score (and ultimately win).
If we take a head-to-head look at the possession statistics between Campbell and the aforementioned Kyle Clifford, you can see that Campbell has the far superior point total. The more valuable player, though, is Clifford.
In the long run, what's important is shot attempt differential. That, in turn, translates to goal differential, which leads to wins. By attempting more shots than he gives up, Clifford put his team in a better position to win (note that goal differential). That is why he is an "offensive type of guy." You don't have to put up points to be an effective fourth line player, but you do need to make sure the shot attempt share is in your team's favor.
The problem with Campbell on the Bruins fourth line is not how many goals he scored or how many assists he registered. It's consistently being a drag on the team's ability to out shoot opponents. Year, after year, after year after year.
I understand Campbell's mindset because I shared the same view not long ago. But the fact of the matter is, the Bruins have demonstrated they are a far better team with him off the ice than on. The shot attempt share and goal differential bares tells it all. That is why his time on the fourth line has passed.