When the Bruins signed John Moore on July 1st, they didn’t just see him as a temporary depth defenseman like Paul Postma and Matt Irwin were. Signing him to a five-year contract just short of fourteen million dollars in total is a sign that the Bruins see him in Boston for years to come.
Later that day, when asked about the decision to sign Moore, GM Don Sweeney claimed that Moore’s skating skills played a big part in their evaluation of him.
John Moore’s Potential
Moore’s skating abilities should help him succeed both offensively and defensively. Offensively, Moore is able to join breakouts and assist his forwards in transition. He also should be able to move around the offensive zone quicker, and more cleanly than other defensemen. Defensively, his skating abilities should help him recover when he is out of position, close in on gaps, as well as win puck battles by beating opponents to the puck.
In an adorable interview on NHL Network with his daughter, Moore seemed to agree when asked how to describe his own game.
As the NHL game evolves, it is necessary to have defensemen who can skate and move the puck. No longer are the days of flipping the puck out of the zone when there is no pressure. Bruce Cassidy has demanded that out of his defensemen, which certainly played a part in Kevan Miller’s terrific 2017-18 campaign.
While watching some film of Moore, I came across a sequence that shows his highest potential.
It starts off with Moore defending a two-on-one. This may not be perfect defending, but pretty close. He prevents the right-handed shooter in Carpenter from getting closer to center ice, while blocking the shooting lane. Given recent game theory analysis, defending the shot was probably the right play. Moore still had his stick on the ice, moving through the passing lane making it difficult for the pass to get through if Carpenter chooses to take that route. Moore blocks the shot and the Devils regain possession and move up ice.
Moore then joins the rush, where he ends up receiving a pass, controlling an entry, and eventually takes a shot. This is the type of sequence that can flip the momentum of the game, and the Bruins hope to see a lot of it.
25 to Life
When Moore signed with the New Jersey Devils in 2015, it dramatically change his hockey career. As a twenty-four year old, soon to be twenty-five, Moore had already been traded twice in his career. He never saw sustained top-four usage, and was probably headed in the wrong direction.
In his three seasons with the Devils, Moore saw top-four minutes throughout his stay. This allowed him to notch 59 points in 217 games over the last three seasons, which is 19 more than his previous 230 games with the Blue Jackets, Rangers, and Coyotes. John Hynes, Ray Shero, and the Devils certainly played a key part in his ability to sign a long-term contract with the Bruins.
The Numbers Say Differently
Although he is an outspoken friend of the analytics community, and open to the use of data-driven approaches in hockey, his numbers aren’t the greatest. While in New Jersey, Moore average 0.86 wins below replacement per eighty-two games. Checking in on another model, Evolving Wild’s regularized adjusted plus-minus doesn’t look so pretty either.
His corsi plus-minus per hour is -5.3 over the last three seasons, which is pretty bad. And while his shot production hasn’t been the greatest, his defense seems to be the biggest problem. I think this is best visualized using Micah Blake McCurdy’s Edgar Isolate as seen below.
Red means that Moore gives up more shots per hour from that point than league average, while blue is the opposite. The “isolate” part of the name means that these are adjusted for context to the best of McCurdy’s abilities. Although this general trend might change, it’s not just raw shots against.
Why are the Results not Matching up with the Eye Test?
The general consensus from many people who don’t put too much weight into statistics is that Moore is a pretty good defenseman. “Mr. Overtime” has the skills in place, at least according to scouts, to be an NHL defenseman, and a decent one at that. And while those skills might be in place, if the results aren’t adding up, there’s a point where those skills aren’t translating to on-ice impact.
Ryan Stimson has done lots of research on passing in hockey. He brought about the concept of shot assists, which are passes that lead to a shot. His recent project helps visualize data tracked since he started in the 2014-15 season. You can check that out here.
In over 2,000 minutes tracked, Moore seems to rank above average in many of these categories, including the percentage of on-ice shots he contributes to, and expected primary points per hour.
Although that is great, especially for a guy signed to a lower-end salary long-term, the puzzle pieces missing are easily found. Moore’s skills should, in theory, be translated into a strong transition game. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. He ranks 23rd percentile in transition shot assists per hour.
This is further backed up by Corey Sznajder’s zone entry and exit data. Moore has been below average is exiting his own zone with control, or entering the opponent’s zone with control. Although he’s been rather successful in the offensive zone, it hasn’t been pretty outside of that.
Breaking Down Moore’s Struggles
One of the difficult things about performing video analysis is that people can perceive events in very different ways. Even though human input should, and typically does help, analyze a player’s game, things can still go wrong.
At this point, publicly, there is no way of adjusting for context for the zone exit data we have. Over time, context will wash away a decent amount, but we are generally dealing with small samples of data.
Take this play for example. Moore inherits a D-to-D pass from Severson. As he is receiving the pass, the second forward engages Moore, while the F1 rotates back to take away the center swing. The only play Moore had to keep possession was to return the puck to Severson. The oncoming forechecker certainly deterred him from taking that route. After all, it’s generally risky to go D-to-D that close to your net. Is this clear equal to one with open passing lanes? Of course not.
While the Devils have become a fairly fast team in recent years, that’s necessarily true when it comes to their breakout tactics. From my viewings, they often times like to get the puck to the weak-side prior to moving up ice. The Bruins have become a more north-south team under Cassidy’s watch. The Bruins prioritize moving the puck from point A to point B more than possession, which will typically lead to more possession exits in the end.
The Recipe for John Moore’s Success
Can John Moore succeed with the Bruins? He sure can. He will see a different role than he did in New Jersey. Chara and Krug will take up most of the minutes on the left side, which should allow for more sheltered minutes for Moore.
If I was Bruce Cassidy, I’d load Moore up with offensive zone starts and minutes while trailing. He has terrific offensive skills. If you can limit the impact he has defensively, you will get the most out of Moore.