October 29 2013 09:57AM
During the second intermission of the Canucks and Capitals game, friend of the Army Dan Murphy asked his panellists a question pertaining to the sustainability of Mike Santorelli's play. After two seasons that saw Santorelli bounce between the injured reserve, the waiver-wire, and worst of all, the Winnipeg Jets, there weren't an awful lot of expectations for the local kid. Our pre-season mock rosters all had Santorelli maybe acting as insurance should one of the Canucks young kids not make the team.
It's now towards the end of October and Santorelli is a pleasing presence on the Canucks, one that makes the team more likeable than anything. When you extrapolate his production over 82 games, nothing screams all that out-of-the-ordinary. He's on pace for 23 goals and 53 points, which would be very good for a second-line centre, but it's not like he's on pace to be a point-a-game guy or an all-star or anything.
Is his production sustainable? His production rates are surprisingly right in lock-step with everything else in his career. Santorelli scored 20 goals in 2010-2011, but was injured for Florida's training camp in 2012 and missed the first bit of the season. Last year was completely forgettable:
|GP||Goals/60||Sh%||Shots/60||Points/60||On-ice Sh%||On-ice SF/60|
Nothing really pops out at you this year as far as unsustainability goes. If Santorelli finished the season with a 10.5% shooting percentage, and if the Canucks finished the season shooting 7.1% with Santorelli on the ice, that wouldn't be out of the ordinary. Santorelli's early production includes two overtime goals, but at 5-on-5, which is all this chart considers, Sanotrelli hasn't been doing a whole lot this year. 2 goals, 5 points, and that's okay. Second-line centres score a whole lot less than people tend to expect.
Given that Santorelli has a high shooting percentage relative to the team when he's on the ice, one might expect that Santorelli's low individual shot totals catch up with him and some of those goals turn into assists. Nothing about his percentages would suggest that Santorelli is going to regress this season, but there is some "fire in a bottle" feeling about his play early on. He had some issues in Florida and Winnipeg, but it appears that one of the reasons he wasn't scoring was his on-ice shooting percentages of 4.8% and 3.2% (and his 2011 on-ice shooting rate looks like a total outlier when you look at it in context with his early Nashville days). Players can affect very little of the on-ice shooting rate, unless they're taking a tonne of shots and their shooting is way better than average or way below average. Santorelli doesn't appear to be that player, so it's more likely he had a run of bad luck after his 20-goal campaign.
SO WHAT IS IT THEN
Interestingly, during the same discussion with Murph & Co., there was a question about whether the recent ice times for the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler and whether that was sustainable. I don't think it's too much to ask hockey players to play a lot of hockey, but Santorelli has been playing notably more than he has during any 14-game stretch of his brief career. In 2011, he hit a stretch where he averaged 18:56, but at 19:10, this is more than he's ever played over a stretch like.
Here, I even mapped it out on a graph for you all. That green line across the top represents how often he's played this year.
Data from Hockey Reference.
The thing for me is this: Santorelli's rate stats all look consistent with what he's done in his career, with some variability aside. He looks like the same player in all aspects but ice-time, where's he's playing more than he ever has. It's five minutes more per game than in either of the last two seasons. While Santorelli had "down" years in production those seasons, he didn't get a whole lot of second chances. Keep in mind that in the 2011-12 season, the rest of the Panthers lineup was doing pretty well and the team made the playoffs. Even though he was coming off a 20-goal season, the Panthers had to find space for their new C and RW acquisitions Marcel Goc, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky, not to mention Mikael Samuelsson when he showed up partway through the year.
Is it a fitness thing? Perhaps it's earned. Santorelli came into camp in fantastic shape, many people have noted since his brief outburst to start the season. At the start of camp, he won the two-mile running race and was probably the Canucks' best player in preseason, for whatever that counts for. As for ice time being sustainable, I don't think the question is with Ryan Kesler, I think it's with Santorelli. The latter is a player looking to make an impression and it's not too much of a stretch to suggest he's giving it more than his all in the early going, and his coach is appreciating it and rewarding him with a lot of ice. Will he be averaging 19 minutes a came come December? February? Will his health hold up?
The beauty of Santorelli is that he's been unspectacular, but people can appreciate that since there was no expectation for a 2nd line centreman this season not named Ryan Kesler. It's cool to see in the early going, and if sports fans appreciate anything, it's a hometown player on minimum salary out-performing low expectations. He's a good story, and if he plays another month posting similar rates to any season he's played in his career he's given the Canucks value on his contract. It's kind of a reminder that good hockey players are good hockey players and the line between "2nd liner" and "minor leaguer" is so thin, it's determined by having the fitness to play an extra three or four minutes a game consistently, and a few points in shooting percentage. A lot of capable hockey players wind up in the minors because they wound up on the wrong side of too many coin flips.
Still, defence is a little hazier. Santorelli was never much of a play-driver in Florida and his early high Corsi numbers have to be taken with the context that he's spent some time with good linemates this season (these numbers appear to be a couple of games old, but Santorelli is a 65.1% Corsi player when playing with Chris Higgins and 60.6% when playing with Henrik Sedin. You'll remember that being a line combination for a brief period of time. There's not enough evidence to support Santorelli is much better at D than he was in his Florida days).
What to consider is that you still don't get much if you extrapolate Mike Santorelli's rate statistics. You get a very productive hockey player for a minimum salary, but I'm keeping an eye on that ice-time, and that 5.3 shots per 60 rate. Santorelli had three shots against Washington, but he had none against the Blues and none against the Islanders after a nine-game stretch of multi-shot games.
You can also tell he isn't solidly in the second-line centre position. If he were, in this town, there would be more people mentioning he's scoreless since the second San Jose game.