Booth Has Been a Two-Way Force

We’ve still only seen 56 games out of David Booth, so we don’t really know what to expect in the NHL playoffs from him. Similar to Booth (by his performance on an advanced boxscore, not necessarily by his playing style) is Christopher Higgins, and while he’s only played 110 games in a Canucks uniform – we’re damn sure he’s an impact player.

The weird thing is that Higgins and Booth have morphed into threats at both ends of the ice, each having replaced Ryan Kesler to some degree in the role of the “American two-way forward” on the team. That’s not, well, exactly true, but by analyzing scoring chance data we find some really similar things about the two players.

The AmEx line has since been split up, with Higgins playing on a third line with Samuel Pahlsson and Jannik Hansen. Who knows how long this will last—Alain Vigneault makes things easy for analysts by rolling through different linemate combinations like a Kardashian rolls through a pro-sports team. Because of the amount of time the AmEx line wasn’t playing together, it means that the shot differentials, and the scoring chance data collected probably means something in the long run.

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Check out each player’s Corsi rate ( Canucks on-ice shot attempts / [ Canucks on-ice shot attempts + Opponents’ on-ice shot attempts ] ) with and without a particular linemate this season. Data obtained via David Johnson’s website:

  With Kesler Without Kesler
Higgins 58.1% 49.7%
Booth 60.4% 50.6%

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  With Booth Without Booth
Kesler 60.4% 51.3%
Higgins 62.1% 51.5%

  With Higgins Without Higgins
Kesler 58.1% 53.9%
Booth 62.1% 55.0%

All three players are, on their own, effective (maybe Higgins slightly less so, but I suspect that that is mainly to do with his usage on the third line now, playing the tougher minutes—we’ll get to that later). Taken together, we’re looking at players that have about a 60% shot rate. Anything over 55% is very good, but anything over 50% is acceptable; it means you’re playing with the puck inside the opponent’s end more often than not.

As for Booth as an offensive player, I mainly got the idea to look a bit further at him from Dennis Bernstein, a credentialed reporter from the Fourth Period with an awful haircut, who suggested to me yesterday that “anyone suggesting Booth had a good season is a fan and not objective. Needs to prove himself now.

I figure this is a good space to discuss Booth’s offensive performance. Since he only played 56 games in Vancouver this season, we don’t really have enough information to judge him (maybe we would if we had credentials). The interesting thing is that Booth was on a decline offensively, but not related to his offensive numbers:

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  G/82 SOG/GP Sh%
Career with Panthers 23.1 3.1 9.2%
Career with Canucks 23.4 2.6 11.0%

Booth has been remarkably equal in boxcars, actually increasing his goals per 82 scoring rate with Vancouver this season. His shots per game rate has slightly declined but is still excellent (the average 30-goal scorer in the NHL had 3.3 shots per game this season, the average 20-goal scorer had 2.5. Anything over 3 is elite, anything over 2.5 is cognizant of an NHL first liner or a very good second liner).

You can talk a lot about “shot quality”, but I don’t think it’s really a factor since it’s not something that changes player to player, even if he changes teams. Playing under Alain Vigneault vs. playing under Peter DeBoer doesn’t change the fact that Booth is a very speedy forward who is powerful enough to take the puck to the net and speedy enough to cut wide of most NHL defenseman.

Am I worried about a .5 shots per game decrease? At Booths’ career shooting rate of 9.4%, that equates to about a four-goal change per year. What does help, however, is that Booth plays a lot of time with Kesler who is a high-volume shooter.

Won’t let you into my zone

Defence, however, is a big thing for me, particularly when looking at the overall abilities of hockey players. We talk a lot about “30-goal scorers” “20-goal scorers” and the like, but half the game is defence, and holding the puck away from your opponents the best way to prevent them from accruing scoring chances.

What did we know about David Booth when he came over? As I wrote on this blog:

Last season, Booth had a Corsi ON/60 rating of 3.94. He did this despite not seeing a whole lot of extra offensive zone starts (49.9% rate) and had a pretty high Corsi Rel QoC (quality of competition) of 0.597

Don’t be fooled by his +/- number, Booth drives play and isn’t a defensive liability.

I suppose “isn’t a defensive liability” may have been a bit of an understatement. Booth’s ability to move the puck forward despite tough competition and zone situations is indicative of an ability to keep the play out of his own end. Look at how many shots against per 60 minutes each Canuck allows when he’s on the ice:

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  Against/60 Corsi Rel QoC  Off Zone Start % 
Daniel Sedin 27.03 0.363 79.6%
Alex Burrows 28.18 0.568 73.8%
Henrik Sedin 28.32 0.328 78.6%
David Booth 28.50 0.407 58.4%
Samuel Pahlsson 29.10 1.050 29.7%
Ryan Kesler 29.43 0.581 48.0%
Chris Higgins 30.74 0.956 46.6%
Jannik Hansen 30.82 0.783 40.4%
Dale Weise 31.03 -0.581 20.6%
Maxim Lapierre 31.23 -0.018 22.2%
Manny Malhotra 33.61 0.490 13.2%
Mason Raymond 35.21 0.475 59.7%

Booth is fourth on the Canucks in not allowing shots against, and is the best among forwards who don’t start a record amounts of shifts in the offensive zone.

Upon looking at this however, the surprising thing is how low Mason Raymond ranks. I’ve been more of a Raymond skeptic this season, and it’s plain that a) his offensive game isn’t where it should be and b) Raymond can’t keep pucks out of his own end.

Booth could have been acquired as a pre-emptive move to replace Raymond at both ends of the ice, with the team recognizing that Raymond isn’t where he should be at at this stage in his career. Who knows what their plans are involving him, but Booth has been mustard, also seeing moderately tough competition and driving play despite not enjoying the zone start rate advantages the team’s usual top-line does.

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If you think Booth was acquired for defense [sic]” Bernstein tweeted to me in a somewhat condescending tone – before he stopped having discussions with me about hockey players. I think statistically it’s pretty apparent what’s going on here. The Canucks knew exactly what they were getting in Booth, and he has performed as well in Vancouver as he has throughout his career. There may be some space to move upwards offensively given his visible talent versus his results, but I have no bones to pick with his defensive game.

When we start to roll out some scoring chance data, you’ll see Booth’s two-way ability to have a positive two-way influence the Canucks’ fortunes. As an apetizer, the top five Canuck regular forwards in scoring chance differential adjusted for zone starts:

Player Adjusted Rate
Higgins 56.4%
Booth 55.2%
Kesler 54.7%
Raymond 51.9%
H. Sedin 50.9%

The drop-off between #3 and #4 on this team is indicative of something: if you don’t actually pay attention to the Canucks, you’ll probably lose a lot of arguments when discussing their best players.

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  • intheloo

    One point to add: the .5 shots per game decrease after moving to the Canucks is likely to from scoring effects as well. I would imagine that the Panthers, in general, have had a large volume of shots due to trailing in games (prior to Booth being traded to the Canucks).