We’ve long suspected that Mike Gillis and the Canucks use advanced metrics when making personnel decisions. Certainly they’re up on the importance of zone-starts, that much is clear from the way the team deploys, but throughout this season they’ve openly discussed stuff like scoring chances while writing off the utility of plus/minus. We now think that the team looks to acquire players who demonstrably suppress shooting percentage, and based on the way Raymond has been deployed the past couple of seasons, and the acquisition of players like David Booth and Chris Higgins – there’s suggestive evidence that the Canucks pay attention to possession numbers, and the idea of acquiring players who "drive play."
Read past the jump!
At this point, if you’re covering the team and trying to figure out whats going on, you’re missing the forest if you’re not savvy to the underlying metrics. Trust in the numbers, and a modern view of the game has seeped into the very way the Canucks talk, and certainly has impacted several key roster decisions throughout the course of this season. Nowhere is that clearer than with Cody Hodgson.
Mike Gillis’ stern comments on the issues the team faced when handling Cody were as close to Gillis "lashing out" at a player as we’ll ever see from the former player agent. Here’s a sampling of what Gillis said about the trade today (what is in block quotes below is two distinct quotes, one from the first part of the press conference and the second part was said closer to the end):
"Clearly there were issues that were ungoing. I spent more time on Cody’s issues than any other player combined in the last three years. We made a determination that he didn’t want to be here, we built him into something we could move."
"We put Cody on the ice in every offensive situation we could, I don’t think he took more than 5 or 6 defensive zone faceoffs – that was by design. I don’t regret that move and I’d do it again."
Those are two extraordinarily revealing quotes. Let’s start with the first quote and the telling statement that "We built Cody Hodgson into something we could move." Canucks fans agonized about Hodgson’s ice-time throughout the first part of this season, and blamed Vigneault for his hatred of young players generally, and of Hodgson in particular. Meanwhile, Cam Charron noticed that Hodgson was most effective while playing a limited role five-on-five, and playing sheltered minutes.
If we take Gillis at his word (and I don’t see why we wouldn’t, this was clearly the most candid part of the press conference), it turns out Hodgson’s minutes weren’t just a product of Vigneault’s preferences – it was something the organization as a whole designed.
In early February, I broke down the evolution of Cody Hodgson’s role on the club over at Pass it to Bulis. This is what I wrote then:
Finally we get to Hodgson, the man who has “claimed Malhotra’s job” (but hasn’t really). In the first three months of the season, Vigneault protected Cody Hodgson competition-wise, but not situationally. He trusted the rookie to hand it to the opposition’s bottom-6 forwards, and third defensive pairings, without requiring offensive zone starts to do so.
For the most part, Hodgson was up to the task, and produced at a reasonable rate in this sheltered situation while posting impressive possession numbers. That has changed in a big way in 2012. Now Vigneault gives Hodgson the “Sedin treatment” in terms of situational deployment, but the rookie faces harder competition, and his possession numbers have cratered.
In January, Hodgson had a 12% on-ice shooting percentage, shot 28.6%, and carried a PDO of 107.7. No wonder there have been a rush of articles, some genuine and some tongue-in-cheek, praising Hodgson for being “clutch” – he scored on every third shot he took in the month!
I have no doubt that Hodgson possesses the raw tools to be an elite finisher at the NHL level, and partly that’s what we saw this past month. But, obviously, there’s no way he’s going to keep scoring at January’s rate over the balance of the season. Hodgson’s January performance was a lot of fun, but it was something of a mirage and he’s bound to regress, especially if the Canucks continue to get their teeth kicked-in from a possession standpoint.
Basically Gillis admitted today that the way they began to deploy Hodgson as the season wore on, was designed to inflate his value. They were after one of "six young players" apparently, and one of those players was Zack Kassian. After Hodgson played an entire month riding crazy percentages in three-ply soft minutes – the Sabres were willing to make the deal and Gillis lept at the chance to acquire Kassian. The move didn’t work out in the short-term, but it turns out that we were dead-on when we described the deal thirty minutes after its completion as the "Canucks selling high on Cody Hodgson."
So now we know something else, and it’s something very interesting. Not only do the Canucks use advanced stats when thinking about what personnel to add, but they consider how they can use their "edge" in understanding, to inflate player value on the trade market.