A Baffling Personnel Decision: On Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder

Phorograph by: Jamie Sabau, NHILI/Getty Images

On the very same day the Canucks acquired Derek Roy, they sent Jordan Schroeder back to Chicago. He hasn’t been back with the team since, as the Canucks coaching staff has preferred to roll with Andrew Ebbett in the lineup and often in their top-nine.

I’m very much unconvinced that this makes any sense in the postseason, and I’ll explain why after the jump.

On some level, it’s tough to compare the performance of Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder this season because their usage has been so wildly different. While both players have battled soft competition, Schroeder has generally matched up against slightly easier competition than Ebbett has and has also played with more skilled line-mates. Meanwhile Andrew Ebbett’s offensive-zone start rate sits at 41.2%, while Jordan Schroeder’s rests much higher at 60.2%, which suggests that Vigneault trusts Ebbett more defensively than he trusts Schroeder, and that’s fair enough.

The issue is that Andrew Ebbett has been completely crushed by the possession numbers this season, even after you account for circumstance, while Schroeder has come out ahead in "soft" minutes. Maybe Schroeder hasn’t come out as far ahead in his matchups as the coaching staff and management would’ve liked, but the evidence suggests that Schroeder was the better player this season, and it isn’t all that close.

To try and account for the difference in deployment, I piggy-backed off of Mark Parkatti’s work with "expected Corsi" (read more about the methodology here). Using Parkatti’s method, I plugged in the circumstances which Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder have faced this season and the results matched my intuition, namely that Jordan Schroeder is Vancouver’s fifth best centreman (behind Henrik, Kesler, Roy, Lapierre) and should probably be in the lineup for the postseason.

According to the Parkatti adjustment, based on circumstance and historical data, we’d expect Andrew Ebbett to have a "Corsi-On" of minus 7.5 this season. Ebbett’s actual Corsi-On this year has come in at minus 16.81, so he’s underperformed his "expected Corsi" by well over nine attempted shots per sixty minutes of hockey.

Based on usage and historical data meanwhile, Parkatti’s adjustment expects Jordan Schroeder to have posted a "Corsi-On" of plus .021 this season. Schroeder has actually done somewhat better than that, as he came in with a positive shots attempted differential of 3.75 Corsi events per sixty minutes. So Schroeder’s "above water" underlying numbers this season have probably been more than just a product of "designed success."

The only reason I can fathom for Andrew Ebbett being ahead of Jordan Schreoder on the depth chart, at this point, is his face-off ability. On overall draws this season Jordan Schroeder has been marginally better than Andrew Ebbett, though neither player has been particularly good. Schroeder has won 43.6% of the draws he’s taken this year (a worse clip than Alex Burrows) while Andrew Ebbett has fared modestly worse winning 39.7% of the draws he’s taken (which is Mason Raymond/Chris Higgins territory).

But those numbers are, I’d suggest, somewhat decieving. According to the site HockeyAnalysis.com, with Andrew Ebbett on the ice the Canucks have won 40.4% of defensive zone draws this season (that’s on-ice faceoffs, not faceoffs Ebbett personally took). Sadly that’s the third highest rate among Canucks forwards.

Now Andrew Ebbett has skated for sixty or so even-strength minutes with Maxim Lapierre this season, so it’s very likely that his 40% number is at least somewhat inflated by Lapierre’s proficiency in the face-off dot. With that said, with Jordan Schroeder on the ice, and Schroeder has exclusively lined up at centre this season, the Canucks defensive-zone faceoff winning percentage sits at a ghastly 24.1%.

In looking over these numbers, I was reminded of something Tony Gallagher wrote a few weeks back about defensive zone draws. According to Gallagher, who sometimes pulls things out of his ass but has certainly been around the game for a long time, players in the old days saved their best faceoff moves for draws in either the offensive or defensive end:

Not sure about today, now that they’re keeping the numbers (subjective stat though it is), and centres can talk about that in their negotiations. But the really smart centres don’t try on the draws in the neutral zone, at least they didn’t used to. Only when it was in the defensive zone or the offensive zone would the good ones show their best moves and try their best.

For instance, perhaps the best faceoff man in Canucks history was Brent Peterson, who is still part of the Nashville coaching staff. Peterson’s stats would have been maybe slightly better than average, but it was an absolute stunning development if he ever lost a draw in his own end. On the ones that mattered, he was ridiculously good and he sacrificed draws in the neutral zone to achieve that success.

If we buy into Gallagher’s theory, I think you can make the argument that Jordan Schroeder is more of a liability in the faceoff circle than Andrew Ebbett. I don’t think it’s a very good argument since Schroeder has a better on-ice face-off percentage than Ebbett does in the offensive zone, but yeah. The point is, I suppose, if the Canucks expect their fourth-line to take draws in the defensive zone so that the top-six can keep up a steady diet of offensive zone starts in the postseason, then I guess maybe it makes some limited sense to prefer Andrew Ebbett to Jordan Schroeder.

But it doesn’t really, since Ebbett has been a complete liability at five-on-five this season according to the underlying data. That same data suggests that Jordan Schroeder has been legitimately useful even if the rookie centreman has looked overmatched on occassion.

Data in this post compiled from NHL.com and Behindthenet.ca.

  • asdf

    Andrew Ebbett is basically a known commodity – a utility centre who can slot in in the bottom-six and not hurt you too badly but is really a spare part/backup option.

    If the Canucks are concerned about Schroeder being an unknown when given some more defensive responsibilities (against soft competition, still), I don’t understand why they didn’t call him up for the last week or two of the regular season after the games didn’t matter and give him a shot playing a little harder minutes in a more defensive role. Ebbett’s a backup/spare part – Schroeder has the potential to be a significant contributor in the future, and might be able to start contributing in a limited way now.

    Very odd decision-making in this regard.

  • billm

    They wanted Schroeder to generate offense but since Roy and Kesler are in the lineup, he’s now irrelevent. Maybe he gets a chance if one of them goes down with an injury.

    If he were 6’4 then maybe he gets a look at being a defensive center but the old school thinking that small guys can’t play (defense) might be creeping into the Canucks deployment?

  • billm

    I really thought this was a cap-related move. Schroeder is a $1M+ hit compared to Ebbett’s $600,000, and the Canucks have zero space. I’ve been saying that the Canucks will use Schroeder as soon as the cap disappears in the playoffs, but that might be wishful thinking…

  • BrudnySeaby

    Perhaps it has all to do with AV’s coaching and the nature of the beast. I think he wants to play more conservatively / defensively.

    Schroeder is a fast player and would be best suited to play with Raymond (whom he showed chemistry with!) and Hansen, giving them a 3rd line that would look offensive (on paper at least). That would also mean that AV would be expected to play Kesler and Roy on a line together. All of a sudden, he is now looking at 3 offensive lines and that scares him shitless. So by choosing Ebbett over Schroeder, he can avoid this situation completely. After all, I think AV prefers to deploy a more conservative & defensive playing style with 2 attacking lines, a checking line and an energy line.

    Funny thing is though that a checking line centred by Roy makes no sense to me. He is the real 2nd playmaker on this team, not Kesler. Kesler is a great 2-way player and he should play the shutdown role.

    Until AV grows bold, or until the Canucks get into trouble (which is far more likely to happen first!), don’t expect Schroeder to get a look. Sadly, by that point it’s probably already too late!

  • I haven’t understood this either, particularly when you put this post together with the post that confirms that Vancouver can’t ice a 4th line that can play 7-8 minutes a game of event free hockey. I would slip Schroeder into the 3LC between Hansen and Raymond and move Lapierre back to 4LC between Ebbett and Kassian. At home you have the third line play the softest minutes you can manufacture and on the road you can always move Lapierre up to the 3LC if are nursing a lead home or need some key defensive faceoffs. This line up doesn’t have enough top 9 forwards with Booth out so there is no silver bullet for line-up construction here, but I think this is the best confirguration.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Against the Sharks we clearly need Sedin, Kesler, Roy down the middle. Can’t afford to stack the 2nd line.

    The Schroeder choice is then between having Ebbett on Lapierre’s wing, or Lapierre on Schroeder’s wing. (Ebbett’s ability to play on the wing probably gives him the edge over Schroeder). Considering that Ballard on Lapierre’s wing wouldn’t be an awful alternative to either of these, shows the relative insignificance of this decision (which hasn’t been made yet).

    • yugret

      Why not shut him down so he could maybe play in later rounds, then? It’d have to be a pretty specific injury (labrum?) so that he’d be able to play at an AHL level, but not play at an NHL level, and not be able to heal in a reasonable amount of time.

      I think it’s more likely that the Canucks figured they’d be playing one of the Kings, Sharks, and Blues a while ago and that those teams are too deep down the middle to play a rookie centre. If the Canucks play the Ducks or Hawks I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schroeder draw in.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Great article. Many people have been wondering about this. There is no logical reason for Schroeders absence this yr. There was some speculation he was playing injured in Chi this yr.

    Needless to say, I’ll be absolutely furious if Ebbetts over Schroeder in the 1st round. Ebbett got absolutely killed in the season series. Schroeder did pretty well (in 2 of 3 games anyways). He’ll get easier mins this time around (now that Kes and Roy are int he lineup). I’d absolutely combust if he doesn’t play.

  • billm

    This situation has had me scratching my head for weeks now.

    What is the one constant from the Bruins and Kings series? Lack of offensive production. This has also been a problem this year, though much of that was due to Kesler and Booth being injured.

    AV has been stacking the 2nd line with Roy and Kesler to try and take some pressure off the Sedin line and give Van a real 2nd scoring line. The down side to that is that makes the bottom 6 much weaker offensively (and defensively) when they deploy Lapierre between Raymond and Hansen and Ebbett between Kassian and Wiese/Sistito.

    Schroeder between Raymond and Hansen showed some real positives. Arguably the fastest line in the league for starters.

    The bonus being able to put Lapierre back on the 4th line which immediately makes that line better and more useful as an energy line and more easily trusted to take defensive zone draws. Lapierre between Kassian and Weise is a very physical line that can lay the body and may just chip in a goal here and there.

    If AV is not going to deploy Roy and Kesler on different lines, then Schroeder should be the obvious choice on a line with Raymond and Hansen.

    But, I have never been able to figure out what combination of voodoo and coin flips AV uses to set his lines.