Tom Sestito, in his haven.
I’d say that over the course of the Mike Gillis Era in Vancouver, the Canucks as an organization have employed a fairly avante-garde approach. They’ve done an admirable of thinking outside of the box in an attempt to maximize their assets and stay ahead of the curve. This includes sleep doctors, extreme zone deployment, and tracking all sorts of "advanced" stats (like passing efficiency, for example). After leaving the organization back in February, Craig MacTavish acknowledge this with a choice quote:
"The one thing that Mike Gillis brings is a real progressive outlook. As we all are, he’s looking for new and creative and innovative ways to give ourselves a competitive advantage."
It’s always difficult to quantify how much any of these innovative tactics actually contribute to the sustained success on the ice over the years, but I’d argue that the effect has been profound. You’d think that a braintrust with that sort of track record would be cognizant of the value in icing a full lineup of players that can actually, you know, play hockey. Or even better yet, the handcuff that sending a constant liability out on the ice presents.
For whatever reason, the Vancouver Canucks have shown an inability to apply the forward-thinking approach we’ve seen from them when it comes to 4th line
Hockey Player FacePuncher Tom Sestito.
The Hockey Player
I think it’s kind of intuitive from the eye-test that Tom Sestito isn’t a particularly good possession player. We often seem him plodding around the ice looking for someone to throw his body at. Apparently – I say that, because this is probably one of the first times I’ve ever actually opened the real time stats section of NHL.com – he’s 2nd on the Canucks in hits with 47, just 5 behind Kevin Bieksa (who plays significantly more minutes, obviously). This is relevant because it’s a common response I receive from my followers in defense of Sestito; it seems kind of ironic that someone would view this as a valid retort, when in fact, all it does it solidify my point.
Why does Tom Sestito have so many hits? Is it because he’s a particularly good hitter? Is it because he’s all over the place, causing havoc for the opposing team? Not really, no. It’s actually mostly due to the fact that the other team has control of the puck an overwhelmingly large amount of the time that he’s on the ice.
Now, normally I wouldn’t cite the possession numbers of a 4th liner that’s starting less than 30% of his shifts in the offensive zone, because we’d expect them to be ugly. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Sestito’s, because he’s on pace for a historically bad season in that regard..
According to Extra Skater, Sestito is in a dead heat with Cody McCormick of the Buffalo Sabres for the worst on-ice shot differential in the entire NHL (out of regulars who have suited up in at least 21 games thus far). McCormick actually has a worse 36.2 Corsi For % than Sestito’s 37.0% on the surface, but we need to put those numbers into perspective using Corsi Relative (which takes into account the strength of the player’s teammates).
When sorting by Corsi Relative %, Tom Sestito is rocking a league-worst -16.7%. I hope you can appreciate just how truly bad that is. Next up is Brad Richardson, actually, but he’s quite a ways away from him at -11.7%. The same overriding trend holds true when you look at Fenwick (removing blocked shots), and actual Shots on Goal – Tom Sestito is the biggest anchor in the NHL at the moment.
Now that I’ve thrown a bunch of numbers at you though I’d like to put some of this stuff into perspective. Tyler Dellow wrote a really good post about Oilers forward Lennart Petrell last season when he was sporting a sub-40 CF% himself:
"What happens to sub-40% Corsi guys? Looking at seasons of 300 minutes or more, there are 29 of these guys in the BTN era, which started in 2007-08. 17 of these guys are no longer active in the NHL. For eight of them (Jeff Cowan, Jim Dowd, Jeff Giuliano, Byron Ritchie, Scott Thornton, Dan Hinote, Todd Marchant and Jon Sim), a sub 40% Corsi season was the end of the line. Another five played one more season after a sub-40 season."
That’s quite the trend, and some damning company. Luckily for Sestito, Dellow goes on to note that the best way for a player to survive such a season is to have a contract already guaranteed the following year, which he does. This brings us to the $775k question of why Mike Gillis and Co. felt compelled to offer Sestito a 2-year, 1-way deal? Was he getting better offers on the open market? I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have taken that one guaranteed year in a heartbeat.
The FacePuncher and the Deterrent
Even Sestito’s biggest backers would have to conceed the information above. But I can already hear the rebuttal of "he’s not there to score goals or drive play.. he’s there to act as an enforcer, protect the stars, and act as a deterrent to stop other team’s from taking runs". But what is Tom Sestito enforcing and deterring, in all seriousness?
Josh Weissbock, who writes our prospect report each week, went through the trouble of watching every one of Tom Sestito’s 7 games fight this season. According to him Sestito has thrown 55 of the 123 total punches in the 7 bouts, giving him a 44.7% Punch %, and a -13 Punch Corsi. I quickly scanned through Hockey Fights’ database, and their voters have Sestito winning just 2 of those 7 fights (he was 2-5 the year before, too). His fighting ability is slightly better than his hockey playing ability, but not by much, and that’s saying something. At least a guy like Colton Orr can thrown down..
Why would anyone out there, that’s already crazy enough to risk their body playing hockey professionally, be scared of Tom Sestito? I gave him some praise in last night’s game recap for sticking up for teammate Ryan Stanton by fighting Chris Neil. Even though he technically got the better of Neil in that fight, Neil still went on to shove Alex Edler from behind into an unsuspecting and prone Roberto Luongo during a play in the 3rd period after the whistle had already been blown. I’ve long thought that the idea that an enforcer-type would help "police the game", and deter guys like Chris Neil from doing Chris Neil things was silly. If it’s part of their game they’ll continue to do it, with or without a Tom Sestito around.
The Trickle-Down Effect and The Problem
.. is felt on players like Darren Archibald, Zac Dalpe, and Jeremy Welsh, who are on the outside looking in because of Tom Sestito’s continued presence in the lineup. You’d figure that a team that has had as much trouble scoring goals as the Canucks would look to squeeze every goal it could from their depth players, but apparently not. That probably has to do with the fact that a Zac Dalpe, despite being significantly more talented than Sestito, doesn’t fit the stereotype of what a 4th liner should look like.
Adam Gretz had a fantastic article about this pigeonholing of 4th line traits:
"At some point hockey people decided that a fourth-liner in the NHL almost always has to be a certain type of player. This player is usually described with several buzzwords and phrases. He has to have grit. He has to be tough. He has to be physical. He has to be difficult to play against (a phrase that can have multiple meanings)."
"When we talk about players who are "tough to play against" we always think of it is as physical play. But what type of player is harder to play against? A relatively skilled player who can control the puck and make you defend him; or a player who can’t keep the puck and will bang you around after you’ve already made a pass or taken a shot? I’d go with the former."
I would as well. Even if it’s for just 6-8 minutes a night, wouldn’t you want to give your team a better chance to win during that time? It’s nothing personal against Tom Sestito, who I’m sure is a nice person, but it’s pretty clear at this point that he doesn’t do that for the Vancouver Canucks. While the team surely has bigger problems than the 4th line, they don’t exactly have the luxury of squandering opportunities given how good, and tightly packed the Western Conference is.