Shawn Matthias Just Scores Goals

The mythical “power forward” is a player coveted by every NHL fan base – a huge guy that can hit, skate, score goals, and bull rush his way through opposing defenses. Vancouver has long clamored that the Canucks find this guy somewhere, and after scoring at a pace that would give him roughly 21 goals over an 82-game regular season in largely a 3rd line role, it looks like the Canucks have found their guy in Shawn Matthias.

We’ve seen that Matthias can skate, and we’ve seen that Matthias can play a power game, and he’s scored goals this season too. But when a career 10-goal guy becomes a 20-goal guy, we should be suspicious. Is Matthias really a burgeoning power winger just finding his stride? Or are we all being fooled by random variance and a sky-high shooting percentage? And just how much money does the pending UFA deserve? We investigate after the jump.

Despite largely being used as a depth forward, Shawn Matthias has traditionally been a very strong goal scorer at 5-on-5. In fact, since 2011, Matthias is one of the 50 most proficient 5-on-5 goal scorers in the NHL per 60 minutes of ice time who has played over 3,000 minutes. The company he’s keeping is pretty damn impressive too, as it includes guys like Taylor Hall, Zach Parise, Marian Hossa, Matt Duchene, and Thomas Vanek. The table is too big to embed here, so click this link to see the top-90 most efficient 5-on-5 goal scorers since 2011. Canucks players are highlighted in green, and values in the top or bottom 10% of their columns are highlighted in green or red (this allows you to separate high volume/low percentage guys from low volume/high percentage guys).

Matthias has also been on fire this season, scoring a career high 16 goals in a low scoring NHL while seeing fairly modest middle-6 ice time allotments. Looking at his rolling 41-game (half-season) goal scoring rate relative to what consensus elite scorers have done, it’s clear that the rate Matthias has been scoring goals at is pretty insane:

Matthias1

The problem for the Vancouver Canucks is that Shawn Matthias is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so Jim Benning and company have to determine how much they’re willing to pay him. If you’re a rational decision maker, you should be aiming to pay Matthias based on what you expect from him going forward, rather than what he’s done in the past.

This is largely intuitive. Matthias has been a more proficient goal scorer than average Steven Stamkos this season, but no one expects him to continue to be better than Steven Stamkos. As such, there’s obviously no way in hell Matthias is looking at a $7 million/year contract. But should Vancouver be willing to pay him Michael Ryder or Erik Cole money (around $4 million per year)? That depends on how much of this scoring you can expect him to maintain.

So we’ll explore the measurable factors that may have an impact on Matthias’ goal totals this season. First of all, we’ll look for an uptick in his individual shots or scoring chances per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 time on ice. We know that Matthias has generally been a poor possession player for his whole career, but has also taken strides this season when he’s been placed on LW.

If Matthias sees an uptick in possession, we’d expect his lines to be getting more offensive zone time, and Matthias to be able to generate more shots on goal or scoring chances in turn. This should, in theory, boost his goal totals. So is Matthias generating more chances to score? Let’s have a look:

Matthias2

Matthias’ shot rate has climbed this season to a career high, and his chance rate hasn’t been this strong since around 2010 with Florida (though shots and chances should follow each other more closely than they did during this time. I’m skeptical that Matthias’ early career chance rate isn’t a product of wonky scorekeeping). It seems probable that Matthias seeing time on the wing has helped him generate more individual offense, and since there’s a decent explanation for his shot rate increasing, we can infer that we should expect his shot rate to remain higher than it traditionally has been going forward.

At the same time, his shot and chance rates haven’t come close to doubling, while his goal scoring this season nearly has. Simply playing the wing and seeing an uptick in what we consider more sustainable abilities doesn’t account for Matthias having 16 goals this season, so we have to look elsewhere.

Since goal scoring can be expressed as a function of shot volume and shooting percentage and we’ve already explored the first component, let’s look at Matthias’ rolling 41-game individual shooting percentage too. We’ll also try to account for any shooting percentage spikes or dips by looking at the percentage of Matthias’ shot attempts that are scoring chances. If more of Matthias’ shot attempts have been chances, we would expect his shooting percentage to see an explainable raise:

Matthias3

Unsurprisingly, Matthias’ shooting percentage is at an all-time high. A larger proportion of chances to attempts doesn’t appear to be driving this either, as the two lines don’t at all appear to be related to one another through Matthias’ career.

We know from the table we linked to earlier that Matthias has always been a good shot volume guy and a plus-level finisher as well, but this shooting percentage spike this season is well above his career norm. In fact, whenever Matthias has seen his shooting percentage spike like this, he’s seen it fall back down to earth soon after – in other words, regression toward the mean.

It’s seems likely that Matthias reaches 20 goals this season, but it would be a mistake to view him as a 20-goal scorer. His all-around game hasn’t warranted more ice time from his previous coaches, and he’s been a poor facilitator of offense for his teammates. This shows up in his assist rate and his on-ice goals for stats. If we look at the same list of guys we previously looked at (3000 minutes of 5-on-5 time on ice between 2011-12 and 2014-15), Matthias is a top-50 goal scorer, but his on-ice offense is in the bottom-50. The only other guy who’s been in a similar situation is David Clarkson, and, well, an NHL team recently made the decision to literally burn $25 million rather than have him on their roster.

If Matthias’ re-signs with Vancouver and his deployment remains fairly constant, we can’t expect him to score 20 goals again in a Canucks uniform unless he’s moved to the wing full-time, gets powerplay reps, and plays with a better play-driving centreman than Nick Bonino. It’s possible that Matthias scores more goals going forward, but he’s certainly going to score fewer goals per minute of ice time. Arguing that this season is a “new normal” for Matthias is essentially arguing that he’s a more proficient even strength goal scorer than Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, and Rick Nash and we all know that’s insane.

Matthias is an excellent complimentary winger, but so is Chris Higgins and so is Jannik Hansen. Given the more complete games the latter two have demonstrated in contrast to Matthias’ better goal scoring, it doesn’t make sense to offer Matthias significantly more money that the other two much more maligned Canucks forwards. If he’s going to be looking for current Erik Cole money, that shouldn’t fly for Canucks management.

We should expect Matthias to regress and score less frequently going forward, but we should also expect Matthias to remain very good at doing what he does. And all Matthias does is score goals.

  • Peachy

    Agree completely on your contract conclusion, but I think Matthias’ time at centre (about a third of his season?) may have suppressed his stats a little. I guess we’re not in a position to separate the two out, even by date range?

  • Fred-65

    There is the argument that Matthias’ development got stalled in Florida (at least in 13-14) under a coach that didn’t favor him and some odd usage at other times. That said I have a hard time envisioning Matthias being worth anywhere north of $2.5 million. If he can command more he should walk and we should open up the space for one of our prospects currently in the minors. I am guessing both the per year and term would not be worth it, though he’d at least be younger than when we signed some of our current vets.

  • WTF2

    Seems that GMJB (and exGMMG) both missed the class about buying low and selling high. The time to move a player having a career year during a contract year was at the trade deadline. Based upon how assets were trading, we would have been able to fetch at less a 2nd rounder in 2015 for him. Now we risk letting him walk for nothing at the end of the season with nothing to show for than a first round playoff exit.

    Another short term money grab by our “bring the cup to this city” ownership….

    • Fred-65

      I guess that depends if Benning even had GM’s interested in renting Matthias. It was already reported here on CA that Benning didn’t have calls on Higgins so maybe other GM’s didn’t call about acquiring a guy who would be available at the end of the season. If anything, the extra 20+ games in the season would give other GM’s more time to assess Matthias, at Benning’s expense.

  • Dirty30

    Winning the cup is what this is all about and thus trading him, and reducing your chances — however slim — is a non-starter for this team.

    In comparing him to Higgins and Hansen, it’s important to note his age differential. Being a younger free-agent will drive up his asking price, regardless of how one feels about his playing value compared to the afformentioned third line stalwarts.

    In a vacuum where a player’s value to the Canucks vis-a-vis the rest of the league is non-existent, then payng him more than Higgins or Hansen makes no sense. But understanding where Matthias might fit in with the team long-term (which would likely last longer than Higgins, and probably Hansen) is an important component as well. He maybe just “scores goals” but this is no trivial factor when it comes to this team’s relative lack of go-to-goal scorers. And thus consideration for what he would make on the open market is relevant.

    At $4 million, that’s an overpay I’m not rushing to make. But if the Canucks see him as a core guy moving forward, then perhaps you can offset his cap hit by trading a Higgins and making room for one of your prospects. It’s an option that I wouldn’t dismiss if I was GM of the Canucks.

    Higgins, for all his value, is a guy who will likley regress beyond this season. Despite the 200-foot game he brings as a 31-year old winger, it’s safe to assume a regression for a guy who is putting up 8 goals this year — a significant drop from last year’s 17 goals.

  • Fred-65

    As we all know, the Canucks have three UFAs. There is only so much money to go around and we are looking to get younger ( Virtanen & Bartschi). With that in mind it is my guess Vancouver says goodbye to Shawn and resigns Dorsett and Richardson who will center the fourth line. Bo will move to the third line. Sadly Vancouver will miss Mathias`s size, speed and ability to play wing and center. Tough decisions are ahead for Benning and company.

  • Fred-65

    What do they pay Matthius depends on the Cap next season and that’s thought to be around $70 million. They want to sign Tanev, Dorsett, Vey, Kenins, Sbisa, Corrado, Stanton, Clendening, Baertschi, Markstrom and maybe Weber. Currently they will have 15 retruning players already sugned and their Cap hit is $56 million. That leaves $14 million to divide between 8 players to bring the roster to 23, some thing has to give !

  • Dirty30

    Disagree with comparisons as he is younger. I would be willing to pay $4 million and play him on second line and second PP as well as PK. Higgins is past his best due date, as he has limited no trade, I would move him this summer. I would also try and move Bieksa (to Toronto) and Burrows (to Montreal. I would keep a million off each salary and ask for 2nd or 3rd round picks. Markstrom will be gone this summer.

    Our actual number is $54 on the cap already next year. This gives us: Sedin/Sedin/Vrbata/Bonino/Kassian/Hansen/Horvat for a total of $26.3. Add Matthias at $4 and we are at $30.3 for 8 forwards, we need 5 more. On d We would have Edler/Hamhuis at $9.5. We need 6 more dmen. Our goalies are set at 7.95 (including Luongo hold over). So we would be at 47.8. Lets add Dorsett and Richardson at an average of $2. So we are at $51.8. Add Virtanen (set .925) and Kenins (raise to .8) $54 approx. One more maybe Baertschi at (1.9) so we are at approx. $56. Tanev at (4) 60 million and we need 5 dmen for 9 million.

    The key is to dump the over 30 fading trio. I think that is doable. Burrows is well paid and I think would go to Montreal, Teams back east looking at Phaneuf would love Bieksa at $2.5 million less and I believe Higgins would accept a trade to the New York area, perhaps NYI who will be in his neighbourhood. If we ask for little in return we will be fine.

    • Dirty30

      All good points except I can’t see teams jumping on the aging trio at the draft and carrying their salaries over the season — it makes sense when looking at a playoff push to find an asset with experience but I don’t see Toronto taking on Juice now or ever.

      Burrows in Montreal would be bittersweet but it could extend his career with less travel and fewer California style teams to play against.

  • Fred-65

    @Rusty

    I don’t agree with your seemingly implied stance that everything short of completely dismantling the team is a cynical money grab. How bout some perspective. The Florida Marlins are a cynical money grab. Giving the fans what they want (playoffs) is giving the fans what they want. Is it in the long run interest of the Canucks? It might not be (I have less certainty than you about that), but in the long run we’re all dead. Balancing the short and long term is something I am happy the Nucks are doing.

  • Dirty30

    The problem with statistics is they don’t take into consideration variables such as changing teams and positions. This could be the case with Matthias.

    The issue is what position does Matthias play? As a centre he is an average goal scorer who is reasonably good in the face-off circle and on defense. His big weakness is distributing the puck. As a centre he is best suited on the 3rd line playing 13-14 minutes a night. If that is to be his role then management would be foolish to pay him any more than $2.5M.

    However, if the plan is to play him as winger then we have a different hockey player. He has the good speed, size and strength to go to the net and the hands to put it in. He is your typical power forward who has the ability to score 20+ goals a year if he plays with a decent centre. If that is what the Canucks have planned for him then $3.5M is not out of the question.

    I think they should put him on a line with Horvat next season. Given their size and speed they could be a formidable combination.