Climbing the NHL Ladd-er, It Starts With Inking the Captain

 

There are a lot of ways to describe hockey players.  You'll hear characters like Don Cherry and others refer to guys with guts, heart, leadership and a variety of cliché terms.  While these terms sound great, they are incredibly difficult to measure and even more difficult to define with respect to their impact on a hockey game.  If you're new to my writing, don't expect to see a boatload of canned phrases and old-school hockey beliefs.

To be honest, I believe that a player's heart, work ethic, leadership and "locker room presence" actually exist, but they just don't outweigh talent.  On top of that, we have a variety of ways to measure and gauge talent, but heart is a judgement call.

So why am I rambling on about all this crap?  If we're going to debate and argue the finer points of Winnipeg's team, we need to use facts and I plan to provide plenty of them.  Almost all of them come from BehindTheNet.ca, which was founded and is run by our own Gabriel Desjardins (known as Hawerchuk around here).

So to kick it all off, let's consider what captain Andrew Ladd is worth to the team, both for his on-ice value and financially against the salary cap.

More after the jump.....

Scoring

A large portion of hockey fans just look at how many points a player scores and make an immediate judgment.  Under those criteria, Ladd's season of 29 goals, 30 assists and 59 points was successful, but hardly on the verge of winning a scoring title.

Despite his total points increasing, Ladd's scoring rate has actually decreased from his final season in Chicago.  In 2009-10, he scored 2.11 points per 60 minutes at Even Strength while he scored 1.85 points per 60 minutes last season with the Thrashers.  The guys on the Illegal Curve Radio Show talked about this same thing on June 10th.

Don't get me wrong, Ladd didn't have a worse season, he was just the focus of opposition defences without players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to take the heat.  But we'll talk about that in a few minutes.

To put Ladd's even strength scoring rate in perspective, it was almost identical to that of Eric Staal, Mark Recchi, James Neal, Jordan Staal, Paul Stastny and Phil Kessel.  He's scoring at the rate of a Top 6 forward, but he's not challenging for the Art Ross anytime soon. 

Ladd also added almost 2 minutes per game of PP time to his repertoire, taking on yet another offensive role.  This is definitely a boost to his overall point total.

Possession

If you're new to advanced statistics in hockey, this is the most important thing you need to understand.  Possession leads to winning.  We don't measure possession as a percentage of time like they do in soccer, we measure it in terms of shots towards the opponent's net and against our own.  We use a stat called Corsi which is like +/-, but measuring all shot attempts (on net, missed the net, and blocked) as the pluses and minuses.  This tells us who is driving the play to their opponents end and who is getting dominated and stuck in their own zone.

Andrew Ladd has been a positive Corsi player for each of the last 4 years.  During 3 of those years, he played for the Corsi-dominant Chicago Blackhawks, so it can be tough to tell how good he really was or whether he was riding the coattails of more talented players.

However, on the Thrashers, Ladd wasn't getting a ton of help.  He was letting others draft behind him, Cole Trickle style.

Ladd had a positive 4.3 Corsi last season, meaning the Thrashers averaged 4.3 more attempts at goal than they gave up (per 60 minutes)when he was on the ice.  Not only was he a positive possession player overall, but his Corsi Relative was 9.5.  This means he was worth 9.5 shot attempts more than the average Thrasher.  The only forward on the roster with a better rate was Bryan Little.

Possession can absolutely be influenced by the type of ice time a player gets, so let's move on to situational stats.

Situational Stats

Situational stats are important for analysis because they provide context, just like investing in the stock market.  It sounds great when you hear someone made 7% on their mutual funds, unless you know the market grew by 10% that year.  The same goes for advanced stats (sometimes called microstats) in hockey.

There are 3 situational stats we use extensively.  The first is the strength situation on the ice.  Obviously goals at even-strength (ES) are harder to come by than those on the power play.  This situation is generally implied.  For instance, when we talk about scoring rates and Corsi, we imply even-strength unless we state otherwise.

The next two are the ones you'll see us use a lot.  The first is quality of competition.  It makes sense that it's more difficult to score against Zdeno Chara than it is against Sami Lepisto.  We use a variety of measures to show the quality of competition and they all measure the strength of competition a player has faced every shift of every game throughout the season.  My preference is Corsi Rel QoC.  The higher the number, the harder the competition a player faced.

The final situation stat is zone start percentage.  Do you think a player is more likely to score if he starts his shift in the offensive zone or the defensive zone?  Pretty obvious right?  Well, Zone Starts just show us which players get the easier job of hopping the bench into the offensive zone and which ones have to strap in and defend their net more often.  If the number is higher than 50%, a player gets more starts in the o-zone.   A few percentage points either side of 50 is considered average.

Andrew Ladd is a tough minutes beast.  That's his biggest value to this Winnipeg squad.  He plays against top competition and comes out ahead.  His quality of competition (Corsi Rel QoC) was the highest of any Thrashers forward last year, and yet his relative possession (Corsi Rel) rate was still second.  That can't be overstated.  He faced the other team's shutdown lines or shutdown defensive pairing and still controlled the play.   And did he get a boost from starting in the offensive zone a lot?  Absolutely not, his zone start ratio of 50.6% was average.

This isn't the first season that Ladd has proven his ability to play against the best competition either.  Back in January, I wrote about the Heavy Lifter Index for Hockey Prospectus.  It is a slightly more complex method than I've described here, with the purpose of deciding which players in the NHL were "the elite" when put in the toughest situations. 

Ladd had the single best season of any player from 2007 to 2010 and was 8th best in the NHL over that 3-season span behind the likes Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards and others.  To be fair, he's not Datsyuk or Zetterberg, they are aliens from another galaxy and should be cloned at the earlier opportunity.  That said, Ladd has a proven track record of taking tough minutes and turning them into positive results.  This skill has the trickle-down effect of allowing other players to get more favourable matchups, much like the Sedins benefitted from having Malhotra or Kesler's lines take all the defensive and matchup responsibilities for Ottawa West (just read it...you'll like it...I promise).

As if to add to his resume, Ladd also took on penalty kill duties last year.  He didn't really kill penalties with Chicago (0.09 min per game) but he took on a much bigger role with the Thrashers (1.82 min per game), with the second most time on the PK behind Radek Dvorak.

Andrew Ladd's biggest value is in his versatility and the matchup options for the coach.  He doesn't have to be sheltered in any way, and can provide opportunities for other players to play to their strengths. 

Potential contract

Given the review I've given him above, I'm sure it's no surprise that I think Winnipeg needs to get a deal done with Andrew Ladd as soon as possible.  Since he's a Restricted Free Agent (RFA), the team has a lot more leverage than the player does in this case.  Other teams can put in an offer sheet, but Winnipeg can match or give him up and take the compensation like when the Oilers signed Dustin Penner.

While I've compared Ladd to the likes of Jordan Staal, Phil Kessel and James Neal from an even-strength scoring perspective, we can also compare him to the likes of Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards from the standpoint of his ability to play against the league's best players.  I'm not intentionally trying to be confusing, just showing the complexity of determining his value.

 

Scoring Comparables

Player

Cap Hit

Jordan Staal

$4m

Phil Kessel

$5.4m

James Neal

$2.9m

 

Matchup Comparables

Player

Cap Hit

Alex Burrows

$2m

Ryan Kesler

$5m

Mike Richards

$5.75m

 

Looking at the comparables, Ladd's closest comparison is likely Jordan Staal.  He has proven to be more durable than Staal and has put up similar offense in Atlanta with much less talented teammates.  While some might balk at spending $4 or 5 million on a guy who scores like a second line player, I believe that there is quite a bit of value to playing top competition, that not only means something to the player being evaluated, but in bringing value out of teammates as well.

Ladd brings a lot to the table, takes very little off of it and wants to be in Winnipeg.  That combination may be hard for the franchise to come by very often and they need to get him locked up soon.

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