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Criticizing Stanley: The numbers behind the scrutiny

Logan Stanley playing in the Memorial Cup re-ignited the conversation about the polarizing prospect.

2016 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images

Did you hear about the Memorial Cup? Congratulations to the Windsor Spitfires on your victory! And congratulations to Winnipeg Jets prospect, defenceman Logan Stanley on being a part of this championship team. Even though Stanley is more than likely a hard working player, it does not make him a smart pick for a NHL team to make in the first round.

It Was A Bad Trade

The big gripe is that there were a number of good defencemen available in the 2016 Draft when the Jets drafted Stanley. Forget that they could have potentially given minimally more than they did to move up just a little higher and draft now-Coyote Jakob Chychrun; there were defencemen drafted after Stanley’s 18th overall spot that would have been more worth the pick. Just two of the notable ones are Lucas Johansen, selected 28th overall by Washington, and Kale Clague, selected 51st by Los Angeles. The blueliners scored 49 points in 69 games and 43 points in 71 games, respectively. And that’s just assuming the Jets, regardless of whom they picked, would have picked a defenceman like they did. While I wouldn’t recommend it, they could have picked a good forward. Had they simply not traded the pick, they could have gotten Stanley anyway, or preferably one of the aforementioned better defencemen, and kept their second-round pick, which would have been early enough to pick Alex DeBrincat, who is shaping up to be a nice player.

What Makes Stanley A Bad Pick

This 2013 piece by Rhys Jessop here really resonated with me when it comes to drafting CHL defencemen. For those unwilling to follow the link, the piece looks at CHL defencemen selected in the first three rounds of the 1999 through 2008 drafts. The defencemen are divided into high- and low-scoring, based on whether they scored more or less than 0.6 points per game (an arbitrary cutoff) in the season immediately preceding their selection in the draft. They are also divided into successful and unsuccessful, based on whether they played more or less than 40% of the games (also arbitrary) their draft team played after their selection. His conclusions boil down to:

  1. High-scoring defencemen make up most of the successes,
  2. Low-scoring defencemen make up the vast majority of the failures, and
  3. Of the low-scoring defencemen who were successes, nearly all of them became high-scoring in the CHL the year immediately following their selection.

Stanley is what one would consider a low-scoring defenceman. He scored 17 points in 64 games, a 0.27 point-per-game pace. For comparison, Boris Valabik, Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2004, the last time this franchise selected a big defensive D in the first round, a player I might add had similar size and scouting reports (“first pass”, mean, skates well for a big guy) to Stanley when he was drafted, had 15 points in 68 games, a 0.22 point-per-game pace, for the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL.

My theory on why this scoring-to-NHL success holds true is that a player’s skill has less and less of an impact as a player moves through higher levels. In the CHL, there are a great many players who won’t make the NHL, perhaps not even go pro. In the NHL on the other hand, nearly all of the players are highly skilled, which necessitates a greater overall skill level to have an impact (think why Sidney Crosby hasn’t in the NHL approached the 66 goals and 168 points he scored in his draft year), one that such low-scoring defencemen don’t possess. Sure enough, notable defensive defencemen had an offensive impact with their junior teams. Lots of offence doesn’t guarantee NHL success, and a lack thereof doesn’t preclude a defenceman from making the NHL, but neither case is a rule.

What Doesn’t Make Stanley A Good Pick

If you didn’t follow the CHL this season, or at least didn’t do what I did and look at his numbers, you will be surprised to learn that Stanley improved to 0.49 points per game this past season. The major caveat here is that he was limited by injury to 35 games in his regular season. While one may be quick to downplay the impact of that, one should be reminded that fewer games played magnifies the effect of productive or unproductive stretches on a players PPG numbers (think Andrew Ladd’s 0.96 PPG in 2013). Perhaps Stanley would have maintained a similar pace had he not missed all that time, perhaps he would have cooled to a lower pace. Either way, his offensive improvement isn’t convincing in the slightest. A major story is that his team won a Memorial Cup. This says nothing about his improvement. NHL history has plenty of examples of players who “won a championship” who really happened to be on the team that won, rather than important players (Matt Greene, Los Angeles 2014; Andrew Desjardins, Chicago 2015; etc.). Stanley ranked fourth among Spitfires D in points per game, and although he scored a goal during the Memorial Cup Final, bad players can score timely goals too. I didn’t get to see the game, but based on Twitter reaction, Stanley’s actual play may not have improved much.

Wanting Success

It looks like we (we in this sense being those who aren’t blindly approving of his selection) don’t like him and want him to fail. The point of this piece, however, is to explain that we only don’t like him as a player and aren’t cheering for his failure. We are only judging Stanley based on expectations for a top-20 draft pick. As much as we don’t like the pick, we don’t blame him for being picked 18th overall anymore than we can blame an overpaid player for accepting his contract. For all our gripes and sarcastic comments, we are still Winnipeg Jets fans. We don’t want Logan Stanley to fail as a player, both because we don’t want to see a player who is also a human being to fail, and because we don’t want to see the team we have chosen to cheer for fail.

Just because we don’t want him or the team to fail, however, doesn’t mean we don’t expect him to fail. As I’ve explained above is that there are serious red flags that have left many doubtful that Stanley is capable of being the successful player everyone wants him to be. They are also red flags that left us doubtful of the Jets current direction because Stanley was picked in spite of those red flags. At the end of the day, it’s about being realistic. The odds are stacked against Stanley becoming an impactful player and the Jets were dumb to select him when they did and to trade up to do so. The widely-held belief that the Jets have a great draft record doesn’t change that. Stanley’s improved numbers don’t change that. Stanley’s team winning a trophy doesn’t change that. We’re not wrong for saying so. I, like everyone else should, especially in this particular case, will hope for the best and expect the worst.