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The Advanced Value of the Jets Fourth Line

By Scott Billeck – @scottbilleck

Often, the Winnipeg Jets fourth line is bemoaned, criticized and downright put down by their own fans. The question is: Is it warranted?

Outside of a team like, say, Team Canada, a typical fourth line sees limited minutes over the course of a hockey game. There is a good reason for this, without the aid of advanced stats.

One of those reason is this: they aren’t the most skill players, at least offensively. In terms of the Jets, guys like James Wright, Anthony Peluso and Jim Slater account for as many goals as I have fingers and a few toes. Secondly, they tend to be energy players. They go out there after a goal, possibly after letting in a goal, and try to ignite their bench or keep the momentum going. A lot of fourth line guys are also scrappers. Guys like Peluso, Colton Orr of the Maple Leafs or Tom Sestito of the Canucks spend more time in the penalty box then they do on the ice.

Winnipeg Jets forward James Wright (17). SHAWN COATES PHOTO

Winnipeg Jets forward James Wright (17). SHAWN COATES PHOTO

These things affect their minutes to varying degrees. But it ultimately comes down to what they do while they are on the ice. That’s what counts over the course of a game and a season.

Using the “eye test,” as it has been labelled, would suggest that a guy like Wright is a below-average hockey player. He doesn’t score, he rarely assists on a goal and he doesn’t create a lot of offence. But if we are to use advanced stats, specifically Corsi, the numbers suggest might otherwise.

Corsi measures shot attempts — whether they be on net, misses, blocked or goals – of a given player and team. This is used both for and against and is recorded, again, for both player and team.

Now, Corsi suggests that players are better or worse given their Corsi percentage. Let’s say Dustin Byfuglien is on the ice for 15 shots for and seven against. His Corsi rating would be slightly over 50 percent and thus, above-average in the league; a good rating. If those numbers were switched around, Corsi would suggest it is a below-average; a bad rating.

It is when you apply these statistics to the Winnipeg Jets fourth line that you begin to see – despite their obvious sub-par offensive prowess – that they do contribute in a positive way to the team in game situations.

Fourth line guys, due to their limited ice-time, often see higher Corsi ratings. But this is still relevant because it is likely consistent to their ice-time in all the games that they play. You cannot compare a first line player to a fourth line player, realistically. The ice-time gap is too big to make an accurate read, as are the roles that both first and fourth line players play.

James Wright’s Corsi rating, over the course of the 2013-14 season is 47.1 percent. Not too shabby, given his role. Eric Tangradi sits at a 55 percent rating for the season which is very good. Jim Slater, although having only played 14 games due to a sports hernia, is a 50.8 percent and Anthony Peluso has a respectable 48 percent rating.

Winnipeg Jets forward Eric Tangradi (27) tries to deflect a shot from Winnipeg Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian (44). SHAWN COATES PHOTO

Winnipeg Jets forward Eric Tangradi (27). SHAWN COATES PHOTO

Of course, all of these players have bad games, as do players like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. But the numbers would suggest that they are effective in their roles on the fourth line, even without the offensive production fans may want.

To add further perspective, 47.7 percent is the league average for a fourth line player, putting James Wright’s numbers as near as makes no difference. Anything over 50 percent, such as Tangradi and Slater, puts a player into the top 15 percent league-wide.

Corsi, while not in its infancy anymore, is still a niche market. Numbers aren’t for everyone. It doesn’t make for good television or radio and it can be hard to follow and the learning curve to digest it can be steep.

It is also not the most interesting thing in the world either, but as we can see here, it sheds light on how a player that looks bad can be a player than actually has value in the right circumstances.

(Thanks to Garret Hohl for working out some of the math. All numbers taken are from Extraskater.com)
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