When the Florida Panthers matched up against the soon-to-be Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils, more than one pundit called for the sweep. Entering these Stanley Cup Playoffs, the most pressing question regarding the Panthers was not how far they’d go, rather, were they the worst team team to qualify for the postseason since the lockout?

Fitting, then, that criminally underrated center Marcel Goc sent Devils-Panthers to a decisive overtime with his late, tying Game 7 goal. Of all the reasons the Panthers subtly defied expectations, Goc had to be a big one — he tied for second on Florida with 5 playoff points, playing second line minutes at even strength and on the power play, while doing the lion’s share on the penalty kill.

Five points in one playoff series, though, admittedly isn’t evidence of much. Far more unlikely candidates have played well in a given seven game series. Marcel Goc, however, is no such flash in the pan. He’s one of the best second line centers in the NHL.

And I know that’s a tough billing to place on a player that’s never scored more than the 30 points in a season. The former first-round pick and standing captain of Team Germany, however, is hard to appreciate for the same reason he’s so valuable: versatility. In a league so obsessed with comparing players it’s codified in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Marcel Goc defies comparison — to his distinct financial disadvantage.

I’m going to attempt to illustrate, here, exactly how good Goc is, in the most German way possible: the cold rationality of statistical data. Unfortunately, I cannot promise a characteristic German efficiency.

Marcel Goc: Scorer

This part of Goc’s game is the easiest to quantify, but still fairly impressive. Logically, several player’s value lies in how a coach uses him. A forward can play a little worse than in previous seasons, but still have a career year, if he earns more power play time. Frustratingly, Barry Trotz refused to ever use Goc on the powerplay in Nashville, despite his being a top even-strength scorer for the Predators. And his 0 power play points in two season in Nashville undoubtedly lead in part to his accepting just $1.7 million per season from the Panthers.

Year Team EVP/60 PPP/60
09-10 NSH 1.90 (3) 0
10-11 NSH 1.90 (5) 0
11-12 FLA 1.79 (4) 3.42 (5)

All values are expressed as points per 60 with team rank in parentheses. Values from behindthenet.ca.

For the past three seasons, Goc has been a top-6 even-strength scorer, a feat that’s incredibly impressive when considering his 5-on-5 usage (discussed below).

Marcel Goc: Shutdown Center

Nugent-Hopkins benefited from easy line matchups (Icon SMI)

Another important part of usage (besides special teams TOI) that affects production is quality of competition. Some rookies will burst onto the scene with huge point totals, in part because their coaches are using veteran forwards to shield them from tough minutes. Think how Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle were allowed to succeed  in Edmonton this year, as Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky took on other team’s top lines.

Marcel Goc is often called upon to be the Horcoff of his team. And he’s not merely passable in the role — he’s one of the best at it. Corsi-relative Quality of Competition is one stat used to measure the strength of a player’s minutes. It’s not so useful in comparing players across teams, but it generally gives a ranking of players minutes within their own team’s forward corps. (Marcel Goc lead the Panthers this season.)

We can, however, compare Goc’s resulting performance to other player’s in similar roles. Generally, Corsi RelQoC is used to partially explain away a bad Corsi number. Players in shutdown roles often come out on the negative end of their team’s shot differential. Goc, however, despite his role, has no bad number to explain away.

This table is a (not necessarily exhaustive) list of centers who fill a similar role on their teams:

Player Corsi RelQoC Corsi
M. Goc 1.140 4.70
M. Fisher 1.604 -12.87
S. Horcoff 1.497 -6.82
K. Brodziak 1.071 -12.95
T. Plekanec 0.905 -6.53
M. Talbot 0.872 1.54
J. Staal 1.461 4.80
F. Nielsen 0.869 4.40
J. Pavelski 1.633 12.32
D. Backes 1.158 10.45
N. Thompson 1.254 -10.74
S. Pahlsson 1.050 -6.69
J. Slater 0.900 -20.11
B. Laich 1.279 -7.49
B. Sutter 1.379 -8.90
D. Bolland 1.386 -1.35

Jordan Staal and Frans Nielsen, both in major media markets, get the drum beat a lot more for their Selke Trophy candidacies. Goc is just as deserving. In fact, Goc may have an even better case when you consider a final facet of his game…

Marcel Goc: Defensive Zone Faceoff Ace

There’s an elite group of defensive centers that have a 40% or lower o-zone start percentage — i.e.: they take at least 3 defensive zone faceoffs for every 2 offensive zone draws. These players are typically centers with very good faceoff skills and defensive detail. Said players often get hammered by shot-based stats like Corsi-rating, because they’re essentially skating up hill most shifts just to reach the offensive zone, let alone get a shot off.

Last season, 21 players had a o-zone% less than 40%. Marcel Goc was one such player (38.2%). And he was the only one with a positive Corsi-rating. Put another way: there’s a defensive role that over 2/3 of the coaches in the NHL consider important to their defensive schemata and Marcel Goc is best at it. And in 2009-10, when just 15 players met this criteria, Marcel Goc again led them in Corsi (7.32) by a healthy margin.

Marcel Goc: ein Volksheld

I used to refer to Goc as the Predators’ “Swiss Army Knife,” but that analogy doesn’t do him justice. It suggests he handily fills a bunch of minor roles. Really, Goc is one of just a handfull of forwards who serves every top defensive role on his team — faceoff ace, shutdown center, and top PKer. And he provides a solid amount of offense to boot.

Really, he’s just a great two-way center. And with a little better injury luck, and more PP time, the rest of the league may soon recognize him as such.

  • Jeff

    Great piece, Sam. Goc played some of the toughest minutes in the league and still pushed the play in the right direction.

  • Jonathan Kryza

    As a Preds fan, I was sad to see Goc go. He was playing behind Fisher and Legwand and he deserved to be higher. Goc is definitely a Top 6 Forward. “Goc’ cha”.

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