Jarret Stoll’s 40.02% score-adjusted CF% isn’t getting anyone in Minnesota excited about the Wild claiming him off waivers from the New York Rangers on Tuesday. It’s the fourth worst mark in the NHL among forwards who have played at least 200 minutes.
But that number doesn’t tell the whole story of what is happening with Stoll’s season and how he potentially fits into the Wild roster.
Stoll’s CF% has raised a lot of eyebrows. However, a lot of the discussion around his CF% isn’t taking any context into account. This isn’t to say that he’s actually a hidden Patrice Bergeron, but that the 40.02% taken alone doesn’t tell any kind of story.
A big part of that number for any player is always the team. That shouldn’t be surprising. Last year the Buffalo Sabres had a league-worst 36% score-adjusted CF%. Accordingly, 16 of the 20 worst individual CF% marks in the NHL were Sabres. The other four were split between Colorado (29th ranked 42.7%) and Columbus (26th ranked 46.8%).
The Rangers have started clawing their way up from the league’s possession basement, despite a great record to start the year. They are now 21st in the league with a 47.8% CF%. That’s a significant improvement from where they were when they were one of the hottest teams in the league. They were tied for second to last in the league with 46.6% CF% from the start of the season through November 30.
It shouldn’t be surprising that they’ve got players at the bottom of the heap.
Putting Stoll’s raw CF% entirely on him is no more accurate than calling Stoll a possession monster for being above 50% CF% in each of the prior seven seasons. During those seasons he was on a strong Los Angeles Kings squad. In that time with Los Angeles he was generally slightly negative in relative Corsi while taking negative relative zone starts.
This starts to zero-in on some context to Stoll’s CF%. With the Rangers, he was getting the worst zone starts among team forwards at a -49.2% ZSO%Rel (13% offensive zone starts). That’s the second lowest ZSO%Rel in the NHL.
Zone starts only account for so much, but a center getting that heavy of defensive deployment isn’t being set up to succeed offensively. In fact, when you see a center with that kind of deployment, you start to think of Nashville’s use of Paul Gaustad last year. They would frequently send him out for a d-zone faceoff because he wins a ridiculous percentage of them. Then they’d have him get off the ice.
That plays out for Stoll as well. He has been getting very short shifts in New York, with a similar kind of defensive deployment. He’s averaging just 38.1 seconds per shift this season. That’s in the neighborhood of Gaustad’s 36.3 seconds per shift.
Compare that figure to another center on the Wild like Mikko Koivu at 50 seconds or Charlie Coyle at 46 seconds. There’s a big gap, much of which is obviously based on talent and not deployment. Nonetheless, from a defensive zone face-off, that’s the difference between a center getting the puck out of the zone and changing versus a center getting the puck out of the zone and joining the rush. (Again, a rush led by Koivu, or say Derek Stepan, is a much different thing than with Stoll, but at his shift length it’s frequently not even being attempted.)
Another way of trying to pull his zone starts and possession numbers together is with Stephen Burtch’s dCorsi, which, oversimplified, shows the difference between expected CF% based on usage and observed CF%. Stoll has a positive 15.66. He’s not challenging for first line minutes, but he is outperforming what expected CF% is based on his usage.
The parallel with Gaustad makes some sense since Stoll is another player who is dominant in the face-off circle.
Over the last nine seasons he’s been below a 54.7% FO% just once. It was a 51% mark. For the Wild, that’s useful. They lean on Koivu in the face-off circle a lot. Koivu is averaging 23.6 face-offs per game, while the next highest is Mikael Granlund at 14.3, followed by Coyle at 10.8 and Erik Haula at 10.
Only four teams in the NHL lean more heavily on their top center, with Minnesota giving 37.7% of all face-offs to Koivu.
Outside of Koivu, only Haula is drawing above 50% this year. That’s a big improvement for Haula, but it’s hard to bank on it continuing with his 52.4% this season coming over the course of just 271 of his 1,192 career face-offs. He draws at 47.2% across his career.
Haula has also continued to do poorly against left-handed centermen, drawing just 48.2% against them. That’s the best he’s ever done against lefties in his career. Stoll also brings a little flexibility there, with team having Charlie Coyle as their only right-handed center and being short righties who play the penalty kill.
Where the Value Is
There’s reason to believe that Stoll’s possession numbers aren’t as bad as they look. In him, the Wild are bringing in another center who can win face-offs, which, even if he’s not playing a ton and we don’t inflate the value of face-offs, can provide some relief for Koivu that could allow him to be deployed more to his skillset and not just because an important face-off is about to take place.
Knowing all that and seeing that Stoll has been above a 50% score-adjusted CF% in each of the last seven seasons, with some slight negative relative CF% numbers posted while taking negative relative zone starts, he is likely an upgrade for the team that costs hardly anything at all. If Coyle or Haula move to wing and Chris Porter winds up in the press box, the team is likely to improve.
That despite, Stoll providing hardly any offense this season, with a 0.5 points per 60 minutes of even strength play, the lowest mark of his career. Additionally, I’d say from the eye test that he’s lost a step or two over the last couple seasons. But putting all this together, he’s not a downgrade on a guy like Chris Porter on the Wild’s fourth line. And none of the Wild’s fourth liners are producing considerably more offense as a scoring rate.
If that’s the swap, then Stoll is an upgrade in part because of his ability to provide some versatility, even if it’s marginal versatility like matching up well against left-handed center. With injuries an inevitability in the NHL and the crew in Iowa not being the most inspiring lot (they didn’t win a single game in November), Stoll is an upgrade over many options the team has in the AHL.
There’s more to be excited about with a Tyler Graovac or a Cristoph Bertschy in the long-term, but no one who has come up from Iowa this season has played in a way that demanded more ice time, limited though their ice time may have been. That includes Jordan Schroeder, Brett Bulmer and Kurtis Gabriel as well.
Schroeder has a lot to offer when his game is clicking, but he’s not suited to the Wild’s fourth line and hasn’t played particularly well for Minnesota this season, despite having ample time to find his game.
With a cap hit of just $800,000, Stoll works for the Wild right now. It’s not an inspiring move, but it’s improvement that cost very little. The team didn’t lose draft picks or players or take on a big contract. General Manager Chuck Fletcher also believes that Stoll’s experience being a leader and winning two Stanley Cups can help the team. I think that’s probably worth as much as faceoffs against a left-handed center. It’s something. It’s a small edge. It’s a very small edge. But you take any advantage you can get.
If this doesn’t work out, it was a low-risk move that had the potential to improve the team’s forward depth before the half-way mark of the year. That’s a gamble worth taking.
Stats current as of games completed December 14, 2015. All Corsi numbers are score-adjusted. Advanced stats via War on Ice. Face-off stats via Faceoffs.net. Burtch’s dCorsi is available at War on Ice.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.