Over the course of the off-season, I’ll be examining the essential questions facing the Anaheim Ducks in the 2012-13 season, as they look to regain elite standing in the league. Stay tuned as the pieces start to role out!
Management vs. Coaching vs. The Core
Earlier in the Summer I started out on a series of pieces that would examine the three key elements tied to the Anaheim Ducks’ fortunes. The first two pieces dealt with Anaheim’s management and coaching respectively (to read these pieces, click here and here). The question of whether Anaheim’s core group of players as currently assembled have what it takes to win is a much deeper question, however, and I’ll be dividing the pieces into individual spotlights on the following six players: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Cam Fowler, Luca Sbisa, and Jonas Hiller.
Last week I singled out Ryan Getzlaf and asked whether or not he was a “problem” for the Ducks.
Next up: Can Corey Perry rebound?
As Goes Perry, So Go The Ducks
From almost the moment they were drafted into the League together in 2003, Ryan Getzlaf (19th overall) and Corey Perry (28th overall) have been practically tied together at the hip. They made their NHL debuts together in 2005, have been sent down to and called up from the AHL together, and have almost exclusively played on the same line with each other for the last seven years. They’ve represented their country and won an Olympic Gold medal together (once again, on the same line). They’ve won the Stanley Cup together, and together they form one of the most dominant duos in the NHL – there is, after all, a reason why the Anaheim faithful affectionately refer to Getzlaf and Perry as “the twins.”
However, for as much attention as they received for being a pair earlier in their careers, the sense in the hockey community was always that Corey Perry was merely a passenger on the bus being driven by Ryan Getzlaf. That all changed during the 2010-11 season when Getzlaf went down with a nasty facial injury and Perry decided to strap the Anaheim Ducks to his back and essentially will them to the playoffs while on his way to picking up the Rocket Richard and Hart Memorial trophies at the year-end awards show. Perry finished that year with a League-leading 50 goals and racked up an impressive 98 points, third in the League behind only Martin St. Louis (99) and Daniel Sedin (104). To put this in perspective, Perry’s previous career highs for goals and points had been 32 (2008-09) and 76 (2009-10) respectively.
After Perry’s coming out party, the expectations placed on the feisty winger were at an all-time high. He had proven that he was a dominant NHL player in his own right, and that he too could drive the bus, so to speak.
His response in the 2011-12 season left a lot to be desired, however, as Perry slumped to 37 goals and 23 assists for 60 points in 80 games played. To put that in perspective, 60 is Perry’s lowest point total since the 2007-08 season which saw him score 54 points (29g, 25a) in 70 games. To put that in further perspective, until the 2011-12 season, Perry had consistently improved his points total, and more impressively, his Points Per Game average, from season to season. His year-by-year PPG average reads thusly:
06-07 PPG: 0.537
07-08 PPG: 0.771
08-09 PPG: 0.923
09-10 PPG: 0.927
10-11 PPG: 1.195
Perry’s PPG average in 2011-12? 0.75 – his lowest since 2007-08. What accounts for this?
Keys to Perry’s Regression
When it comes to examining the potential problem areas behind Corey Perry’s dramatic decline in production following his break-out year, I believe that his regression can’t simply be tied to one factor, but rather must be considered in the larger context of multiple factors.
More League-Wide Awareness
As mentioned above, Perry had long been perceived of as being dependent on Ryan Getzlaf – that as long as Getzlaf was shut down, Perry wouldn’t be nearly as effective. When his 2010-11 season blew that theory out of the water, league-wide perception shifted, and suddenly Perry found himself the focal point of defensive strategies. No wonder then, that Perry’s (and Getzlaf’s) offensive contributions dried up in 2011-12. Where previously a team would actively try to shut down Ryan Getzlaf, they instead focused all of their energies on shutting down Corey Perry – and frankly, I don’t know why this strategy wasn’t adopted sooner. With Getzlaf’s noted reluctance to shoot the puck, taking away his go-to passing option in Perry should, in theory, significantly stifle the Ducks’ offensive output. Newsflash: that’s exactly what happened.
Corey Perry has played a lot of hockey over the last seven-or-so years. When you consider his 530 NHL regular season games and 54 NHL playoff games, and his 14 additional International-level games and 22 AHL games (regular season and playoffs), and you mix that with Perry’s physically punishing, abrasive style of play, you’ve got yourself a recipe for one tired hockey player. To recap, that’s 620 elite-level hockey games over the course of seven years. It may seem an excuse, but perhaps Perry was simply worn down and couldn’t perform to his previous level. Despite common belief, even professional athletes do get tired.
A concept as nebulous and indefinable as “bad luck” can be a tricky thing to hang a theoretical hat on when examining the success (or lack there of) of a certain player, but there do exist some advanced statistics that can perhaps shed some light on a player’s luck (or, again, lack thereof). In the case of Corey Perry, it is important, I think, to look at some of the advanced metrics presented by a site like BehindTheNet.ca.
Just looking briefly at Perry’s offensive zone starts (48.6%) compared to his offensive zone finishes (52.1%), and weighing those percentages with his On-ice Corsi number of 7.60 and Relative On-ice Corsi number of 15.9 (both tops for Anaheim), and his On-ice shooting percentage (7.63%), a picture of Perry’s luck (or, all together now, lack thereof) begins to develop. If your head is spinning, fear not, it’s actually quite simple once explained.
Here are the key points to take away from the above metrics:
1) Zone start and finish %’s – Although Perry started less than half of his shifts in the offensive zone, by shifts end, more than half the time he finished them in the offensive zone.
2) Corsi and Relative Corsi – This is an elaborate (but highly effective) way of measuring puck possession. Essentially, Corsi is a personal stat that measures the differential in the amount of shots a team directs at their opponent’s net (including blocked shots and missed shots) with a certain player on the ice versus the amount of shots directed at one’s own net with the same player on the ice. Relative Corsi takes this a step further by measuring the differential in shots attempted with a player on the ice versus when he’s not on the ice. All this means is that for every 60 minutes Corey Perry was on the ice in 2011-12, the Ducks took an average of 7.6 more shot attempts than their opponent, and that for every 60 minutes on the ice versus 60 minutes off the ice, the Ducks were better off to the tune of 15.9 more shots attempted than their opponent. In other words, Perry was once again Anaheim’s main offensive engine.
3) On-ice Shooting % – This simply means that with Perry on the ice, Anaheim’s team shooting percentage was 7.63%. For comparison’s sake, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne had on-ice shooting percentages of 11.16% and 10.28% respectively.
So how does luck fit in here? Well, so long as a player is driving play forward by possessing the puck more often than his opponent, beyond that, there’s only so much he can do to put points on the board. Selanne and Koivu’s relative corsi stats, for example are 5.0 and 3.2 respectively – not terrible, but certainly not astounding either. This demonstrates that while Perry was more effective at puck possession than anyone else in the Anaheim line-up, for whatever reason the puck just didn’t seem to want to go in as much with him on the ice.
To fry even smaller fish, Perry’s average amount of secondary assists per 60 minutes played was a minuscule 0.09. Compare this to primary assists per 60 minutes played (0.47), goals per 60 minutes played (0.98) and specifically points per 60 minutes played (1.54), and it’s not difficult to imagine how much more padded Perry’s point total may have been had the puck more consistently found a way into the back of the net two touches past Perry. Again, for comparison’s sake, Saku Koivu’s secondary assists per 60 minutes played average was a much gaudier 0.76.
Regression To The Mean
There’s every possibility that Corey Perry’s 2010-11 campaign was simply an outlier, and not something to be counted on. Perry’s career PPG average is 0.809 – which, if stretched out to a full 82 game schedule, is roughly 66 points per season. Obviously this statistic is dragged down slightly by his first few years in the league, but as these things have a tendency to average out over time, it would not be out of the question to expect Perry to, if healthy, ring the bell with between 60-70 points every season during his prime while obviously accounting for statistical outliers on both the high and low ends of the spectrum.
Corey Perry, Winner
Bad luck aside, history has shown that Corey Perry is one thing above all else: a winner. True, he’s an offensively gifted talent with the on-ice personality of sandpaper, but in a team setting, it seems as though all Corey Perry knows how to do is win. Check this out:
2005 World Junior Championship gold medalist
2005 Memorial Cup champion
2007 Stanley Cup Champion
2010 Olympic gold medalist
Already a member of the triple gold club, Perry is one IIHF World Championship gold medal short of joining an exceedingly elite club of players to have won every major championship there is to win in North American hockey – a club headlined by none other than former Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer. That is some heady company indeed for the Peterborough native.
Beyond the impressiveness of the accomplishment however, is an underlying truth: it’s no coincidence that Perry has been a part of so many winning teams. One doesn’t simply luck into these sorts of situations time after time. No, Corey Perry has been a winner at every level of hockey he’s played in, and there’s no reason to think that that won’t continue to be the case going forward. Unlike his running mate Getzlaf, Perry’s commitment and intensity level is never the subject of questions and speculation – he comes to play, for keeps, night in and night out.
He may have been the recipient of some bad bounces last season, and indeed I think that in a certain sense, the hockey community’s general aversion to advanced statistics is hurting perception of Perry’s 2011-12 campaign just as much as his admittedly disappointing point total. If one digs just slightly deeper below the surface, it’s easy to see that Perry was once again a dominant, game changing player for Anaheim.
Based on his history and consistent play over his seven year career, it should not be surprising to Anaheim fans to see Perry again return to the 70 point vicinity. This may seem a far cry from his stupendous 98 point season, but the fact of the matter is, most NHL teams would do horrible, horrible things to acquire a player that consistently produces at the rate that Perry has and should continue to produce.
After 2010-11, he may have become a victim of self-caused heightened expectations, but truly: consider the alternative of a player who never reaches his potential at all, much less his ceiling – who would you rather have in your line-up?