Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Tkachuk Analysis

Sorry to take almost a week to get this up, but it has been a busy time since the trade last Sunday that brought Keith Tkachuk to the Thrashers. I've been working on something to evaluate trades and draft picks but it isn't quite ready to post yet, but expect it soon.

Keith Tkachuk is one of the select group of people who have scored 50 goals in a NHL season. So he certainly has offensive talent. Of course, he is also 34, not 27 so we Thrasher fans should be realistic about what he can accomplish.

Let's take a look at the last five seasons by Tkachuk. Before the lockout Tkachuk was about a point-per-game player for the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were one of the NHL's better regular season teams finishing in the top third twice and then in the middle third once before the lockout. Since the return of the NHL the Blues have been one of the weaker clubs in the entire league finishing dead last in 2005-06 and ranking just 23rd this season. Perhaps, not surprisingly Tkachuk's production is also down a bit these last two seasons as well. It is hard to tell if this is an age driven decline or rather it reflects the fact that he was surrounded by a weaker team. Which is it? I'll try to figure it out in this post.

Season Age GP Points Points per GP STL Blues NHL Rank
2006-07 34 61 43 .70 23
2005-06 33 41 36 .88 30
2003-04 31 75 71 .95 14
2002-03 30 56 55 .98 8
2001-02 29 73 75 1.07 6

Well if we take a look at ice time numbers for the past couple of seasons, we can see that Tkachuk was played fewer minutes on the Power Play (PP hereafter) or at Even Strength (ES) than in the previous season (he very rarely plays on the PK). In fact, his PP ice time is down 33% from the prior year, so that suggests that part of the decline in his points-per-game simply reflects fewer PP minutes. If we take a look at where Tkachuk ranked among all NHL forwards we see that he has been right at the top of the NHL in terms of both ES and PP ice time until this current season when he fell out of the top 30 group down to 68th in ES ice time and 95th in PP ice time.

Season ES TOI ES TOI NHL Rank PP TOI PP TOI NHL Rank
2006-07 13.38 68 3.85 95
2005-06 13.62 22 5.73 14
2003-04 15.20 13 4.33 26
2002-03 14.53 28 4.57 32
2001-02 15.02 32 4.48 23


Let's take a closer look at Tkachuk's production at both Even Strength (ES) and on the Power Play (PP) over the last few years. (Geek Alert Warning: if you don't care how I calculated this skip the rest of the paragraph.) In the table below, I've calculated his scoring rate at ES and on the PP. In the past, when I have done this I've presented scoring efficiency as "minutes between points"--but that approach is a bit counter-intuitive because lower numbers are better. So what I've today is adopt the approach taken by Tyler over at MC79Hockey blog and calculated his per-minute scoring rate as for ES and PP and then multiplied it by 60. What this does is show us how much Tkachuk would score if he played all 60 minutes at ES (and never got tired) or played 60 minutes on the PP (and never got tired). I think this will be easier to understand the "minutes between goals" I used before.

So what is happening to Tkachuk's production once we control for variation in his ice time? Well the table below gives us his production statistics. Once we take fluctuations in ice time away we can see that Tkachuk suffered a decline in his production a couple of years ago, but his ES production has remained rather stable over the last three seasons. In fact it is up slightly this current season compared to the previous two. Perhaps he became more productive as they moderated his ES minutes.

If we look at PP production numbers we see that they shift around quite a bit. This is somewhat common if you look at elite players around the league. Because of the smaller sample size PP production numbers can be effected more by "luck" or "randomness", small things like a hot week on the PP or some lucky or unlucky bounces can have a big effect on your production numbers. Generally speaking a PP production number of 4.00 of better is very good. A couple of years ago Tkachuk's numbers were 5.00 or 6.00 for a season which probably put him very close to the top of the entire league (Unfortunately I don't have the numbers for the entire league handy.) This year his PP production is lower but I'm not terrible worried about that, because his ES has remained stable and he will be moving to a PP unit with some very talented hockey players on it in Atlanta.

Season ES Production per 60 minutes PP Production per 60 Minutes
2006-07 2.20 3.32
2005-06 2.15 4.08
2003-04 2.05 5.91
2002-03 2.43 5.16
2001-02 2.96 3.85

Conclusion: Tkachuk's numbers have been down a bit lately, but a close look at his ES production suggests an age related decline between his age 29 and age 30 seasons, since then he has stabilized. His scoring decline this year is mostly a function of reduction in ice time at ES and on the PP.

The Thrashers landed themselves a very good NHL player in this trade. A player with a track record as an elite player and a player (who like Zhitnik) who has seen his minutes reduced a bit this year. Hopefully both of these guys have a good amount left in the tank and can get this team on a roll down the stretch.

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