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Ryan Johnson’s Bad Corsi

Over both of the last two years, I have noted that Ryan Johnson of the Vancouver Canucks has the worst Corsi when viewed as a rate stat among players with 50 or more games played.  Here are the worst Corsi rates from this year and here they are from the year before.  Notice that as Vancouver improved in the standings, Ryan Johnson’s Corsi rate actually got worse.

There is some resistance from Vancouver and the league in general to looking at this stat and concluding that Ryan Johnson is a liability to the Canucks.  Here is Nucks Misconduct’s responce when I suggested Ryan Johnson had played himself out of the NHL.  I was wrong that he did that last season, it looks like he played himself out of the league this year and only should have done it last year, but the Canucks continued to play him another season.

Here is Don Cherry defending Ryan Johnson (assuming he understands the concept of Corsi Numbers at all)

Don Cherry is a reason that players like Ryan Johnson remain in the NHL (though his status as an unsigned free agent makes it look possible that his career is over).  Johnson is a hard working player.  Don Cherry loves hard working players.  He doesn’t notice or care that Johnson is hard working and ineffective.  It is interesting that Cherry claims every team would love to have Johnson on their team and yet no team has lined up to sign him when he hit the open market.

Now how bad (or good) is Ryan Johnson?  He isn’t the worst player in the NHL.  Nobody claims he is (although that is the position that Don Cherry attacks).  The worst player in the NHL is a goon who is so protected in terms of ice time that he doesn’t get the chance to have the worst Corsi in the NHL.  Last year, I picked Raitis Ivanans of the Los Angeles Kings (inexplicably now signed by the Calgary Flames) for that honor.

Ryan Johnson is the worst player in the league in terms of puck possession.  He has held that position for two years in a row, which shows that conclusion is relatively robust.  He has done it on a strong team that has been in the playoffs both seasons and won their division last year.  Since any puck possession stat (+/-, Corsi) has team effects (i.e. players on good teams appear better than they should be and players on poor teams appear worse) this is quite damning.

This analysis can be criticized by arguing that Ryan Johnson’s game is not based upon puck possession.  There is some truth to that.  Ryan Johnson is a penalty killer and a shot blocker.  As a penalty killer, nobody who played as much as Johnson on the penalty kill on the Canucks had a worse ranking from Behind the net.  This is not a plus that shows his value.  Johnson’s shot blocking counts against him in his Corsi rating, as each shot he blocks is a shot directed against his team.  Ryan Johnson finished 127th in the league in shot blocks with 85 this season.  He is a player known for his shot blocking ability and nevertheless failed to make the top 100 in the league?  That doesn’t support his claim to be a useful player.

The problem with a defensive player, who has one significant weapon in his arsenal in blocking shots, is that he will allow extra shots against in an attempt to block them.  Even when he is successful in a shot block, he will usually be temporarily out of the play as he is sprawled out on the ice and the puck rebounded off of him in a random direction.  Shot blocking can be a useful skill, but it must be part of a group of defensive weapons.  Any player who is predominantly a shot blocked and not close to being among the top shot blockers in the league is of questionable use.

Ryan Johnson does not play many minutes a game.  This has kept his counting Corsi from landing among the league worst.  That is an admission that he is not a particularly good player.  The Canucks could only afford to give Johnson a little over seven minutes of even strength ice time per game and that ice time came against weak competition.  Nevertheless, the weak competition controlled the puck and took the majority of the shots against the Canucks.  This Vancouver team under nearly every other circumstance, except when Johnson played, controlled the puck and took far more shots than their opponents.  This is a condemning case against Ryan Johnson.

Nevertheless, Johnson has been a popular hardworking hockey player.  This is a description of many of the worst players in the NHL who remain regulars.  He is a popular hardworking player so coaches, teammates and fans like him.  The fact he works hard and still fails is overlooked because his hard work is seen as such a positive.  Fans defend him as they can see he is trying hard.  Coaches do not want to send the wrong message by benching such a hard worker.  Thus he gets the chance to continue to work hard and to continue to hurt his team.

Ryan Johnson has not played well in the last couple of years.  He has hurt the Vancouver Canucks.  He has done so in a minor role with limited ice time, so his damage is not as big as players who play more frequently, but he has nevertheless hurt the team.  Vancouver would be better served with somebody more competent in Ryan Johnson’s spot and they will likely have that next season as Johnson remains an unsigned UFA.  Ryan Johnson is the worst player in the NHL at puck possession.  That is pretty damning.  The length of time he has held that position reduces any uncertainty in making that declaration.  There is nobody in the NHL who is worse in terms on puck possession than Ryan Johnson.  The mitigating circumstances, such as his penalty killing and shot blocking, that are used to argue that he does have a positive value are not very strong.  Ryan Johnson plays on a good team, he plays against weak players and for the last two years those players have controlled the puck against him more than they have against anyone else in the NHL.

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Comments

GoPens's avatar

Ryan Johnson isn’t a good NHL player, but his Corsi is in part driven by the circumstances his coach puts him in. He’s seeing some of the toughest competition on the ice for the Canucks, and he’s starting in the d-zone more often than others.

Once again, I’m not arguing that Johnson is a Selke candidate. But you need to look at context before talking about his Corsi stats.

Posted by GoPens on 07/12/10 at 01:43 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Actually, I argue that <A href=“http://www.behindthenet.ca/2009/new_5_on_5.php?sort=8&secti> Ryan Johnson plays against some of the weakest competition of any Vancouver Canucks</A>.  This uses the quality of competition figure that behind the net uses.  The “corsiqoc” category that you use is far less reliable.  Do you really believe that Johnson, Mason Raymond, Kyle Wellwood and Ryan Kesler were the only canucks who played tougher than average competition?  I view that category that he calculates as nearly useless.  The far more reliable quality of comeptiton stat shows that Johnson plays against weak players.  Though I will grant you that Johnson tends to start in his own zone a lot.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/12/10 at 02:05 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

I still can’t make the logical leap between “a guy is willing to block shots” and “a guy plays defense in a different manner so as to welcome more shots”.

I admit I don’t see Johnson much and am in no position to really disagree with you on your analysis, but I don’t think that a person who is known as a shot blocker does this.  I believe that a shot blocker chooses to take a different route to deal with what’s going to end up as a negative Corsi event anyway.  While a shot blocker tries to make it hit his body, another defender would choose to put his stick in the way to deflect the shot off-target.  Both of those situations create a minus for that player’s Corsi rating.

Whether deflecting or blocking shots is a preferable way to go is a different argument.  You’re right that blocking shots creates unpredictable events.  I would prefer a player to be better at deflecting shots high with his stick, since that usually leaves him in better position to defend after the event and generally seems (since I have absolutely no statistical backing here) that it is a more effective means of preventing a goal.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 07/12/10 at 02:13 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

Man, I hope Ryan Johnson does not read your blog, otherwise he’d be one sad dude.  tongue wink

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 07/12/10 at 02:14 PM ET

GoPens's avatar

This uses the quality of competition figure that behind the net uses.  The “corsiqoc” category that you use is far less reliable.

Gabriel Desjardins, who runs Behind the Net, disagrees with you:

I would ignore +/- QoC and focus on Corsi QoC – it works way better.

Here’s the comment thread if you want to look at it. I think Corsi QoC works better.

Posted by GoPens on 07/12/10 at 02:25 PM ET

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One problem with your analysis is that while Ryan Johnson’s 85 block shots ranks him at 127th in the league, it ranks him as 3rd in the league among forwards.  Also, he accomplished that feat in only 58 games, which ranks him far and away the number one shot blocking forwards on a per game basis(1.46/g).  So your stats are a bit off.

Really, Ryan Johnson, while not a very good puck possesor, is, statistically speaking (and this article is about statistics) the best shot blocking forward in the league.

Posted by Truthbluth on 07/12/10 at 02:31 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Using Corsi QoC and zone starts to gage how tough Johnson’s opposition is, you are basically double counting the zone starts.  The Corsi QoC takes them into account and the zone starts does too.  That is why the more traditional quality of competition is more useful - it only takes into account quality of competition and is not double counting the zone starts.

I think Gabe Desjardins point you took out of context from the comments is that as one number Corsi QoC might be a better judge of how hard the situation a team plays a given player, but if you use it in conjunction with the zone starts number you run into problems by double ocunting the zone starts.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/12/10 at 02:36 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

The fact that Johnson ranks 127th in blocked shots says that he is 5th on an average shot blocking team in blocked shots.  Yes the majority of people ahead of him are defencemen, but that only shows that his main skill does not fit well to playing his forward position.  Whether or not Ryan Johnson is the best forward at blocking shots in the league is immaterial to the claim that he is a terrible puck possession player.

Many forwards who block shots are poor puck possession players.  Among the top 10 in the league are Ryan Johnson, Nate Thompson, Todd Marchant and Gregory Campbell, who are all players who are near the bottom of the league by their Corsis.  Part of the problem is that to get a lot of shot blocks, the other team must possess the puck a lot and that is exactly what Corsi is rating.  The other part of the problem is that shot blocking as a main desfensive weapon for a forward doesn’t work.  Even when it is successful there is often a rebound with the shot blocker out of position to be involved in the play.  Often it leads to extra shots being taken as the player in question would rather attempt to block the shot than to take it away entirely.  If the shot block fails it can become a shot on goal and often a screened one. 

The problem with Ryan Johnson is that he plays a style that rarely can succeed in the best of times and he isn’t particularly talented.  If it wasn’t for the fact that he is a good teammate and so hard working, he wouldn’t have had any NHL career to speak of.  He is exactly the kind of fourth line role player that competes to be the worst player in the NHL - one that works so hard it is hard to pull him from the line-up despite his failure.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/12/10 at 02:47 PM ET

Chris from NOHS's avatar

The worst part about this analysis, which is actually fairly solid, is the idea that Corsi accurately measures ability.  Rather, it is just another somewhat useful, but often very misleading stat in a world of stats.

You can’t say someone has failed because of low Corsi.  Corsi is interesting, but by no means is it an be-all end-all stat for ranking players.  That is a jump that we should be hesitant to take. 

Also you say shot blocking as a forward doesn’t work…well anyone that actually knows the game would disagree.  You describe poor shot blocking.  You’re right, poor shot blocking doesn’t work.  A forward who knows how and when to block shots won’t put the team in compromised position you describe.

Posted by Chris from NOHS from Columbus, OH/Grand Rapids, MI on 07/12/10 at 03:11 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

You can’t say someone has failed because of low Corsi.  Corsi is interesting, but by no means is it an be-all end-all stat for ranking players.  That is a jump that we should be hesitant to take. 

Nobody that I know of is claiming this.  That is the fallacy that Don Cherry holds.  That said, Ryan Johnson failed and his low Corsi is strong evidence of it.

Also you say shot blocking as a forward doesn’t work…well anyone that actually knows the game would disagree.  You describe poor shot blocking.  You’re right, poor shot blocking doesn’t work.  A forward who knows how and when to block shots won’t put the team in compromised position you describe.

I say that shot blocking by player’s who use it as a primary tool to play defence fail.  Ryan Johnson is the forward who best fits that description in the NHL.  What I am describing fits Ryan Johnson very well.  It doesn’t fit (for example) Ryan Kesler his teammate.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/12/10 at 03:17 PM ET

yzer19man's avatar

Is there ever such a thing as over analysis?  thats why i don’t like following or watching baseball that much…there is such huge priority put on individual statistics, and analysis of the smallest things that it just gets too much.

Posted by yzer19man from Chicago, IL on 07/12/10 at 03:34 PM ET

Avatar

Don Cherry is a reason that players like Ryan Johnson remain in the NHL

Ummm, how exactly does he do this?  Does Mike Gillis let him sign players or something?

Also a low Corsi number can come from an abundance of factors; off the top of my head I would think that starting in the defensive zone often, as well as playing with terrible linemates wouldn’t be condusive to a good Corsi number.

Posted by CoolJ90 on 07/12/10 at 03:43 PM ET

GoPens's avatar

Using Corsi QoC and zone starts to gage how tough Johnson’s opposition is, you are basically double counting the zone starts.  The Corsi QoC takes them into account and the zone starts does too.

I emailed Gabe about this and he said this isn’t true. Corsi QoC doesn’t take zone starts into account, and zone starts don’t take Corsi QoC into account. You’re not double counting anything.

Posted by GoPens on 07/12/10 at 03:50 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Corsi is very strongly dependant upon zone starts (far more so than +/- for example).  If a player frequently starts in his own zone, he frequently starts against players who frequently start in the offensive zone.  Thus his quality of opposition looks much stronger than it is from that effect on his opposition.  Effectively it takes zone starts into effect.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/12/10 at 03:53 PM ET

Avatar

As a Vancouver fan that watched almost every game that Ryan Johnson played during his stay, I’m glad that the team doesn’t re-sign him.  I didn’t have to look at Corsi to know that he struggles on the ice.  To me, it’s a bit of vicious cycle.  He gets injured from his shot blocking, which takes a toll on his body.  He played hurt a lot and I don’t think his injuries completely healed.  When he was on the ice, he struggled to maintain balance, leading to himself falling and creating space and puck possession for the other team.  He also didn’t win many faceoffs in the latter part of his tenure in Vancouver (if my impression is right), probably because of his injured hands.  These two things (losing draws and losing balance) caused situations where the only thing RJ could the team was to try blocking shots, which created more injuries and more lost faceoffs and lost possession and position.

Posted by Kel on 07/12/10 at 06:56 PM ET

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@Kel

Johnson won 52.7% of his face-offs during the season (3rd on the team for qualified players; i.e. 200+ attempts) and won 2/3 of his face-offs in the playoffs.  So I don’t really know where you’re getting the idea that his face-offs struggled so much.  As for the rest, well I can’t really say you’re wrong or right as I did not watch many ‘Nucks games.

Posted by CoolJ90 on 07/12/10 at 08:03 PM ET

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For his faceoffs, I probably mistook last season instead of two seasons ago, when he played with broken finger.  His faceoff stats that season reflected that.

Posted by Kel on 07/12/10 at 08:08 PM ET

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During the regular season, yes.  He was below 50%.  In the post-season he was back to being dominant.  2nd most face-offs taken for the Canucks with a winning percentage of 58.6%.

If the Leafs weren’t already a team filled with offensively challenged pluggers, I would love to have Johnson on the team.  If he’s not wanted in Vancouver, I think a team like Washington would be a great fit.  Another team that doesn’t need him to score, but could use a guy to bolster the PK (they finished 25th last season) and win some draws.

Posted by CoolJ90 on 07/12/10 at 08:14 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I am not sure why you think Ryan Johnson can bolster a penalty kill, statistics clearly show (the link is in the story) that Ryan Johnson was rather unsuccessful on the penalty kill last year.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/12/10 at 08:17 PM ET

Avatar

His return to the lineup didn’t help the Canucks PK in the playoffs this past season.  And a single year playoff stats have too small of a sample size to draw any useful conclusion anyway I think.  I know he’s a quality person and I don’t have a problem if he finds a job in the NHL next season.  He just gets injured too much and played injured too often for me to like him for my favourite team, especially for a cap hit of over $1m (which probably won’t happen for him next season)

Posted by Kel on 07/12/10 at 08:19 PM ET

Avatar

He also had the 2nd worst QUALTeam of any regular Canucks PK forward (3rd if you include Pettinger who played all of 9 games) and had a higher QUALComp than other regulars like Kesler and Hansen.

Posted by CoolJ90 on 07/12/10 at 08:24 PM ET

Chris from NOHS's avatar

Nobody that I know of is claiming this.  That is the fallacy that Don Cherry holds.  That said, Ryan Johnson failed and his low Corsi is strong evidence of it.

I just said you can’t say someone failed because of a Corsi number because it can be a misleading stat, you agreed, but then you continued with the statement that Johnson failed because of his low Corsi number????

Did I miss something?

Posted by Chris from NOHS from Columbus, OH/Grand Rapids, MI on 07/12/10 at 09:07 PM ET

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Despite this somewhat lengthy discussion here, there is very little talk on Canuck fan forum about Ryan Johnson.  This shows you how they feel about his departure from the team’s lineup next season.  They are fine with it.  Most didn’t make up their mind based on Corsi, but it looks like the Corsi stats corroborated their view.

Posted by Kel on 07/12/10 at 09:22 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I just said you can’t say someone failed because of a Corsi number because it can be a misleading stat, you agreed, but then you continued with the statement that Johnson failed because of his low Corsi number????

Did I miss something?

Yes.  You missed which is the cause and which is the effect.

I am saying that Ryan Johnson is a poor hockey player.  Because of that, he has (among other things) a league worst Corsi rate in two consecutive years despite playing on a good team.  I am using that as evidence to support the fact that he is a bad player.  It is not the other way around as you suggest.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 07/12/10 at 09:39 PM ET

Chris from NOHS's avatar

Ok, that makes more sense.  Not saying I agree, but that makes more sense.  Your arguement up top seems to be the other way around.

Posted by Chris from NOHS from Columbus, OH/Grand Rapids, MI on 07/13/10 at 12:33 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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