by PuckStopsHere on 08/21/09 at 02:17 PM ET
In the 2008/09 season, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins led the league in scoring with 113 points. He finished second in the Hart Trophy voting behind Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Does this mean that Malkin is the second best player in the NHL or did the circumstances of how he was played serve to improve his statistics?
Malkin was heavily played in offensive situations by the Pittsburgh Penguins. In fact, he had the third most prominent offensive zone starter in the NHL last season. This is quite a significant achievement given that Pittsburgh did not have a great season in terms of puck possession. They had more defensive zone faceoffs than offensive zone ones. They finished with a negative team Corsi number. They were a team that got on a hot streak in time for the playoffs, but they had not been dominant in the regular season. In fact, at times during the regular season they looked as though they might miss the playoffs.
Despite those struggles, Malkin was given 125 more even strength faceoff zone starts in the offensive zone than in the defensive zone. This put Malkin in a situation to maximize his offensive ability and to reduce his use in defensive situations. He was given a chance to play in a situation where he would maximize his offensive numbers and where he wasn’t relied upon to play in tough defensive situations. Malkin succeeded in scoring a league leading number of points.
Malkin had a +17 +/- rating to show for the season. This had some people on the blogosphere (though not the award voters) suggesting Malkin should be a Selke Trophy candidate. The problem was that he didn’t play in many defensive situations. Although his +/- rating looked good, his Corsi did not. Malkin had a -156 Corsi to show for the season. This tied Maxime Talbot to be the worst Corsi among the Pittsburgh Penguins forwards last year.
Evgeni Malkin played in a predominantly offensive situation and yet his team gave up more shots when he was on the ice than they took. This does not speak well for Malkin’s defensive play. He was one of the most productive offensive players at even strength and on the power play. He was played in a role where he was given every opportunity to do this. He was not called upon to play in defensive situations and he did not show strong defensive skills. His offence clearly makes him one of the best players in the NHL, but it is not enough to show that he is the second best in the league. For example, his teammate Sidney Crosby was not given nearly as many offensive zone starts and scored nearly as many points and put up a much better Corsi. The third place finisher in the MVP voting, Pavel Datsyuk, had a league leading Corsi Number (although there are problems comparing raw Corsis between different teams) with almost as many points.
I think it is clear that in the 2008/09 season, Malkin was not the second most valuable player to his team. Sure he put up league leading offensive numbers, but he did so in a very favorable role where he was able to succeed without being forced to play much defense. Malkin is one of the better players in the NHL, because of his offensive ability, but he is not as close to the top as his second place finish in the 2009 Hart Trophy race would suggest.
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