There but for the grace of Jack Johnson goes Olli Maatta. In the non-Matt Murray division, no player besides Johnson seems to engender as much scorn from the fanbase on social media than Maatta.
Yes, he’s not the smoothest skater, but the way some fans talk about him he shouldn’t even be in the NHL. Every time there’s an opportunity for a trade proposal, fans are clamoring for Maatta to be shipped out. I’m, uh, guilty myself, but my reasoning was a combination of Maatta’s cap hit ($4.1M) and his potential to return either a solid draft pick or young player.
Now that Maatta’s out for a while with his separated shoulder, I thought it would be a good idea to suss out how he stacks up on the whole. Hockey metrics are no longer in their infancy, but they’re at best in the ‘pre-schooler’ stage. The growth of hockey metrics, though, is moving at an exponential rate compared to that of how baseball metrics progressed. With baseball, it was more of a top-down approach from places like Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs; with hockey, every early 20-something is learning R and running their own personal websites hosting databases. It’s exciting to watch.
Recently, I’ve discovered Evolving-Hockey.com. It’s run by two twins and I’m sure that within the next 5 years one or both of them will be scooped up by a NHL front office looking to build out its analytics department. They’ve developed their own version of WAR for hockey and it is explained in every minute detail at Hockey Graphs.com.
But before we get to the endpoint with WAR, let’s build up the suspense a little. From Evolving-Hockey, here’s the expected goals per 60 minutes (xG/60) at even-strength for each of the Penguins’ defensemen. I’ve excluded Justin Schultz due to his small sample size at this point.
I’ve color-coded the various tiers for your viewing pleasure. Brian Dumoulin, as we can all agree, is one of the finest defensive defensemen in the game. Jack Johnson, as we can all agree except for Jim Rutherford and a few contrarians, is not. But there’s Olli Maatta right behind Kris Letang in a solid, respectable footing.
Jesse Marshall of The Athletic put out this tweet regarding penalty killing, in response to the flimsy narrative that at least Jack Johnson is good on the penalty kill.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion on the Penguins penalty-kill. I feel like it’s time to just toss this out there as a reminder where things sat as of last week among Penguins defensemen who contribute to the success of the PK. pic.twitter.com/L3mAhQmBHX
? Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) February 21, 2019
To boil it down, what that graphic says is that Maatta has been the 2nd-best d-man on the PK, behind Kris Letang (who’s really bucking for a Norris Trophy this year, it appears). He’s been 29% better on the PK than league average, by this graphic.
So Maatta’s good on the penalty kill and good at even-strength. This is all building up to a strong finish, I predict.
Again, per Evolving-Hockey, here’s the overall Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for every Penguins player this season:
If you look at this from top to bottom, does this make sense to you ? Crosby has been Crosby. Letang is Norris Trophy-caliber. On the bottom, Brassard, Sheahan, Johnson, Pearson all check out as terrible. So if that all scans, then Maatta must be as good as shown, right?
Let me show you the WAR info in a different format from Evolving-Hockey:
In this version, it shows that Maatta has been strong in all four phases of the Goals Above Replacement which leads into Wins Above Replacement: he’s the 4th best in even-strength, 2nd best in PK, contributes a little on the power play, and draws more penalties than he takes. He’s been above the line all around, something that not every player on the team can boast, especially bigger names like Guentzel, Malkin, and Kessel.
Olli Maatta may not look good, or look as good as you may wish he could, but he’s been a very effective player for the Penguins this year. Maybe Jim Rutherford could defend his honor next.