Michael Grabner Testing Statistical Theory, Concept Of Reality With Slow Start

Dec 5, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; New York Islanders right wing

Michael Grabner

(40) drives towards the net as St. Louis Blues left wing Alexander Steen (20) defends during the first period at the Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

To say that the arc of the 2013-14 New York Islanders season “bends toward the spectacular” is not untrue. Spectacular doesn’t necessarily mean good, even though we often assume it does. However, you could eliminate any confusion about the above statement by just tacking on “-ly disappointing” and be done with it. As in, the arc of the Islanders’ season “bends toward the spectacularly disappointing.”

Also not an untrue statement.

No one—from team owner Charles Wang, to general manager Garth Snow, to head coach Jack Capuano, to team captain John Tavares—expected the club to depart so quickly from the high-pressure, blue-collar style of play that earned the Isles a playoff berth last season for the first time since 2007. And while it’s true they’re trailing literally every other NHL team in points except for the woeful Buffalo Sabres, there are some good things happening on Long Island.

It’s true because I’ve seen them.

Ryan Strome made his NHL debut Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens and looked remarkably not out of place against one of the top teams in hockey’s highest professional division. He logged 14:48 of ice time—including 3:43 on the top power play unit alongside Thomas Vanek and Tavares—recorded two shots on goal, and won 5-of-11 faceoffs.

Not bad for the kid. Strome hasn’t performed any miracles yet, but we’ll keep you posted if and when he does.

Kevin Poulin has been busy doing Kevin Poulin things (see here and here and here) over the past few weeks, which has given the Eyes On Isles staff reason to believe in the long-term future of this team’s goaltending. We’re hoping the fan base at large shares our excitement.

Besides, if the ‘Poulin Wall’ nickname is going to be a thing, we need more people backing the kid in net.

But, as has often been the case since 2007, there are on-ice issues with this team. Not quite abandon hope all ye who enter here-type issues, but issues nonetheless: scoring being one of them, ironically enough. I’d be willing to bet no one could’ve predicted the Islanders offense would go south this abruptly.

Take Michael Grabner, for instance. Even though his point production has fallen off the charts since Opening Night, the advanced stats reflect that his level of play hasn’t been nearly as bad as the Twitter would have you think (H/T to ExtraSkater.com for the metrics).

These fancy stats are by no means a way of giving Grabner full immunity for his no-call, no-show routine lately, but still: you can’t crucify a player based solely on the stats in the box score. The underlying factors that contribute to those numbers—or for some strange reason, that aren’t contributing to those numbers—are just as important, if not more so.

Beware: here be math.

Grabner has a 51.6 corsi percentage (CF%) and a 50.2 fenwick percentage (FF%) at even strength in 31 games played, meaning he’s possessing the puck and generating shot attempts at an above-average rate. (Check out ExtraSkater.com for a full glossary of fancy stats terminology.) What’s more, Grabner’s corsi percentage (CF% rel) and fenwick percentage (FF% rel) relative to the Isles’ play when he’s not on the ice are +3.9% and +2.3%, respectively.

Short story long—as per usual—when Grabner is on the ice, the Islanders are a better team. They have possession of the puck more often, they generate more shot attempts, and they generally create more chances for themselves. Sooner or later, all those chances will turn into goals.

(‘Goals’ being the most important fancy stat of all.)

Going back to traditional statistics for a second, Grabner is the owner of an abysmal 3.2 shooting percentage (SP) this season. Yes, that’s as bad as it sounds. To put it in perspective, the league average this year is around 8.8 percent, and Grabner shoots an average of 12.1 percent for his career.

Still not satisfied—ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?—with all these fancy numbers and multisyllabic words? Fine. One more advanced stat for you: Grabner’s PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage) is 96.5.

PDO is sometimes referred to as “puck luck” and skaters with a PDO of 100+ are generally considered more ‘lucky’ than ‘good.’ (Obviously, the reverse is true as well.) It’s basically an indicator of whether a player’s performance is more a product of skill (good or bad) or luck (also, good or bad), and it correlates with whether that player will likely see an increase or decrease in on-ice production. The higher the PDO, the greater the chance that a particular player will see his scoring numbers go down.

Again: Grabner’s PDO is 96.5. For reference, that ranks him 372 out of the 408 skaters at even strength (5-on-5) with 27+ games played according to Extra Skater.com. It’s, uh…not good. Still, he can only improve from here on out.

I’m not a math major, but the combination of all those numbers (CF%, FF%, CF% rel, FF% rel, SP, PDO) absolutely screams that regression to the mean is imminent.

Grabner has been fighting the Law of Averages with his poor performance so far this season; his numbers are low, but they’re also laughably unsustainable with regard to both personal and league metrics. Unless he really is the statistical outlier-iest of all statistical outliers, I’m thinking we’ll see him turn things around pretty soon.

Maybe I’m an optimist by nature, but it’s difficult to look at those stats and wonder when—not if—Grabner will break out of his two-month-long slump. All the data points to a player whose performance isn’t necessarily predicated on a lack of skill or a lack of effort; for all intents and purposes—and at the risk of oversimplifying the numbers entirely—his struggles are the result of bad luck.

That’s the thing about the Law of Averages, though: everything has a way of evening out. For Michael Grabner, that’s the best news he could possibly hear.


If you guys need me, I’ll be over here on Twitter (@MichaelWillhoft) because Internet comment sections terrify me.