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Islanders 2019-20 player grade: Mathew Barzal better than you think

Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Do you give the New York Islanders best player the best possible grade in 2019-20?

Looking at Mathew Barzal stats sheet this year might give a sense of disappointment. For the second year in a row, the New York Islanders center is a 60 point player. But when you provide more context to Barzal’s stat line you realize there’s little else he could have done.

He was easily the best player on the ice for the Islanders. Unfortunately, the players around him most of the year didn’t rise to the occasion.

Context

Obviously, the first thing to point is just how short the season was. With the regular season shortened due to the pandemic, Barzal only played in 68 games. Take that 60 point production and pace it out over a full 82 game season and Barzal is sitting at 72 points.

While that’s not the point-per-game level he was during his rookie year, that’s certainly much better than he did during his sophomore season. Already, any disappointment about his production should already be gone. But when you drill down further it gets better. Sorta.

I’ll explain that sorta later.

Before that, I just wanted to bring up a few other numbers:

  • Barzal was a more complete offensive threat this year, averaging 2.52 shots on goal per game. Up from his 2.18 shots on goal per game from last season.
  • With more shots came more goals. Through 68 games he put in 19 goals. Putting him on pace for 23 goals over 82 games. That would have been a career-high.
  • He was creating way more high-danger chances with 259.19 HDCF (5on5 score & venue adjusted). That’s 3.81 per game, up 0.83 HDCF/G from his 2.98 in 18-19.
  • He was also the league leader in offensive zone puck possession per game this season with 1:19. Jack Eichel was a close second with 1:17.
  • While Barzal’s giveaway numbers were league-leading, his takeaway numbers were top five in the league. So a bit of good and bad there.

Mathew Barzal was great once again for the New York Islanders. There’s no doubt about it. There’s also no doubt that if his linemates weren’t having nearly career-low shooting percentages he’d be having a much better year on the scoresheet.

Linemates

Yes, this is still a player grade for Mathew Barzal, but I think it’s important to add some context to his numbers by looking at the guys he was playing with most of the year.

Both Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle were having off years when it came to converting shots to goals. Lee held a 10.3 shooting percentage, his lowest since a 15 goal season in 2015-16 while Eberle regressed for the second year in a row with an 11.8 percent conversion rate.

Both were stapled to Barzal’s wing all season long. No other forward spent nearly as much time with Barzal as Lee (788 minutes) and Eberle (580 minutes) at 5on5. Josh Bailey came in a distant third with 311 5on5 minutes.

I don’t think it’s a leap to suggest that with all of those high-danger chances and extra shots that Barzal was getting to the net, Lee and Eberle should have been able to get a few more goals. With career average conversion rates we’re talking about seven more goals for Lee and two for Eberle.

And that in turn means more production in the assists column for Barzal.

That pace of 72 points would have been greater if Lee and Eberle were converting shots into goals at their career averages.

2019-20 Grade: A

I know that this is a grade for Barzal, but I feel like giving him an A grade is going to catch some criticism because he only hit 60 points in 68 games. Because production is the first thing that people see. But when you apply context to his season you realize that he’s done pretty darn well.

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