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Are the Flyers using one of their best offensive players in too much of a defensive role?Since Matt Read came into the league in 2011-2012, he is 3rd on the team in even strength goal scoring, right behind Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.
Flyers even strength goals, 2011-2014:
Those numbers are somewhat surprising. When I looked them up, I did not expect to see Read right there with Giroux and Voracek, but there he was. I wanted to look closer at this, so I went and found his shooting%, which, for his career, is 15.1%. That puts him among the best shooters in the league for those who have played over 2000 minutes and taken at least 250 shots in that time frame. Admittedly, that’s not a lot of shots to go on if you want to try and predict the future probability of maintaining that shooting%, which is why I decided to look further into where Read’s shots and goals have come from.
Here is a heat map of all his even strength shots and goals from his 2 full seasons (2011-2012, 2013-2014). In black I have outlined what is considered to be the scoring chance area, where it’s been found that league-wide average shooting% goes from the normal average of about 9% up to around 13%. (Check out this post on scoring chances and the Flyers this year).
The lion’s share of Read’s shots and goals come from well inside the scoring chance area, which tells me that it’s probably not luck that has Read’s shooting% so high. There’s not exactly a large amount of data to look at, but what we do have is a fairly good suggestion that Read could be the best shooter on the team, which brings up another question: how is he being used?
Read’s zone start% (which tells you the amount of times he is put out for a offensive zone face-off versus a defensive zone face-off) this past season was 42.8%. Relative to the rest of the team, his zone start % was -11.3%. That puts him in the top 25 most defensive usage in the league among forwards. Is that a good way to use a guy who has scored 1 fewer even strength goal than Voracek and 2 fewer than Giroux over the last 3 years?
Let’s look at it another way. Since, 2011-2012, Read has registered 1.023 even strength goals/60 (which is a rate stat that takes into account time on ice). That’s good enough for 24th overall in the entire NHL among players that have played at least 2000 minutes. He’s right behind Logan Couture and right ahead of John Tavares. Here’s a player usage chart for the top 25 guys on that list:
Read has the most defensive usage of the entire group. Phil Kessel is right there with him, mostly because Toronto is a bad possession team that doesn’t get very many offensive zone draws. Relative to the rest of his team, Kessel is +4.1% in zone starts. Remember, Read was -11.3%. The Flyers actually get a lot of offensive zone face-offs. They were 12th in the league overall with 51.1% offensive zone draws. So, why is Matt Read, one the team’s best goal scorers, buried under 42.8% zone starts? That seems like an insane way to use a guy who shoots 15.1% for his career.
Simply put, the Flyers need to get Matt Read into a position to take a lot of shots, and using him in a mostly defensive, shutdown role is not the way to do that. He needs to be put on a scoring line, or at least a line that’s more two-way and not buried with 43% zone starts. Something more like 48% would be better. But honestly I think Read could score 35 goals playing up with Giroux and Voracek and here’s why:
Read’s individual rate stats from 2011-2014:
It’s a small sample size for sure, but there is evidence that Read performs better in goals, points, and amount of shots taken when playing with Giroux and Voracek.
There's no way to know for sure if Matt Read would be successful in a top line role except for simply putting him there and seeing what happens, but I certainly think there’s a decent amount of evidence leading to a good probability of success.
With the team looking at trying to upgrade the top-6 LW spot, a position that Matt Read has played in the past and can easily fill, using Read there would be a much cheaper alternative to signing an expensive free agent. It's a lot easier and less expensive to find a player to fill Read's current role of shutdown winger. The Flyers could then focus their assets and cap space on upgrading the defense, because boy is it horrendous.
What does Craig Berube think?Last week, the Flyers held a promotional Twitter event in which they had the fans submit questions for Craig Berube to answer. Here's what he had to say about the idea of Matt Read on the top line:
That's not a very surprising answer at all, though a bit of a disappointing way to look at the top line, in my opinion. The physical aspect comment is to be expected. I just disagree. As for net front presence, go back and look at that heat map of where Read shoots and scores from. Pretty much entirely in front of the net, that's where most goal scorers score from.
Here’s what happened when Read played on the top line in a game against the Islanders last year (Laviolette was the coach):
Data used in this post was collected from extraskater.com and stats.hockeyanalysis.com.
Heat map charts from sportingcharts.com.
Photo by: Bruce Bennett via Getty Images North America