Monday, February 28, 2011

The Gomez Effect

Perception is a funny thing. You might read post-game reports from two different people who watched the same event, and one will say a certain defenceman made three giveaways while the other person will point out how the same defenceman blocked three shots. Both might be true, but the lasting impression of the game depends on the perceptions of the observer. We see what we want to see.

This season, Scott Gomez is getting a lot of heat, not only for his own lacklustre play (7 goals, 30 points, -19), but also for immediately killing the production of every winger he's given. The question amidst the criticism, however, is how much of it is truth, and how much perception? To find out, it's time to crunch some numbers.

I have broken down the performance of the six wingers who have played most often this season with both Gomez and Tomas Plekanec, for comparison purposes. I restricted the analysis to even-strength points, as special teams combinations tend to be much more fluid and are influenced by such factors as the other team's effectiveness on the PK.

Here's how it breaks down:

Andrei Kostitsyn. Kostitsyn has played 39 of 62 games with Plekanec, and put up 19 of his 25 even-strength points (ESP), for 0.49 PPG. With Plekanec, he's a +9. He's played 15 games with Gomez, registering only two ESP, or 0.24 PPG. With Gomez, he's -6.

Brian Gionta. The captain played 37 of 63 games with Gomez, and scored 9 ESP, or 0.24 PPG, with a -6 rating. In 26 games with Plekanec, he has 16 ESP, or 0.62 PPG, with a +8.

Michael Cammalleri. Cammy played 35 of 48 games with Plekanec, scoring 17 of his 20 ESP...or those games. That's 0.49 PPG, with a +13 rating. In his 9 games with Gomez, Cammalleri had 2 ESP for 0.22 PPG and a -2 rating.

Max Pacioretty. Pax has spent 24 of 33 games on Gomez' wing. In those games, he's got 9 ESP, or 0.39 PPG, and is -8. He's played 9 games with Plekanec and scored 5 ESP, or 0.56 PPG, and is +2.

Benoit Pouliot. In 4 games with Gomez, he's scored 3 ESP, for 0.75 PPG, with a +1 rating. In 3 games with Plekanec, he's got 2 ESP, for 0.67 PPG, and a +2

Lars Eller. He's played 7 games on Plekanec's wing, and scored 2 ESP, for 0.29 PPG, with a -3. In 5 games with Gomez, he's got no ESP and is -5.

Travis Moen. He played no games with Plekanec, but 20 with Gomez. In those 20 games, he has 2 ESP, for an average of 0.10 PPG and a -1 rating.

The grand total for both centres: Of the seven players (including Moen in Gomez' case) who have spent the vast majority of the season flanking Gomez and Plekanec at even strength, those playing with Plekanec average 0.42 even-strength PPG and are a combined +31. The same players, skating with Gomez, have scored an average 0.28 even-strength PPG, with a combined -26.

Those numbers, like all statistics, should be taken with a view of the big picture. Gomez, after all, had 20 games centering a stone-hands guy like Travis Moen while Plekanec had none. (Although, it should also be noted that in 5 games in which Plekanec played with 3rd/4th liners Darche and Halpern, those guys have 0.8 even-strength PPG, and are a combined +5.)

Ice time doesn't figure into the comparison, as Gomez and his assorted wingers got the most playing time of any line about as many times as Plekanec did. Neither does competition account for the discrepancy between the centres' performance. In more than 80% of the Canadiens' games, Plekanec and his wingers face the opposition's top defence pair (defined as the opposing defencemen who get the most ice time in a game) more often than any other line.

It would seem, then, that playing with Scott Gomez this season really is the Pit of Despair for wingers. Five of the six wingers who've played with both have seen their production at even strength drop by half when moved to Gomez' line. The other, Max Pacioretty, dropped by about a third.

Interestingly, the only winger who performed better with Gomez than any other, Benoit Pouliot, played only four games on Gomez' wing before being permanently removed from the line. Considering that he's put up only 0.32 PPG with Halpern, 0.23 PPG with Eller and 0.33 PPG with Desharnais, Martin might consider moving Pouliot back with Gomez for a trial period, just to see if those early games were a fluke or not.

It's also interesting to see Kostitsyn begin to produce again after his removal from Gomez' line. He has a combined 0.53 even-strength PPG playing with Halpern or Eller. It would be wise of Martin to keep him away from Gomez forever.

Sometimes, we adopt an image of a player's performance based purely on perception. We don't like Gomez' contract, or we never warmed up to the trade, so we see the bad things he does and ignore the good. In the case of his wingers, however, the numbers show there is a definite Gomez Effect. That's not perception. That's fact.


Patccmoi said...

An additional point on Pouliot... maybe he's produced more offensively with Gomez in terms of PPG because he had double (or more than double?) the ice-time he usually gets on other lines?

I mean Pouliot right now is actually playing pretty well but he's getting 8-9 min per game. With Gomez he was likely around 16-18 min. I bet that if you gave him more ES time he'd be producing more because he's a pretty solid ES player. I think that he'd produce more with someone else than Gomez though, assuming JM EVER considers lowering Gomez's ice time.

Jay in PA said...

Thanks for taking a rational, data-based perspective to clarify a perception that a majority of us share. The next question is, *why* is this happening? Is it a question of Gomez not setting his wingers up for success, Gomez creating situations in which they will perform poorly, or them not knowing how best to work with him?

There are deeper questions, too... While none of us are happy with his performance, we all recognize that he has performed better. What were the circumstances that led to his career year and how do those compare to his circumstances now? What was *he* doing then that he isn't doing now?

As things stand now, we're better off with Desharnais centering a scoring line with increased ice time, and Gomez' role reduced, but we know that Martin wouldn't do such a thing on a consistent basis (if ever, alas), and we also know that having our veterans playing effectively is critical to our success in the playoffs. Somewhere, there are answers to the questions raised above, and finding them may not salvage a regrettable season for Gomer, but could help him enter the playoffs with a measure of motivation and optimism.

J.T. said...

@Jay: The "whats" are easy to answer with stats. The "whys" are much tougher, and can only be answered by a smart video coach and a self-knowledge Gomez either doesn't possess or has lost over the years. Those "whys" are perception-based and could have any number of solutions, really.

I'd bet if you asked each of the seven wingers who have played with Gomez this year, and if they were to answer honestly, you'd begin to form a mosaic of perception that might help an answer to his problems become clear.

RL said...

Great post J.T.: I do have to disagree with your final statement: "We don't like Gomez' contract, or we never warmed up to the trade, so we see the bad things he does and ignore the good."

I was ecstatic when the habs acquired Gomez. I thought he was a fantastic athlete who had fallen into the depressive mind state most overpaid NHLers get in NYC. I also thought he would be great to attract Gionta and maybe... just maybe recreate the magic they had going in NJ.

Then at the season opening golf game he showed up with a huge grin and an honnest thrill to be a HAB. Moreover, he warmed up to french canadians by claiming to take French Lessons. Frankly, I thought this guy was the centre we needed... certainly not in size but hopefully with speed, skill, hockey sense and grit.

Then he started slumping and crashing under the same pressure most overpaid athletes get when under the microscope of a REAL hockey market. That, paired with him being the 427/440 in +/- column, his predictable play, and his poor leadership skills with youngster phenom PK Subban.. explain why our "percepion" has, in my opinion, actually been corrected and thus not a result of a Pygmalion effect.

Unknown said...

This article has got to make it to Martin/Gauthier. They must know this, and therefore it is like spending good money after bad by putting him out there. Sometimes, it is addition by subtraction - trusting in these numbers, it is definitely the case.
It has to be recognized for what it is, a mistake, they happen - therefore: waive him, cut him loose, whatever - he is hurting this team's chances.

dusty said...

Great work. I remember watching Gomez in New Jersey and he looked pretty decent but not great. What Sather saw God only knows, but he's certainly lost something. Watching the Devils now I'm beginning to suspect what he's missing is Patrick Elias. If he doesn't turn it around before the end of the season, he's got to finish his career in the AHL.

V said...

One of the things I notice about Gomez this year is he as lost his edge. My recollection of him when he played against us is that he was quite chippy (even dirty). I really disliked him - which was why our signing him sat OK with me because I thought that was a part of his game we were getting.

Every now and then you get a bit of that (but know it just seems to lead to some of his dumber penalties). But most of the time, he plays pretty soft. He is still great at gaining the offensive zone, but those errant passes often seem to stem from his reluctance to take a hit - he crosses the blueline and turns to the boards to avoid contact - and wait until someone is in a better position to take a pass.

Anonymous said...

I think the mess Gainy left behind is now starting to show...

Anonymous said...

excellent article, tres beau travail. I really liked how you broke down to number, show what I tought and see from the beginning of the season.

Anonymous said...

Good article. I hope he's waived to Hamilton, we'll have lots of cap space this summer if he is.

MC said...

Excellent analysis JT. The why is perplexing, but I have a theory. He is not getting as many shots as he used to, which I think is part of the problem. He is on pace for only 160 shots even though used to get over 240 in four previous seasons. The opposing D know he will try the pass and play accordingly, making the likelyhood of the pass succeeding less likely. I think if he used his speed to drive to the net more or to get into a scoring position to shoot, the he would keep the opposing D and goalies more honest, which would improve his passing game. He has either lost the will or the confidence to drive to the net.

As well, his tactic of stopping just inside the blueline and hitting the trailer with the pass is not as effective now because ALL teams back-check (or apply back pressure as the new age coaches say) so hard. It is very hard to go east-west in the new NHL because of the back pressure, the game is more north-south now.

Anonymous said...

I think of Gomez flying up the ice passing everyone and then when he hits the blue line the magic is over. He's good behind the net but the habs never have anyone in front of the net ready for his pass.
Pouliot and Kostitsyn have to go. They have been the weak link in my opinion. They are at the height of their playing careers and have not produced.

Anonymous said...

MC makes a great analysis as to the why, in addition, I believe Gomez needs a winger that also has the capability to carry the puck into the other team's zone. This will allow Gomez to move into position and take more shots on goal.

Anonymous said...

Great work. So glad we kept Kostitsyn - only hope that Jacques Martin finally figures it out.

Dave White said...

Another well-argued article, 'JT'. As a person who spent most of my career in senior management, albeit not professional hockey, I see here with Gomez and the Habs organization a trend I often witnessed in management. If you turn a blind eye, or if you avoid the issue, perhaps the problem will go away. It seldom does in my experience. Another often-tried management tactic was to blame everyone else except the person who is actually causing the problem.
Perhaps the Montreal brain trust is really trying to figure out why Gomez is the way he is, but as your paper clearly demonstrates, the strategy of trying almost every forward on the team to fix the Gomez issue is not working. Worse, as you say, it is dragging everyone else down.
Thanks again...look forward to your articles.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what his numbers look like when compared to Desharnais"?

Anonymous said...

Just looking at numbers is dangerous. Do we know how many times the puck was distributed by Gomez to any one of these wingers? Do we know how many shots each of these wingers had while playing with Gomez on any given night that they didn't score on?

Now that we know what Gomesz doesn't do according to the article...what does he do JT? You say it depends on the perception of the observer...what is Gomez doing that has not been outlined here? He must be doing something the coaches like? Per haps his play away from the puck or his ability to tie up a player so that his teammate can get to the puck first. There are intangibles here that people are not willing to see. They don't produce him points, but they are there.

Perhaps our perceptions as fans and media are incorrect as we see only what the NUMBERS say! Let's lay off him and see if that works.

Anonymous said...

@Jay The "why" is speculative, but if you look at AK's recent comments about his increased production with Eller compared to Gomez it seems like Gomez tries to make too many "fancy" plays or deviate from a simple game plan that some of the other players are trying to work with. Made sense to me when I hear that, considering it seems that Gomez makes a ton of blind passes and awkward plays compared to our other centres.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting article and I like the perspective, but the article was set up to be a critique of Gomez and it turned into a comparison between Plekanec. I think we can all agree that in this case the numbers aren't surprising, that is Pleks is better than Gomez. But at the same time I think you might see something similar on other teams; wingers perform better when playing with the top centre. Perhaps the production in this case dropped more, but I would like to see the comparison for wingers playing with Gomez and other centres, to see how far down the depth chart he should be.
But I do like the perspective this gives on Gomez.

j2 said...

I'm sorry, this article is nothing but confirmation bias. The examination is not nearly deep enough, but is only superficial enough to show what you thought you knew before hand. You're not examining relative time on ice, faceoff-end starts, etc.

I'm not even disagreeing with you, but this examination is so superficial it's laughable. In some cases considering a couple of games as statistically relevant is a hell of a reach.

The fact that so many are jumping on this as dogma is pretty much an indication of how badly uninformed Canadiens fans are, and how ready they are to pick up the pitchforks and start another witch hunt. Which is exactly why they had to sign Gomez, because nobody wants to come here.

J.T. said...

@j2: Laugh if you like, but looking at comparable stats for every single game this year would include variables in ice time, faceoff-end starts and other such in-game fluctuations, does it not? Plekanec's line may play 20 minutes one night and Gomez' line 18, but that's reversed next game. Gomez may win 75% of his offensive-zone faceoffs in a game, while Plekanec loses 75% of his, but that balances out so they both have similar faceoff percentages after 63 games. Of course there are variables, but it's hard to argue with the consistency of everybody's numbers with Gomez over the course of the year, versus everybody's numbers with Plekanec.

By the way, speaking of uninformed, the Canadiens traded for Gomez, who didn't have a choice about playing in Montreal. Cammalleri, Gionta, Plekanec, Markov, Moen, Gill, Hamrlik and Spacek...or, "nobody" if you will...signed as free agents and wanted to be in Montreal.

Mike Safoniuk said...

Very interesting article JT! I've been sitting on the fence on this one. I wasn't sure if the anti-Gomez sentiment was due to his salary or his play. Your numbers (which I think you did a great job of analyzing) indicate the latter. You've convinced me.

The next question is what to do with Gomez? Is this something that can be fixed? If it can't, how would it affect team chemistry & Monteal's reputation for future UFA's to bury him in the minors? Is there ANYONE who would take on his cap hit (his actual salary "drops" to 5.5 & 4.5 million after next year while his cap hit stays high ... teams that are salary-conscious but need to make the minimum-cap could be interested ... heck the Islanders may be the best fit)

My outlook is that he is unmoveable until the end of -next- year at which point his game will have eitehr returned or he would be an easier sell to teams like the Islanders who need to make the salary cap minimum and would likely love to do that without having to actually spend that much!

DB said...

I have two theories on what's wrong with Gomez.

Too many solo rushes. Several times a game he picks the puck up in the Habs' zone, races up the ice, crosses the blueline and gets checked.

The solo rushes cause two problems. His wingers have no speed when they cross the opponents blueline because they've had to wait for Gomez, and solo rushes are easy to defend. The opponents out-man Gomez as soon as he crosses the blueline and strip him of the puck.

Gomez has not adapted as the game has changed. When Gomez started in the NHL he was a much better skater than a lot of other players, and he was able to use his skating ability to generate scoring chances.

The crackdown on obstruction has banished most of the poor skaters from the game (a few like Gill have survived because they were able to adapt) and eliminated most of the skating advantage that Gomez had. Unfortunately Gomez still plays like the poor skaters are on the ice.

j2 said...

@J.T. maybe, who knows? your numbers don't show that at all. Are you telling me that that's true? Is there some basis for that?

I hope you really don't think that every player is being started equally between the o-zone and d-zone. (I'm not saying I know what the proportion for these players is - I'm saying the numbers here don't show it. If you check out here:

I think we can conclude gomez is being given more ozone starts, and is slightly losing the ozone, whereas pleks is doing slightly better at maintaining it.


Gomez is playing low-end of second-line numbers.

But this still is providing a snapshot summary after however-many games and isn't showing how he's been used by the coach.

Don't get me wrong - he's got lots to work on, but he's not doing everything wrong. I personally have a problem with things like "the team doesn't play in front of him" or "he's dragging everyone around him down" without solid evidence.

This is a good starting place...

Markov and Plex stayed in Montreal as a hometown discount with reasonable salaries. Spacek and Hamrlik got a fair bonus for coming here, IMHO. Gill's a good catch in the playoffs and mentoring young players. Who knows if Cammy and Gio would be here if Gomez hadn't been treated as a loss-leader?

Matt said...

To be fair to Gomez, he hasn't had the chance to play with Plekanec. Maybe Martin could jump start Gomez by putting him on Plekanec's wing (or Plekanec on Gomez' wing) for a game or two.

canadiens_habs said...

a very good article JT. I have never liked Gomez that much and this year I have HATED him with a passion. (almost as much as betman... but i digress) I too have been noticing how all his wingers go from hot on plecs line to cold on his line. its almost like a punishment for the wingers to play on gomers line. I think back to the start of the season when AK49 was HOT playin with plecky and then Martin tried to get Gionta going so he move AK down with Gomez. He went from hot to cold fast and has done nothing every time hes played with him. its the same with every player that has played with him. heck AK has been playin pretty good the last few games with eller.
But i this brings me to what really bothers me with our beloved habs and our "great" head coach. Martin seems unwilling to give the gomez a kick in the ass or sit him on the bench (except for the boston game) when hes not playing well. the ways he's been playing he should be sitting in up in the stands. heck there have been players who go scratched and have played way better than gomez. This also leads me in my anger in why Desharnais hasnt been given a proper chance under Martin, with real minutes, on the pp and at even strength. Desharnais is never out of position, has great hands and a great vision of the ice. Why can't Martin just take Gomez off the pp and put Desharnais in his place. how bout given him some second line minutes for the rest of the year and see what happens. he and patts have been our two best forwards since their call ups and this is our future here alongs with subban and why not give them a chance to grow and developed and a future without gomez (pls be soon, pls).
I think that this summer we should send gomez to the AHL and have that money to resign markov (no question that we NEED too) goerges who will get a raise, resign AK for a bit less and also save room for down the road. We can't forget that Price will get a BIG raise in a year, subban will also and all our youngs guns will need some money some time.
so the way i see it, its simple.... get ride of gomez. it makes the whole thing better.

Anonymous said...

Gomez sucks.

rootdown said...

Marc-Antoine Godin from "La Presse" picked up on your analysis. Although he did not give credit.