The Manny Malhotra problem

In lieu of the traditional 'Noon Number' that we typically find noontime here at Nucks Misconduct, I will look further in depth at Manny Malhotra's season thus far and what could be causing his absolutely brutal plus/minus rating.

Malhotra, as I'm sure you're aware, is a team second-to-lowest minus-10 this season and has been on the ice for 17 goals against, tied with fellow players who are notoriously bad at defense: Jeff Skinner, Jay Bouwmeester, and Jonathan Toews.

I often read stories and theories about how +/- doesn't matter. Of course +/- matters. Team goal differential is the single greatest predictor of overall team wins and losses. A low +/- for Malhotra means that, when Malhotra is on the ice, the team has generated overall more losses than victories.

The problem with +/- is that it is flawed and doesn't tell the whole story. It matters lots, but is unpredictable year-to-year and a good amount of luck is involved. With that in mind, we can throw out Malhotra's +/- rating and start from the bottom. While shooting percentages maintain poor year-to-year correlation, the number of shots a team takes is more predictable. So let's look a little closer at the basic unit of currency used around NHL ice: the shot.

The shot is an interesting measure. Who is on the ice for every recorded event in a game is available data at NHL.com. Statisticians like Gabriel Desjardins and Vic Ferrari have developed scripts that collect the data and can be presented in different forms. We can collect the data and see how well Manny Malhotra has done at Even Strength at shot differential every 60 minutes of play. This is all put together in a simple package known as The Fenwick Number.

Simply, the Fenwick number acts as a +/- for not just goals, but also saved shots and missed shots. It is a reliable indicator of scoring chances at either end. The higher your Fenwick number, the more scoring chances your team has created when you are on the ice.

In the "Behind the Net" era from 2008-on when the NHL started recording individual events with its Play-By-Play data synchronized with its ice-time, Manny Malhotra has consistently generated a high Fenwick number. In fact, his number has seen little change when you adjust for the number of times he starts in the defensive zone. To illustrate this, I will show you a chart:

EDS FenW AdjFenW Theoretical +/- Actual +/- PDO
2008 - CBJ -5.4 3.9 7.1 5.3 -3 99.5%
2009 - CBJ -4.8 2.8 5.7 5.2 +9 101.7%
2010 - SJ -3.3 3.4 5.4 3.9 +17 105.1%
2011 - VAN -21.0 -5.8 6.8 5.3 +9 103.1%
2012 - VAN -22.9 -16.2 -2.4 -0.3 -10 91.2%

In this chart, EDS represents the number of times that Malhotra started in the defensive zone minus the times he started in the offensive zone per 60 minutes. Zone starts correlate well with a player's overall possession numbers so we have to take those into account as well. FenW is his basic Fenwick number, AdjFenW is the number adjusted for zone starts. A player gets a bonus +0.6 Fenwick point for every extra defensive zone start.

I added another column in there, the Theoretical +/- which attempts to predict Malhotra's +/- based on his Fenwick number. You can visualize the difference from his Actual +/- based on his PDO, which is a measure of luck that adds the team's save percentage plus the team's shooting percentage when the player is on the ice.

From looking at that chart, we can see two things:

 

  • Alain Vigneault used Malhotra more in the defensive zone than any other coach, and he's using him more in the defensive zone this season.
  • Manny Malhotra has not done an adequate job at preventing shots this season. This is the first time that he's been below average in Adjusted Fenwick, even when you consider he played 2008 and 2009 in Columbus.
  • Malhotra's PDO is also at its lowest-level ever, so that is likely to change, hopefully.
  • Considering the number of defensive zone starts that Malhotra has had, he's almost even on the season when you consider his theoretical +/-.
  • An even player isn't good enough for Manny Malhotra, given his high salary.

 

I'm not really banking on Malhotra's eye being an excuse for his play. In the Stanley Cup Finals, he had a very high Adjusted Fenwick Number of 23.4, coming out positive possession-wise even though he was often used for defensive zone faceoffs. Granted, since in the games he played, the Canucks were playing a lot from behind, it would elevate that number due to score effects, but 23.4 is still a very high number in that regard. I don't think Malhotra's eye or the timing is an issue. I think he's just playing some pretty bad hockey at this point.

The bad news is that more than a bad PDO have given Malhotra a poor +/-. The good news is that there's still lots of time for Malhotra to turn around his play. But you'd think at a time where he is struggling to a level that he hasn't struggled in the last four years, that Vigneault might give him a bit of a break and let him take a few offensive shifts to boost his struggling numbers. Not so. Malhotra is still the best defensive centreman that money can buy, and his play in 291 games is more indicative of his true hockey talent than his play over the last 15.

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