How Much Will Mark Streit Impact the Philadelphia Flyers' Blue Line in 2013-14?

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistOctober 3, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 02: Troy Bodie #40 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks to block a first period shot by Mark Streit #32 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on October 2, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Mark Streit played his first contest as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, and the results were mixed.

What Streit did well is what he’s always done well. His heavy shot was in evidence, with Streit firing four times and having four others blocked en route. He was comfortable both passing and rushing the puck, skills that serve him equally well at either end of the ice (with the best defense often being a quick transition to offense).

His first point of the season nicely highlights some of those skills. On the power play, he cleanly gained the offensive zone and then put the puck around the boards to another new Flyer, Vincent Lecavalier; Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn took care of the rest.

What Streit is not is particularly big or strong, at least by NHL standards. Listed on the NHL’s official site at 5’11”, 191 pounds, he’s well below average size for a defenseman (of the almost 300 rearguards who played in the majors last season, only 40 were listed at shorter than 6’0).

Despite his virtues, Streit’s smaller frame can occasionally be costly in the defensive zone. Likely it contributed to Streit losing a critical battle to Nikolai Kulemin (6’1”, 225 lbs) on what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

That, in a nutshell, is the player the Flyers signed to a four-year, $21 million contract this summer: a wonderfully gifted puck-moving player who will sometimes be outmuscled. Can he make a real difference in Philadelphia?

History suggests the answer to that question is yes, at least in the short term. Streit missed the entire 2010-11 season due to surgery on his shoulder, but he was excellent for the Islanders after his return. It’s instructive to look at how his regular defense partners fared when they played with Streit and when they played without him.

The chart above uses Corsi percentage—essentially, what percentage of all shots, including missed and blocked, the Islanders took at even-strength with those players on the ice; it’s a statistic that correlates closely to scoring chances and does a good job of showing which team was controlling the play at the time.

With the exception of Brian Strait (who enjoyed wonderful results with Lubomir Visnovsky when not playing with Streit), all of the players above fared better with Streit than when separated from him. For the Islanders, he was Mr. Fix-It, making every pairing he was on better.

That ability also makes him a strong fit in Philadelphia. The Flyers struggled to outshoot their opposition last season—with Kimmo Timonen on the ice, they managed the feat, but when he was on the bench, they lost the shots battle. Adding Streit gives them a second healthy defenseman really capable of getting the puck moving in the right direction.

Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett did a nice job explaining the value of that kind of play in a 2012 interview with Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic:

We had a player that was supposed to be a great, shut-down defenseman. He was supposedly the be-all, end-all of defensemen. But when you did a 10-game analysis of him, you found out he was defending all the time because he can't move the puck.

Then we had another guy, who supposedly couldn't defend a lick. Well, he was defending only 20 percent of the time because he's making good plays out of our end. He may not be the strongest defender, but he's only doing it 20 percent of the time. So the equation works out better the other way. I ended up trading the other defenseman.

Streit’s going to get beat sometimes, but he enables the Flyers to spend less time defending and more time on the attack. The more he can tilt the ice toward offense for Philadelphia, the better the Flyers’ shot at a playoff berth.