Jarret Stoll's Defensive Contribution Vital Aspect of Kings' Stanley Cup Success

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Jarret Stoll's Defensive Contribution Vital Aspect of Kings' Stanley Cup Success
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It’s been an interesting playoff run for Jarret Stoll, and we can summarize it quickly with two statistics.

The first is even-strength time on ice in the postseason: Stoll’s 350-odd minutes put him second among Kings centres in terms of usage. It’s 20 minutes more than Jeff Carter has played, nearly an hour more than Mike Richards. Only Anze Kopitar has been entrusted with more ice time by Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter.

The second is points. With five points in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Stoll is tied for 11th among the Kings’ 12 regular forwards. Richards, who is frequently mentioned as a buyout candidate, has 10 points, double Stoll’s production. Carter and Kopitar, at 24 and 26 respectively, are producing five times as much offence.

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So why would Sutter rather play Stoll than Carter or Richards? The answer highlights the difference between the NHL’s traditional statistics and the emerging numbers typically referred to as “advanced” statistics.

Traditional statistics paint a picture of Stoll as a supremely disappointing player. His plus/minus is typically mediocre. In fact, 2013-14 was the first time in four seasons he put any distance between himself and the break-even line, and even so, his plus-nine rating came on a team for which Kopitar was plus-34.

Stoll’s scoring is also anemic; he’s a black hole offensively at even strength. When we compare him to the Kings’ other three primary centres over the last few years, we see consistently positive results from Kopitar and Carter, slightly less impressive work by Richards and Stoll well back of the pack:

Data via BehindtheNet.ca

In short: Either Stoll has incriminating pictures of his coach, or traditional metrics don’t do a good job of conveying Stoll’s impact on the ice.

While we can’t definitively disprove the former, we can certainly demonstrate the latter.

In Stoll’s case, there are two critical points to highlight. The first is that scoring doesn’t matter; only outscoring does (in other words, it’s better to win 1-0 than lose 6-5). The second is that Stoll is being deployed in a specialized role.

We’ll take the second point first. Ice time is not created equally. Some players start more shifts in the defensive zone and against better opponents. Others play more minutes in the offensive zone and against opposition depth lines.

Don Smith/Getty Images

Stoll has been the Kings’ go-to option in the defensive zone.

Since the 2011-12 season and including the playoffs, he has started a greater percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone than any of the Kings’ other pivots. Over that span, Kopitar, Carter and Richards have generally all started about 52 percent of their non-neutral-zone shifts in the offensive zone. Stoll’s number is down around 46 percent.

Starting in the defensive zone hurts both a player’s point totals and his plus/minus. A lost defensive-zone faceoff (and even the best faceoff men in the league lose roughly 45 percent of their draws) can have dire consequences. Even a won faceoff requires a 200-foot trek before it can result in an offensive opportunity.

Stoll also typically plays against very good opposition forwards.

ExtraSkater.com splits its Quality of Competition metric between forwards and defencemen. As Stoll is generally both not an offensive threat and not starting shifts in dangerous places, he doesn’t generally see top defence pairs. But he does see top opposition lines. Among Kings centres, only Kopitar has seen better opposition forwards over the course of the postseason.

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Despite playing relatively tough minutes, Stoll has done well. The Kings have outscored the opposition 14-9 with the veteran centre on the ice at five-on-five. While he has had some good fortune in attaining that number (the Kings have a 0.942 save percentage in these situations with Stoll on the ice), his line has done a good job outshooting the opposition.

Corsi Rel—a plus/minus of shot attempts relative to team strength—is a decent catch-all statistic to show a line’s two-way play. In the case of Stoll, his minus-1.9 percent number is quite good, given the minutes he’s playing.

It's indicative of all the little things he does well. Often lionized for his faceoff abilityDavid Wharton of the Los Angeles Times had a great article on that subject Wednesday—Stoll brings much more to the table. The faceoff is just one puck battle in a shift; while Stoll excels on the draw, he also wins battles and makes good decisions in the shift that follows it. 

Star defenceman Drew Doughty specifically cited Stoll's contribution to the McClatchy-Tribune's Lisa Dillman (h/t The Hays Daily News) before telling her that players like him are essential on any Cup winner. 

"That's how you win championships," he said. "I know we haven't won it yet, but that's how you get to the point we're at right now. We need the whole team, that's the bottom line, if you're playing too many guys too often, they're going to get tired."

Stoll isn’t going to get Conn Smythe consideration if the Kings win, nor should he. But he’s been an effective player in an important role for Los Angeles, and it’s all too easy to overlook his contribution, given his anemic offence.

 

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

Statistics courtesy of BehindtheNet.caExtraSkater.com and NHL.com.

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