Now that Andrew Ladd is firmly entrenched, we analyze what the NHL veteran can bring to the New York Islanders this upcoming season.
When the puck drops in October to commence the 2016-17 regular season, the New York Islanders will be taking the ice with a very different look than the one they have sported over the majority of the past decade.
Gone are long time favorites Matt Martin and Frans Nielsen; players who never showed anything less than outstanding character and a commitment to Long Island that should be remembered even as they don new sweaters in Toronto and Detroit.
Another member of that core to have departed is Kyle Okposo; the homegrown winger who currently resides in Buffalo for the next 7 years. Okposo was long viewed as an underachiever, finally achieving notoriety for his bout with Matt Niskanen in New York’s postseason duel with the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2013.
From that point on, big things were expected from Okposo. It’s a major point of contention for Islanders fans these days as to whether or not he met those expectations. The easy way to figure out which side someone belongs to is to check their Twitter feed when it was announced that Okposo had signed with the Sabres on July 1.
Losing such a player, regardless of your opinion of his quality, opened up a sizable hole alongside the Islanders captain, John Tavares. With No. 91 set for free agency in two summers, it is of the utmost importance that GM Garth Snow attempt to construct a roster capable of winning the Stanley Cup within those two years.
So when the free agency dust had settled, and fans were able to take stock of what had just gone on, the most interesting signing of the summer for the Islanders came from Stanley Cup winner Andrew Ladd, former captain for the Winnipeg Jet. That’s not to say Jason Chimera and returning Islander P.A. Parenteau aren’t worth paying attention to, but Ladd’s role would seem to specifically provide the top line of the Islanders stability and grit. So the question is, is the man capable?
For the purposes of this article, let’s ignore the questions of whom Garth Snow and the Islanders could have signed besides Ladd; the reality is Ladd is here and the others are not. Speculation about what could have been doesn’t do us any good in looking at the future.
It is also crucial to take a decent enough sample size of performance: hot or cold years can skew the perspectives we all take on players, so for the sake of comparison, all statistics from this point on come courtesy of Michah Blake McCurdy’s 3-Year Player Cards on hockeyviz.com.
Points scored is a simplistic way to view the change from Okposo to Ladd, but the majority of Islanders fans I imagine will surely be keeping track of how many Okposo is going to amass in Buffalo, so let’s direct our attention there first.
Okposo scored roughly 1.7 points per 60 minutes of Even-Handed play, a mark that places him squarely amongst his fellow first liners around the NHL. The amount of times Okposo was on the ice also corresponded directly to the ice time that first-line players average: so in essence over the past three year Okposo has produced first line scoring with first line minutes: a fact that may surprise some Islanders supporters.
Ladd, over the same period, has had an ice time that also ranks with first liners around the NHL, but with an important distinction that provides some clues in my mind as to why the Islanders pursued him: time on the penalty kill. Ladd’s average of two minutes easily outstrips Okposo’s, which barely registers on his overall numbers. Keep that in mind as we move forward…
The point production is where we see a definite difference between the two: as I mentioned previously Okposo scored at a first line rate: Ladd’s production clocks in at 1.5 points per 60 minutes, a total ranking amongst the top second liners. We also see Ladd’s points coming at periods, more often than not, when his team hold the lead. Okposo on the other hand, scored more while the Islanders were trailing. Now these are the statistics that lend themselves to debate: will playing alongside Tavares allow Ladd to increase those numbers? The Islanders are certainly betting on that possibility, because if one is looking at straight up offensive predictions, the numbers favored retaining Okposo.
Where the tables turn, so to speak, is on the defensive side of the equation. Now, it’s important to remember that hockey statistics are hard to categorize on an individual basis, so much of their performance is dependant on teammates, line combinations, and goalie performance. So a player such as Ladd, who has played for Winnipeg and Chicago over the last three years, had the benefit of excellent defensive squads. No one would confuse the Islanders of the last handful of seasons as being a top defensive team, although admittedly they have made strides over the same time period.
The Islanders’s defensive performance while Okposo was on the ice skewed towards a more entertaining brand of hockey to be sure in terms of shot creation and transitions into the attacking zone, but allowed for more goals on average to be scored against them (2.7 per contest) With Ladd, we see that particular number come in at under 2.2 goals: obviously to the naked eye a few percentage points doesn’t seem huge but when the sample is taken from 1,000 or so games, those little numbers are huge.
Of course the one item that was mentioned ad nauseum upon the Ladd signing was his “intangibles.” This would be something that any old school hockey player/coach would tell you cannot be measured by the statistics we currently have. There is no formula that measures grit, battle level, chemistry, and what have you.
But it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that change can bring positives to the roster the Islanders currently have going into the season. Ladd is a two time Stanley Cup winner, and while I can’t definitively prove that is worth something to how the team plays, I also cannot argue that it doesn’t add something.
Garth Snow made his feelings clear that he felt this team had gone as far as it could looking as it did: and he backed up that belief by brining in the handful of new players that arrive via free agency. Andrew Ladd is the centerpiece of those deals, and as of right now, the most important of them. The hope from management is that his leadership, defensive minded play and veteran presence provide a natural fit alongside John Tavares. If that doesn’t come to pass, things in Brooklyn might start to get a little more dicey.