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What Stats Say Pt. 1: Brad Boyes

Buffalo Sabres' fans have several months to think about what went wrong. Was it
the injuries? Was it a combative relationship between players and coach? Was 
it lack of determination? Or the ever-talked-about “core players?”

Often times, those aspects of failure are tough to put a finger on. The only 
ones who know the answers to those questions are inside closed doors. 

That doesn't mean we can't search for answers within the resources we have. 
One of those untapped resources is advanced statistics. Yes, they exist in hockey,
not just baseball.

So this is the first of a series of articles about what the numbers suggest about 
this season.
(Disclaimer) *The analysis here is based on years of statistical analysis for 
Hockey Prospectus and ESPN Insider. The opinions expressed are simply reading the 
tea leaves, not based on visual evidence and in no way suggest I know more about
hockey than Lindy Ruff, Darcy Regier or any of the players on the Buffalo Sabres*

In part one, we focus on Brad Boyes.

The question: Why was Boyes a bust? What does it say about the coach and 
general manager?

The majority opinion: It seems many believe that Boyes is a perimeter player whose
past success was a product of the post-lockout boom of power plays and elimination of 
“clutching and grabbing.” When the referees stopped calling interference, Boyes' 
success waned, no longer being able to cruise around and snipe. He's been often 
said to not have the willingness to change his game to fit the changes in the NHL.

Boyes' stats – 8 goals, 15 assists (2 goals, 6 assists on power play) were all 
career lows. He played 65 games.

What the Stats Say:

We start with the power play....

Boyes was at his best in 2007-08 when he scored a total of 43 goals 22 assists and 
2008-09 when he scored 33 goals, 39 assists. Boyes flourished on the power play during 
that time scoring 19 of his 65 points on the man advantage. In 2008-09, of his 72 points, 
35 were scored on the power play. 

In 2007-08, Boyes received 3.62 minutes of ice time per game in 5-on-4 situations and 
scored at a rateof 3.64 points per 60 minutes of ice time. In 2008-09, his numbers were 
3.95 ice time per 60 and 4.81 points per 60.

The scoring rates on the power play league wide coincided with Boyes' scoring downtrend. 
In 2007-08 there were 4.28 power play opportunities (PPO) per team per game and teams 
scored on 17.75 percent of them. The next year, the rate was almost the same at 4.16, but teams 
scored on 18.95 percent, the highest since 1992-93.

Over his next two seasons in St. Louis, Boyes' production fell off significantly. 
He dropped from 72 to 42 points in 2009-10, then rebounded scoring 41 in 62 games with the 
blues and 14 in 21 games with the Sabres (55 points in 83 games). Not surprisingly, Boyes' 
power play points went mostly as the league did. In 2009-10 he scored just 10 points and 
in 2010-11, only 13. Then this season, just eight.

Here's the league averages for the past three seasons for power play opportunities and 
success rates. Both drop each year.

2009-10: PPO – 3.71, PP% - 18.23
2010-11: PPO: 3.54, PP% - 18.02
2011-12: PPO: 3.31, PP% - 17.31

In Boyes' 2009-10 season, his power play time per 60 minutes dropped to 3.00 from 3.95 
the year before.Less time on ice, less scoring. His rate, however, fell significantly 
to 2.44 points/60, down from 4.81.

In 2010-11, the time on ice went down to 2.31, but scoring rate recovered to 3.44, 
close to his 2007-08 rate of 3.64. 

Basically 2009-10 was a bad year, but Boyes came back to nearly the same power 
play player in 2010-11 that he had been in 2007-08.

This season, power play scoring and opportunities league wide were both down to 
their lowest point since 1968 and Boyes' ice time was mitigated to 1.96 minutes per 60. 
So despite his rate being similar to 2007-08, he was not on the ice as often and therefore 
did not score as many total points.

The Sabres top power play ice time player Jason Pominville only received 2.91 per 60.
Only three players were over 4.00, 20 players were over 3.50. 

The Sabres ranked 22nd in the NHL in power play opportunities.

What it all means: 

Boyes' power play production this season of 3.77 points/60 minutes was 
nearly the same as when he was considered a top player. He didn't stop being a good power 
play player, rather he was not on the ice as often because of four factors:
1) Lindy Ruff elected to play less productive power play players 
Derek Roy (3.05 points/60) and Drew Stafford (2.37/60) more minutes than Boyes. 

2)Ruff spread out power play time, using Villie Leino (1.06 minutes/60) and Luke Adam (1.63 and 
later Cody Hodgson. Many other teams have specialty forwards spend the entire power play on the ice. 
Ruff does not do that.

3) The NHL stopped calling the amount of penalties they had in 2007-08 and 2008-09

4) The Sabres were one of the poorest teams at drawing penalties

Here are two conclusions based on the power play statistical evidence for why Boyes failed:

1) GM Darcy Regier traded for a player who's specialty, the power play, was slowly being white washed 
by the NHL.

2) Ruff did not play to Boyes' strengths. If Boyes had played 4.00/60, he likely would have scored a 
similar amount of points on the power play to his best years.

Those two conclusions suggest a disconnect between general manager and coach on the decision to trade 
for Boyes. Not that they were at odds over the decision, simply that Regier traded for a player who 
did not fit the needs of his coach.

Now...Boyes' 5-on-5 role

This one is much less complicated. Boyes was not on the ice as often and when he was, he was on the 
fourth line.

In 5-on-5 situations, he only had 10.86 minutes ice time per 60 minutes. In 2007-08 it was 13.42. In 
2008-09, Boyes led St. Louis with 14.02.

When his ice time was leading St. Louis, his points/60 was 1.77, this year with the Sabres it was 1.27. 
The rate was only 0.50 points/60 different from Boyes' top scoring season. 

Also, Boyes' QoT (Quality of Teammates) statistic ranked third worst on the team only ahead of 
Patrick Kaleta and Matt Ellis, who were often times his line mates on the fourth line.  When he was at 
his best in 2008-09, Boyes' QoT was fourth on the Blues amongst forwards, suggesting he spent most of 
his time as a top six forward.

One other stat that illustrates the point is Boyes' On-Ice Shooting Percentage. In 2007-08, the 
Blues' shooting percentage when he was on the ice was 11.09 percent. This season, that number was 
nearly half at 6.55 percent. The stat suggests that Boyes' teammates, when they did shoot, were not 
scoring. That might offer an explanation for lower assist numbers. Tyler Ennis, by comparison, had an 
11.65 On-Ice Shooting Percentage.

And about his defensive game...

Believe it or not, advanced statistics suggest Boyes was a valuable defensive player. When he was on 
the ice, Sabres' goaltenders stopped shots at a .948 save percentage and allowed just 1.53 goals 
against per 60 minutes. Boyes led the team in both categories. Patrick Kaleta was next amongst 
forwards with .931. In fairness, Kaleta started far more often in the defensive zone 
(53.9 percent offensive zone starts for Boyes to 41.9 Kaleta)

5-on-5 Conclusions: Had Boyes played more minutes with better linemates as he did during his better 
days, he likely would have scored closer to the amount of goals and assists Sabres' fans expected. 
And, despite not scoring, Boyes was still a fairly valuable fourth liner, doing what low lines are 
supposed to do: keep the puck out of the net. 

The numbers imply Boyes can still play in the NHL, but would be better suited with a team willing to
play him significant minutes on the power play and with quality teammates. 

In Part 2 of “What Advanced Stats Say About the Buffalo Sabres,” we will look at Villie Leino's 
difficult season. 

Follow Matthew Coller on Twitter @matthewwgr

And stick tap to Derek Jedamski (@thehosers_DSJ) for his input to the article.

TSN's Bob McKenzie thinks the Sabres would have a shot at Steven Stamkos in free agency. Would you pay him $11 million a year?
  Yes. They desperately need his goal scoring
  No. Its too much money.
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