Steve Ott: 48 games, 9 goals, 15 assists, plus-3, 187 hits
It didn't take long for Sabres forward Steve Ott to become a fan favorite in Buffalo. His physical and sometimes outrageous style provided fans with a dose of the edge and attitude they'd been missing over the past few seasons.
While the former Stars forward added toughness and leadership to a Sabres team that was short on both, a statistical analysis of his 2013 season suggests a change in usage could make him more effective in 2013-14.
The Sabres' biggest struggle this season was puck possession. They ranked 30th in the league in the most telling possession stat Fenwick Close – which is formed by comparing shots on goal + shots missed for vs. shots on goal + shots missed against. The formula is only applied in close game situations.
How much does possession mean to winning? Seven of the eight teams still remaining in the playoffs were in the top 10 in Fenwick Close. The L.A. Kings were fourth in the NHL last season when they won the Stanley Cup.
Ott had the worst puck possession numbers on the Sabres.
His on-ice Fenwick percentage was 40.5% according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com. Basically, only 40.5% of the total shots on goal or missed shots were for the Sabres when he was on the ice.
In fact, only Toronto's Jay McClement had a worse Fenwick Percentage in the entire NHL.
During his career, Ott has rarely been a dominant possession player, but he's been much better than he was in 2013. Here are his Fenwick Percentages over the past four years:
For some context: The best two players during that time period with over 4,000 minutes played were Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk at 58.0% and 57.5%.
Other possession statistics that include blocked shots are not friendly to Ott's 2013 season either. He ranked last on the Sabres in Relative Corsi – which is a similar formula to Fenwick, but includes blocked shots and compares a player to his linemates.
Can coach Ron Rolston do anything to help Ott's possession statistics?
The answer lies in player usage.
The 30-year-old forward faced the toughest competition of any Sabre in 2013. A statistic called Corsi Relative Quality of Competition, which indicates how good the on-ice opponents were at puck possession, shows Ott played against the opponents' best possession players each night.
Here's the top Sabres in Corsi Rel QoC:
That list hints that the possession problems weren't all on the players, but also how they were used. But we'll save that for another article.
Another factor in Ott's abysmal possession numbers was his Offensive Zone Starts. In other terms, total faceoffs taken in the offensive zone vs. the defensive zone. Ott's took the lowest percentage of total faceoffs in the offensive zone of any Sabre at 41.9%.
Thomas Vanek at 47.4%
Patrick Kaleta 47.6%
Tyler Ennis 48.2%
Cody Hodgson 48.4%
There's a lot wrong with that list too, but again, another day.
When Ott had his best possession season in 08-09, he saw more offensive zone starts at 47.6% and ranked eighth on the Stars in Corsi Relative to Competition. Here are his other years:
One more factor at play here: He had the second best Corsi Relative Quality of Teammates in 08-09. In other words: He played with the second best possession linemates on the team.
With Buffalo in 2013 he ranked 10th
He's rarely had the quality of teammates (in terms of possession) that he did in 08-09, but has at times had slightly better linemates than he did in 2013. Maybe next season he could be paired with Marcus Foligno and Kevin Porter or Brian Flynn - all of which were solid lower line possession players.
From here, we can put together some conclusions:
Steve Ott played tough minutes in tough situations with poor possession linemates
He did not post good possession statistics
In the past, when given easier minutes, more offensive time and better linemates, he had better possession statistics
Conclusion: The Sabres should tweak Steve Ott's role next season to take some of the pressure of being a “lockdown forward” off and give him more advantages in order to get the most possession value out of his game.
Also, the team will have to weigh his possession and scoring production vs. his intangibles and physical play in determining whether they should re-sign him to a long-term contract. As much as Ott does bring in terms of intangibles, they should ask themselves: Are there other players available who would bring a similarly positive influence to the locker room and similar toughness while also helping improve his team's puck possession more than Ott?