The problem with being analytics is that it doesn’t give the entire story, especially in hockey. While it sets the table for what you are trying to tell, sometimes you still need to use the eye test.
In the bigger picture of things, the numbers and the eye test should pretty much land you in the same ballpark, though.
So what does that say about Olli Maatta, defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins?
One of the youngest on the Penguins blue line, since his injury-filled sophomore season, things have seemed off for the Finish defender. At least watching with the eye test.
It would be understandable if Maatta struggled to acclimate himself on the ice. He would miss time that year with multiple shoulder surgeries and have to deal with thyroid cancer as well. Through all of that, he only played in 20 games that year, which all things considered is pretty impressive.
Coming back after barely getting an offseason (due to the rehab from the shoulder surgery), at times Maatta looked slow and sluggish, even seeing himself becoming a healthy scratch on several occasions – both during the regular season and in the postseason. He didn’t finish the campaign unscathed either, suffering a concussion against the Washington Capitals in the playoffs.
But what if I were to say that last year, the metrics said that Maatta had his best of his career, and he is having another great season in 2016-2017? Would that further push you away from analytics?
Maatta has only registered five points this season, all assists, but scoring is far from a defensemen’s primary task on the ice. It is to move the puck up the ice for the forwards, and then keep the opposition from putting the puck past the goalie.
In that sense Maatta, though not always gracefully, has done a great job the last two years.
As far as puck possession, Maatta is suffering from the worst stretch of his career but isn’t that far off from his career mark. The team isn’t converting offensively at as high of a rate than in year’s past, but like his possession numbers, they aren’t far off from his averages.
He is giving up more scoring chances right now, but his defensive metrics are at the best they have ever been in his career, with high marks in goals against per 60 (GA/60) and on-ice save percentage (SV%).
Looking at a player’s relative numbers gives a good idea of how they are performing compared to the rest of the team. A positive number means the team performs better when that player is on the ice, whereas a negative mark means the opposite.
Maybe this is where people have said that Maatta has struggled, looking at how he has performed compared to the rest of the team. The last two seasons a lot of his numbers are right at zero or in the negative, including his RelCF%. One bright spot for Maatta this year has been his RelGF%, which is sitting at 11.22%. That means the Penguins have an 11.22 higher goals for percent when Maatta is on the ice than when he is off.
That is almost shocking when you consider his RelGA/60 is a negative, meaning they get scored on more when Maatta is on the ice than when he is off.
Again scoring isn’t the top priority of defensemen, especially one like Maatta. Regardless, his scoring has almost been cut in half at even strength this season. As a rookie, Maatta scored at over a point per 60-minute pace but has seen that drop each year, all the way to 0.48 in 2016-2017.
As long as Maatta is helping prevent goals like he is, he can get away with the lack of scoring. All though with Letang and Dumoulin out, it would be nice to get a little bit of offense from the ones still in the lineup.
Maatta remains one of the biggest wildcards in the lineup. He is still really young for a defenseman but is one of the most experienced players at the position right now. Even the numbers speak to the up and down nature to him, posting some of the best defensive metrics of his career, but still allowing more goals per 60 relative to the rest of the team.
At just 22 years old, Maatta is in the first year of a new contract worth $24.5 million over six years. It makes him the second highest paid defenseman on the team in terms of AAV behind Letang.
With plenty of room to develop, you can expect Maatta to continue to drive some fans crazy as he settles into a role as a second pairing shutdown defender. Maybe that is a disappointment from being matched with Letang as a top pairing defender, but it looks like it is time to accept what it is.