Sean Couturier is kind of a big deal

It’s easy to look at Sean Couturier’s final line for the 2013 season and claim that he had a down year for the Philadelphia Flyers. Four goals, eleven assists, for fifteen points, and a minus-eight in 46 games. That’s good for being tied for eleventh in goals, seventh in assists, eighth in points, and fifth worst on the team in plus-minus. Frankly, most people expected more from the highly promising young center.

By now it’s not a novel concept to write that there is a whole lot more to reviewing Couturier’s season than just these surface-level statistics. This is particularly true of plus-minus, a statistic which I particularly dislike.

“The fact that people so frequently point to plus-minus as a means of gauging an individual player really frustrates me. Without any context, the stat is almost useless. With context, it isn’t entirely useless.

How was his team’s goal differential as a whole? What quality of teammates did he play with? What quality of opponents did he play against? Did he usually start his shifts in the offensive or defensive zone?

If you play on the Florida Panthers (worst goal differential in the league), with a partner that is the equivalent of someone like Andreas Lilja or Kurtis Foster, playing against Sidney Crosby constantly, and you’re starting in your own defensive zone 70% of the time…I’m willing to bet you’re going to be a minus player. Even if you’re the best player in the world.

If you play on the Chicago Blackhawks (best goal differential in the league), with a partner that is the equivalent of someone like Erik Karlsson or PK Subban, playing against Jody Shelley constantly, and you’re starting in the offensive zone 70% of the time…I’m willing to bet you’re going to be a plus player. Even if you’re…well…you (I’m assuming whoever is reading this is not an NHL player).”


Couturier started only 32.1% of his shifts in the offensive zone; clearly indicating he played a highly defensive role. That was good for second fewest on the team (I’m using 30 games played as my base criteria). Only Adam Hall had a lower percentage at an incredible 16.1%, which is actually the fewest in the entire NHL.

He also had the fourth worst linemates of anyone on the team (using Corsi Relative Quality of Teammates) at -2.637, ahead of only Zac Rinaldo, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Hall.

At the same time, Couturier was playing the second most difficult matchups on the team (using Corsi Relative Quality of Competition) at 0.952, trailing only Max Talbot.

When you’re almost always playing in your own end of the ice, with garbage linemates, against some of the best competition, you are inevitably going to have a tough time. You almost can’t stack the odds against you any further. And yet…Couturier managed a 2.1 Corsi Relative, indicating essentially that ~2 shots more per 60 minutes of even strength ice time were directed at the opponent’s net while he was on the ice than when he wasn’t. In other words, he was driving playing towards the offensive zone and generating shots.

This made me wonder…how did he compare to his other teammates that had poor linemates? After-all, Quality of Teammates is actually far more indicative of performance than Quality of Competition anyway.

Well, considering the four other guys who had unfavorable linemates were heavily negative in Corsi Relative, I think it’s pretty impressive that Couturier managed to generate more shot attempts for than against relative to his team, despite the circumstances. This made me wonder…how does that compare with other forwards throughout the league?

Offensive Zone Starts – 9th fewest

Corsi Rel QoT – 50th worst…and if you consider most of the players ahead of him are goons and fourth liners, that only makes sense. If you eliminate the forwards who play less than 10 minutes a game, and Couturier jumps to 20th worst linemates in the league.

Corsi Rel QoC – 56th hardest 

Among all forwards playing 30 games or more that started less than 40% of their shifts in the offensive zone (AKA playing a defensive role), only seven players had a positive Corsi Relative: Couturier, Gordon, Reasoner, Grabovski, Fisher, Moss, and Kruger. And yet, guys like Reasoner and Kruger apparently played against poor competition while Gordon and Fisher appear to have had decent linemates.

Among all forwards playing 30 games or more that had a Corsi Relative Quality of Teammates of -2 or worse, only six players had a positive Corsi Relative: Couturier, Reasoner, Grabovski, Gomez, Kennedy, and Okposo. And yet, players like Gomez, Kennedy, and Okposo were playing far more offensive roles having offensive zone starts approaching or greater than 50% of the time.

Among all forwards playing 30 games or more that had a Corsi Relative Quality of Competition of 0.952 (Couturier’s number) or better, there were 36 players that had a positive Corsi Relative. That number seems pretty dramatic, but quite a few of those players are superstars that are seeing HEAVY offensive zone starts and are inevtiably going to be facing other superstars (thus resulting in a high Corsi Relative Quality of Competition rating).

Frankly, quality of competition is a tough statistic. To borrow some wise words from the great Eric T:

“These competition metrics provide valuable insight into what a coach thinks of a player and how he tries to use them, but in practice they do not show differences large enough to have significant impact on the player’s results.”

So what if we put it all together? Is there anyone out there playing a similar role to Couturier when it comes to offensive zone starts, quality of teammates, and quality of competition that can still generate more shots toward the opponent’s net than his own relative to his own team?

Among all forwards playing 30 games or more that had offensive zone starts less than 40%, a Corsi Rel QoT of -2 or worse, and simply a positive Corsi Rel QoC…there are two players that had a positive Corsi Relative: Sean Couturier and Mikhail Grabovski.

I’m far from a statistician. I know there are flaws in some of the statistics I’ve chosen to use. I also don’t even know if the thresholds I’ve chosen to filter these numbers with are ideal. But it sure seems to me like what Couturier is managing to do, within the role he is being asked to play, is not an easy task. The fact that Couturier still managed to put up the fifth highest Corsi Relative among forwards on the Flyers is impressive.

But this also begs the question…why in the world did the Leafs buyout Grabovski? To keep Bozak?

  • Dan

    Great analysis. It’s also perplexing that nobody has signed Grabovski yet, but I guess he could be asking for a lot of money.

    • Kevin Christmann

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yea, I’m a little surprised as well. He is coming off of a cap hit of $5.5 so he probably is looking for a decent chunk of change.

  • just5

    Fedotenko managed to be a +8 with crappier linemates. Cooter had a sophmore slump. He better come back physically stronger

  • Z

    Great read, thanks for the analysis.

  • ex

    While basic plus/minus isn’t always a good indicator, I don’t know if you can simply discount the -8 due to not having the pluses…his GA/ON60 (goals against per 60 mins of icetime played) last season was MUCH better than this season, and, unlike plus minus, that doesn’t depend on goals scored or pluses to calculate.

    The fact that he may have faced solid competion does not, in itself, indicate Couturier high performing as a defensive forward…in other words, it may indicate the type of competition a player may face, but it doesn’t indicate how they fared against them. I point to Couturier’s GA/ON60 (5v5) number, or goals scored against the team while he’s on the ice for 60 mins, which was 3.09, a very poor number that ranks him 383rd amongst all NHL forwards. Not exactly elite, even when you consider he faced the 61st toughest competition in the league.
    His Corsi On, meaning the differential of how many shots were taken by the opposition versus how many his own team took, while he was on the ice, was ranked 285th in the league (forwards only).
    His Corsi Relative, indicates his Corsi while on the ice to his team’s overall Corsi when he’s off the ice. In this category Couturier ranked as the154th forward in the NHL.
    there are a substantial number of forwards in the league who had as high or higher CorsiRelQoC (indicating they faced as tough or tougher competition), but who also have significantly lower GA/ON60 (inidcating that less goals were allowed while the player was on the ice). There are probably 40+ forwards in the league who faced better competition (higher CorsiRelQoC) and did better against them (GA/ON60)…among the best in this differential are players like Pavel Datsyuk (ranks #1), David Backes, Boyd Gordon, Mike Fisher, Charlie Coyle, Josh Bailey, Alex Burrows, Patrick Sharp, Steve Ott, Anze Kopitar, Gabriel Landeskog, H Sedin, Logan Coture, Radim Vrbata. Pretty good company. Now looking at players further down the list, with a quotient of CorsiRelQoC and GA/ON60 similar to Couturier, and we see his defensive peers are players like Curtis Glencross, Jamie McGinn, Lee Stempniak, Jason Pominville, Marcel Goc, P.A. Parenteau, JVR, Anisimov, Tanguay, Brodziak, Fleischmann. Not exactly your Selke nominees/dominant defensive types.

  • billy