The Curious Case of Scott Hartnell

Image courtesy of daylife.com

(Editor’s Note: Naturally, this was written just before Scott Hartnell scored a goal in his most recent game against the Detroit Red Wings. Not that we’re complaining, mind you.)

Since arriving in Philadelphia from Nashville following the 2007 season, Scott Hartnell had been a fairly consistent player. In each of his first 4 seasons in Philly, Hartsy put up between 43 and 60 points while missing only 3 total games over that span. Here’s a table showing his stats from those years:

Hartnell’s traditional statistics by year 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011
Games 80 82 81 82
Goals 24 30 14 24
Assists 19 30 30 25
Points 43 60 44 49
Shots 176 210 171 177
Goals/game 0.3 0.37 0.17 0.29
Assists/game 0.24 0.37 0.37 0.3
Points/game 0.54 0.73 0.54 0.6
Shots/game 2.2 2.56 2.11 2.16
Shooting % 13.60% 14.30% 8.20% 13.60%

 

We can see here that Hartnell was the exact same player almost every season for those 4 years, with the exception of a few outliers. In the 2008-2009 season, he increased his shots on goal, which led to his first 30-goal season. His first season, 2007-2008, saw a lower assist total than usual. And his 2009-2010 season had a shooting percentage much lower than his norms the rest of his time in Philly. However, Hartnell’s role on the team changed after the June 2011 trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Suddenly, he was one of the most experienced and productive forwards on the team. Combined with an early-season injury to James van Riemsdyk, Hartnell got time on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, and they clicked together. The result was a career season for Hartnell in just about every way imaginable, as he equaled or surpassed his career best totals in games played, goals, assists, points, shots, and shooting percentage:

Hartnell’s traditional stats 2011-2012
Games 82
Goals 37
Assists 30
Points 67
Shots 232
Goals/game 0.45
Assists/game 0.37
Points/game 0.82
Shots/game 2.83
Shooting % 15.90%
Hartnell’s traditional stats 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012
Games 80 82 81 82 82
Goals 24 30 14 24 37
Assists 19 30 30 25 30
Points 43 60 44 49 67
Shots 176 210 171 177 232
Goals/game 0.3 0.37 0.17 0.29 0.45
Assists/game 0.24 0.37 0.37 0.3 0.37
Points/game 0.54 0.73 0.54 0.6 0.82
Shots/game 2.2 2.56 2.11 2.16 2.83
Shooting % 13.60% 14.30% 8.20% 13.60% 15.90%

 

Headed into the last year of his previous contract, the Flyers re-upped with Hartnell on a 6-year contract extension worth $4.75M per season that just took effect this year. There were plenty of people (me included among them) who questioned the intelligence of a long-term extension for Hartnell, and seemingly since the ink dried on the contract Hartnell’s play has deteriorated. In the lockout-shortened season, Hartnell suffered his first major injury while with the Flyers, and also missed time earlier this season. His numbers have suffered:

Hartnell’s traditional stats 2013

2013-2014

Games 32 (/48) 23 (/27)
Goals 8 5
Assists 3 3
Points 11 8
Shots 74 63
Goals/game 0.25 0.22
Assists/game 0.09 0.13
Points/game 0.34 0.35
Shots/game 2.31 2.74
Shooting % 10.80% 7.90%

Scott Hartnell needs to rebound this season.. Pic c/o BridgetDS: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bridgetds

Extrapolated out to a full season, last year Hartnell would have played in 55 games, scored 14 goals, and totaled 19 points. This year, he’s on pace for 70 games, 15 goals, and 24 points. And if we combine his body of work from the past 2 seasons, he’s played in 55 out of a possible 75 games and scored 13 goals and 19 points. Yuck. Not what you want to see out of a player who has spent the majority of his ice-time as a top-line and PP1 LW, and especially not from one who is making $4.75M in each of the next 5 seasons after this one. I personally have thought he’s looked slow and unproductive for since the start of last season. However, you can see here that while he didn’t come close to matching his 2011-2012 production last year, Hartnell was hurt in no small part by a shooting percentage that was below average for him, as his 2.31 shots per game were the 3rd-best season of his career. This year, his shooting percentage is even lower at 7.9%, a mark that would stand as his worst ever if it holds up. That’s a real shame too, because the 2.74 shots on goal he’s averaging per game is his 2nd-best figure ever, and comparable to his 2.83 SOG/game from the 2011-2012 season. This year’s Flyers team is averaging 29.1 SOG/game (19th in the league) compared to the 32.2 per game they were getting off in 2011-2012 (3rd in the NHL), which could account for the 0.09 SPG decrease.

To gain a better understanding of Hartnell’s baseline results as a Flyer before his breakout in the 2011-2012 season, why he broke out that season, and his play since then, I turned to the advanced statistics. Fortunately, behindthenet.ca started tracking their data in the 2007-2008 season, the start of Hartnell’s tenure in Philadelphia. Here’s what I found for those first 4 seasons, with Hartnell’s ranking among the team’s forwards who played 50 games that year in parentheses:

Advanced statistics 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011
Corsi Rel 1.5 (5th) -2.0 (7th) 3.7 (6th) -0.5 (9th)
Corsi Rel QoC 0.279 (8th) 0.473 (5th) -0.025 (12th) 0.253 (7th)
Corsi Rel QoT 0.623 (4th) -0.417 (8th) 2.866 (2nd) 0.495 (7th)
O Zone Starts 45.9% (5th) 43.3% (8th) 50.0% (8th) 53.0% (3rd)
O Zone Finishes 46.5% (9th) 47.0% (8th) 46.3% (12th) 49.3% (10th)
On-ice shooting % 8.58% (5th) 10.47% (2nd) 7.39% (10th) 10.69% (2nd)
Top linemates Richards (35.4%), Briere (31.5%) Carter (75.2%), Lupul (61.2%) Briere (53.1%), Carter (49.8%) Briere (78.6%), Leino (78.2%)
5v5 TOI/game 12:59 (4th) 13:19 (3rd) 12:26 (3rd) 13:33 (4th)
5v4 TOI/game 2:21 (7th) 2:19 (5th) 2:40 (4th) 2:45 (2nd)
4v5 TOI/game 0:29 (8th) 1:37 (5th) 0:21 (8th) 0:06 (8th)

So for the most part, Hartnell was a pretty average lower-end top-6 guy for these 4 years. With a couple exceptions, he didn’t play against extremely hard/easy competition, play with really good/bad teammates, or drive play exceptionally well/poorly. The advanced stats would seem to back up his solid, yet unspectacular numbers over these 4 years for the most part. His high ranks in ES TOI were partially due to his durability, and aside from 2008-2009 he didn’t factor in on the PK. He moved up to the top-PP unit in either 2009-2010 or 2010-2011, but it wasn’t always that way. Let’s see how 2011-2012 compares to these seasons:

Advanced statistics 2011-2012
Corsi Rel 9.6 (2nd)
Corsi Rel QoC 0.502 (6th)
Corsi Rel QoT 2.560 (3rd)
O Zone Starts 52.2% (6th)
O Zone Finishes 51.0% (3rd)
On-ice shooting % 9.76% (3rd)
Top linemates Giroux (75.8%), Jagr (60.4%)
5v5 TOI/game 14:06 (1st)
5v4 TOI/game 3:04 (4th)
4v5 TOI/game 0:05 (6th)

You can see here that Hartnell was given a top-line role and ran with it. He had the 2nd-best Corsi Rel among forwards on the team (only Jagr’s was better), he led in 5v5 TOI, was part of the top PP unit all season (and responded with 16 goals while at 5v4), and had the 3rd-best teammates among forwards (only Giroux and Jagr were better). Factor in his high on-ice shooting percentage and personal shooting percentage (15.9%), and the career highs in goals, assists, and points makes sense. But this doesn’t tell us things we don’t already know. Scott Hartnell was really good in 2011-2012. We knew that. The Flyers paid him like it, and he hasn’t produced accordingly. So you’d expect the “fancystats” to show that 2011-2012 was an outlier, and whether it was the product of Jagr and Matt Carle leaving or just regression to his career norms, Hartnell’s 2011-2012 was a fluke. But you’d be wrong. Here are the numbers:

Advanced statistics 2011-2012 2013 (32/48 games)
Corsi Rel 9.6 (2nd) 17.4 (2nd)
Corsi Rel QoC 0.502 (6th) 0.450 (5th)
Corsi Rel QoT 2.560 (3rd) 2.867 (2nd)
O Zone Starts 52.2% (6th) 49.8% (4th)
O Zone Finishes 51.0% (3rd) 49% (6th)
On-ice shooting % 9.76% (3rd) 6.03% (12th)
Top linemates Giroux (75.8%), Jagr (60.4%) Giroux (50.9%), Voracek (41.7%)
5v5 TOI/game 14:06 (1st) 12:34 (11th)
5v4 TOI/game 3:04 (4th) 2:54 (5th)
4v5 TOI/game 0:05 (6th) 0:01 (12th)
Hartnell

Scott Hartnell says the team needs to play smarter… Yup. pic c/o bridgetds: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bridgetds/

Huh. His Corsi Rel dramatically improved (him and Voracek at 17.5 were in a league of their own, as 4th-place Brayden Schenn was as closer to Maxime Talbot, Adam Hall, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Zac Rinaldo bringing up the rear as he was to Voracek and Hartnell. He played with roughly the same quality of teammates against roughly the same quality of opponents. The differences with his production in 2011-2012 and 2013 are probably a combination of several factors, including: a lower shooting percentage (15.9% to 10.8%), a lower on-ice shooting percentage (9.76% to 6.03%), the foot injury, bouncing around in the top-6 more (he spent 25% less time with Giroux in 2013 and 20% less time with Voracek than he did with Jagr), and fewer offensive zone starts. So he had an unlucky year. Probably could have guessed that once I told you he didn’t have a bad year according to the advanced stats. The one thing that was worrisome, though, was that he had 0.62 fewer shots on goal per game despite his Corsi Rel improving dramatically. Hartnell’s 32 games played in 2013 are a pretty small sample size though, so it could be an outlier or unsustainable. But he’s started off this season very well according to the advanced stats too:

Advanced statistics 2011-2012 2013 (32/48 games) 2013-2014 (23/27 games)
Corsi Rel 9.6 (2nd) 17.4 (2nd) 22.3 (1st)
Corsi Rel QoC 0.502 (6th) 0.450 (5th) 0.869 (6th)
Corsi Rel QoT 2.560 (3rd) 2.867 (2nd) 4.763 (2nd)
O Zone Starts 52.2% (6th) 49.8% (4th) 59.6% (1st)
O Zone Finishes 51.0% (3rd) 49% (6th) 53.5% (2nd)
On-ice shooting % 9.76% (3rd) 6.03% (12th) 4.32% (11th)
Top linemates Giroux (75.8%), Jagr (60.4%) Giroux (50.9%), Voracek (41.7%) Giroux (82.3%), Voracek (73.1%)
5v5 TOI/game 14:06 (1st) 12:34 (11th) 13:35 (8th)
5v4 TOI/game 3:04 (4th) 2:54 (5th) 2:58 (5th)
4v5 TOI/game 0:05 (6th) 0:01 (12th) n/a

 

He’s being started in the offensive zone more frequently and he’s spending nearly all his time with Giroux and Voracek, but other than that things are pretty much the same as last season. He and Voracek are a cut above in Corsi Rel, he’s playing against decent competition on the top line, and he’s on the first power play unit. And even better, his shots per game are back up to 2.74, nearly in line with his 2011-2012 totals. So why is his production down? Likely due to his abysmal 4.32% on-ice shooting percentage (only Rosehill and Raffl are worse) and his own personal 7.9% shooting percentage, half of what it was in 2011-2012 and 5% lower than his overall shooting percentage since he got to Philadelphia.

So what do we make out of all this jargon? I’m not entirely sure. It remains to be seen whether it’s Hartnell driving the play or whether he’s been the beneficiary of a favorable situation and getting to play alongside Giroux  and Voracek. Look, I’ve been as frustrated by Scott Hartnell’s struggles as anyone else. It looks like he’s losing puck battles, not spending enough time in front of the net, struggling to get good cycles going in the offensive zone, and taking dumb penalties. That seems to just be my selection bias, though, because by the numbers he’s been one of, if not the best Flyers forwards this season and we as fans just need to realize what can be so hard to understand: he needs time. His linemates are going to shoot better (Voracek is at 4.8% and Giroux is at 5.5%), and so will he. The goals, much like winter, are coming. I promise.