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Analyzing Brian Rolston's Performance as a New Jersey Devil - Part 2

Yesterday evening, I've began taking a closer look at Brian Rolston's performance as a New Jersey Devil. Requests for such an analysis were requested by the users, and frankly, I figured it's a nice change of pace from looking at free agents.  Don't worry, I'll begin looking at unrestricted free agent centers soon enough.   I've been writing down all requested players and I'll try to split it up by type of center.

In Part 1, I focused specifically on Rolston's shooting percentage (assist to user elesias for bringing it up) and I did a With or Without You analysis on Rolston's 2009-10 at 5-on-5 hockey.  Please check it out for the details.   Here's a summation of what I found:

  • Over the past 5 seasons, Rolston has declined in points, goals, assists, and power play goals. At least he also reduced his PIM.  What really stood out since coming to NJ to me was sharp decline in shots on goal.
  • Brian Rolston's shooting percentage isn't likely to get much higher next season.  Instead of hoping he'll get more breaks, he should work on attempting more shots and in better locations (he was one of the worst at that in 09-10 per the Behind the Net blog) in the hopes of getting more goals.
  • Brian Rolston had a below 50% Corsi% when on the ice with most third and fourth liners like Rob Niedermayer and Jay Pandolfo.  He had his best Corsi% with the few events he had with Vladimir Zharkov and Ilya Kovalchuk; a more consistent and mutually beneficial pairing was Rolston and Patrik Elias.
  • No defenseman with the exception of the few times he played with Paul Martin really stood out in terms of Corsi% with Rolston.
  • The sheer number of players Rolston had 100 or more Corsi events with highlights Jacques Lemaire's line changes throughout the season.  It suggests that Lemaire wanted to find the right matchup with Rolston, only to not really find it at even strength. 

In Part 2, I'm focusing on his Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) and his on-ice and on-ice impact stats at both even strength and the power play.  I'm not doing the penalty kill because he has never had a TOI/60 greater than 0.95 as a Devil, which really isn't enough to consider or compare with other players.  For both, I'll be looking at the last three seasons.  I'm including Rolston's final season in Minnesota for additional context.    Please continue on after the jump to see how much Rolston has contributed on the ice as well as how his on-ice stats looked as a Devil.

Goals Versus Threshold (GVT)

I've brought up GVT twice before; once focusing on Ilya Kovalchuk and a second time about the all-time GVT of the current Devils (and a few more).  It is a stat developed by Tom Awad that measures a player's contributions on offense (or goaltending), defense, and the shootout.  It's a results-oriented stat  and you can read more about the stat's background here and here at Puck Prospectus.

Behind the Net did store the GVT of every player in the league in this past season.  Here's Rolston's line:

Brian Rolston 80 20 17 37 2 27 24.5 -1.3 3.2 3.2 0 6.4


Rolston's total GVT ranked tied for 211th with Scottie Upshall, Kyle Quincey, and Shane Doan, as well as 7th on the 2009-10 Devils.   Mind you, 974 players played in at least one game last season, but I think a better idea for context will be to use Tom Awad's all-time GVT list. 

Not only does it list the GVT for all NHL players who played since 1944, but breaks down each player's GVT season-by-season.  The GVT is normalized for era, so it's not going to match the non-normalized GVT at Behind the Net; and there's some rounding error.  Still, the bigger picture should show off the level of Rolston's contributions.

2007-08 81 9.7 3.1 -0.6 12 0.151 97
2008-09 64 2.1 1.9 -0.2 3.7 0.058 353
2009-10 80 3.3 3.4 0 6.8 0.085 226


It may be obvious just by his mere scoring line that Rolston definitely hasn't contributed as much as he did back in Minnesota.  However, even with an improved 2009-10 in all three areas of GVT, he's still well behind 07-08.  An optimist will point out that he's contributed more on defense last season out of all three of these. While that's good, the offensive contributions definitely have left a lot to be desired.  

In the bigger picture, I think it serves to further justify Rolston's status as a third-line caliber player.  Not bad defense, but definitely not a lot of offensive contribution.  Even though a WOWY shows that he performs better with scoring line players.

On-Ice & On-Ice Impact Stats

A good way to highlight a player's impact on their team is to see how the stats change when he steps on the ice.  I've done this at length for Ilya Kovalchuk recently at even strength and 5-on-4 power play situations.  Here are the basic questions it answers.  Did the team score at a higher rate (GF/60); and did the opposition find more success (GA/60)?  Did the player's presence witness more shots on net (SF/60) or did the opposition get more rubber the other way (GA/60)?  The impact is to take the off-ice values of those stats and subtract the on-ice values.  Therefore, a negative number is good for offense (GF/60, SF/60); but a positive number is good for defense (GA/60, SA/60).

I also included other numbers from Behind the Net: on-ice team shooting percentage, PDO, and adjusted Corsi/60 (thanks to Derek Zona for the latter) for the even strength numbers to provide further context for forwards.    I've also ranked all of the stats for those who played at least 30 games and had a minimum TOI/60 of 13. Rolston met this criteria in 2007-08 and 2009-10, signifying that he played significant minutes in those two seasons.  He did not in 2008-09, as he was relegated to third line duty on a Devils team that tended to equalize playing time; hence his rankings for that season are "N/A."  That's fine since his stats are still available to see.

5-on-5 Situations


In 2007-08, Brian Rolston had a good PDO, a very good adjusted Corsi/60, and ranked highly among his peers in on-ice goals against per 60 (GA/60); on-ice impact in GA/60; and on-ice impact in shots for per 60 (SF/60).  I was surprised to see his on-ice goals for per 60 (GF/60) be so low and that his on-ice impact actually showed a decrease in GF/60.  With a relatively high quality of teammates too.

2008-09 didn't see Rolston rank among the forwards who played significant minutes.  He improved in on-ice shooting percentage, GF/60, impact on GF/60 (it actually improved), SF/60, and PDO.  However, the GA/60 got slightly worse, his on-ice impact on GA/60 meant his presence increased the rate of goals against, his adjusted Corsi/60 was poor, and he was absolutely terrible when it came to shots against.  When he stepped on the ice, the SA/60 went up 6.1 and to a very high 31.1.   

More distressingly, his 2008-09 season saw weak competition in addition to weaker teammates.    Rolston was on the third line but he definitely wasn't a great checker in his first season as a Devil.

Fortunately, we can spot improvement in Rolston's game in this past season.  For starters, he got more ice time so he's back to being ranked.   He was among the best among his peers in on-ice GA/60 and SA/60; while just outside of the top 30 in on-ice impact in both stats.  All the same, when Rolston stepped on the ice, the opposition shot and scored at a lesser rate. That's good.    

The offensive numbers are the opposite of good.  His on-ice team shooting percentage dipped; and his PDO went back to what it was in 2007-08. Moreover, Rolston's on-ice and on-ice impact on GF/60 and SF/60 were among the worst among his peers. The Devils' rate of scoring and shooting got worse when he came on the ice.  Combine that with a barely-above-zero adjusted Corsi/60 and it's clear that Rolston may truly be a checking winger now.   I don't see a lot here to suggest he'll suddenly be more offensive and benefit his team in terms of shooting and scoring when he's on the ice.

5-on-4 Situations


OK, so the even strength numbers show that Rolston isn't an offensive dynamo. What about the power play?  Surely, the man with the cannon of a slapshot can bring it on the power play. 

Well, not unlike Kovalchuk, the impact really isn't there.   In 2007-08, Rolston was present for quite a few PPGs, but he really only had a beneficial impact on goals: very good on-ice GF/60 and a food GF/60 on-ice impact. However, the shooting suffered as a result.  Rolston must have been told something or put on a unit with a different mentality in 2008-09 because he improved in both on-ice and on-ice impact SF/60 dramatically. The SF/60 really did improve when Rolston came on the ice.  Unfortunately, his on-ice and on-ice impact on GF/60 went into free fall.   

This past season saw his on-ice GF/60 improved, but Rolston's on-ice impact on GF/60 was still not beneficial.  Even worse, his on-ice and on-ice impact on SF/60 dropped like an anvil coming out of the sky.  Yet, he was on the ice for more goals with a lower TOI/60 than in the past three seasons.  My one word for all of this: odd.

Main Conclusions

Between Part 1 and what I've found from GVT and the on-ice and on-ice impact numbers is that Brian Rolston has become more like a checking winger.  When he stepped on the ice last season, the defensive stats are what improved, not his offensive ones.  The rise in defensive GVT provides further confirmation. 

However, the offensive stats haven't necessarily followed.  His offensive GVT remains a shadow of what it was in Minnesota.  At even strength, the only time Rolston stepping on the ice led to an improvement in an offensive stat was GF/60 and for an improvement of 0.18 to 2.43 back in 2008-09.  While not bad, that it's the only one isn't very good.  On top of that, he hasn't provided much impact to his team's power play in either of the last three seasons - a situation where Rolston has scored fewer power play goals with each successive season (11, 8, 7 in last 3).

The more I look at the analysis in Parts 1 and 2, the more I'm convinced that Brian Rolston did improve last season in spite of being with so many different linemates (see the WOWY here).  He shot the puck more, he scored 5 more goals, his GVT improved, and his on-ice numbers at even strength improved, albeit in areas I didn't expect.  Given a rotation of linemates, that's impressive to a point.   Yet, I'm doubtful as to whether he can build on it.  He's going to turn 38 next February, and it's foolhardy to think he'll get back to the level of where he was in Minnesota back in 2007-08.  He hasn't shown signs of either in the past two seasons.  There's not much reason to believe he'll enjoy a giant increase in his shooting percentage or put a ton of shots on net or that when he steps on the ice, the team will improve offensively.

One of the biggest challenges for the new head coach will be figuring out who will fit best with Rolston, something Jacques Lemaire didn't really figure out.  Though the on-ice numbers at even strength strongly suggest to me that he's really a checking winger more than a scoring winger.  Maybe a new signing for a third line will mesh better with Rolston than Rob Niedermayer.  Maybe Rolston will work on certain parts on his game and improve as a result.  Maybe he'll benefit from just getting a few more breaks in 2010-11. That's a lot of maybes and I'm sure you can come up with more.

Overall, I think he may be growing into that third line role and as such, he should be considered as one.   I said in Part 1 that I thought he was a tweener, but in retrospect, that was with respect to Corsi.  Here, I think it's clear that he provides a defensive impact and if he can add 15-20 goals along with that, that would be more in line of what he could do to help the team. 

No, such a performance won't live up to a $5 million salary; and I'm not arguing otherwise.  Nothing short of returning to his form from 2007-08 will do that.  However, unless you happen to have a rejuvenation and/or time machine available, it's not worth further grumbling.  He is what he is and to expect more, I think, is unrealistic.

Your Turn

Thanks for reading, and thanks to users Maciek1o13 and drhgzang for making the request in the first place.  Now that you read Part 1 and Part 2 (this post), it's your turn to tell me what you think. Did either post change your opinion of Brian Rolston?   Did it change your expectations of the veteran winger?  Was there something that didn't make sense or another way he can be evaluated?  Let me know what you think in the comments. (P.S.  Just don't bring up the possibility of trading him, again, it's not going to happen so it's pointless to discuss it here.)