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Devil's Advocate: Dainius Zubrus a Bright Spot

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Zubrus isn't a sexy player. He doesn't fill up the stat sheet. He is on the downslope of his career. But he is a big reason the Devil's haven't spiraled out of control. In this week's Devil's Advocate we tell that story.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Dainus Zubrus is exactly the kind of player you would expect to be a Devil. In his time with the franchise he has scored over 40 points 1 time and over 20 goals zero times. This year he has provided us with a thoroughly unspectacular 2 goals and 0 assists. On a team that is not scoring, how could he possibly be helping us with those stats.

My argument is that he has kept us afloat by 1: providing a stellar possession game, 2: plugging in important holes in the team, and 3: making players around him better.

Argument 1: Possession Statistics

Dainius Zubrus is one of the best possession players on the team right now. All stats that are used in this 5v5Close which means that they are statistics from even strength when the game is within a goal in the first two periods or tied in the 3rd period. This is to take out any mitigating factors like change in strategy.

Zubrus has been the best skater not named Jagr in possession from a statistical aspect. The only other players that are comparable in Corsi% are Larsson and Havlat. Neither has played in over half of our games and both are very sheltered in our system. What do I mean sheltered? Have a look at the graph below, generated from War on Ice.

11-13 Weighted Possession
The height of the bubble is determined by the amount of time the player's opponents are averaging on ice. Theoretically, the higher the bubble the tougher the competition.

The horizontal placement is based on where the player starts most of their shifts. The further to the right, the more often the are in the offensive zone. Which means that the further to the left they are, the harder their shifts are.

If the placement of the bubble is the situation the player is put in, the color and size are the players response. The color of the bubble is the players Relative Corsi. The blue the bubble, the more the Devils have the puck while they are on. The size is time on ice. The larger the bubble, the more time the player averages per game.

Note Zubrus's appearance on this graph. He is in the top 4 forwards and top 6 skaters in quality of competition. This means that he is playing against tough guys. And he is the leftmost player on the graph which means that he has been in the offensive zone the lowest amount of time. Despite that, he has managed to be a deep blue as a strong possession player.

Don't believe in Zone adjusting? Don't think that TOI is a good measure of quality of competition? Let's look at something else then. Let's use Corsi to guage competition. If we take the opponents average corsi and subtract the teammates average corsi we will get a number that, the higher is is, the more mismatched a players supporting staff is against his opponents. If we take that difference and add it to the players Corsi, we get an admittedly crude new Corsi value that has been adjusted based on who is on the ice with and against each player. The results are below.

Name Team Corsi% Comp Corsi% Difference Corsi% Comp Adj Corsi
Adam.Larsson 51.16 52.05 0.89 60 60.89
Dainius.Zubrus 50.07 52.5 2.43 57.42 59.85
Jaromir.Jagr 52.51 52.44 -0.07 58.62 58.55
Patrik.Elias 50.82 52.21 1.39 53.74 55.13
Damon.Severson 50.91 52.44 1.53 53.44 54.97
Tuomo.Ruutu 47.24 50.46 3.22 51.69 54.91
Marek.Zidlicky 50.26 51.88 1.62 52.36 53.98
Mike.Cammalleri 52.66 52.48 -0.18 52.98 52.8
Andrew.Greene 50.67 52.63 1.96 50.79 52.75
Adam.Henrique 50.99 50.36 -0.63 52.94 52.31
Travis.Zajac 52.39 52.3 -0.09 52.34 52.25
Eric.Gelinas 52.55 50.53 -2.02 53.94 51.92
Jacob.Josefson 48.65 52.03 3.38 48.51 51.89
Stephen.Gionta 46.14 50.94 4.8 46.83 51.63
Bryce.Salvador 48.76 51.88 3.12 47.83 50.95
Michael.Ryder 51 51.2 0.2 50.23 50.43
Jon.Merrill 51.4 50.26 -1.14 50.3 49.16
Damien.Brunner 51.39 52.07 0.68 46.9 47.58
Ryane.Clowe 51.67 50.79 -0.88 44.09 43.21

Zubrus is the #2 skater and the #1 forward on the entire team.

What does this mean? It means that Zubrus is being put in the worst position to succeed on the whole team and is outperforming his teammates in spite of it. His possession statistics 5 on 5 in close games have been elite.

Argument 2: Plugging in Holes

When the year started, we had 2 new toys to play with in Cammy and Havlat. Cam slid into that top line nicely and we knew that Marty and Patty were gonna play together, but someone had to fill in that last forward spot. In the 15 minutes of ice time they were together, Havlat and Zubrus were good for a sparkling 71% Corsi rating. That is absurd.

But, then Havlat had to go and be old and stuff and get himself injured. And worse yet, toy #2 went and took an elbow to the jaw and had to take a seat too. On a broken line already, Zubrus slides into Cam's old role and reunites with his buddies from last year, Zajac and Jagr. Zubrus, who actually joined the line a little before Cam's injury, helped this line to not only survive the loss of Cammalleri, but thrive in it. Zajac is actually a negative possession player when Zubrus is not on the ice right now. Jagr is still awesome, but he;s 4 percentage points awesomer in Corsi% with Zubrus. Which brings me to my final point...

Argument 3: He Makes Teammates Better

Hockey Analysis 5v5 Close ZS Adj Zubrus WOWY table is shown below. That is the densest hockey statistics sentence I've ever said so let me break that down quick for the less stat-versed readers. 5v5 = even strength, Close means its still a close game, ZS Adj means adjusted for where the players shifts typically start, WOWY is with ot without you stats.

Player Together CF% Zubrus only CF% Teammate only CF% Diff of Improvement
GREENE, ANDY 51.6 63.8 51.9 11.9
SEVERSON, DAMON 52.2 63.2 54.7 8.5
ZAJAC, TRAVIS 51.5 61.4 49.3 12.1
JAGR, JAROMIR 60 57.1 56.2 0.9
ELIAS, PATRIK 63.8 54.2 52.8 1.4
SALVADOR, BRYCE 63.3 55.8 42.1 13.7
ZIDLICKY, MAREK 68.3 53.3 46.2 7.1
RYDER, MICHAEL 51.2 59.9 52.3 7.6
MERRILL, JON 60.5 57.5 47.9 9.6
GELINAS, ERIC 58.6 58 51.7 6.3
LARSSON, ADAM 61.9 57.6 61.2 -3.6
HAVLAT, MARTIN 71.1 55 54.2 0.8
BRUNNER, DAMIEN 52.6 58.7 45.5 13.2
HENRIQUE, ADAM 60 57.7 52.4 5.3
GIONTA, STEPHEN 47.6 59.3 47.4 11.9
BERNIER, STEVE 56.2 58.2 45 13.2

That last column I generated. It is the difference of improvement value. For player A, it shows how much more player A benefits from Zubrus's company than Zubrus benefits from player A's from a possession standpoint. Adam Larsson is the only player on the whole team who statistically helps Zubrus more than Zubrus helps them. The Greene pairing and Michael Ryder are the only players whose Corsi values decreased at all from Zubrus's presence.

What does this mean? If your a Devil, you want to play with Zubrus. He's been a positive possession influence on virtually every player.

Conclusion

Dainius Zubrus doesn't have pretty stats, but he has been relied upon to fill in important holes, play in tough situations with little help, and he has performed admirably. The goals don't show up yet, but he is putting his team in a chance to succeed when they shouldn't be. With the early injuries of important players, and struggles of others, Zubrus's tough minutes have been of immeasurable importance.

Counter Arguments

I see two strong counter arguments. Firstly, this article uses Corsi. When switched to Fenwick, Zubrus's stats plummet across the board. This means that alothough possession is most likely still very strong, scoring opporunities may be lopsided in favor of the opponent during Zubrus's playing time. Speak of the Devil (get it?), time on ice is the second coutner argument. Zubrus is averaging 14.39 minutes per game which is his lowest total since 2001. He may be playing tough minutes, but not many of them.

So what do you guys think? Has Zubrus been good so far? What do you want to see out of him moving forward? Is he being used appropriately? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!