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We Protected the Wrong John

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Yes, I know Jon Merrill doesn’t have an “h,” but I already did that stupid parenthetical “h” in one article and I’m tired of them inconveniencing me. This article is about how it was stupid to defend John Moore.

Winnipeg Jets v New Jersey Devils Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

Proud to be the anchor on Merrill's ranking

Written several times about how he is not an NHL defender yet and he has been given much more time than most people on this list to prove it. I had Mozik, Jacobs, and Merrill all in the same range and Merrill is clearly the least encouraging of the 3 to me, but his experience kept him in the mix for prospect rankings.

-Me

This is one of those RFAs that will probably be given a bridge deal, but probably doesn't need to. I've been anti-Merrill a while now so I'll try not to let my personal bias affect my assessment of this colossal waste of space......

I just don't see the upside to this guy. I mean I see what people say his upside is, but I just don't see it on the ice

-Also Me

The last time I was excited about Jon Merril, he was in college...I would say [...that] John Moore is comfortably a 3rd pairing defender and still needs to prove himself as a 2nd pairing one. Merrill still needs to prove he belongs in the league at all.

-Me again

Coming into the year I thought he was going to be a young, fast, and offensive. I envisioned Moore and Severson developing into the lightening to Greene and Larsson’s thunder.

-Me from the same article

John Moore looked like one of the more encouraging signings actually. In fact, if you sifted through all of the moves I just mentioned in the previous paragraph, before the season I would have said that the John Moore signing was the most sound decision. A calculated risk on a 25-year-old NHL defender was definitely worth it.

-Still Me

I mention these quotes as a prelude so that it’s clear where I started on this topic and where I am now. The most passionate I’ve ever been on a player assessment is probably my assessment of Jon Merrill between 2015 and 2016. I thought he had absolutely no place in the NHL and was a consistent waste of a roster spot. I also remember being very excited about John Moore — thinking it was a low-risk, high-reward move by a GM who had given me every reason to trust him up until that point.

So that’s where I’m coming from. Where am I now? I think that protecting John Moore over Jon Merrill (among others) is an analytically inane decision.

Possession/xGF

from Corsica (currently down) and XtraHockeyStats

We expose 3 of our top 7 players in zone-adj relative corsi so that we can protect our second worst corsi defender who was also the worst eGF%rel of all NJD skaters. Corsica is down for the offseason, but luckily I have all relevant Devils material saved here from my advanced stats summary article. John Moore was the [worst] player in xGF% too. IMO, John Moore was likely the second worst player to get significant ice time last year —ahead of only DSP.

-My comment on John’s article announcing protections

I really can’t express how bad John Moore is in basic hockey analytics measurements. These are like day 1 of hockey analytics school. He has a negative relative Corsi, and even more negative relative Fenwick (better than only Lovejoy, Wood, and DSP), and THE WORST on the team in shot ratio. For reference, Merrill was 8th, 7th, and 7th among NJD skaters in those stats -- all of which put him in positive territory relative to the team.

If you look at the excel sheet linked in the quote, you’ll find that his more advanced stats from Corsica such as xGF% (expected goal ratio) and SCF% (scoring change ratio) are negative as well, and still WAY below Merrill.

Passing

According to ILWT golden boy, Ryan Stimson, and his new work with player types, John Moore is a “Volume Shooter” and Jon Merrill is “Defense-Oriented.” If you look into the distribution of their stats though, you’ll find that Merrill is actually a better passer than Moore — beating him in transition play, secondary and primary shot assist, and total passing.

This is not a one-off assertion either. Stimson has found Merrill to be a decent passer before, and Sean Tierney’s “Shot Assists” rank Merrill over Moore as well — though it is rather unimpressed by both.

Goals Above Replacement (GAR)

The writer, DTMAboutHeart, has been pretty popular in the hockeyverse for a while, but it found a new level when he proposed the most recent attempt at WAR in a 5-part series on Hockey-Graphs. He published his unadjusted GAR totals for the 2017 season which I made a copy of here and in it we see Merril as 4th on the team (Severson, Green, Lovejoy were 1,2,3) and Moore at 5th. Not a massive deal since it’s only one spot. But in the expected plus/minus section, we see Merrill at +0.11, 4th of defenders on the team, and Moore at -0.01, 11th of defenders on the team.

What Gives?

If you only look at advanced stats, you might be asking at this point — what gives? How could we have protected John Moore over Jon Merrill when he was worse in virtually every statistic? Well I mentioned in the first section, that the one thing he does is shoot. Now, that doesn’t seem to have a net positive effect for the team, but it gave him 12 goals and 10 assists. He scored 40% of all the goals by defenders on the team, and was 6th among all skaters on the team. So how did that happen?

Sheer.

Dumb.

Luck.

Moore had a career shooting percentages of 3.3% coming into this season He shot 11.8% this season -- the 2nd highest in the NHL among defenders with at least 50 shots. With his career average shooting percentage he would have had 3-4 goals, which is in keeping with Corsica’s 4.12 ixG. The 12 was a total aberration. The luck made it seem like that Devils were playing better when he was on the ice than they were. The Devils’ on-ice shot percentage was 7.95 when Moore was on the ice which is 0.9 higher than Santini, and over 2 full percentages points higher than the rest of the Devils top defenders.

To summarize, Ray Shero is protecting John Moore because John Moore got lucky this year. Full Stop.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about the protection? Are you fine with Moore? Do you think we need a player that fits his role? Do you disagree with the protection but don’t really care one way or the other (I’m probably in that camp)? Thanks for reading and leave your thoughts below!