What happened to Corey Perry?
1 goal in seven playoff games. 19 goals during the regular season, his lowest total since 2006-07.
That’s more than enough cause for concern for a 31-year old on a contract set to pay him $8.625 million until 2021.
Did Perry just magically become bad at his job, though?
The theories offered by media types are the expected laundry list: that he’s now a perimeter player, no longer engaged, no longer the pest that he once was, et cetera.
Let’s be clear about one thing: it’s absolutely fair to be critical of Perry, or any player for that matter. Even without taking contract into consideration, his season has been disappointing vis-a-vis his own lofty standards.
But it’d be lazy to stop at that. It’d be lazy to just say that he’s been plainly bad, and it’d be downright irresponsible to simply fire up the “trade Perry” machine.
That’s because hockey is easily one of the most complex sports in existence.
A team’s best player only plays a third of the game in 45 second spurts. Goalies, boards, and funny bounces all have perhaps just a big a hand at deciding the outcome of the game, especially in the playoffs.
Ultimately, even the great players in the game have a capped impact.
Perry’s impact this season though, outside of his production, isn’t all that different from what we’ve seen of him in the past.
A quick glance at his surface-level numbers shows he’s actually had exactly the same amount of shots as he did last season. The difference? Well, his shooting percentage was nearly cleaved in half, dropping from 15.1 percent to 8.8 percent.
That makes way for the “perimeter player” criticism. Naturally, at his advanced age, Perry must be shying away from the difficult areas on the ice, right?
Not so fast. The 31-year old had only one less scoring chance at even strength than he did last year, which was also an improvement over his total from two years ago. Granted, he’s no longer the scoring-chance generating machine that he was in his mid-20’s, but that’s to be expected as he slowly exits his prime.
In any case, the notion that he plays on the perimeter crumbles even further when looking at expected goals.
For those who might not know, the expected goal statistic essentially tells us how many goals we would expect a player to score based on the locations and types of shots he amassed in a given time span. In plain English: the better looks a player gets (higher probability shots based on league averages), the higher his expected goals are.
Keep in mind, the expected goal model we’re looking at here from Corsica doesn’t take into account the player in question’s shooting talent. Thus, it gives us perhaps the purest look possible.
So how did Perry fare in that regard this season?
In all situations, his expected goals came in at an impressive 29.22, an improvement over last season’s 26.42 and 23.77 from two years ago. Again, he’s far removed from his prime, where his expected goals regularly clocked in at 35-plus tallies a season.
Even so, Perry’s offensive play still projects as a very respectable goal-scorer. Clearly, puck luck just wasn’t on his side in 2016-17, along with a host of other factors that we can’t truly know, like nagging injuries and mental stress. These players are human, after all.
“No Longer A Pest”
The “no longer a pest” argument is tougher to address. How exactly do we measure pest-ness?
For what it’s worth, Perry’s penalty minutes in 2016-17 was a four-year high. There was a time when he was a lock for 100-plus penalty minutes a year, but those days seem to be long gone (he last “achieved” the feat in 2011-12).
A similar story surfaces when looking at penalties drawn. Perry drew the same number of penalties in 2016-17 (16) as he did the year before. Yet if you combine his total from the last two seasons, you’d barely eclipse his career high mark of 31 penalties drawn at even strength in 2013-14.
Although he’s not the machine he once was from that perspective, he was still tied for the lead in penalties drawn at even strength among Ducks forwards this season.
So maybe he’s not necessarily a pest by definition anymore. He’s clearly still engaged physically, and maybe Anaheim is better for it without some of the antics we used to see from him in years past.
Let’s pump the brakes on the “trade Perry” thing. He’s demonstrably a very useful player who happened to have the first true down season of his career.
Think about it: since age 21, Perry has been essentially a guarantee for 30 goals a year. All the underlying numbers suggest he can repeat that feat next season.
All of this is without even mentioning the fact that he’s spent the last third of the season on a line with Antoine Vermette. The 32-year old is effectively a fourth-line center at this point in his career. Not exactly the best conditions to get a star winger going.
I get it: nuance in sports media doesn’t sell. Hot takes are basically a business model for some of the industry’s largest outlets. But don’t be fooled: a true dive into the facts shows Perry is still a very good player, and that he’ll probably continue to be one for the foreseeable future.
All data from Corsica, Hockey-Reference, and Cap Friendly.