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Corey Perry: Is He Still Good?

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If we understand The Worm, we understand life - John Sulston

Vancouver Canucks v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Corey Perry has been a lightning rod for criticism for his on-ice play over the past few years. I say on ice play purely because his work in the community is utterly astounding, magnificent, and should be commended. His on-ice persona and off-ice persona’s are very, very, different. Nonetheless, his hockey this season - at face value at least - fell away dramatically from seasons past. His 50 goal season appears to be in the rearview mirror, as he tied Jakob Silfverberg (17 goals each) for 3rd in the team's goal-scoring race, behind Rickard Rakell (34 goals), Ondrej Kase (20 goals), and Adam Henrique (20 goals).

While Perry’s 49 points were still good enough for him to reach 3rd on the team in overall points behind Rakell (69 points) and captain Ryan Getzlaf (61 points), the lack of goals caused many fans to utter their displeasure. Many of these fans called for him to be dropped to the 4th line, or even to be dropped from the team. Perhaps playing to this groundswell, General Manager Bob Murray also called Perry out at the end of season press release/conference. The counterpoint to the disdain was the #PerryIsStillGood movement, based on Perry’s rising assist numbers and the lack of better options - a point made clear when Kase couldn't make the position his own at various points through the regular season and playoffs.

After completing the 5th season of his contract, and with 3 years to go, the chat about Perry deserves some discussion. In each of the 5 seasons thus far, the Ducks have been a playoff team and have accumulated over 100 standings points in each of those seasons. Perry is a big part of the team, a top line forward, and an assistant captain (before you old timers come at me for saying assistant instead of alternate, read here first). Thus much of the team's success has to be attributed to him as well: They succeed with him, not in spite of him. That said, let's dive in.

Corey Perry’s current contract.

Perry currently holds the 8th highest cap hit amongst forwards in the NHL, at $8,625,000 per season, a change from the leagues 4th highest cap hit in the 2014-2015 season. His contract has peaked at $10 million dollars in both this season and last, assuming performance bonuses were met - although given how few goals Perry has scored in each of the last two seasons, I think it’s safe to say that he didn't meet all of these marks.

Unfortunately, Perry hasn't performed up to his contract over the past 4 seasons, at least compared to his peers with similar cap hits. The Ducks and Murray (who signed him) paid a heavy price for his 50 goal season and unfortunately for them, Perry hasn't delivered to the level they may have expected.

Perry compared to the mean of his peer (by cap hit) in each of the past 4 seasons. This group of peers has grown each season from 3 each side of him in 2014-2015, to 7 each side this past season - due to more contracts with greater caps hit being signed.

The chart above shows in only two years has Perry reached, or exceeded, the mean of the players directly surrounding him in terms of cap hit. This group of players consists of some of the best players in the game, as well as players like Jonathon Toews. Admittedly, this knowledge carries scant relief, as every job in the world requires you to perform to the level of your salary.

However, the above chart does show that Perry receives less time on ice than his cap hit peers. While not absolving him of lesser play comparative to his peers, it does suggest a further avenue for analysis. For Perry in particular, it’s noteworthy to mention that his ES TOI is highly correlated with his secondary assist numbers (r = .96). While this isn't surprising considering many star players are almost granted secondary assists, it may have bolstered his overall assist and points numbers relative to his peers. Unfortunately the same cant be said of primary scoring, as the relationships between his time on ice, goals (r = -.50) and primary assists (r = .33) is far weaker. At least at even strength.

Perry compared to the 5 nearest forwards on either side of him for TOI, over the past 4 seasons.

Now we’re talking! When compared purely to the players surrounding him for time-on-ice per game (all situations), Perry appears in a much brighter light. At least over the duration, if not this season. In 3 of the 4 seasons, Perry out-performed this peer group for total points, and in two of them scored more goals.

Ignoring the difference in cap hits between Perry and this group of players (see chart below), it appears that both coaches Perry has worked under in the past 2 seasons have found the right role for him, at least so far as minutes played.

The difference per year between Perry’s cap hit, and the cap hit of his TOI peer group.

However, let us not forget that since Perry signed his current contract he is still the 13th highest goal scorer in the league overall, 69th for assists, and 27th for total points. The present-day Perry is very much a top 30 player in the league over this duration. This includes this season’s dip below the mean compared to his TOI peer group (although still remaining a top 3 scorer on the Ducks roster).

Speaking of Time on Ice (TOI), Perry’s has remained relatively stable for all aspects of play over the past 4 seasons. He will usually pick up somewhere in the range of 14:45 minutes at even strength, 0:05 on the penalty kill, and despite being taken off the top power play unit at times, an additional 2:47 there as well.

Given we know that power play scoring typically stays high relative to peak scoring (as opposed to even strength scoring which dips more dramatically), this should bode well for Perry’s continued ability to score.

Even strength offense per age
Power play offense per age.

While it should be noted that survivor bias will somewhat cloud the issue (if you’re young and in the NHL you’re likely very good. If you’re old and in the NHL its because you’re still likely very good. If you’re in the middle...crap shoot), although this has been somewhat addressed in the articles the above power play chart have come from (here and here).

Scoring rates for Corey Perry on the power play over the past 4 seasons.

While scoring has dipped from the peak in 2015-2016, it should be noted that Perry is scoring (goals) roughly in line with the season previous to that. His assist rates have both climbed in the past 3 years, suggesting a different role on the power play. A numeric approach that has been largely born out in reality with Ryan Kesler taking front of net position early last season, and various others since then. Nonetheless, as an aging warrior, it seems likely that the Ducks can keep getting value from Perry on the man advantage. It should be noted here that increasing his PP TOI and playing him as a power play specialist is unlikely to provide benefits, given the only moderate relationship with his time on ice and scoring rates (Goals, r = .50; Assists, r = .55; and Points, r = .65).

So where do we go from here? Was this season’s decline an aberration, or is it a continuing trend which began last season?

Is Perry still good?

Perry’s positive shot metrics over the past 4 seasons. Numbers provided are per 60 minutes of play.

Perry's positive shot metrics don't appear to tell us much. There was certainly a dip this season that impacted his results. However, that dip, in essence, brought Perry’s numbers back towards his mean over the 4 years sample. Perhaps more notable is that scoring chances for (SCF) and high danger chances for (HDCF) peaked last season. It could be that Carlyle’s system helped Perry find more looks last season, and that Ryan Getzlaf missing games impacted Perry’s ability to generate chances this season. At least I'm certain the #PerryisStillGood crowd will see it that way. Sans the Carlyle and good part, anyway.

Visual relationship between rebounds created and assist numbers over the past 4 seasons. Numbers are presented as per 60.

Although slight, it should be noted that Perry’s rebound created numbers are trending higher each season, and with that increase, assist rates have followed. This begs the question: why? Perry is obviously not scoring goals, and as a result of pucks not going in (i.e. the netminder making stops), Perry is being credited with more rebounds and subsequent assists. Given the decline in HDCF, it appears that Perry was not getting to prime scoring areas this season and thus his shots were that much easier to stop. Given that rebounds only account for ~3% of all shots, but ~13% of expected goals (xGF), this may be a potential reason why his linemates typically scored well. Given shooting percentages are roughly 27% on shots from rebounds, but only ~5.8% on other shots, we get an insight into why Perry’s shooting percentage has dropped, and why his linemates at times have abnormally high percentages.* To be more precise, it appears that Perry is shooting from further out and other players are going to the front of the net.

That said, it doesn't make his contract look any better, as the graphic below shows us.

Dollar value per goals, assists and points, for Corey Perry over the past 4 seasons.

Defensive shot metrics are a difficult one to judge, on a Ducks team that is determined to allow any and every opposition to fling shots at their poor netminder game after game after game. Like much of the team, Perry presented a marked decline this season from last, and last season from the one previous.

Negative (or defensive) shot metrics for Perry over the past 4 seasons. Numbers provided are per 60 minutes of play.

However, I believe that it is too soon to consider this a trend, despite coach Carlyle’s career coaching record showing a decline in shots against made against his teams. That said, I would expect a slow trending decline over the next few seasons, but would also expect Perry to rebound next season. This is due to the large number of injuries the Ducks sustained in the 2017-2018 season, and that defensive ability continues to stay relatively high to peak abilities.

Even strength aging curves for defensive capabilities.

When unhealthy the Ducks were ranked 31st in the league for corsi against, scoring chances against, and high-danger chances against, yet after Christmas (and presumed health) they were merely ranked between 15-26th for all. To be clear, yes they were a bad defensive team, but they weren't this bad. As the team’s fortunes rise so to will Perry’s.

Goal scoring and prevention ratio’s for Perry over the past 4 seasons. Goals for (GF) and goals against (GA) are presented as rates per 60 minutes of play. Goals for percent is presented as expected (as a percent!)

As expected a lack of goal scoring and an increase in shot metrics against has atrophied the goals for percentage during Perry’s ice time. However, as mentioned above this is likely to somewhat rebound next season with a healthy roster. Given that this season is dramatically below the mean, it behooves some patience from fans to see what may occur next season. It does appear to be true that Perry is on the decline, but the abnormality of the past season makes its difficult to judge results cleanly.

That said, it’s the offseason and the Ducks were shown the broom by a clearly superior San Jose Sharks team. Snap judgements are what we do as Ducks fans!

Along with the fans, Bob Murray has made some comments since the Ducks were swept out of the playoffs by the Sharks about getting faster as a team. Perhaps the most interesting quote (full article here) was one about the Sharks speed:

There is a lot of truth to that statement, although it oversimplifies what essentially comes down to hockey systems and making clean, crisp passes. One of the systemic issues would appear - at least at face value - to be dumping the puck, instead of carrying it in on offence. A hallmark of Randy Carlyle’s school of hockey.

Further delving into the speed scenario (other quotes can be read here), Murray called out Corey Perry specifically as a player who requires changing his approach to the game. As Perry has only scored 4 goals in his last 28 playoff games, this criticism was bound to happen. However, is it a fair criticism?

Rush attempts from Perry over the past 4 years.

The chart above suggests that Perry, after a poor 2015-2016 season (a season he scored 34 goals in nonetheless), has altered his play somewhat and has increased the number of rush attempts per game in each of the past 2 seasons. It may be somewhat coincidental, although it is noteworthy, that Perry suffered a knee injury back in December of 2014. The following season was the most physical he’s had in the past 4 (chart below) as the number of hits he took rose considerably. Taken together - the increase in hits taken plus the decrease in rush attempts - suggests that Perry may have been still suffering from the effects of that knee injury. Corey Perry has never been known to be fast, and his skating was originally seen to be a knock on his NHL chances. In this aspect, Perry is a throwback to an older style of hockey, and it's plausible that if he entered the league today he would not have the career that he’s had. Timing is everything after all.

Blocked Shots, Hits Made, and Hits Taken, by Perry (rate numbers per 60 minutes of play) over the past 4 seasons.

Adding more to this, Perry’s takeaway and giveaway numbers have also been on a slight decline over the past few seasons. Taken together, this suggests that Perry isn't engaging in as many puck battles as he has in the past. It should be noted with concern, that this season’s numbers for these metrics went in opposite directions - and not for the better.

Giveaways versus Takeaways over the past 4 seasons. Numbers provided are per 60 minutes of play.

Adding further fuel to the flames of Perry shying away from physical hockey is the marked decline of Perry’s penalty minutes, both for and against. For the most part today's NHL rewards players who have the puck and can skate with speed can draw holds, hooks, and tripping calls. However, there is still a place for the power forward. Or at least the power forward who has the puck on his stick.

Minor penalties taken and drawn by Perry over the past 4 seasons. Presented as per/60 minutes

This may suggest that Perry is no longer performing the same role as he has in the past. This season the dip can be somewhat attributed to a decrease in scoring chances and high danger chances. However, this should come with the caveat that SCF and HDCF didn't diminish significantly, nor to the same depth that penalties drawn did. Although a relationship between the two is certainly plausible.

Unfortunately, the dip in penalties in play didn't quite carry over to major penalties. Perry increased his majors and misconducts this season. Perhaps a sign of an aging warrior past his prime getting frustrated with those younger and faster whippersnappers?

Major Penalties and Game Misconducts by Perry over the past 4 seasons. Per 60 minutes of ice time.

Nonetheless, these charts show that Perry is increasing his skating ever slow slightly, and slowly decreasing the physical aspects of his game. It may be the ravages of age catching up to him, or it may be a concerted effort to alter his on-ice play. We as fans are unlikely to find out until the day he retires.

That said, Murray's comments can be taken in two ways: 1) That he is fully aware that the player is in the midst of altering the stylistic approach to the game and thus wouldn’t take offence; or 2) That Murray is reacting to the lack of goal scoring this season and the season past.

There is, of course, the third option that is a combination of the two. However, those that followed the article about Murray specifically, will note that the general manager had fired two coaches following 2 seasons of reduced goal scoring. Thus, given that knowledge, it is likely that the comment about Perry changing his game is a reactive comment from him after a poor ending to a season, and not born from any great analytical insight (else why keep a coach still using the same systems he ran a decade ago when discussing changing team systems play?).

Additionally to this Elliott Friedman has suggested in his 31 thoughts piece that there is some friction between Murray and Perry (#24 on the list). Though it doesn’t make Murray wrong for saying it.

So is Perry still good?

At this stage its hard to say. It’s very likely that he was never worth the contract he signed, so let's get that out of the way. Thus far there hasn't been a season in which he’s matched his peer group of similar financial constraints. Like many players he was paid for what he did in the past, and what he did prior to putting pen to paper was exceptional. Unfortunately, sports (like many avenues in life), as Eddie Murphy may say, is a “what have you done for me lately?” lifestyle. The highs are short and sharp, and fall from grace dramatic.

However, Perry is still a top 30 player in this league over the past 5 seasons, even inclusive of this one just past. That has value, and maybe more than the norm for a smaller franchise like the Ducks. Perry is certainly a solid contributor compared to other players who get similar minutes. In this sense, he should still be considered “good,” given that the players around him are also “good.”

Unfortunately, they’re not elite, and so long as Perry is being paid what he is, he will be compared to the elite. It’s simply too hard to step away from his contract. Ignoring this season as an anomaly, he fits a middle ground of not being an elite talent but being better than the average middle 6 forward. As such, it most likely puts him at being overpaid by approximately $2 million compared to others within the league, in terms of production.

This could be an interesting point should Murray decide he does want to trade Perry, and Perry decides (as he holds a full No-Movement Clause) he’s had enough of Southern California. $2 million in retained salary is nothing if it helps to garner a return of note.

Should Murray decide to retain salary and that Perry does decide to leave the Ducks, a comparative trade might be Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. If that were the scenario (and it would likely be a lesser return due to age differences and a perceived poor last two seasons - and the retained salary is slightly higher in this instance), the Ducks would also be giving up a pick and a couple lesser prospects, in return for a 1st round pick, 1 quality prospect, and a couple other lesser prospects.

Whether a return such as this helps the Ducks is open for debate. In the short term it absolutely doesn't, there is no question about this. However, the 2018 draft is deep and should the returning prospect be of comparative quality of Kapanen (to the Leafs for Kessel), it could present an opportunity for a rebuild in truth and deed. Make no mistake, if Perry is moved, the Ducks chances of contending are near non-existent. It would be a sign from management that this team is finished and it’s time to rebuild. Should that be the case, expect more players being moved out of town alongside Perry. Jakob Silfverberg with one year remaining is a clear example. So to is Adam Henrique.

That said, I believe this is unlikely, as Murray has already mentioned he’d like to extend Henrique when he’s able (July 2018), which makes a rebuild seem unlikely. Additionally, I think as fans, we should be more than open to giving Perry another season before passing judgment upon him. He was only one part of a team that shouldn't have made the playoffs but somehow did - and by somehow, I mean lol Pacific Division.

He’s had a wonderful career as a Duck, and is almost certain to have his jersey hung in the rafters when all is said and done. However, I think fans need to lower their expectations going forward. Perry is no longer the 30+ per season goal scorer he once was, and it’s extremely likely he never will be again. I would be hoping for 50 point seasons and slightly improved general-ice play from him. It won't be enough for the Ducks to reclaim their former position as cup contenders by itself, but it’s a strong start. It’s all one can really ask for from an old veteran.

Needless to say, going into the new season at 33 years of age and being relied upon to be a premier goal scorer suggests a certain lack of planning from team management. He signed his new contract in his 28th year, which is already outside the prime scoring age for hockey players. Knowing he would decline, plans should have been set in motion for replacement players to be brought into the team. Rickard Rakell is one such player. Given the losses of other scorers from the roster, perhaps there should have been others.

To tie it all off neatly: unfortunately, Perry is not still good. But he’s not bad either. For a Ducks team low on scoring and with an abhorrence to bringing in outside talent, that's ok.


Postscript: All information contained within this article can be found at capfriendly.com, crowdscoutsports.com, naturalstattrick.com, hockey-graphs.com & nhl.com. To read more about goalie stats and rebounds I suggest you look up Cole Andersen’s work at crowdscoutsports.com. Aging curves can be found at the links provided in the article to hockey-graphs.com.