Erik Condra: A defenceman's best friend

Do you see what's happened here? Erik Condra's presence helped Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips (leaving the ice) advance the puck up and into the offensive zone, allowing Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson to jump on and work some magic.

Considering how many stars and budding prospects the Ottawa Senators have around, I was surprised to see not just one but two articles focusing on the largely unnoticed positive impact Erik Condra has on his teammates. Both used advanced statistics to measure his impact on possession with respect to his most common linemates; first up was Travis Yost on HockeyBuzz (*shudder*) discussing Condra and Ville Leino, which was followed up by brochenski's piece in the FanPosts section. (Condra was also featured in a Sens TV video recently re-published.)

Below are some statistics taken from brochenski's piece (which he, in turn, found on stats.hockeyanalysis.com), along with two statistics you won't find anywhere else: The Condra Effect, which is a player's CF% while playing with Condra divided by their percentage while playing without Condra, and converted into a percentage. (NB: CF% represents a player's Corsi for percentage, determined by dividing the player's Corsi for by the sum total of his Corsi for and Corsi against [Corsi For/ Corsi For +Corsi Against].)

On the other hand, the Condra Cost is the percentage that Condra himself sacrificed or benefited in order to improve the possession-based fate of his defensive linemates, calculated by dividing Condra's CF% without the teammate in question by their CF% while playing together.

Together

Condra Apart

Teammate Apart



Player

CF%

CF%

CF%

Condra Effect ™ Condra Cost ™

Erik Karlsson

0.553

0.53

0.539

102% 104%

Jared Cowen

0.554

0.532

0.5

110.8% 104%

Chris Phillips

0.52

0.549

0.492

105.7% 94.7%

Sergei Gonchar

0.512

0.552

0.497

103% 92.7%

Filip Kuba

0.551

0.534

0.501

110% 103.2%

The first thing you should notice: Condra improves the possession metrics of every single one of the Senators' top five defencemen in 2011-12 (I'm not sure of his effect on Matt Carkner or Brian Lee, the only other blueliners with sample sizes large enough to justify inclusion). The fact that he had a positive effect on guys like Cowen and Kuba is not surprising (although the degree of that effect did catch me off guard), but it is impressive that his on-ice presence alongside Karlsson even managed to improve the Norris Trophy-winning defenceman's possession stats.

Although Condra's positive effect was most pronounced when he was on the ice with Cowen and Kuba (he improved each of their CF% by roughly ten percent), both Phillips and Gonchar also owe him a significant debt of gratitude for his personal sacrifice (represented here as the Condra Cost) in helping their possession statistics: Both had Corsi for percentages of less than .500 without Condra, and each significantly brought down Condra's personal CF% while playing with him: Phillips brought him down more than five per cent (94.7%), while Gonchar brought him down over seven per cent (92.7%).

Interestingly, Kuba, Cowen, and Karlsson all benefited Condra as well (meaning they were both stronger together than they were apart), although only Karlsson is shown here to have benefited Condra more than the winger improved his defensive partner's fate.

What does all this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that sometimes I get a little bit carried away when playing with numbers. But it also means that Condra supports his defencemen fairly significantly, helping them move the puck up the ice in order to create more offensive chances than they surrender.

Personally, I think advanced statistics like Corsi or CF% or what-have-you are only as useful inasmuch as they can be used to explain or challenge preconceived notions we make while watching a player. In this case, it challenges ideas of Condra's worth based on his relatively low offensive production (which can, as others have shown, be partially explained by his inferior linemates and remarkably low shooting percentage) and offers a new measure of his worth; one which takes into consideration his ability to support his teammates in their production of offence and, in this case, their defensive ability.

It also, however, supports at least one notion that most have about Condra, which is the defensive bent to his game. This explains his team-leading (among forwards) 2:46 SH TOI/GP--but that doesn't factor into Corsi, which is calculated based on even-strength shots attempted for and against. It's obvious that defensive responsibility is at the forefront of Condra's mind while at even-strength, as well, and that reflects my recollection of his play. Importantly, this benefits Ottawa's defencemen, several of whom (notably Gonchar, Phillips, and Cowen) have struggled to advance the puck out of the defensive zone.

The inability to advance the puck was, in my opinion, chief among the Senators' biggest problems in the second-half collapse in 2007-08 and the disastrous 2008-09 season (a theory which would explain the frenzied acquisitions of Kuba, Alexandre Picard, Chris Campoli, and Brendan Bell--not to mention the drafting of Karlsson), so a third-liner with a significantly positive effect on the CF% of his defensive teammates is a big plus--especially when he comes as cheaply as Condra.

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