I asked my Twitter followers if anyone had any interesting statistics for me about Milan Michalek. He seems to be a player that flies so far under the radar that not many of us know much about him. This was fairly evident in the answers I received, which included this: "50% of Sens with a first and last name starting with Ms are Milan Michaleks." This contributes to my theory that he may or may not be a spy. Anyways, after scoring 35 goals in 2011-2012, Milan Michalek has certainly become the Ottawa Senators' very own Carmen Sandiego, which forces me to ask: Where in the world is Milan Michalek?
Last week I was listening to a pre-game show and Dean Brown mentioned Milan Michalek. He basically said that Michalek needs to start earning his paycheck and that he's been relatively invisible so far this season. I tend to agree with Dean here. If you have a cap hit of $4M, you're expected to produce more than a handful of points every so often. Currently, Michalek has 5 points in 17 games, which is a rate of 0.31 PPG. He has taken 28 shots and has a 7.1% shooting percentage, which is below normal for as he's usually around the 10% mark. If he keeps this up, he's on pace for about 25 points, which is not enough for a supposedly top-6 player. I do, however, suspect that if he keeps shooting, he's bound to start scoring a bit more. For now though, Michalek isn't really getting it done.
What I'm also nervous about is that some of his advanced stats are not very good either.
If you look at this graph, courtesy of Micah McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath), games where he is above the red line indicate ones where he let more shots against him. We can see that he more often than not, Michalek allows more shots against than shots for, especially when playing better teams. As a reminder, the whole team is trending similarly, so take this graph with a grain of salt. It's merely meant to show that, like the team, Michalek isn't driving possession. Part of this might also be explained by Michalek's zone starts. On average (numbers courtesy of hockeyanalysis.com), Michalek starts in the offensive, neutral, and defensive zones 23%, 46%, and 31% of the time, respectively. This means he's relied upon in a more defensive role right now, and intuitively, more shots are given up in those situations.
Given Michalek's lack of scoring, I suppose MacLean at least wants him to play, so he's been given a defensive role. Not sure that's worth $4M though. Indeed, Milan has turned into a bit of an enigma for Senators fans. Many were unhappy - including myself - when he was re-signed because that money could have been put towards someone else. Top-6 forwards like Radim Vrbata or Nikolai Kulemin were had for a similar price, as were much needed top-4 defensemen like Christian Ehrhoff or Anton Stralman. Perhaps Ottawa wasn't an attractive place for those guys, but perhaps Ottawa didn't try to sign them either. I suppose that, ultimately, the Senators were trying to save face after two of the franchise's biggest names in Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson wanted out of Ottawa. All things considered, I believe that re-signing Michalek was meant to show the world that Ottawa could retain their players. I don't think that was necessarily the right choice and I also think the Senators are going to regret this contract sooner than later if they already don't.
The main thorn in the side of fans is that Michalek can't contribute at the same rate or with the same consistency as he did in seasons past. There is no doubt in my mind that Michalek has declined because of his various injuries, and I have empathy for him, but the fact of the matter is, he is not the same player anymore. Michalek used to be fun to watch, similar to how Mike Hoffman is now - he was faster than the majority of the league and could put the puck in the back of the net. As I eluded to, however, his injuries have affected his ability. Michalek is not as fast as he was; albeit, he's not slow, but people can catch him now, which makes scoring all the more difficult for him.
Michalek is also a relatively one-dimensional player, which is something that Dean mentioned too. Michalek is a player who solely relies on his speed to get past opponents. His move of choice is blowing past defenders until the half boards and then cutting into the slot for a shot. This doesn't work as much now that he's slowed down. Speed isn't the only way to get into a good scoring position, but Michalek isn't an overly creative player either, so creating chances for himself is becoming increasingly difficult unless someone sets him up like Bobby Ryan did against Edmonton.
One of my followers pointed this out to me:
@MrsOsSens Needs 2 more goals to be the 12th player in Sens modern day history with 100. :-)— SCOOTER MacArthur (@23SensFan) November 15, 2014
I truly hope Michalek reaches that milestone this week and is then fired up afterwards. Michalek seems like a good person off the ice, something that always helps me root for players, but his on-ice play needs to pick up. He needs to find new ways to put the puck in the net, which is no easy feat when you've done it mostly one way your entire career. Good players, however, can adapt their game as they get older or when they recover from an injury. Michalek needs to do the same now so we can remember that he still plays on this team.
Thanks for reading!