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In-depth on Alex Chiasson: He isn't who we expect he is

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File under things Chiasson does well: protecting the puck down low
File under things Chiasson does well: protecting the puck down low
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

A couple days ago, Jack Leiper (SenShot) wrote a piece on one of the two Senators RFAs with arbitration rights, Alex Chiasson. His analysis of what Chiasson's next contract may look like brought me back to an important point: what happened this season? The team is strapped for money and space; is Chiasson worth another chance?

The Citizen ran a fantastic pre-season piece on Chiasson and fan expectations coming into this season which I think is worth a read before you continue, but as Jack states aptly in the beginning of his article, "When Alex Chiasson came into the franchise, bars were set. His previous performance of 35 points through 79 games included a dry stretch where Chiasson dealt with the flu and lost weight. It seemed that if he could remain consistent that perhaps 20 goals or 45-50 points was a possibility for Chiasson." Instead, Chiasson ended up with 26 points in 76 games and a shot rate that dropped from a respectable 1.82/game to 1.38/game.

As you can see, his season started off extremely well. Chiasson was the Senators third leading scorer after 17 games, buoyed by a team leading 19.23 shooting percentage despite being tied for 10th on the team in shots. After that first month, Chiasson started to get frustrated at himself for not "finishing" like he was before, although there was still talk at this point of signing the young forward to a long-term deal:

"Yes and no," he says, when asked if he's met his own expectations. "I expected a little more out of me offensively. That's up to me, I know. I've had some stretches, but I haven't been able to put together a stretch of five or six games to play well, play confident. Its a tough league, but if you look at the guys that are successful, the ones that get hot for a few games, usually do pretty good."

The image of Chiasson over the first three months of the season is a player getting his chances, but not quite finishing. Senators head coach Dave Cameron says that sense of patience around the net sometimes takes time to acquire.

Chiasson knows this much. He's enjoying his time in Ottawa and would love to re-sign for a long term before his entry level contract expires this spring.

Going back to the image from earlier, take note of Chiasson's entire row. What do we see? Chiasson's shot rate really didn't change at all as the season progressed, meaning that despite him trying to make changes to his individual game, it's hard to see if they were resulting in any outcome. Shots beget scoring chances, which beget goals. It's hard to get goals if you aren't getting scoring chances, and it's hard to get scoring chances if you aren't getting shots.

Unlike some players, Chiasson seems very aware of this. From another Citizen article a couple weeks later:

"Yeah, and now it feels like it's two feet wide," Chiasson said of the slump that goes back to Dec. 15 and has him stuck on seven goals and eight assists.

"I actually feel like this year my game has been better than last year. Shift to shift, I know what to bring. Obviously, the points are not coming my way, but I feel I'm gaining experience every day. I feel like I have a big role here. I've got to bring more physical play. I've got to stick with it. Sometimes, it's not easy."

Senators coach Dave Cameron is giving Chiasson the ultimate opportunity, moving him up to play alongside Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur, a spot previously owned by Mark Stone.

From my memory, I certainly think that Chiasson was given every opportunity under both Paul MacLean AND Dave Cameron to try and get going. Let's dig a bit deeper.

chiasson 1

Here's a visual from the wonderful SportingCharts that showcases Chiasson's shots on goal and goals from 2014-15 (left) and 2013-14 (right). Here we see, yet again, that Chiasson shot a lot more with Dallas, but overall, it's not like he wasn't getting to the same spots on the ice. The NHL's location data is a bit wonky, so take this with a grain of salt, but his average shot distance was 23.27ft in 2014-15, and 21.44ft in 2013-14 - nothing really significant here. Let's take a look at some more data, this time via War On Ice and Own the Puck.

EV

TOI/gm

P/ 60

CF%

CF% Rel.

PSh%

On-ice sh%

GF%

rGF%

SCF60

SCA60

HSCF60

HSCA60

2013-14

10.78

1.41

49.44

-1.49

7.69

8.14

38.8

49.0

25.58

28.25

14.58

16.42

2014-15

10.36

1.37

50.86

0.85

9.21

6.28

42.3

48.1

25.76

22.86

15.17

12.58

There's a lot to go through here, so I'll try to go through it stat-by-stat. First, notice that Chiasson's ice-time per game, point totals, and CF% totals look pretty similar. However, when we get into goals and chances, we can start to see some differences. Despite Chiasson shooting more with Dallas, he didn't 'finish' as much, hence than 7.69 personal sh%. Thankfully for Chiasson, his teammates scored at a league-average rate when on the ice (~8% on-ice shooting %), so he still picked up some points at even-strength. This year, Chiasson didn't shoot as much but scored on a higher percentage of his shots (hence the 9.21 personal sh%). However, his teammates didn't really help him out, so Chiasson picked up less points. It's not listed, but breaking down points into goals and assists, Chiasson scored 7 goals this year at EV but only 11 assists, compared to his 6 EV goals but 14 assists in Dallas. Basically, this year, his teammates didn't help Chiasson out that much and decreased his point totals.

When you look at his GF% and scoring chance numbers, you start to get a glimpse of Chiasson's overall improvement. Given his Corsi numbers and expected shooting (personal, on-ice) percentages, Chiasson's rGF%, or regressed Goals For percentage, is close to even - solid numbers for a bottom six player. In the link above, you can see that rGF% generally is a better predictor of future GF% than past GF% or CF%, which is why we're using it here. Despite Chiasson's similar offensive scoring chance numbers (SCF60, HSCF60), you can see that Chiasson's chances against numbers have been significantly improved on. When Chiasson was on the ice, the Senators gave up ~6 less chances than when Chiasson was on the ice for Dallas last year, and ~4 less "high-danger" chances. In numbers relative to the team, Chiasson went from a negative in Dallas to a positive in Ottawa. We can see this positive impact below using @MimicoHero's tool here, which is zone start adjusted

Chiasson impact

Since we've seen that Chiasson's even-strength totals are similar, if not better, this year, there's only one main reason left for why he scored less points this year.

PP

TOI/gm

P

PSh%

On-ice sh%

CF60

CF% Rel

GF60

GF Rel%

SCF60

SCF%Rel

HSCF60

HSCF%Rel

2013-14

3.27

13

10.53

9.70

118.22

5.20

6.12

3.97

64.76

3.99

39.33

3.12

2014-15

1.92

6

12.50

10.77

104.3

3.37

5.76

11.76

49.34

5.40

27.96

4.17

A couple things stand out about Chiasson's PP totals, which account for 7 of the 11 points between this year and last. First, he was played nearly a minute and a half more per game on the PP on a Dallas powerplay that had way better underlying numbers compared to Ottawa's. Of course, the decreased ice-time means that his Ottawa period is a smaller sample, but it's strange that Chiasson wasn't used more as a PP2 option when both him (PSh%) and his teammates (On-ice sh%) were finishing at a solid rate. For Corsi, goals, scoring chances, and high danger scoring chances, I put in the relative numbers right afterwards so you can see that Chiasson was positive both last year and this year compared to his team. The Dallas PP as a whole was markedly better than Ottawa's, with significantly higher CF60, SCF60, and HSCF60, though Chiasson wasn't a slouch as he positively contributed in each compared to his team members. I don't have the numbers to back me up here, but perhaps a couple of the reasons why Chiasson wasn't used as much include:

  • talent differences (OTT had Turris, Ryan, Zibanejad, Stone, MacArthur; DAL had Seguin, Benn, Cole, Whitney, Eakin, Peverley)
  • silliness of Legwand having more PP time than Chiasson; going from Unit 1 (3rd in PP TOI for Dallas to Unit 2 (7th in PP TOI for Ottawa)
  • tactical differences; although I don't watch Dallas much, Ottawa is VERY point focused rather than using the boards, behind the net where Chiasson's frame would be effective
  • lack of PP opportunities - Ottawa had 280 this year, Dallas had 290 last year

Okay, so here's what we have figured out. Chiasson shot the puck less this year than last, but tended to go to the same locations on the ice. His teammates didn't help him out that much with even-strength point production, but still didn't really take the "next step" by himself despite similar TOI, although more ice-time on the powerplay would've helped his numbers given that he appears to be a good option. He made a bit of an improvement defensively, improving his CA60 totals and his scoring chance numbers. How much of it was Chiasson? How did he do under Dave Cameron? What can we expect next year? Let's start with a great summary chart from the venerable @IneffectiveMath:

Chiasson history

Micah's graphs are amazing because of how clear they are, and we can *see* what we've already seen, in a clearer form. First, the top image. Chiasson started off the season on a hot note with new linemates Mika Zibanejad and Milan Michalek, despite giving up way more shot attempts (second image) against than they were generating. As he moved over to an even BETTER opportunity with Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur, Chiasson's shots for numbers went up and his shots against numbers started to drop. MacLean was fired after Game 27, and we can see that this *switch* in Chiasson's game was already starting to happen even before any tactical shifts that Dave Cameron implemented. Thus, I'm going to chalk this one up to playing with two great two-way forwards in Mac and Turris. But wait, Chiasson's numbers CONTINUED to improve despite playing with a linemate salad which, despite including other good defensive forwards like Lazar, Pageau, and Condra, also included time with Milan Michalek - someone Chiasson struggled with in the shots department earlier on. Even when shifting back to Turris and Mac, Chiasson's performance is pretty stable, making me think that maybe he IS doing some little things right. In limited 4th line minutes with David Legwand as his primary linemate down the stretch, Chiasson puts up positive numbers constantly, until an interesting spike in both for/against numbers when facing top-line competition with Turris and MacArthur again. All in all, pretty good stuff for a top-9 player, if you ask me.

How does it compare to Chiasson's performance last year in Dallas?

Chiasson history 2

Despite more stable linemates for ~ half the season, there's a lot of fluctuation in the numbers here. First, note Chiasson's defensive improvement yet again. We saw it in the table earlier, but if you follow the red "against" line and compare it with the Ottawa image above it, you can see that Chiasson's cut those totals from ~ league average (dotted line at 0.9) in Dallas to above league average (~0.8) in Ottawa. His shot attempts for numbers fluctuate along with the against numbers in Dallas, whereas they're much more stable in Ottawa. This, my friends, is what you call "consistency."

Micah sent me some other charts which I'll share quickly as they help make a final point about Chiasson as a "wrap-up."

Chiasson spider shots

Want to see the effect of Methot - Karlsson vs. Phillips - Karlsson? At the very NW (BAD) corner, you see Chiasson's shot attempt numbers with 4+65 - a disaster. At the very SE (GOOD) corner, you see Chiasson's shot attempt numbers with 3+65 - amazing. Interestingly, Chiasson actually played pretty well possession-wise (on the right side of the red line) when on the ice with the Borowiecki - Gryba pairing, as well as the Cowen - Ceci pairing, which is strange.

Chiasson spider goals

Unfortunately for Chiasson, despite decent possession numbers with both those pairings, they got crushed goals wise. Here we see a bit of the bad luck for #90, as despite being on the right side of the line in terms of possession, he's on the bad side in terms of goals. Fortunately for his future, shot attempts are more predictive, which is why the rGF% numbers from earlier in the article show him closer to 50% - see how everything clicks together? The only other thought I have here is regarding our perception of Chiasson. Going into this article, I thought he was a bad player; someone not even worth $2M because I'd rather give it to another player on this cash-strapped team. Now? I can see that despite decent possession play, all a lot of us (including myself) remember are the goals against - the mistakes, the inability to prevent the other team from scoring - it's a "big" event which shapes our perception drastically. This is why I like to look deeper, and this is why numbers are important; they provide context and gives us more information to come up with explanations for on-ice occurrences.

Chiasson WOWY

The final thing I'm going to show you today (I promise!) is a really good summary diagram of the type of player Chiasson appears to be. Blue is Chiasson without player X, red is player X without Chiasson, and black is Chiasson + Player X together. Here, like the Spider shots diagram, we see that Chiasson is generally a moderately positive possession player. He makes most of the players he plays with better defensively (closer to the bottom) but has a moderately limiting impact (0.1-0.2 shots for/min) on the offensively talented players like Karlsson, Pageau, Wiercioch, Ceci, Turris, and Zibanejad (brings them closer to the left which is "bad" compared to better offense, which is closer to the right). Aligning this with the scoring chance data and our own observations, we can tell that Chiasson needs to work on his puck skills. Too often, he's a supplementary player along the perimeter and isn't "dictating" play in the offensive zone as much as we've expected him to coming into last season. Partly, his offensive numbers is the fault of the coaching staff by not playing Chiasson on the powerplay, where he appears to be a pretty solid talent and didn't hold a better Dallas unit back last year, although we can see that he didn't really take a positive "step" this year during five-on-five play. Perhaps part of this is because his linemates are often abysmal offensively, hence the low on-ice sh% total at EV, and we should definitely give Chiasson credit for pulling some of the worse depth players into positive possession territory, despite getting lit up in the goals department. Contrary to popular belief, Chiasson looks to be a decent defensive player, and I'll take my bet with the improved chances against numbers and say that Chiasson's GF% totals will be much closer to 50% next season. With some more skilled linemates, and some more powerplay time, Chiasson could be a 35-40 point player. If you're expecting what the Senators pro scouts may have expected when trading for Chiasson -- a 50+ point top-six forward -- you may be disappointed. Looking beyond that though? Chiasson does some things well, and is a relatively young, cheap forward who I'm willing to give a second chance.

Thanks for reading.