Tale as Old as Time: Matt Beleskey vs. Bryan Bickell

A look at the classic scenario of an unheralded player who puts in a playoff performance for the ages right before becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Note: We don't normally do this here at Silver Seven, looking at players who don't play for the Senators and aren't likely to become Sens anytime soon. If you enjoy this type of piece, please let me know in the comments and I may write more.

Matt Beleskey has made a name for himself these playoffs, with seven goals (eight points) in 14 playoff games. Notably, he scored a goal in each game against the Flames in the second round. A pending UFA, he looks set to get a big raise this summer, either from the Ducks, or from another team if Anaheim decides they can't afford him. His story reminded me a little bit of one from the 2013 playoffs, that of Bryan Bickell. Bickell put up 17 points in 23 playoff games that year, convincing the Blackhawks to ship out other players like Dave Bolland (another man now overpaid due to playoff hype) so that they could sign Bickell to a four-year, $4-million-per-year extension. He has failed to live up to the expectations of that contract, putting up 43 points in 139 regular season games and 15 points in 34 playoff games since. As a comparison, below is a look at Bickell's stats from 2013 and Beleskey's from this year. (All stats via War On Ice and for 5-on-5 play only.)

A few things stand out to my right away here. First, Bryan Bickell's points-per-60 was a lot higher than Beleskey's, suggesting that his stats were more unsustainable. Secondly, look at the PDO. (A player's PDO is the sum of their team's shooting and save percentages while they're on the ice; over time, this should equal 100%.) Beleskey may be rocking a PDO above 100, but Bickell's was far higher. In other words, Bickell was getting very lucky while Beleskey is only getting a little lucky. Also, in 2013, the 'Hawks had a PDO as a team of 100.8, while the 2015 Ducks have a PDO of 103.3. In other words, Bickell's luck was far more than his team on average, while Beleskey's is actually a little less than his team's overall. The last thing that sticks out to me is zone starts. Bickell had a heavy dose of offensive zone starts, while Beleskey actually starts slightly more in his own end. Of course, Beleskey is helped out by playing with Ryan Kesler for those defensive zone starts. However, Bickell benefited from playing with Jonathan Toews in far more sheltered minutes. I think most will agree that Kesler is a very good centre, while Toews is an elite generational talent. Bickell had to get very lucky and very sheltered to put up his 2013 playoff production.

I said above that Bickell didn't deserve his contract based on his play before 2013, and hasn't lived up to it since. This table show his stats from 2011-2015, both regular season and playoffs.

A couple things stand out to me here. First, Bickell only posted points-per-60 above 1.54 in 2013, when he was well above 2.00. This screams outlier. In 2011-12, he was played in a shutdown role, starting far more in the defensive zone. So maybe you can forgive management for thinking that his 2013 production came as a result of suddenly jumping to high offensive zone start percentage. The years since show that's not true, since Bickell has started even more in the offensive zone and his points have plummeted. Only a handful of elite players can sustain a PDO above 100, and clearly Bickell isn't in this category, as he's regressed right back. Additionally, his shooting percentage of 13.84% in the 2013 playoffs was well above his previous career average. You can normally bet on a player's shooting percentage regressing, and for Bickell it did. Probably the most concerning thing about Bickell is that in this year's playoffs he's got the highest offensive zone start percentage of his career, but still the lowest Corsi (shot attempt) percentage of his career. He is 29, so it's very possible he's already hit his peak as a player and is dropping off in a hurry.

Here's the table for Beleskey over the same span of time:

Looking at the same categories as Bickell, Beleskey stands out in a few ways. First of all, his points-per-60 these playoffs is actually lower than the 2014-15 regular season, the 2014 playoffs, or the 2013-14 regular season. It doesn't mean it's sustainable, but he's been sustaining it for almost two full years. His PDO is lower than most years of his career, and he is getting more defensive starts than any point in his career. He is doing all of this in the most even-strength minutes of his career. The biggest outlier here is his individual shooting percentage which is far too high to be sustainable. But you'd also assume his 0.30 assists-per-60 is too low to sustain, so though he may see a drop in goals, he likely will see an increase in assists. Maybe not enough to keep his points production the same, but he shouldn't see a dropoff on par with Bickell's.

This table compares Beleskey's possession numbers to Anaheim's over the same span as the table above.

Beleskey's possession numbers, other than the 2012-13 season, are very comparable to Anaheim's numbers. Most of his recent history suggests that he drives play at least as well as his teammates. This playoffs he's a bit lower, but he's still above break-even, and he's spending most of his even-strength minutes playing tough minutes alongside Kesler. For what it's worth (via Natural Stat Trick), Kesler's only played 23% of his even-strength minutes without Beleskey, and Kesler's Corsi % drops from 50.62 to 44.44% when Beleskey's not on his wing.

In conclusion, I think I didn't really give Beleskey a fair shake before checking out the numbers. It looks like he's not Bickell 2.0, because he can drive possession and score reliably. I expect he won't see too much of a drop-off from these playoffs. Anaheim could do a lot worse than locking up Beleskey for their second line for the next couple years. How much worse? Just ask Chicago and their $4-million third-liner.


Yesterday, Trevor from SenShot wrote a similar piece to mine. I was halfway through writing this article before I even saw his, so any similarities are accidental. Anyway. His piece is really good, so make sure to read it too. He suggests that Beleskey could fetch $5-million on the open market. If he does, well, good luck to the team that gets him. That's a lot of money for moderate production. The point of my article was to argue that Beleskey doesn't seem to be a flash in the pan the same way Bickell has been. Beleskey on Bickell's contract will provide better value, but not necessarily good value.

I'd say if Ottawa wanted to get Beleskey, the Colin Greening contract would be good value. That being said, I don't see Beleskey hitting free agency. Anaheim will lock him up as a thank you for his contribution this playoff run. Ottawa's quest for a top-six forward will take them elsewhere, and I doubt whoever they get will have a better year than Matt Beleskey in 2015-16. At the very least, they'll almost certainly have a better year than Bryan Bickell.

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