Philadelphia Flyers: 2015/16 Season Review – Line 3

Jan 19, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) battles against Philadelphia Flyers right wing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (78) during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 19, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) battles against Philadelphia Flyers right wing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (78) during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

Coach Dave Hakstol made the trio of Ryan White, P.E. Bellemare, and Chris VandeVelde an untouchable unit this past season for the Philadelphia Flyers. He entrusted them with both defensive and offensive zone starts, as well as a fair bit of special teams time.

It’s against conventional wisdom to use 4th line players as much as Hakstol did with the Philadelphia Flyers. He used these three enough that they were actually more of a 3rd line than the group I would consider the 3rd line on paper (Laughton – Cousins – Gagner – Umberger). Briefly here’s how these checkers looked from an advanced statistics perspective.

  • Grinder poster boy Ryan White scored a surprising 11 goals, but he shot at an unsustainable rate and his 16 points were still 4th line quality. He had an unsightly amount of penalties per 60 mins, didn’t drive play, and received a surprisingly high offensive zone start ratio.
  • P.E. Bellemare was more disciplined than White but fared similarly in advanced stat categories. Bad possession driver, almost 50/50 in offensive zone usage.
  • Chris VandeVelde had exactly 50/50 zone usage, was the worst possession player on the team, and shot at an astonishingly terrible 2.6%!

As I explained back int the 1st article I’ve taken the 411 forwards in the NHL that played 30+ games last season, and divided them into 4 groups. These groups roughly correspond to what line each player played on, and were based on average ice time per game. It’s not perfect, but it is simple.

Hakstol’s Heroes

AVG NHL LINE 321.152.81.362.199.449.199.446.5
AVG NHL LINE 410.610.81.053.697.948.299.145.9

As is easily discerned from the above table Ryan White’s fantastic year of scoring wasn’t as Godly as many think. Yes, his 11 goals were somewhat spectacular for a 4th liner, but he added just 5 assists meaning that his point total didn’t rise to meet the AVG NHL LINE 3 mark. His 16 point total was a very similar number to that of linemates Bellemare and VandeVelde, each of whom had 14.

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To make their lack of scoring abundantly clear take a quick look at the Points per 60 minutes played at even strength column (PP60). All three played a lot for Coach Hakstol which means their low point totals are even lower as point averages. They all scored below average 4th line scoring levels. These are not offensively talented men.

Where Bellemare and VandeVelde try to make up for their lack of scoring is on the Penalty Kill. Both played over 2 minutes per game a man down and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. At the NHL level a 4th line player should be looked to as a specialist; someone who plays limited minutes in certain situations. This left very little time for them to play on the Powerplay which is also okay because they are not very skilled with the puck.

Ryan White split his between special teams with around 1 minute per game on the Penalty Kill and Powerplay. His supporters will note that he scored 3 Powerplay goals this season, and was a positive influence as a net-front presence. While his individual stats on Powerplays weren’t all that impressive a case can be made for his screening/disruptive presence. When White was on the PP the Philadelphia Flyers scored 6.08 goals per 60 mins. Very similar to the ratio of Couturier (6.09), but not as great as PP master Wayne Simmonds (7.20).

Philadelphia Flyers
Ryan White provides good value as a screening and disrupting presence on a lacking Philadelphia Flyers 2nd PP unit, but as it turns out not much else. Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Now that White is established as a positive PP influence let’s talk about how he was a horribly negative influence on the PK. This is not based on his play on the PK (that was probably okay), but on the fact that he took penalties at a rate higher than anyone on the team putting the Philadelphia Flyers on the Penalty Kill and at a disadvantage. White’s 6.61 penalty minutes per 60 minutes (PIM60) was 23rd in the entire NHL among forwards; comparable to Wayne Simmonds who was 24th. Simmonds’ 60 points make large penalty totals easy to overlook, but White’s 16 points do little to offset that much of a negative impact.

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  • Chris VandeVelde and P.E. Bellemare were much better at staying out of the box with respectable PIM60 averages of 1.51 and 1.61. Disciplined play from depth players is becoming more and more important as officials become focused on doling out Powerplays.

    Unsurprisingly White needed a disproportionately high shooting percentage (SH%) of 12.5% to score his 11 goals. His career average sits around 8.9% and he’s likely to regress to that next year. Bellemare shot at a much more average depth forward percentage (6.9%), and somehow Chris VandeVelde shot at a rate of 2.9%. While his career SH% of 6.7% is a bit more encouraging his mark this year was 4th worst in the entire league among players who played 60 games or more. Only Stephen Gionta (NJ – 1.6%), Anton Lander (EDM – 1.9%), and Brooks Laich (WSH/TOR – 2.0%) shot worse among that group.

    Advanced stats are particularly useful for looking at depth players and seeing if they can be effective checking line players by pushing the puck up the ice. White, Bellemare and VandeVelde are not good at pushing the puck up the ice as seen in their low shots for/against numbers (SF%). The Philadelphia Flyers took around 45% of the shots with all three on the ice which is well below the 48 or 49% that bottom-6 forwards should shoot for.

    Philadelphia Flyers
    P.E. Bellemare and the rest of Hakstol’s Heroes didn’t create enough opportunities like this to warrant the ice time they received. Photo: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

    They all had very low PDO ratings as well (combined shooting/save percentages while on the ice) which can sometimes hint at bad luck. In this case, it might be a little more than bad luck as they shot at 7.5% when combined as a unit. That combined with solid performances all year by the Mason/Neuvirth combination makes me believe that this trio probably deserves that low PDO. Since they’re giving up a high volume of shots they’re probably putting themselves in bad defensive situations more often than not.

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    The piece of straw that breaks the camel’s back here is the fact that these guys actually had favorable zone starts! White was in the offensive zone 51.2% of the time compared to the defensive end, and Bellemare/VandeVelde split-zone time at 50%. Most bottom-6 forwards take on a much more defensive role as the average is a 46 or 47% ratio. Combining this with bad possession, below average point production (even for depth players) gives an extremely grim picture of a line Dave Hakstol has put entirely too much trust in.

    The last article in this series will feature pending UFA Sam Gagner, youngsters Nick Cousins, and Scott Laughton, as well as an aging and now, bought out R.J. Umberger.