Carter or Giroux: A belated look at who was really the 2010-2011 Flyers MVP

Ed: This article was all but finished for BSH when the news broke. Rather than modify it substantially, I'll just go through and make the appropriate edits and post it here.

A lot of people are ready to ship Jeff Carter out of town to make room for Ilya Bryzgalov, including Paul Holmgren, apparently. We've often made the case that Carter was arguably the Flyers MVP this year, with Claude Giroux being the other candidate, but nobody ever suggested that Sergei Bobrovsky was the MVP, did they? So we must need a goalie more.

It's time to really dig into the data and see if we can separate the two even though it doesn't really matter now.

The challenge in picking an MVP is that they played different roles -- it's hard to compare their results directly when Carter started in his own end so much more than Giroux did. Here are some key numbers, courtesy of Behind the Net:

Player Corsi/60 Corsi Rel Quality of Competition Offensive zone starts
Giroux 8.1 0.82 49.2%
Carter 3.3 0.90 43.8%

The first column tells you that both players helped the Flyers control play -- Corsi is the team's shot attempt differential, and has been shown to correlate very well to zone time, puck possession, and goal scoring. The Flyers had 8.1 more shot attempts than their opponents per 60 minutes that Giroux was on the ice, versus 3.3 extra shot attempts with Carter on the ice, so they definitely controlled play more when Giroux was out there.

However, part of that is because Carter was taking on tougher situations than Giroux -- he faced slightly tougher competition and had a lot fewer starts in the offensive zone. So deciding which of them was better this year has been mostly a philosophical debate: do we prefer the playmaker or the shooter, the offensive star or the heavy lifter? PH says defense is for chumps.

I think fair arguments can be made for both players. Personally, I just like Giroux more; I find him more exciting to watch and feel like the playmaker influences the game more. But in this article, I am going to analyze the data a bit deeper and see if we can open up some daylight between them. Once Carter gets on the plane there will be about a thousand miles of daylight between them.

It helps a lot that they faced pretty similar competition. Carter's opposition was a bit stronger, but it's not a huge gap by any means. So let's start by focusing on how much of the difference in results is accounted for by the difference in offensive zone starts.

A few months ago, I published an article on Balanced Corsi, where we looked at whether a player did better or worse than other players who had similar zone starts. League-wide, players who started in the offensive zone 49.2% of the time (as Giroux did) averaged a Corsi of -0.4. That means Giroux's Corsi was 8.1 - (-0.4) = 8.5 shots per 60 better than the average player who was put in similar positions. Players who started in the offensive zone 43.8% of the time (as Carter did) averaged a Corsi of -5.2, which makes his balanced Corsi 3.3 - (-5.2) = 8.5.

Hmmmmm. OK, that's pretty similar.

Another metric that accounts for starting position is Balanced Zone Shifts, which looks at whether the player finished their shift in the offensive zone more or less than other players with similar starting locations. Players who started in the offensive zone about as often as Giroux did finished there 49.8% of the time. Giroux actually finished his shifts in the offensive zone 53.5% of the time, so he shifted play forwards 53.5 - 49.8 = 3.7% more often than similarly-deployed peers. Carter's expected offensive zone finishes were about 48.1%, and he actually finished in the offensive zone 51.9% of the time, for a balanced zone shift of 51.9 - 48.1 = 3.8%.

Again, we're not exactly opening up a lot of daylight here.

The two played together a lot but not exclusively, which makes them an ideal pair for a with-or-without-you analysis, where we separate their results as linemates from their individual results. Here's what we see:

Player Offensive zone starts Corsi/60 Balanced Corsi
Giroux alone 50.5% 6.8 6.0
Giroux and Carter 49.1% 9.5 9.9
Carter alone 35.5% -7.3 3.1

There's no question that they were at their best when playing together. Giroux's balanced Corsi was a bit better than Carter's when they separated, but he was also facing substantially weaker competition. (Their quality of competition was similar when looking at season totals because they played together a lot, but the difference when they were separate was significant.) Carter's goal differential when they were apart (+9) was much better than Giroux's (-3), but that probably speaks much more to goaltending factors out of their control than to their individual efforts.

In the end, we're back where we started. Carter and Giroux had extremely similar statistical contributions, and selecting an MVP comes down to a philosophical preference. But it should be a lot easier next year.

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