By The Numbers: Is Rick Nash Still The Jackets' Best Player?

At last, we've come to the end of our pre-season foray into numbers. This one is completely subjective, as I'm going to lump together a bunch of different numbers, and arbitrarily decide whether or not Rick Nash is the Jackets' best player. I will admit to a bit of a biased genesis for this idea.

Aaron Portzline has always said that the Blue Jackets need to get to a point where Rick Nash is their second-best player. So, it's a bit of a loaded question, as really I'm fishing to see if any sets of numbers bear out whether Nash is still the Jackets' best player, or whether he's now riding shotgun to someone else.

I'm aware that that limits the pool a bit, and probably tells you who's going to be in this discussion. So, let's dispense with the suspense: I'm basically asking if Jeff Carter is a better player than Rick Nash, overall. But, I will try like mad to make sure that I'm letting the numbers do the work and not loading the question even more. Oof. Let's see how this goes.

We'll try to identify some stat categories that illustrate the overall completeness of a defenseman, and see who stacks up the best. And, to thoroughly muddy the waters, we'll need to look at those stats 5-on-5, as well as on the PK and the PP.  Here are the stats we're going to use:

TOI/60 - time on ice per 60 minutes of team-time-per-situation (i.e., player's time on the ice per 60 minutes of EV/PP/PK time)
QUALCOMP - Average Relative Plus-Minus of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time.
QUALTEAM - Average Relative Plus-Minus of Teammates, weighted by ice time together.
CorsiRelQoC - Average Relative Corsi of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time. Relative Corsi is On-Ice Player Corsi relative to Off-Ice Corsi; Corsi is Shot Differential (goals + saves + missed shots + blocks).
On-Ice Team +/-
Off-Ice Team +/-
PDRAW/60 - Individual Penalties Drawn per 60 Minutes of ice-time
G/60 - Goals per 60 minutes of ice-time
P/60 - Points per 60 minutes of ice-time

OK, that's a lot to digest, but it should give me an excuse to use LOTS of tables! But, the goal here is to look at the players that play the most minutes, against the best competition, are on the ice for the fewest goals-against, are the most disciplined, and contribute the most on the scoresheet. We'll total/average out those last three seasons to get a sense of a player's overall ability, not just in one season (which can skew numbers). Here we go...

5-on-5

Player TOI/60 QUAL-COMP QUAL-TEAM CorsiRel-QoC On-Ice Tm +/- Off-Ice Tm +/- PDRAW/60 G/60 P/60
Rick Nash 14.440 0.035 0.017 -0.015 0.403 -0.257 1.433 1.293 2.477
Jeff Carter 13.867 0.020 0.056 0.669 0.790 0.027 0.500 1.333 2.367

PP

Player TOI/60 QUAL-COMP QUAL-TEAM CorsiRel-QoC On-Ice Tm +/- Off-Ice Tm +/- PDRAW/60 G/60 P/60
Rick Nash 3.260 2.255 0.681 -1.329 4.120 3.417 0.867 1.720 3.870
Jeff Carter 2.757 -0.094 0.115 -5.891 6.223 6.927 0.633 2.330 4.827

PK

Player TOI/60 QUAL-COMP QUAL-TEAM CorsiRel-QoC On-Ice Tm +/- Off-Ice Tm +/- PDRAW/60 G/60 P/60
Rick Nash 1.580 -0.299 -0.396 -0.740 -10.920 -5.317 3.567 1.657 2.123
Jeff Carter 1.770 0.153 -0.088 -2.629 -4.417 -4.680 1.033 0.643 0.643

You got all of that, hehehe? In all seriousness, now we get to break all of this down.

Scoring

Let's start with the basics: Nash spends more time on the ice in the prime scoring situations, and Carter in turn has slightly better numbers in those times. Overall at even strength, it's clear that Carter is a better goal-scorer, if only slightly, but Nash is better in assists, again if only slightly. Carter provides more on the Power Play, and Nash provides more on the PK, though it should be noted that neither of them played much on the PK this past season. 

Obviously, there's more to it than just the scoring numbers. We also have to look at the competition both players go against, as well as the quality of their teammates. The higher the QUALCOMP number, the tougher the competition the player is going against. In this category, Nash gets a slight edge in the scoring situations, especially on the Power Play. In fact, Nash's scoring numbers on the PP are pretty good when you factor in that he's going against tougher PKers than Carter, according to the data.

And what about teammates? The higher the QUALTEAM number, the better the player's linemates are in a given situation. Here, again, Nash appears to be doing what he does with slightly less quality around him, though at EV and on the PP it's not a huge disparity.

Advantage: Push. Carter has slightly better scoring numbers, but does it with better teammates and slightly worse competition. Don't worry, this is a good problem to have; he's still a very talented scorer, and these guys will be playing together.

Two-Way Play

We can look at a few of these categories to break this down, and here the PK numbers factor in. First and foremost, a bit of explanation: the Relative Corsi numbers. A lower number is actually good in this case, because that means your opponents are getting off fewer shots at the net when you're on the ice. We've used a Corsi number that's weighted by the quality of competition, as well, so this number really helps to show how the team is doing when each player in on the ice.

From the looks of the numbers, Nash's Corsi numbers are better at EV, but on special teams Carter gets the big edge. Some of this is the teams/units he was on, as Columbus has a notoriously bad Power Play over the past three years, and gave up a higher number of shorties. 

We can also look at the difference in the On- and Off-Ice Team +/- numbers. The numbers themselves don't really compare one-to-one (i.e., Carter's numbers are higher because his teams were better across the board). What we want to look at is the differences. In this case, they both clearly make their teams better at even strength. Carter gets a slight edge there. On the Power Play, I was a bit surprised to see that Carter actually had a negative differential in terms of the +/- when he on versus off the ice. This doesn't mean he's not good on the PP or that he's horrible in a defensive sense on the PP; it tells me he probably spent more time on a second unit in Philly that didn't score quite as much, whereas Nash was always on the top unit in Columbus.

The biggest difference was Carter's PK numbers. Again, the team was only slightly better on the PK with him than without him, but Nash's numbers are eye-poppingly bad. It's hard to believe that, on average, the Jackets were worse on the PK with their best player out there than not, but defensively speaking Nash clearly was not a solid contributor on the PK, though it must again be pointed out that he's been more of an offensive threat on the PK than has Carter.

Finally, the penalty numbers must be considered. Here, Carter wins it going away. He simply stays out of the box more than Nash does.

Advantage: Carter. None of this is to say that Nash is a "bad" defensive player, but Carter is clearly better (and it should be pointed out, plays a more defensively-oriented position).

Summary

At the end of the day, aren't we just splitting hairs? Nash has 488 points in 592 games (0.82 points per game) and Carter has 343 points in 461 games (0.74 points per game). What does it matter?

I know it was an arbitrary reason for comparison, but I think it warrants mentioning just how good a player Carter is, especially in relation to Nash. All you really need to know is that Carter and Nash are going play together, and that's going to make them DAN-GER-OUS.

And, the most important thing goes back to what GM Scott Howson said on Monday: Rick Nash has asked repeatedly for help and for another All Star. Carter is that. He's not a guy who snuck into the All-Star game and is padding his resume with it, as do so many NFL players when they're fourth-alternates for the Pro Bowl and get to go anyway. Carter is a legit All Star, and based on all of these numbers I would argue he's a "better" player than Nash overall.

And that, at the end of the day, is a GOOD thing.

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