FlamesNation Player Evaluation: Garnet Hathaway

If you asked fans who Garnet Hathaway was a year ago you’d probably have a lot of folks scratching their heads. Undrafted out of college, Hathaway in a lot of traditional respects embodies the Hockey Dream™. It’s also why fans seemingly have fallen in love with him because he’s the style of player that bodes well for the casual observer.

He plays hard every shift, he hits everything that moves, and exhibits a level of intensity that does captivate audiences at times.

But beneath that there are reasonable questions to ask about he does and doesn’t do. These questions are important, especially when you factor in the trajectory of the league: fewer role players and skill throughout all four lines.

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2016-17 season summary

Hathaway made his way onto the roster in mid-November and his season debut in a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild. A fixture of the fourth line through much of November onto January and a brief snippet in February, Hathaway’s apparent presence in the lineup drew attention. The team was 18-7-1 with him playing, which triggered a lot of discussion that may or may not have been rooted in reality.

It reignited the discussion of energy guys, grinders, and new-era enforcers: guys who could play the game and still be there to create energy. Though, hitting isn’t everything in a role.

With that there was an element of an endowment effect applied whenever he played and it paints Hathaway, the player – without objective analysis – in the wrong light. What we did bare witness to was a fringe NHL forward putting forward the best effort he could provide at the NHL level, in 26 games.

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He made an impression on fans and the media in Calgary and it’s likely going to help him moving forward in being re-signed.

On-ice impact

In terms of what Hathaway did in moving the needle up the ice or finding ways to suppress the opposition the results are not for the faint of heart. Of forwards who played at least 200 minutes at 5v5 this past season, Hathaway struggled the most. Part of it comes from his ceiling as a player, his linemates, his usage, and who he played against.

Breaking down his shot and goal metrics gives a quick idea of how it was a problem (via Corsica):

Player CF% CF60 CA60 xGF% GF%
Hathaway  44.33%  44.81 56.28  45.3%  46.67%

So in just under 225 minutes at 5v5, the Flames with Hathaway on ice likely struggled to control the shot share quite a bit. Even if we factor in FF% (Fenwick for % – shots missed and on net), Hathaway struggled with 42.91%. Even with just looking at SF% (shots for % – 42.05%) again there is a constant theme here.

A similar story is found in goal and expected goal metrics, which helped feed into part of the memory bias produced by him. For most of the season at 5v5, Hathaway floated above 50% GF%. So from a passive observer’s perspective you tend to remember certain things that standout, for example: remembering not a lot of goals happen when he’s on the ice. So even if the margins were razor thin, which they were, Hathaway was on the ice for seven goals for and eight against. We do know that if you keep getting out-shot then it leads to less than ideal circumstances.

This immediately brings us to the expected goals side of things (xGF%), which models and accounts for a number of factors that you can read here. In Corsica’s xG model at 5v5, the outlook wasn’t inherently in Hathaway’s favor either:

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  • 7.66 expected goals for, 9.25 expected goals against
  • 2.04 expected goals for per 60 minutes (xGF60) and 2.47 expected goals against

Even if we look at individual contributions which include individual shots, shot rates, and production per hour the portrait becomes bleaker. For comparison’s sake, I want to draw attention to Hathaway and Lance Bouma’s shot rates at 5v5 to help frame this a little better:

Player G60 P60 iCF iCF60 iFF iFF60 iSF iSF60
Hathaway 0.27 1.07 36 9.60 28 7.47 19 5.07
Bouma 0.21 0.64 82 8.71 68 7.22 46 4.89

Even though Bouma did play 564.92 at 5v5 and received time on the penalty kill, their 5v5 rates were extremely comparable. That is to say that, in Hathaway, we’re really looking at a Bouma which is only about a year younger. If we factor in Bouma’s CF% (46.55%) or his xGF% (45.87%) or even his actual GF% (44.74%) we still see a really similar picture: Hathaway is essentially Bouma, with a significantly cheaper contract without the injury history.

Most common linemates

As usual you’d expect to see a boost when on the ice with Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and T.J. Brodie. Most – if not all – of Hathaway’s common forward linemates were who you would expect in a fourth line role. Surprisingly, alongside Micheal Ferland he did struggle quite a bit. The only forward here he played even with was remarkably Bouma in 65.52 minutes of play.

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Still, with this laid out, it makes it extremely hard to believe throwing better quality linemates at him can help elevate his game.

What’s next?

Playing time is a commodity that needs to be utilized effectively in this era and maximizing returns on any roster spot – be it the top pairing or the fourth line – needs to be the emphasis. It’s hard to make an actual case for Hathaway being on the roster this fall beyond an extra, barring something drastic.

Underscore the importance of getting younger, faster, and more skilled and it again begs the question: is he going to be a full-time guy or a fringe guy who sits in the press box for large chunks of the season?

None of this is an indictment against who he is as a person, but about the objective of having a forward group who can play at the NHL level without getting caved in. The Flames, if they play their cards right this summer, can make another step forward in dressing a roster with three or even four lines who play to Glen Gulutzan’s emphasis on shot generation and possession.

Hathaway could very well be a great option in Stockton, with a growing crop of kids who are being looked at as the future of the Calgary Flames. He’ll be 26 in November and that’s already outside of the peak years for NHL forwards. So maybe it’s best to look to youth and free agency for bargain wins that can contribute above replacement level.

#1 – Brian Elliott #5 – Mark Giordano
#6 – Dennis Wideman #7 – T.J. Brodie
#10 – Kris Versteeg #11 – Mikael Backlund
#13 – Johnny Gaudreau #17 – Lance Bouma
#18 – Matt Stajan #19 – Matthew Tkachuk
#23 – Sean Monahan #25 – Freddie Hamilton
#26 – Michael Stone #27 – Dougie Hamilton
#29 – Deryk Engelland #31 – Chad Johnson
#36 – Troy Brouwer #39 – Alex Chiasson
#44 – Matt Bartkowski #61 – Brett Kulak