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Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A look at Johnny Gaudreau’s case for the Hart Trophy

Johnny Gaudreau is in the midst of a legendary season by Calgary Flames standards. At the time of writing he sits at 99 points in 72 games and unless he plays his worst 10 games ever, he should be able to reach the 100 point plateau for the first time in his career this season. Those are the overall statistics one could simply find by going to NHL.com or checking his HockeyDB page – but let’s break down Gaudreau’s game with numbers and compare him to other forwards in contention for the Hart Trophy: Jonathan Huberdeau, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews.

Overall points and 5v5 points

Once again Connor McDavid sits first among these candidates at 108 points, Huberdeau just behind at 104, then Gaudreau and Matthews tied for fourth with 99.

Now let us take some aspects out of this – I know all aspects of the game matter, but being able to produce consistently at 5v5 is huge. Gaudreau (65 5v5 points), Matthews (61), McDavid (49), and Huberdeau (47) is how that list shakes down. When subtracted from the main total you can see just how much players get goals in overtime, on the power play, shorthanded, or at 4v4. If we go even further we can see the players primary point totals at 5v5 too – plays where the player was directly crucial to the goal happening whether they scored it or were the guy that directly set it up. Gaudreau (58 5v5 primary points), Matthews (52), McDavid (40), and Huberdeau (33).

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In terms of overall production at 5v5, Gaudreau is the front-runner with Matthews just behind him. Some may weight goals more than assists due to the act of scoring being so hard to accomplish. Matthews has everyone beat there with 37 goals – 12 higher than the guys in second – with Gaudreau coming in a 6-way tie for 6th at 22.

These here are what I call tangible results. The stuff that actually found the back of the net. Finishing off chances is often talked about as the hardest thing to do in this sport. Being high on the overall leaderboard is naturally a positive in the case for the Hart, but the trophy for the most points is a different one. The winner of the Hart should have to play a defensively responsible game as well, seeing as without it he would be less valuable to his team. But again, that is my personal interpretation of the award description, each person reading this may have a different opinion.

Verdict: Based on 5v5 numbers Gaudreau and Matthews stand out from the crowd despite being nine points behind the overall all-situations leader. 

Expected offensive creation

Now that we got the tangible stats out of the way we can dive into expected goals – the overall quality share of chances a player has when he’s on the ice. Bad defensive play – or letting a lot of high danger chances against – lowers this ratio while great offensive play will raise it. If a player were to have a xGF% of 50% then he would create the same amount of quality in chances each game as he surrenders in the defensive end.

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Another useful thing to do to explain expected goals is mention how the quality breaks down. If player A takes 5 different chances all worth 0.1 expected goals he would have 0.5 xGF. Player B is only going to get 1 chance, but it was more dangerous and was worth 0.5 xGF. If this happened while both players were on the ice they would both have identical xGF% of 50%. Corsi (CF%) and scoring chances (SCF%) would favour player A because he took more overall attempts, but high danger attempts (HDCF%) would be in player B’s favour.

I hope that little explanation can help any reader that did not know what these numbers looked like in terms of on-ice play understand them a bit more. The following data comes from Evolving-Hockey.com – and NaturalStatTrick.com

Player 5v5 CF% – EH 5v5 SCF% – NST 5v5 HDCF% – NST 5v5 xGF% – EH xEVO – EH xEVD – EH xGAR – EH xWAR – EH
Johnny Gaudreau 58.63% 60.15% 61.60% 61.95% 16.5 -0.4 19.7 3.5
Auston Matthews 60.63% 63.21% 62.42% 63.61% 30.2 5.4 42.6 7.6
Connor McDavid 56.64% 54.46% 57.17% 58.02% 20.7 1.2 33.7 6
Jonathan Huberdeau 55.87% 54.30% 51.16% 53.02% 7.5 -3.7 7.2 1.3

As we can see at 5v5 Johnny Gaudreau plays like both player A and B from the explanation above – in fact all 4 players do. Gaudreau sits in the top 10 of all the 5v5 categories league wide – the only other one from this list of candidates there too is Matthews. That is something else that separates Gaudreau from McDavid and Huberdeau, but sets him behind Matthews.

The latter 4 categories are as follows: x stands for the word expected in all the titles, EVO – even-strength offence, EVD – even-strength defence, GAR – goals above replacement, & WAR – wins above replacement.

As we can also see that Matthews attention from out east isn’t just a bias thing – his metrics outpace McDavid almost completely across the board at even-strength. Gaudreau comes in at a clear third when we factor in 4v4 and 3v3, while Huberdeau falls way behind. The only numbers here that incorporate the power play success of the players would be xGAR and xWAR. Those two are equations that use a wide variety of factors to determine the output – but there is no difference in how they are calculated from player-to-player.

For visuals on where these players have been individually creating chances from on the ice we go to HockeyViz.com

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Verdict: Gaudreau’s 5v5 play still keeps him in the Top 3 with McDavid and Matthews. Huberdeau still is able to produce tangible results – which matter immensely – but in the advanced statosphere (TM) he’s a step behind. 

Defensive play

The 5v5 table from above applies here as well. Remember that in order for a player to get above 50% they have to create more offence than they allow on defence – so. to get to 60% like Gaudreau you’ve got to be playing both sides of the puck quite well.

Calgary plays in a matter in which every player has a role to play in the breakout – a specific role. It’s not a free wheeling effort to try and get it out – appears like a coordinated strike almost every time. It’s made the entire team fantastic in transition from the defensive end to the attacking end. As such Johnny doesn’t play low in the corners of his own zone too often – his job isn’t to provide support there unless he’s getting mixed around with the centremen. Gaudreau makes sure he has the point man covered and isn’t afraid to join a scrum down low in front of the net to help out his goaltender. One thing is for certain though – Gaudreau plays how he needs to in the defensive zone and doesn’t do a lot of chasing defenders or getting out of position. As such, his overall defensive impact will be lower than that of the elite centremen – an unfortunate reality that hurts his overall numbers, but increases his teams win total.

Just to clarify for here and earlier – blue is good for defence but bad for offence, red is good for offence but bad for defence. The ones shown are players isolated impact and do not incorporate teammates completely into the equation – although their impacts are clearly felt in how these players do operate.

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I do not think me saying something good about an Oilers player on an article published on a Flames blog is very smart – but I’m going to do it anyway because it’s better to be as unbiased as possible. McDavid’s defensive game has graded out well. Worth noting these are overall summations of 70+ games and not individual outputs like McDavid had in the 9-5 loss to Calgary. The overall sample says he’s been consistently providing good value in defensively limiting quality on an almost nightly basis.

Gaudreau doesn’t have the higher numbers, but of all the players nobody sees less chances from in-tight on their goaltender. Matthews and McDavid still allow chances from the goal crease occasionally – Johnny Hockey is lower than both of them from that spot.

Verdict: Matthews comes out still a fair bit ahead because of how much more offensive chances he’s been creating when compared to the others, but it would see McDavid maybe slightly ahead of Gaudreau at the moment as well because of his defensive impacts. 

Zone transition statistics

The following player cards and transitional stats come from AllThreeZones.com

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The fourth section in each of these wonderful player cards is zone entries. An area where among the four candidates Gaudreau is the clear front runner. Gaudreau has the highest success rate in entries/60 with McDavid behind him. Matthews then Huberdeau fill in the third and fourth spots.

Gaudreau is consistently one of the best at ensuring his team gets through the neutral zone and can set up an established attack with possession almost immediately after entering the zone. Of the guys with high point totals this is the area he can’t be beat and gives him a hidden edge should any voters discover this statistic.

Verdict: Gaudreau gets all the points here and probably pushes himself back to level in the race with McDavid. Matthews falls back a bit to make it a very intriguing three man race. 

Final thoughts

Now this is just specifically comparing the forward candidates because it’s not often a defenceman or goaltender win it. Make no mistake I believe Igor Shesterkin definitely deserves votes – and he’ll get them – but he’ll also lose votes from the crowd that doesn’t like that he only plays in roughly 55 games of his team’s 82. Roman Josi and Cale Makar have been fantastic for their teams too, but defenceman have a different job than the forwards and measuring their offensive and defensive metrics are not purely equal.

Johnny Gaudreau’s 5v5 play in terms of both advanced numbers and league leading 5v5 scoring should firmly have him on every voter’s ballot. Auston Matthews’ fantastic offensive/defensive season will be hard to beat but Gaudreau does in fact have a case. If anything, Gaudreau is having a season worthy of the title Hart Finalist. There are still 10 games to go for Gaudreau to advance his case and really solidify at least a chance at the hardware – but at this current point it looks like Matthews’ award to lose.

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