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Analyzing the Chemistry of the Dallas Stars Forwards: Radek Faksa Deserves Better

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Spoiler alert: there’s not much chemistry - unless you get to play with Radek Faksa

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In the middle of October, I had a suspicion I hoped would simply end up in the hot take coffin: Dallas’ young wingers were in their peak production windows with modest production to build on from seasons prior, and were tasked with supporting aging veterans. Conclusion: they wouldn’t provide the necessary punch of proper secondary scoring.

Tyler Pitlick, Antoine Roussel, Brett Ritchie, Gemel Smith, Remi Elie, and Martin Hanzal are all on pace for less than 30 points through 82 games. If we restrict their point totals to even strength, Devin Shore and Jason Spezza fall into that category as well.

Dallas is getting the majority of their production from just over a quarter of their forward group.

It’s hard to tell why from the data when looking at trios. Almost half the league has at least three lines with more than 100 minutes of ice time together. Dallas has just two. Only four lines have had significant ice time of over 50 minutes (as of this writing). Below you’ll see three overperformering units, three underperformering units, three minute munching units, and their expected goals for percentage at even strength.

Unexpected Hits (But Misses Where it Counts)

I cut it off at fifteen minutes because - Ruffling, and lots of it.

Source: Even Strength Numbers via Corsica Hockey

Although there are a lot of caveats (icetime being the biggest), these numbers are surprisingly good.

The three overperformering units (Shore-Benn-Radulov/Elie-Spezza-Ritchie/Smith-Hanzal-Ritchie) are unexpected, but welcome.

The three underperformering units (Elie-Hanzal-Ritchie/Janmark-Dickinson-Shore/Elie-Hanzal-Spezza) are fairly predictable, but at least they haven’t played a ton. Why the Spezza with Hanzal experiment got so much experimenting, I’m sure I have no idea.

As for the minute munching units:

We Need to Talk About Radek

The minute munching units are more mixed than I expected. The lauded trio of Roussel with Faksa and Pitlick is kind of...not that good? Not only is their expected goal differential well below average, but their shot metrics are below average too.

Their splits are not what you’d expect. Their raw expected goals for is below average (4.55 to the league average of 5.16), and so is their expected goals against (5.41 to the league average of 4.72). Basically, they’re a little worse defensively than they are barely average offensively. I don’t have my own personal quant so don’t quote me on that.

But how can that be? They’re producing at even strength. Oh throw your stats out the window!

The explanation is simple: they’re all shooting above average and over 10 percent (Faksa especially, who is a whopping 16 percent).

This confirms a pet theory of mine - Faksa is really good. Okay not that part. The other part - Nill and Hitchcock really need to figure how they can better support him rather than ask Faksa to support a line all by himself.

Faksa’s single game productivity per hour is the highest of any Dallas player by a very significant margin (click here for more on game score). This is true of Faksa compared to his typical linemates everywhere else: better high danger shot attempt numbers, better relative shot rates, second best on the team at creating rebounds, and one of six forwards in double digits on takeaways.

There’s obviously some efficiency there in the current Fak ‘Em incarnation. So what’s going on? I think chemistry is fairly tangible. We know it’s more than just piling up a bunch of good corsis together like some weird reverse credit default swap.

Were that the case, Benn with Seguin and Ales Hemsky several seasons ago would have been good, but they weren’t. Hemsky’s freelance, playmaking style just didn’t mesh well with the dynamic duo - same principle as too many cooks in the kitchen.

Ryan Stimson did a very deep dive into player styles in April, looking at what forward trios were most effective, using expected goal differential to distinguish playmakers from shooters, balanced forwards, and what some might consider an uncharitable distinction for grinder types...dependents. And then he took a look at which player types have the best chemistry for production. Below is what he found:

Source: Ryan Stimson (Hockey-Graphs).

According to this map, the Faksa trio technically falls under the dependent-playmaker-dependent category. However, Pitlick and Roussel have expected goal differentials that fall closer to the shooter type; they’re a little over 52 percent over the past three seasons. It’s probably not that simple though. Pitlick has only played 59 games over the past three seasons while Roussel has had this year and last to ‘piggyback’ off Faksa.

That might be a little unfair to both, but it would be unfair to Radek in its own way too. His ability to drive possession is obvious enough but consider that all of the following Faksa trios have stronger xGF percentages than Roussel and Pitlick: Faksa with Elie/Pitlick, Roussel/Ritchie, Shore/Pitlick, Roussel/Radulov, and yes, these aren’t even all of them. I wouldn’t rattle off so many minor, and in some cases kind of irrelevant references, if we didn’t already have the large sample size of hey maybe Faksa can do even better.

Perhaps there’s just weird psychological voodoo at play. Faksa doesn’t profile like a typical forward of his type. He’s a two way defensive center who can chip in for secondary scoring, right? Right? Being a playmaker doesn’t have to mean dangling up and down the ice and evading forecheckers with speed. Call it the problem of heuristic thinking or whatever, but it’s clear that Faksa - however the biscuits and gravy are made - excels at the level of a classic playmaker. He may not playmake in a classical sense, but it’s clear he’s making plays for his teammates.

He is, after all, only bested by Radulov in expected goals over the last two seasons.

The Solution?

Hitchcock and Nill have a convenient cheat sheet with Stimson’s data. The more playmakers, the better. The less dependents, the better. Unfortunately - and this isn’t necessarily Hitchcock’s fault - Dallas has a lot of dependents.

Per Stimson’s data, only four Dallas skaters qualify as balanced or dependent: Janmark, Shore, Hanzal, and Dickinson. Two things: 1) Dickinson doesn’t have a ton of icetime, and Janmark has spent most of his icetime with Shore, which is likely costing Janmark some opportunities given that Shore, to a man, drags down everyone else (not to mention the team benefits defensively without him) and that Janmark’s xGF over the last three seasons puts him in the shooter category. 2) The small sample size also turns Smith and Ritchie into premiere playmakers, which they most assuredly are not (no disrespect to Smith, who really is a wonderful fourth liner, and profiles as a quality depth shooter).

For now, Hitchcock has separated all of Benn, Seguin, and Radulov. It worked against New York. But it was also painfully obvious that Seguin needs better wingers (hockey hunch: Shore and Elie will continue missing quality chances because that’s how NHL goalies usually treat average shooters). He’s a playmaker, meaning he should be with either two shooters, or some combination of playmaker/balanced profiles.

It’s quite possible Dallas already has better wingers in Cedar Park. Or college, or major junior (or Russia). It’s important to point out that there’s something to be said for players playing their natural position, and only Radulov, Pitlick, and Ritchie are natural right wingers (and one is underperforming, which is the most diplomatic description I could possibly use).

This isn’t part two of my “problem” with Hitchcock (there’s definitely overlap but where the defense has clear adjustments, I don’t consider the forward solutions so obvious). This is, more than anything - in my humble opinion - Nill’s lesson into next season. By having prospects play (regardless of whether they play well), you have cap to work with (hence the criticism of the Hanzal signing) which sets you up favorably at the trade deadline if the team is performing. It also identifies the readiness potential of the team’s prospects. This isn’t about calling up a bunch of kids who may or may not be ready. It’s about giving young players the benefit of the doubt within the context of chemistry now that Dallas is in a position to doubt the long term benefits of those who aren’t showing the promise of being able to forge their own.