Last night, only two days before the Leafs‘ season opener against the Montreal Canadiens, Brian Burke added Dave Steckel to the roster in exchange for a fourth round pick in 2012. Although drafted in the first round, no one would mistake the 29 year old Steckel for an offensive forward. He’s kept himself in the league through his defensive play, made significantly easier by his big size, despite his inclination to not use said size. So tonight, one night before the regular season begins, we’re going to take a peek at Steckel’s defensive stats and see how he measures up with other centers on the two teams he played for in 2010-11.
Steckel split time between Washington and New Jersey in 2010-11, totalling 75 games played. His ice time at even strength was extremely limited, coming out to 10:04 minutes per game. This put him below centers Boyd Gordon, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Jason Arnott and Nicklas Backstrom on Washington and Jacob Josefson, Brian Rolston, Dainius Zubrus and Travis Zajac on New Jersey. The team’s save percentage (Sv%) when Steckel was on the ice was .924, which puts him ahead of all of the aforementioned except Josefson (.943) on New Jersey and Backstrom (.934), Laich (.940) and Johansson (.929) on Washington. A high Sv% indicates that attacking forwards were forced to the outside by strong defensive play.
Corsi tracks shots for/against while a player is on/off the ice to come up with a stat which tracks possession fairly well. Steckel’s relative Corsi (Corsi ON minus Corsi OFF) comes to a very low -9.4. The only two centers with worse relative Corsi for both teams are Marcus Johansson (-10.8) on Washington and Adam Mair (-13.6) on New Jersey. Despite this, Steckel’s GAON/60, the goals against while the player is on the ice per 60 minutes, is a very respectable 1.91. Only Brooks Laich (1.69) and Nicklas Backstrom (1.80) on Washington and Jacob Josefson (1.32) on New Jersey had a better GAON/60. Steckel was also leaned on heavily to start in the defensive end, with an Ozone% (percentage of shifts starting in the offensive zone) of 42.3%. This is the lowest total on both teams. The percentage of shifts he finished in the offensive zone (Fin Ozone%) was higher at 44.6%. He was the only one on New Jersey with a positive Ozone% difference and had a larger difference (2.3%) than the positive players on Washington, who were Backstrom (0.5%) and Gordon (2.1%).
So was Steckel playing against other teams’ top lines? The answer to that is no. His QUALCOMP (quality of competition) was 0.007, meaning the players he faced were only slightly better offensively. It’s likely he played against third and fourth lines at even strength. However, his QUALTEAM (quality of teammates) was an astoundingly low -0.426. For perspective, the second lowest among centers on either team was Matt Hendricks on Washington, with -0.389. Thus far his stats have been decent, while he faced third and fourth liners and played with far inferior linemates. As far as penalties go, Washington/New Jersey averaged 3.7 penalties for per 60 minutes while averaging 2.7 penalties against in the same timeframe when Steckel was on the ice. This difference of +1.0 is on par with or higher than all centers on both teams. Before we finish off, there is one more stat to look at.
The attribute that made Burke pull the trigger on this trade was Steckel’s impeccable faceoff winning percentage, finishing the season with a league high (among players with at least 500 faceoffs) 62.3%. This is higher than all of Tyler Bozak (54.6%), Mikhail Grabovski (48.4%), Philippe Dupuis (46.2%) and Tim Connolly (45.9%). In 2009-10, Matthew Lombardi’s last full season in the NHL, his faceoff winning percentage was 49.7%. Any way you slice it, this is a significant upgrade. Even more impressive, and certainly much more encouraging for the Leafs’ penalty kill, is that Steckel’s penalty kill faceoff percentage was 64.0%, which was also higher than all of Bozak (53.4%), Grabovski (41.2%), Dupuis (36.5%) and Connolly (29.3%). As Tyler Dellow pointed out back in July, faceoffs do not necessarily help turn a penalty kill around, but it’s hard to do much worse. Consistently winning the first faceoff on a penalty kill will give the defenders a good 20 seconds of rest that can only be beneficial. Also, since the comparison to Blair Betts has been made constantly throughout the day, it’s prudent to mention that his shorthanded faceoff percentage was at 45.2%.
Any way you slice it, Steckel is a clear upgrade over our previous fourth line center-to-be Philippe Dupuis. Moving Dupuis to wing, with Steckel at center and Mike Brown anchoring the right side, would give us a pretty decent shutdown fourth line who can all chip in around 5 goals a season. Another side effect of this trade is that it opens the door to a potential Bozak trade, which could bring in a top 6 forward in a package deal. The season starts tomorrow and the depth on the Maple Leafs is the deepest it’s been in Brian Burke’s tenure. It’s difficult to be disappointed with that.