Why the Buffalo Sabres Should Bring Johan Larsson Back


Sabres fans, I noticed that fellow editor Caitlin Campbell ran a poll the other day asking you what you think of advanced hockey stats.  A whopping 16

Oct 19, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing

Johan Larsson

(22) skates with the puck against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period at First Niagara Center. Avalanche beat the Sabres 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

people voted – including me, and probably CC herself – which tells me that, even though the poll was split evenly between the choices of “Very insightful” and “They don’t hold much stock,” the fact that only 16 people voted really means that an overwhelming number of our readers find advanced statistics as useful as a poopy-flavored lollipop.

That’s too bad, because I’m about to share with you some advanced statistics that should convince you that Johan Larsson is the first prospect the Sabres should have recalled from the Rochester Americans when they began reshuffling the players on the roster a few weeks back.

For starters, if you have not read Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, you may not understand what the terms Corsi and Fenwick even mean, and since those are the two advanced statistics I will be referring to the most, it helps if you know what the hell I am talking about, right?  Corsi and Fenwick ratings are used in an attempt to get a big-picture description of a team’s puck possession.  A Corsi rating takes into account all shots on goal, all shots that missed the net, and all shots that were blocked by the opposing team’s players, while a Fenwick rating leaves out blocked shots.  Essentially, these two statistical measures are a more reliable measure of what happens when a player (or an entire team) possesses the puck than the standard +/- metric, which only shows you the end result (of a shift, period, or entire game).

For most of the season, the Sabres’ Corsi rating at the end of each game has been negative, which is important to note because it not only means that the Sabres are being outshot by their opponents, but that they are losing the all-important puck possession battle, as well.  Clearly, if a team takes 60 total shots (on goal, wide, and blocked) in one game versus your 40, your opponent has an edge, as they are (usually) in possession of the puck more often and (usually) create more scoring opportunities than you are.  Recently, the Sabres have started to generate much more competitive Corsi and Fenwick ratings (in three of the past ten games, the Sabres have actually posted positive Corsi and Fenwick ratings), but there is still not one player on Buffalo’s roster who has played at least 10 games with the squad with a positive Corsi or Fenwick percentage.  In other words, if you ignore players like Matt D’Agostini (8 games), Luke Adam (9 games), and Matt Ellis (2 games), every single player for the Buffalo Sabres has seen more shots by their opponents than by the Sabres during their time on ice.

Every.  Single. Player.  No wonder the Sabres have only won 8 games.  It’s actually a miracle they have even won that many.

Nov 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings left wing

Dwight King

(74) and Buffalo Sabres left wing Johan Larsson (22) hit on the ice as they chase down the puck during the first period of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For a team that constantly loses the puck possession battle, then, and is routinely outshot by their opponents, you would think that the Sabres would want to stock the roster with players who have respectable Corsi and Fenwick ratings, right?   So why is Johan Larsson, who STILL has the highest Corsi and Fenwick ratings out of any Sabres’ player who has played in ten+ games, toiling down in the AHL?

You read that last sentence correctly: with the exception of the afore-mentioned D’Agostini, Adam and Ellis (Corsi ratings of 56%, 50%, and 50%, respectively), Larsson has the best Corsi rating out of any player who has played for the Sabres this season.  Larsson’s Corsi rating of 49.5% is a full two percentage points higher than super-rookie Zemgus Girgensons, and exactly 14 percentage points higher than John Scott‘s 35.5% rating.  In the 178 minutes of ice time that Larsson saw as a member of the Sabres, he was on the ice for 139 shots by Buffalo and 142 by opponents – and get this: when Larsson was on the ice, the Buffalo Sabres’ Corsi was 7.5% BETTER than when he was off the ice.  Again, that is the highest CF% rel better than anyone except Matt D’Agostini.   (If you are curious, the same can be said of his Fenwick rating.)

If everything I have written so far sounds to you like mumbo-jumbo, a bunch of foofarah, or voodoo magic, allow me to translate: when Larsson is on the ice, the Sabres barely get out-shot and possess the puck almost as much as their opponents.  More than any player who has logged significant ice time this season, Larsson has kept the Sabres competitive with their opponents.

And he’s playing for the Rochester Americans, why?

The smart hockey fan knows that there is more to a hockey player than just the number of goals he scores or assists he creates.  Larsson may not have tallied a lot of points in his time spent playing for the Sabres, but he helped his team in far greater ways while he was on the ice.  If the Sabres are evaluating the talent that is within their system, they need to bring up Larsson ASAP, to see if he can continue to help his team remain competitive at the NHL level.  I think the Buffalo Sabres front office will find that Larsson is going to be a key piece in the rebuilding of this franchise.