FanPost

Where Does David Clarkson Fit? - A WOWY Analysis

ast year, John used an interesting method called WOWY (With Or Without You) analysis to discuss best linemates for Parise (link), Zajac (link), and Kovalchuk (link).  See his work for an explanation of how the analysis is performed.  I performed my own WOWY analysis on the most controversial of all Devils forwards - David Clarkson.  Some believe Clarkson is on the cusp of breakthrough to becoming a pugilistic 20-goal scorer and a gritty foil to our top scorers.  Others believe Clarkson will never develop into a top-6 player, and some believe he should be given nothing more than 4th line duty.  (Full disclosure: count me among those with little faith in Clarkson).

The following analyzes the 2008-09 (his highest scoring output) and 2009-10 seasons.  The 09-10 season, you will recall, was cut short by a leg fracture, but it constitutes the season where he was scoring at the fastest rate of his career.  Let me get some limitations out of the way.

(1) Data was not available for the 2010-11 season, as the scripts to isolate Corsi events when both player X and Clarkson were on the ice were not working.  The biggest downside to this is that we can't really assess how he played with youngsters like Josefson and Tedenby, and we have limited data with Zharkov and Palmieri.  We also can't say anything about his play with Steckel.

(2) I did not analyze his play with defensemen, as John did.  This was not only less work for me, but I felt it was irrelevant to determining what line combination might be best for Clarkson.

(3) I divided players into tiers: Tier 1 first-line players, Tier 2 secondary scorers, Tier 3 Veteran checkers, and Tier 4 Rookies.  Feel free to disagree with my system.

 

2008-09 Season

Player

Corsi events

w Clarkson

Corsi%

w/o Clarkson

Corsi%

w Clarkson

Corsi diff

w Clarkson

Fenwick%

w/o Clarkson

Fenwick%

w Clarkson

Fenwick diff

w Clarkson

Zach Parise 77 57.4% 53.2% -4.2% 58.8% 49.2% -9.7%
Travis Zajac 77 55.7% 57.1% 1.5% 57.1% 54.1% -3.0%
Patrik Elias 52 56.0% 48.1% -8.0% 56.1% 51.3% -4.9%
Brian Gionta 84 53.9% 65.5% 11.6% 54.0% 65.7% 11.7%
Jamie Langenbrunner 17 56.5% 23.5% -33.0% 57.6% 25.0% -32.6%
Dainius Zubrus 254 54.3% 57.5% 3.2% 53.3% 56.4% 3.1%
Brian Rolston 598 51.4% 46.8% -4.6% 49.4% 46.3% -3.2%
John Madden 551 45.7% 44.8% -0.9% 45.0% 44.8% -0.2%
Jay Pandolfo 301 44.8% 47.5% 2.7% 43.9% 47.2% 3.3%
Bobby Holik 317 52.6% 54.3% 1.7% 51.5% 52.0% 0.5%
Mike Rupp 236 47.2% 54.7% 7.4% 46.4% 54.1% 7.7%
Brendan Shanahan 236 44.4% 49.2% 4.7% 44.6% 49.2% 4.6%

The 2008-09 season showed Clarkson to be an even possession player - his personal Corsi was 50.1% and his Fenwick was 49.4%.  He was healthy, playing in 81 games, and notched  17g and 15a - both are career highs to this point.

His primary linemates on the third line, Brian Rolston and John Madden, suffered however when playing with Clarkson.  While Rolston was barely a positive-possession player away from Clarkson, possession was going significantly in the wrong direction while playing with Clarkson.  Madden was negative-possession whether he was with Clarkson or not. 

With fourth-liners Pandolfo, Holik, Rupp, and Shanahan, however, Clarkson was a positive influence, pushing play in the right direction.  He had a positive effect on Brian Gionta and Travis Zajac the few times that he played with them, but a negative effect on other top-tier scorers. 

 

2009-2010 Season

Player

Corsi events

w Clarkson

Corsi%

w/o Clarkson

Corsi%

w Clarkson

Corsi diff

w Clarkson

Fenwick%

w/o Clarkson

Fenwick%

w Clarkson

Fenwick diff

w Clarkson

Zach Parise 65 54.5% 40.0% -14.5% 55.8% 44.0% -11.8%
Travis Zajac 91 53.9% 53.8% 0.0% 55.0% 54.9% 0.0%
Patrik Elias 64 52.6% 54.7% 2.1% `53.5% 51.1% -2.5%
Ilya Kovalchuk 61 53.1% 50.8% -2.3% 54.0% 50.0% -4.0%
Jamie Langenbrunner 6 53.2% 50.0% -3.2% 53.6% 50.0% -3.6%
Dainius Zubrus 135 51.7% 54.1% 2.3% 54.2% 53.6% -0.5%
Brian Rolston 218 51.9% 42.7% -9.3% 52.9% 42.7% -10.3%
Jay Pandolfo 80 45.5% 43.8% -1.7% 45.0% 44.8% -0.2%
Dean McAmmond 63 53.1% 44.4% -8.6% 53.8% 44.7% -9.2%
Rob Niedermayer 392 44.5% 42.1% -2.4% 44.6% 42.2% -2.4%
Vladimir Zharkov 186 63.1% 47.8% -15.2% 66.9% 46.0% -20.8%
Nick Palmieri 13 61.7% 30.8% -31.0% 57.1% 40.0% -17.1%
Niclas Bergfors 163 53.1% 49.7% -3.4% 54.4% 50.4% -4.0%
Rod Pelley 75 47.9% 50.7% 2.8% 47.8% 56.5% 8.6%
Tim Sestito 75 39.5% 45.3% 5.8% 44.2% 43.4% -0.8%

Though 2009-10 marked the first time in Clarkson's career where he notched better than 0.5 ppg (11g, 13a, 24p in 46 games), the Corsi numbers suggest he wasn't playing very well.  His Corsi for the season was just 46.3% and his Fenwick wasn't much better at 47.0%.  Perhaps he notched most of his points early in the season, before he got injured, and his play after he returned dragged his Corsi down.  Nonetheless, though the scoring rate might suggest he could be the 20g-20a man some hope for, the possession numbers put him in the company of noted non-scorers Jay Pandolfo, Rob Niedermayer, and Rod Pelley.  All other Devils forwards, other than woeful Tim Sestito, were in positive possession territory.

Note that almost every player had a worse Corsi when they were on the ice with Clarkson - Zubrus, Pelley, and Sestito are the lone exceptions.  Even Rob Niedermayer, his primary linemate, went from bad to worse when he was put out there with Clarkson.  As I'll show in a bit, Clarkson's Corsi also took a hit with Niedermayer on the ice - they were just plain a bad combination.  So there's a lot of blame to go around.

Clarkson again played a lot with Brian Rolston, and that combination was an even worse idea in 09-10 than it was in 08-09.  A 9% drop for Rolston over a large total number of Corsi events is VERY bad.  Clarkson also had a big negative impact for Vladimir Zharkov's stellar Corsi numbers (going from otherworldly positive possession to solidly negative possession), and a smaller impact on young scorer Niclas Bergfors (who probably saw his Corsi inflated when he wasn't in Lemaire's doghouse by playing time with top-liners like Parise and Elias).  Again, curiously, Clarkson and Zubrus worked well together and the results were robust over a large number of Corsi events (not so much when it came to Fenwick).

 

Combined Data with Tiering

Let's look at Clarkson's impact over the two years combined on each of the tiers I mentioned earlier - does he work well with any particular group?

 

Player

Total Corsi events w Clarkson

Corsi diff w Clarkson

Clarkson's Corsi diff w player

Tier 1 - Top-line scorers
Zach Parise 142 -8.7% -1.2%
Travis Zajac 168 0.7% 7.3%
Patrik Elias 116 -2.5% 3.7%
Ilya Kovalchuk 61 -2.1% 4.5%
Brian Gionta 84 11.6% 15.4%
571 -1.0% 5.4%
Excluding Gionta 487 -3.2% 3.6%
Tier 2 - Secondary scorers
Jamie Langenbrunner 23 -25.2% 0.9%
Dainius Zubrus 389 2.8% 5.3%
Brian Rolston 816 -5.5% -6.4%
1228 -3.3% -2.6%
Tier 3 - Veteran checkers
John Madden 551 -0.9% -5.3%
Jay Pandolfo 381 1.8% -2.6%
Bobby Holik 317 1.7% 4.2%
Mike Rupp 236 7.4% 4.6%
Brendan Shanahan 236 4.7% -0.9%
Dean McAmmond 63 -8.1% -1.9%
Rob Niedermayer 392 -1.7% -4.2%
2176 1.1% -1.6%
Tier 4 - Rookies/young players
Vladimir Zharkov 186 -10.8% 1.5%
Nick Palmieri 13 -26.7% -15.5%
Niclas Bergfors 163 -2.9% 3.4%
Rod Pelley 75 2.5% 4.4%
Tim Sestito 75 3.0% -1.0%
512 -4.7% 1.7%

 

First, a look at the top-line scorers.  Clarkson clearly benefits from playing with these players - who wouldn't from playing with an intelligent Corsi machine like Patrik Elias?  Clarkson actually has a small positive impact on Travis Zajac's Corsi, though it's clear he and Zach Parise shouldn't ever be put together - both suffer when that happens.  An interesting outlier is Brian Gionta - who in limited experience with Clarkson (they're both right wingers) had a mutually beneficial relationship.  Take away Gionta's data and it's very clear that while Clarkson benefits from playing with top-line players, he's a drag on their Corsi.

Among the secondary scorers, Clarkson hardly ever shared the ice with Langenbrunner, but the data for Rolston, his most consistent linemate, is very, very bad.  They both negatively influenced each other in a very significant way, and probably never should have been together in the first place.  That Jacques Lemaire failed to observe this surprises me, but maybe he had no choice.  With Zubrus, on the other hand, Clarkson had an on-again, off-again romance that was mutually beneficial.

With the veteran checkers, it's a mixed bag.  Clarkson was more hurt by playing with Madden, Pandolfo, Shanahan, and Niedermayer than they were hurt by playing with him (Pandolfo and Shanahan, in fact, were helped).  He evidently worked well with Bobby Holik and Mike Rupp, another mutually beneficial relationship a la Zubrus.  In net, Clarkson helped these veteran checkers and was hurt slightly himself by playing with them - but both effects are relatively small.  Most of these players were shuffled back and forth between the third line and fourth line - they saw virtually no time in the top-6.

With the young players, it's harder to pick out a trend.  Zharkov the Corsi master really could not have liked playing with Clarkson.  Ditto for defensively-challenged young scorer Niclas Bergfors.  Palmieri really didn't have much experience with Clarkson to draw any conclusions.  Pelley and Clarkson mutually benefited each other, and Tim Sestito is just a sad case.  The total numbers show Clarkson to have a net negative influence on the youngsters, but that is largely driven by the suffering Zharkov endured by playing with Clarkson.

 

Conclusions

I'll try to not let my dislike of Clarkson skew my conclusions too much...

(1) Clarkson's Corsi consistently ranks just above surefire fourth liners.  Presumptive second/third-line types like Langenbrunner, Zubrus, and even Rolston are leagues ahead of him in generating positive possession.  I'd say he sits about average for the bottom-6 type players.

(2) Clarkson improved the Corsi of fourth line players, but only slightly.  His own Corsi was improved when playing with the team's top players, but lesser caliber scorers failed to have a positive effect.  Up-and-comers like Zharkov and Palmieri were not good fits for Clarkson either.  I'd definitely question any decision to put Clarkson with Josefson and Tedenby - players who may be hurt by playing with Clarkson, and whose own skill and experience are not sufficient to make a positive impact on his game.

(3) Do Zubrus, Zajac, Holik, and Rupp have anything in common?  They sure do - they're big veteran centers who had mutually beneficial relationships while playing with Clarkson (OK well, Zajac has good size, I guess he's not that big).  Not only were they better with Clarkson (only slightly so for Zajac), but Clarkie was also better with them.  Do the Devils have another BIG veteran center?  Yup, his name is David Steckel.

(4) The notion that Clarkson should play the power forward role with a couple of skilled, smaller forwards doesn't hold up since it seems he plays best with a big-bodied center.  Smallish wingers like Parise, Bergfors, and Zharkov certainly haven't played better with Clarkson on their opposite wing.

 

Based on this evidence, I think a fourth-line role with Steckel at center and Pelley at LW may be the best option for Clarkson - though I'd have to see the numbers with both Steckel and Clarkson on the ice to verify, it seems Steckel could be the big-bodied center than Clarkson seems to need, and he already appears to have at least a decent relationship with Pelley, though the sample size is limited.

There could be a third-line role for Clarkson if Zubrus is his center.  The track record doesn't suggest that Josefson or Sykora (if he makes the team) would be, though - neither is a large presence at center nor do they have an overwhelming offensive presence to pull Clarkson into positive territory.  Another possibility is that Josefson plays well enough to justify keeping him with Kovalchuk - then, when Zajac returns, either Zajac or Elias would drop down to the third line, bringing with them top-line credentials.  A Zubrus-Zajac-Clarkson or Zubrus-Elias-Clarkson line could potentially be extremely beneficial for Clarky without being a drag on his linemates.

 

I doubt anyone really read this far, but I hope the data presented here provides good fodder for discussion on one of the Devils' most controversial/confounding young players.  Thanks to John for making his work easy to replicate!

All FanPosts and FanShots are the respective work of the author and not representative of the writers or other users of In Lou We Trust.

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