Why Your Team Should Want Him: Mark Stone at the Trade Deadline

By mid-February, teams normally know if they are going to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. However, this season the divide is much less visible; the bottom half of the western conference is all within a few points of each other. Even the lower tier teams aren’t certain about how they should go about the trade deadline, especially the Ottawa Senators.

People expected the team to bad and considering they are currently last in the league, that prediction is holding true. When teams are this bad they normally trade away older players and those with expiring contracts in exchange for picks and prospects, and hope they are lucky in the draft lottery. However, because Ottawa’s first round pick belongs to the Colorado Avalanche, it’s a more complicated issue. If the Senators sell at the deadline, they almost guarantee Colorado a top four pick. But even if management upgrades the team, they are too far out of the playoffs to make up ground. To make circumstances worse, Ottawa’s two best players, Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, are UFA’s at the end of the season and, currently, neither have a deal in place.

Duchene and Stone recieve a lot of praise. After the trade from Colorado and because he is a center, Duchene is covered more by mainstream media than Stone. Stone is what I like to call an “analytics darling”. He is a favorite within the advanced stats community so I wanted to learn more about his play, understand what he brings to a team, and what Ottawa and the rest of the league should do with Mark Stone as the trade deadline approaches.

Offense

Mark Stone has 26 goals and 30 assists in 56 games this season which puts him at exactly a point per game. Compared to scoring trends this year and how high it is, it’s not as impressive as it has been in previous years. But he is on the worst team in the league so there is not much help around him. It can be difficult to know how much of a player’s success comes from his own abilities and how much comes from his teammates. In Stone’s case, who he plays with negatively affects his point totals which is why it’s important to look at statistics with larger sample sizes and ones that adjust for teammates.

I don’t like using shot rates as an end all be all number to compare a player’s offensive performance due to how much it can be affected by the overall talent level of the team. Linemates are going to have a significant impact on shot rates so I did not want to look at Mark Stone’s CF% on its own; instead, I compared his shot rates to the rest of the Senators and looked at how his teammates perform with and without Stone on the ice.

This season, Mark Stone’s CF% is 52.15. On its own, that is not impressive. It’s good that it is above 50.0%, but it isn’t a number that suggests Stone is taking over and dominating. However, this is why it is incredibly important to take into account who Stone is playing with and the Ottawa Senators performance this season.

Ottawa’s 46.43 Cf/60 is well below the average 50 that teams want to surpass. Their Ca/60 is by far the worst in the league sitting at 58.05. The next highest is Anaheim with 53.78, over 4 points lower than Ottawa.

Stone has been able to maintain an above average CF% on a team that is unable to generate sustained offense and allows their opposition to generate excessive amounts shots. Stone’s 52.15 CF% is the highest on the Senators. He is one of two players above 50.0. (The other is Brady Tkachuk who has been with Stone for over 80% of his ice time.)

Naturalstattrick.com has a feature that shows how players’ CF% with and without one of their teammates also being on the ice. I used this to understand how Stone’s presence affects his teammates shot rates.

Mark Stone’s most common linemates this year have been Brady Tkachuk and Colin White. But, the three of them have not consistently played together since before the start of 2019. Injuries, trades, and a lack of a definable hard matchup first line has led to Ottawa’s inconsistent lineup. Stone has played a significant amount of time with a variety of forwards on the Senators. Overall, his impact has been very positive; there is not a single roster player on the Senators who has a CF% above 50.0% when playing without Stone. Essentially, Stone is quintessential in any sustained offensive play for Ottawa.

Stone’s shot rates are even more impressive when comparing his relative to his teammates’ CF/60 to the rest of the league. (Thank-you corsica.hockey ) His RelT CF/60 is 16.14 (shot attempts/60 weighted by teammates) which is highest in the league this season for forwards that have played at least 200 minutes. (The next closest are Artemi Panarin at 16 and Dylan Larkin at 15.02) I like using RelT CF/60 when comparing players around the league because it helps bridge the gap formed by the overall strength of different teams.

Moving away from shot based metrics, Stone performs well in the GAR (goals above replacement) model from evolving-hockey.com. Based on their model, most of Stone’s value comes at even strength at 13.3 GAR, along with 1.6 GAR on the power play, 1.3 GAR short handed, and 0.3 in penalty differential, which puts him at 16.5 goals above replacement this season. This places him second in the entire league, only behind Sidney Crosby. He is incredibly valuable to the Senators, so if he is traded to another team, Ottawa’s offense will be negatively affected.

Defense

In its most basic definition, defense is the ability to prevent the opposition from scoring. Traditionally, players who block shots and lay big hits are considered defensive players. However, a blocked shot occurs after the opposition has already been able to get a scoring chance. The player who was supposed to prevent the shooter from taking the shot failed. A good defensive play would be one preventing the shot from occurring at all. Hits are not always a bad thing, but they often result in a the hitter being out of position and removed from play which eliminates any benefit the hit could have produced. Positioning is an important part of good defensive play so being out of position after a big hit puts the team at a disadvantage.

Players who perform best defensively are those who prevent shots from occurring. They are good at suppressing shots, preventing the opposition from skating through the neutral zone with possession, and eliminating passing lanes to prevent sustained offensive pressure. These are not plays that make highlight reels and and is definitely not the first thing to come to mind when thinking about impressive and valuable skills in hockey.

It is more difficult to quantify defensive performance than offensive, and preconceived notions about which position contributes defensively makes analyzing defense difficult. When considering forwards in the defensive aspect of hockey, centers are the first players considered. When people think of the best two-way players, they think of centermen. (The last winger to win the Selke was Jere Lehtinen in 2003.)

Within the analytical side of hockey twitter, there is a lot of love for Mark Stone. A lot of this stems from his ability to suppress shots. I have seen a lot of praise for Stone within this community, but a lot of what makes Stone an elite hockey player is left out of media. Even though I am exposed to praise for Stone’s defensive game, I wanted to learn more about his play style and have a better understanding of what makes him so effective.

When it comes to shot suppression, Mark Stone is elite. I looked at his corsi against and expected goals against numbers to understand how Stone’s shot suppression abilities compare to the rest of the league. Primarily, I looked at relative to teammate numbers because I wanted to differentiate between what is caused by Stone’s teammates and what is a result of his individual skill. (Remember how the Senators were almost off the graph, they had that bad of a Ca/60?)

Out of forwards with over 300 minutes, Stone is 14th with best RelT Ca/60 at -8.69. The smaller the number, the better the player is at suppressing shots and chances when he is on the ice. Stone’s shot suppression abilities show in heat maps. He is able to limit the opposing team’s offensive opportunities and compared he brings offensively, Stone is the textbook definition of a two-way player. 

Trade Deadline

February is the month of trade rumors in the NHL. Stone’s contract is expiring and he is on a bad team so he is the center of many of them. I would assume re-signing Stone is a priority for Ottawa and there has been discussion between the two camps, but a Duchene extension appears more likely.

Darren Dreger talked about the Winnipeg Jets being interested in Stone and Pierre LeBrun mentioned the Vegas Golden Knights and the Calgary Flames as possible trade partners. Stone’s current cap hit is 7.35 million which is not a small amount. Especially for the contending teams that might be interested in him. It’s rare for the best teams in the league to have over 7 million dollars in cap space available, which could negatively affect Ottawa’s potential trade options.

Mark Stone is a talented player and it’s fun to imagine what kinds of assets the Senators could get for him. If he is traded, the Senators do run the risk of having those assets never make up the impact lost if Stone is no longer on the team.

The Senators have several important decisions to make in the upcoming weeks. Both Mark Stone and Matt Duchene’s futures in Ottawa are currently up in the air. The team is in a weird spot without their first round pick this year, and it isn’t clear whether re-signing Stone or trading him for assets is the best option. And if the Senators are unable to figure out a deal and re-sign Stone before the trade deadline, the team runs the risk of letting him walk in free agency.

If I was in charge of the Ottawa Senators, locking Mark Stone up would be more important than resigning Matt Duchene. But the business side of hockey is never that simple. Every contending team in the league should be looking at Ottawa right now to see what they do with Stone and Duchene. If Ottawa says that Stone is on the block, every GM should be trying to get him because he is a difference maker could go in to every team in the league and make it better.


Header image from NHL.com

Mara Bowden