morrow iginla

There’s an awful lot of odd similarities between Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow, but on the surface is the spelling error in each of their first names. The common spelling of either’s name has misplaced a vowel found in the other player’s, which has resulted in a large number of “no matching results” returns when either is punched into HockeyDB or Hockey Reference.

One big surface distinction between Morrow and Iginla—both were good goal scorers whose best years are behind them. Both were on the Canadian Olympic team although Iginla had a much more prominent role, and a much more prominent career. He scored more goals and recorded more points. He captained a team to the Stanley Cup Finals while Morrow made it there as a rookie. Still, there’s a premium cost for each player due to their reputations as grinders and leaders.

I’ve talked about that sort of thing before, and I’ll get into it a bit later, but in essence, unless the Penguins are working with significantly different metrics than I am, they paid for something more than Morrow’s actual cost when they traded defensive prospect Joe Morrow for the Stars power forward yesterday. Not only did they tip 50% on the meal, but they accidentally-on-purpose forgot a money clip leaving the restaurant.

To toss some fancy stats at you, neither Morrow or Iginla are positive possession players anymore. Morrow hasn’t had a plus shot-differential since the 2010 season, a year that he had similar usage to this season. It’s a tough job, being second on the Stars in quality of competition and starts more shifts in the offensive end than the defensive end. The Stars do get out-shot with Morrow on the ice, and the truly elite defensive or possession players, you could make an argument that Morrow was formerly that player, but he isn’t anymore. Iginla is in the same boat. His usage is similar, but ultimately, the Flames have been out-shot with Iginla on the ice for a couple of years now.

None of that means that Iginla or Morrow can’t be positive influencers anymore. I think Morrow has some offensive abilities and I’ll get to those later. What I’m interested in is what factors Pittsburgh considered as to why they paid a recent first round pick in Joe Morrow for Brenden Morrow, while the only paid a third rounder for Bill Guerin back in 2009. Is four years of age really worth one of the organizations highly-rated prospects? The other question is… with Iginla available and a right shot to use on the top six that the Penguins still lack even after the Morrow trade, why not him?

First off, on the price paid. I get that Pittsburgh has some defensive depth. I am a big fan of both Scott Harrington and Simon Despres. I’m a little more mixed on Olli Määttä and Derrick Pouliot. Since Brian Dumoulin didn’t play Canadian juniors, I don’t know too much about him, but it’s not a stretch to say that the Penguins built up some fantastic, highly-valued prospects on defence. Still, trading one for less than he’s worth doesn’t make sense. You could, in a pinch, trade Joe Morrow (who partnered in Portland with Derrick Pouliot last season) for a forward prospect that’s coming along the same way, or use him to add another forward who could give you more games than Morrow could. Simply saying “we have guys on defence, we should trade one” isn’t a good reason to overpay.

To the return, though, one thing I’ve noticed about Brenden Morrow is that while his season shooting percentage is 19.4% and that’s very high, Morrow has had some fantastic success in his career in regards to shooting rate. That’s not much higher than his career average of 15.6%. He’s a guy who has a good talent in getting in close and scoring from high percentage areas. The problem is he doesn’t generate a lot of shots from those locations and his goal scoring totals remain unimpressive for his career.

There aren’t a lot of active players who have 700 career games and a shooting rate over 15%. It’s pretty much Teemu Selanne, Alex Tanguay and Brenden Morrow. I don’t normally focus on shooting percentages as a sign of talent because I like to focus on players who can generate shots, but the Penguins have shown a different approach in the past. They like to talk about it a bunch, too.

via Eric T:


The Penguins are also into this “PGS” system they use. Via the Globe:

SAI’s analysis relies on breaking the offensive zone into sections based on the probability of scoring from those areas and weighting for other factors such as what type of shots players are taking.

The use of shot-quality data is still hotly debated within analytics circles and some of the concern is over the accuracy of the league-tallied location information, which can vary from building to building. Much of the other advanced statistics work being done, both for teams and independently, is more focused on puck-possession metrics that use shot attempts for and against to measure the amount of time teams and players spend in the offensive zone.

Boyle and Mongeon, however, have found converts for their “predicted goals scored” system with the Penguins and one other undisclosed NHL team they said is also among the best in the league.

James Mirtle wasn’t exactly understating that “shot-quality data is still hotly debated within analytics circles” and certainly everything we can deduce by watching a TV broadcast isn’t enough to distinguish between different types of shots. We can record the location of a shot, but not its velocity. We can see screens, but we can’t analyze a goaltender’s sightline without the right camera angle on every shot, which we don’t have. I would hope that the people selling this data have access to different information than the fan gets. While certain areas on the ice definitely lead to more goals, I’m not too convinced that a healthy number of players can repeatedly generate a higher percentage  of their shots from the dangerous areas than others. If they could, it would show up in the scoring chance data, but it doesn’t, so we need to look elsewhere. Maybe the Penguins have.

(I went back and looked through Morrow’s recent goals. It’s been a long time since Morrow scored a goal from somewhere other than the goal-mouth. This isn’t an indication that Morrow takes more shots from better areas, because his goal scoring ability is still pretty low. It just means he probably can’t shoot from anywhere outside of 20 feet anymore.)

Onto his offensive ability, Morrow has scored six goals in 29 games this season, which puts him on a pace of 17.0 per 82 games. That doesn’t seem like much, but that is quality production for a player on a third line role, which is something close to what Morrow will play on Pittsburgh, I assume. It’s not like Morrow has been playing 19 or 20 minutes a night like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Morrow’s down to less than 15 minutes a night, so he’s pretty much a third liner at this point.

Here’s the other thing that struck me:

Again, the math on this is quite clear. You can’t add to something that can’t be counted. But what’s big on this is that the Penguins paid for Morrow. They didn’t win a sweepstakes by bidding against other teams. The key word is pays as in the Penguins went into the “old winger” section of the store, bought their product and left.

Whichever team pays for Iginla will also pay the “experience and grit” premium. At some point, though, I think Ray Shero made the decision to spend a major resource on Morrow and make that his priority over Iginla. The Penguins were reportedly on the list of teams he’d be willing to accept a trade to. Both players’ possession numbers are bleak, but I think Iginla has more to offer offensively. I even drew up a chart.

The method for this chart was just from numbers taken on Hockey Reference, and looking at a player’s goals and points per 82 games and shots per game assuming they were playing 20 minutes a game. These are from the last three seasons combined, and I also tossed in average time on ice:

  Iginla Morrow
Goals per 82 34.3 27.5
Points per 82 71.8 51.2
TOI per GP 20:34 17:44
Shots per GP 3.19 2.20

The time on ice is nuts. Even though he’s a year older, Iginla still plays heavy minutes up top. His price should be higher simply because he’s worth a lot more. This is what’s been bugging me. Why did the Penguins go with Morrow over Iginla?

  1. The Flames’ asking price was too high, which could mean the Penguins didn’t want to lose a roster player.
  2. The Penguins have enough faith in their shot statistics they’re willing to test a player who a better average quality of shot, but he takes generates fewer of them that it means he doesn’t score as many goals.
  3. Iginla didn’t have the “grit and experience” that Morrow had to offer.

Which of these scenarios is more likely? If it’s No. 2 or No. 3, they’re probably overthinking it. It’s likely No. 1, and like Mike Gillis with Roberto Luongo, I don’t think Jay Feaster is going to get what he’s asking for Iginla. There’s also a possible Option 4 in that Pittsburgh saw something wrong with Joe Morrow and was looking to unload him for anybody who would say yes. There’s also a possible Option 5 in that Pittsburgh saw Joe Morrow as expendable and wanted to trick Calgary into lowering the cost.

It’s an interesting situation to monitor, and probably worth keeping in mind when we see what Jarome ends up going for. Considering what he is, Morrow is productive, but a recent first rounder for somebody who will ultimately play an absolute maximum of 43 games until his contract expires seems like a steep price. Could be interesting to see where Morrow fits on Dallas if he does see second line rather than third line minutes. Reminder, though, Morrow played with Jamie Benn and Jaromir Jagr in Dallas, and neither player is bad at getting others the puck. How great is the Pittsburgh effect?