Let’s talk about Martin Marincin’s under-appreciated game

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:39 am by Adam Laskaris

Martin Marincin has never been described as a standout offensive dynamo — this much is clear.

This season, through 22 games, he’s been held off the scoresheet every single time, registering 0 goals and 0 assists. The Leafs aren’t exactly swimming in offensive talent, and Marincin put up just 11 points in 85 games over two years as an Edmonton Oiler, but 0 points for any player over 22 games is quite low. Marincin’s one of just three players in the league this year to have at least 20 games with a goose egg in the point column.

And yet, somehow, he’s been among the Leafs’ best defensive players, and arguably one of the top defensive players in the league. He’s doing things virtually no one else is doing. No, seriously. At just $700,000 on a one-year deal, Martin Marincin is an absolute statistical anomaly right now.

Let’s dive a little deeper to understand Marincin’s game, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Martin Marincin – is he elite? (No, seriously.)

There’s 209 defencemen in the NHL who have played at least 150 minutes this year at 5 on 5 play, which will be the sample size compared for the remainder of this article. All stats via puckalytics.com

One of the largest challenges in hockey analytics is to discover a proper stat to analyse defensive performance by itself. It’s easy enough to look at how a forward is doing, and though no one can really explain seemingly massive variance sometimes, it isn’t really that hard to explain which goalies are doing well and which are not. 

I’m not pretending to be pulling anything world-changing here as I’m an amateur statistician at best- but noted some very, very interesting things about Marincin’s defensive game while poking around online. 

A personal favourite stat of mine to evaluate defensive play is to isolate a player’s shots on goal against/60 minutes (SA60). It’s not perfect, but it does explain one thing- how frequently their goaltender is required to be ready for a save when they’re on the ice. I favour this over models that other shot attempts- unblocked or otherwise- as the stat is narrowed down to just shots on goal, which gives you the greatest understanding of the end performance of what’s happening on the ice. It combines both traditional and advanced stats, and gives a pretty good indicator of a player’s defensive impact. The stat tells a pretty convincing story.

Of teams in the bottom 10 in preventing shots (that’d be the NY Rangers (21st), Columbus, Detroit, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Edmonton, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Ottawa (30th)), there’s just four defencemen in the top 50 in this category (approximately the top quarter).

There’s Marincin at ninth, Jakub Kindl at 28th, Dylan McIlrath at 43rd, and Fedor Tyutin at 45th. From those teams, that’s it- and Marincin is leading this pack. The next Leafs defenceman is Jake Gardiner at 126th, for comparison.

marincin

So let’s look at where Marincin stands at ninth: behind 5 Nashville defenders, and a player each from Carolina, St. Louis, New Jersey and Anaheim. If you look at the top teams in the NHL for preventing shots, you’ll find Carolina (1st), New Jersey (2nd), Nashville (3rd), St. Louis (4th), and Anaheim (7th). Keep going along this list- and not surprisingly, the top end’s riddled with defencemen from the league’s best defensive teams- and then there’s Marincin, in a category seemingly of his own.

What perhaps best indicates Marincin’s season to date is a related category — SA60 Relative to Teammates. In short, these stats measures how a player raises up or drops down the level of their teammates’ play based on a weighted average of their time spent together.  (For the exact definition, read here).

At -8.06, Marincin ranks first in RelTMSA60 category, above every single other defenceman in the league. That means, one way or another, he’s pushing away 8 less shots from his net every 60 minutes than his teammates would do on average without him on the ice.

As the Leafs are taking 33.3 percent of the faceoffs he’s on the ice for in the offensive zone- (86th among this sample), it’s not like he’s just riding heavily sheltered shifts, either.

One thing is clear- he’s making an absolutely massive impact to the Leafs’ defensive efforts just about every time he steps on the ice.

Marincin also ranks 8th in this sample for defencemen at goals against/60 minutes at just 1.23- meaning his job of keeping shots off of his goalie has been matched by his ability to keep pucks out of the net.

What does it all mean?

It’s hard to exactly say. Marincin didn’t exactly put up stellar fancy numbers last season in Edmonton, so this kind of performance is largely unprecedented for him. He’s obviously not offensively gifted at the NHL level, so the fact he’s been so proficient defensively is relatively inexplicable right now.

So is it a matter of usage? Coaching? Is it heavily influenced by quality of competition? Dumb luck? Is it going to regress with more ice time? What exact things is he doing better than everyone else to create these numbers?

These are all questions which could be used for further research in a PhD on Martin Marincin with more statistical knowledge than me. More likely than not, we’ll need more play from Marincin to revisit exactly what’s going on, and see if we can get an explanation. I’ll certainly be watching him more closely from now on.

But the bottom line is, whatever exactly Marincin’s doing defensively in his time in Toronto, he’s doing an absolutely fantastic job at it. 20 games is far from a tiny sample, and Marincin’s in an elite group of defencemen right now for keeping the puck away from his goalie and his net. No one’s talking about it, because it’s really hard to notice, but Marincin deserves major kudos for this aspect of his game, even if the offensive one’s at the other end of the spectrum in the league. It’s still too early to make real judgement calls, but he’s proven to be quite the asset so far. If anything, it’s probably good to have at least one defenceman like Marincin on this team. Perhaps he’ll never be a star, but right now, Marincin’s impact should be appreciated more than it has been, as it’s incredibly notable what he’s doing on the Leafs.

Toronto’s had its fair share of defensive woes this season, and has been utilizing a defence corps that doesn’t exactly look like a contender. Maybe Marincin’s performance just doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s okay. He’s doing what’s asked of him in a limited role, and for a guy who’s been competing for a roster spot over the last few seasons, that’s more than alright. Marincin’s 0 points won’t win you any hockey games, but as long as he’s on the ice, he’s not likely to lose you very many, either.