Detroit Red Wings 2013 Offseason: Reassessing Jordin Tootoo

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a series of four posts where I assessed players' values in light of the looming shadow of pending roster and cap moves. I went over Cory Emmerton, Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo and Patrick Eaves in what they bring to the Red Wings compared to what the Wings would gain by eliminating them from the roster. While I didn't officially rank my preference of players to eliminate, I individually made peace with saying goodbye to all of them.

Today I want to revisit Jordin Tootoo and expand upon my position. First, here's a refresher on the Wings' setup right now:

With only Gustav Nyquist left to sign, the Red Wings have 24 players on their roster and $312K in cap space. Detroit absolutely will re-sign Nyquist, which will put them over the cap, but they'll also have to eliminate two players to become roster compliant. Based on Nyquist's salary, they have a few options. Here's how they break down:

  • If Nyquist's cap hit is less than $1.77M, then the Red Wings may waive Cory Emmerton and any other forward making at least $925K. The cap space saved by these moves would leave the Red Wings under the salary cap.
  • If Nyquist's cap hit is between $1.77M and $2.16M, the Red Wings may waive any two forwards making at least $925K. This means they would not be able to waive Cory Emmerton without eliminating additional space from their books via trade.
  • The waiver consideration is a "worst case". Detroit may clear more money off the books by trading a player and retaining between 0-50% of that player's salary in the transaction. For example: the Wings could clear $925K off their books if Mikael Samuelsson is waived, but could potentially clear $1.5M by trading him while retaining 50% of his salary (provided of course that they also talk Samuelsson into waiving that pesky NTC which stands in the way).

Since each previous post was a stand-alone article and didn't attempt to rank the order of preference to keep, I may as well do that now. If cap space weren't an issue, I'd eliminate Emmerton first, followed by Samuelsson, Tootoo, and finally Eaves. Additional options include Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Tatar, or Justin Abdelkader, but I don't consider them better options to eliminate or particularly realistic options. I suppose anybody on the roster could be moved to make space, but the Wings aren't moving a D-Man while they only have seven and any other forward seems even less likely to be moved than the incredibly-unlikely-to-move Abdelkader.

But what about Tootoo?

When I wrote the original article, I probably glossed over the fact that Tootoo actually has offensive chops when I was pointing out his strengths. 30 points on an offensively bad Nashville squad in 2011-12 is nothing to scoff at. While I stand by my assertion that Tootoo is the third-easiest player on the team to part ways with, I'll clarify that with the idea that the difference between him and the two in front of him is very large. Keeping Gustav Nyquist can bridge that gap for me (as his cap hit can dictate necessity), but I'd rather things work out in a way that keeps Tootoo in Detroit.

Tootoo is easy to like because, while he may not always be the most careful or thoughtful player, there's zero question about his intensity. Those intangibles should eventually show themselves in tangible ways though. Tootoo did play well in the last two weeks of the season and there is perhaps something to be said about "clutch" being a catch-all when a guy does something memorable at just the right time. It's terribly hard to define clutch, so we're going to look at what we actually can define.

Penalties

As a willing pugilist in many games, it doesn't seem as though this should work out in Tootoo's favor, but if you consider fighting a zero-sum game and focus on penalties taken versus drawn, nobody on the Wings created power plays for the Wings at the same pace as Tootoo. While his penalties taken was also high, only Valtteri Filppula had a bigger positive difference between penalties taken and drawn per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. Based on usage, Tootoo could end up driving somewhere between 7-10 more power plays than penalty kills over the course of a season.

Looking at Tootoo's career, this is actually a consistency of his. None of Emmerton, Eaves, or Samuelsson can claim this, or at least can't claim it to the same degree Tootoo has. Naturally, you have to assume PP and PK balance as far as this being a good thing (a team who is very bad at special teams probably doesn't want a guy who creates more situations), but a team should strive to be good at special teams rather than trying to avoid them because they're bad at them.

There's also something to be said of a penalty differential which hints at possession skills. I don't actually know the figures which speak to offensive vs. defensive zone penalties, but I can confidently say teams without the puck take more penalties than those with it. Tootoo's relatively high penalty rate (combined with his corsi) does indicate he played a lot without the puck last season, but his high drawn figure may indicate that the possession difference was less his fault than his teammates'.

Possession

If we want to look at more evidence that Tootoo was perhaps making the best of a bad situation on his line, we have additional stats to look at other than penalties taken/drawn. Hockeyanalysis has some great information called WOWY, which calculates how well a player's teammates do with him on the ice versus how they do when they're not playing with him. If we check Tootoo's linemates via Behindthenet, we see that he played most often with Cory Emmerton and Drew Miller (both of whom had negative penalties drawn-to-taken ratios, by the way).

Looking at Tootoo's overall WOWY stats, most of the team improves without him on the ice with them. This isn't particularly alarming. We're not out to call Tootoo a top-six forward, merely to rank him where he truly belongs. As such, it's important to note where Tootoo's WOWY stacks up against his most-common center.

Player Corsi% With Emmerton Tootoo Without Emmerton Emmerton Without Tootoo
Jordin Tootoo 46.2 54.5 46.4

So in fairness, Emmerton seems to do ever slightly better without Tootoo and there was really only 58 minutes of 5-on-5 time for Jordin to build up his corsi away from Emmerton, but it's also important to note that every single skater who shared time with Emmerton did better away from him while six skaters had better numbers with Tootoo than without.

Overall, I think there's a fair amount of evidence that Tootoo's bad possession numbers are mitigated by him being on a line with a more-disposable linemate than they are on him.

Leaguewide Rankings

Among all forwards who played 30 games last season at 5-on-5.

  • Points per 60 minutes played: 263rd (1.12)
  • On-ice Corsi per 60: 232nd (-4.62)
  • Corsi Relative: 305th (-13)
  • Penalties drawn/60: 8th (1.9)
  • Hockeyanalysis' CorsiHART: 254th (1.4)
  • Zone-Adjusted CorsiHart: 302nd (-0.7)
  • Hockeyprospectus' GVT Ratings: 278th (1.0)

Again here, we're not trying to prove Tootoo deserves top line minutes but a collection of rankings places Tootoo comfortably near and probably above the 270th-best forward in the league. If you do the math on that, 30 teams x 9 forwards = 270 forwards who are more or less top-nine forwards in the NHL today. It's not a perfect system and of course you'd like to have the riches to say you've got the 15th-best forward in the league playing on your fourth line, but realistically, if you've got a 3rd-line caliber player on the fourth or as a common healthy scratch, then you're at least in the right neighborhood.

Ultimately, Tootoo might become a victim of being movable with a cap number that would clear up plenty of space for better options in more-important roles. If there is a way to keep Tootoo while eliminating other players, I think the Red Wings would be wise to explore those means first.

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