Born: April 24, 1984, Herning, Denmark
Height, Weight: 6’1”, 188 lbs
Contract: 5 years left at $5.25M (UFA in 2023)
Games Played: 79
Score-Adjusted CF%: 49.07%
I profiled Nielsen shortly after we signed him, which you can read here.
Here’s what I wrote at the conclusion of that article:
Frans Nielsen will make this team better than it was on June 30. He won't replace Pavel Datsyuk, and he isn't a true top-line center. But he is someone capable of filling that role until Dylan Larkin is ready, as well as a leader, a positionally sound player at both ends, and someone who can be counted on to make the safe play in pressure situations.
Nielsen was signed in order to have another center with the departure of Pavel Datsyuk and the uncertainty about the capability of Dylan Larkin to play center this season, an uncertainty that turned out to be justified for at least part of the season.
As you can see from the quote from my previous article, I didn’t expect Henrik Zetterberg to be able to play at the level he did this year. I was clearly wrong.
Frans Nielsen was this year’s Detroit selection for the All Star Game. While other players could have been selected, the reaction to Nielsen’s selection from his current and former teammates showed that Nielsen is widely respected throughout the league.
What He Did vs Expectations
When I think of expectations, I think of two things: Expectations based on the past performance of the player and expectations based on the role he he has on the team. I think the expectation is that Nielsen was expected to play a 2C role on this year’s Red Wings.
So, how did he perform?
Let’s look at some of his traditional stats first:
1st on the team in power play points (15)
1st on the team in SHG (2) - Larkin was the only other player to score a SHG.
3rd (tied with #40 and #39) on the team in goals (17)
4th on the team in PPG (4) - 3 players had 5.
Here, however, is where you have to take these numbers with a grain of salt. The entire team scored 198 goals, finishing 5th from the bottom (Col, Van, NJ, Pho). The team also gave up the 5th most goals in the league with 244 (Col, Dal, Pho, Wpg)
Basically, what I’m getting at is that a solid year compared to the rest of the team this year is a weak year compared to a year where the team is, you know, good. So, how much of his drop off in points this year from last year is because of his performance, and how much is because of the team?
Considering that the scoring regression this year was widespread, along with a woeful performance on the power play this season, I’m going to lean more towards the latter than the former.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the numbers. Here are a few of his stats for this season:
P160 is primary points (goals and first assists) per 60 minutes of play.
The comparison between his GF% and his xGF% jumped out at me. His xGF (expected goals %) was nearly a full 7% below his GF% (actual goals for %). Expected goals factors in shot quality, so such a wide disparity indicates that the difference in the goals given up when he was on the ice compared the the goals scored when he was on the ice was not in line with the quality of the shots both for and against.
His GF60 was lower than what the quality of the shots indicated (xGF60), and his GA60 was higher than what the quality of shots would indicate (xGA60).
That combined with his PDO of 97.45 indicates that bad luck had some role to play.
The seven players he shared the ice with most often at 5v5, in descending order, were: Danny DeKeyser (350 TOI), Mike Green (331), Thomas Vanek (244) , Niklas Kronwall (234), Dylan Larkin (226) , Xavier Ouellet (224), and Andreas Athanasiou (207).
So, he played most often with three defenders not known for their defensive prowess, which doesn’t help one’s goals against.
For those of you who still value +/-, even after reading articles like this one from Garret Hohl, you are likely headed to the comments to point out his -19 from this season.
I think the numbers I laid out above show that it would be a mistake to say Nielsen’s +/- should be taken as a sign of a poor individual season.
Lastly, his 5v5 FO% was 53.75 (856 face-offs). Luke Glendening was the only one higher for players taking 150 or more faceoffs (56.30% on 389 faceoffs taken). I know some people are going to ask about Steve Ott. He had 63.39%, but for only 142 faceoffs. Regardless of how you want to look at it, Nielsen was a positive impact on the team in the face-off circle.
Final Grade: B-
I spent a lot of time on internal debate for this, since I may be biased because I like him. His was the jersey that I bought this year. I happened to sit next to his wife’s grandfather in NJ this year at the Prudential Center. He’s a hard player not to like.
Maybe that made me grade him higher than I should have. Maybe it kept me from grading him a little higher because I didn’t want to be biased.
Ultimately I settled on B-. He played very closely to what I expected from him. He was among the scoring leaders for a team that didn’t score a lot of goals. Even though the team struggled mightily this year, I feel it would have been worse without him on the team. I know some readers would have preferred that (because of the higher lottery odds), but I don’t see how that can factor into a player’s grade.
I also feel that for some, his contract colors their perception of his performance. We already had that debate (many times), so I’m not going to re-hash it other than to say I did not take it into account for my grade.
What do you think of Nielsen’s performance?
What Grade Do You Give Frans Nielsen?
This poll is closed