Did the Maple Leafs waste a draft pick?
Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs recently acquired center David Steckel from the New Jersey Devils for a fourth round pick. The faceoff specialist doesn't bring much offense, but he is big and one of the NHL's best pivots in the circle.
As the Leafs were finalizing their deal, the Flyers put Blair Betts on waivers. Cheaper by $400,000 and available for free, Betts has played a similar role to Steckel during his NHL career. Therefore, the question is whether Steckel is worth the extra dollars and draft pick.
The obvious difference between the two is faceoff percentage. Steckel was the best in the league last season in terms of raw win rate (62.3%), apparently well clear of Betts (50.3%). However, according to Timo Seppa's ultimate faceoff percentage Steckel and Betts aren't as far apart in terms of corrected faceoff prowess (55.7% vs. 50.0%). Steckel is still superior, but the difference is less than the raw numbers indicate.
In terms of possession, Steckel and Betts both played against middle-tier players, but started a ton in their own zone. The former was last amongst regular Devils players in terms of zone start (42.3%), while Betts was placed in an even more extreme position by Peter Laviolette (26.9%). Neither player was above water by Corsi, but in order to properly compare them we'll need to correct for zone starts:
Comparing David Steckel to Blair Betts
Player Steckel Betts
ES Ice 756 510
Corsi/60 -3.3 -18.2
Raw Corsi -41 -155
O-Zone Starts 213 83
D-Zone Starts 291 226
ZS difference 78 143
Corrected Corsi 21.2 -40/2
Corrected Corsi/60 1.7 -4.7
So far, so good for Brian Burke. Even corrected, Steckel is ahead of Betts by more than six Corsi events per hour. This suggests that Steckel is slightly superior at moving the puck north, whether by dint of his improved faceoff abilities or just general performance otherwise (although some evidence suggests that winning isn't all that useful in driving possession)
Neither player skated with the best his club had to offer. Steckel saw some of the worst teammates available on Washington and New Jersey, sporting a relative quality of team rating of -3.23. Betts was in even worse company at a near team low -4.64 on the Flyers. According to Left Wing Lock's line combination tool, Steckel mostly played with David Clarkson and Rod Pelley last year. Betts saw a lot of time with Jody Shelley, Darroll Powe, and Daniel Carcillo.
The PK is a slightly different story. Steckel averaged just 1:38 short-handed last year, meaning he likely mostly faced secondary PP units. Despite that, his teams saw more shots against while he was one the ice (43.6/60) versus when he was on the bench (40.2). Their goals against while down a man also went up with Steckel on the ice by 1.67 goals per hour.
In contrast, Betts led Philadelphia in PK ice time (3:37) and was therefore matched against other team's top units. The difference between shot rates with him on and off the ice were similar to Steckel (-3.4/60) but he was no doubt facing much tougher competition as well. The difference between goals against was nevertheless almost nil (-0.23). So although Steckel might have the edge at even strength, the evidence hints that Betts is the better penalty killer.
The increased price for Steckel may prove appropriate depending on how Ron Wilson chooses to deploy the player: if he is primarily a defensive zone fourth-liner at even strength and a secondary penalty killing option, he may well prove to be the superior acquisition to Betts. He may also find added value above and beyond Betts if he can win a few extra faceoffs in special circumstances (protecting a lead in the third period) that may garner the Leafs a bonus win or two.