The skilled but streaky Sergei Kostitsyn: could he lead Nashville in scoring? (PHOTO: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
Josh Cooper recently wrote an article for the Tennessean with what he calls “bold predictions” for the on-ice near future of the Nashville Predators. You can check out his predictions here; suffice it to say that Josh sees a bright future for the Preds.
Josh’s venture into the great wide open of figuring the calculus of how the Preds might do in a partial campaign is definitely worth a read and got me thinking about the team’s immediate future if the knuckleheads in charge of the league’s future can actually cobble together a Frankenseason for 2013. There is one prediction that struck me as just a bit too bold, though, and it’s not the one that says the Preds will make the Western Conference Finals. (As he points out, just being there means you have a chance to go deep, and Nashville has been one round away from there two times in the last two years.) No, I’m most skeptical that Sergei Kostitsyn will lead the team in scoring.
The Case Against A Sergei Kostitsyn Scoring Rush
Josh likes Sergei’s past production with the Preds and says that last season’s slumping was partially due to brother Andrei coming to party for a few months. He also points to Sergei’s 27 points in 23 games for Avangard Omsk in the KHL this season, a pace of better than a point per game that earned Sergei a KHL all-star nod. Sounds good enough, but digging a little deeper gives a number of reasons to be doubtful of Sergei Kostitsyn becoming Nashville’s leading scorer in a lockout-shortened season.
1. KHL equivalency.
The KHL gets a lot of press for being the second-best league in the world, but the level of play still isn’t near that of the NHL. Gabe Desjardins’ work on NHL Equivalency (NHLE for short) gives us a way to compare the different leagues to the game we know here in the US and Canada. And though its age means it doesn’t directly address the four-and-a-half-year-old KHL, at least one number-cruncher has used Desjardins’ work to look at the KHL. As Bruce Peter wrote in August 2011, the KHL is actually of lower quality (0.62 or 0.65 NHLE, depending on whether you include the first season) than the old Russian Super Elite League that preceded it (0.83 NHLE).
Right now Sergei Kostitsyn is earning 1.17 points per game in the KHL. Assuming a 0.65 NHLE, that translates to .76 PPG – or 37 points over the course of the proposed 48-game 2013 NHL season. Even if the lockout has changed the KHL-NHL equivalency to a degree, it would take a seismic shift to make Sergei’s KHL pace impressive enough to project him as the team leader based on it.
2. It’s a different game over there.
Forget about skill-level equivalencies, there are several other big differences in the KHL. For one, the language barrier just isn’t there playing in Russia the way it is in the States. Sergei might write beautiful incidental poetry in English, but he still thinks in Russian. The KHL also plays on international-size rinks, which Sergei grew up playing on in Belarus. The point here is that his level of comfort playing in Omsk is most likely a lot different than it is in Nashville, and comfort goes a long way toward helping anybody excel at his job.
Sergei had plenty of problems before big brother ever got to town. (PHOTO: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
3. Overstating the Andrei effect.
Just looking at whole-season numbers, Josh’s line that Andrei Kostitsyn dragged his brother down after arriving in Nashville seems believable enough. But when you dig into the 2011-12 game log, Sergei’s production comes into finer detail:
October: 8 points (3G-5A) in 9 games
November: 3 points (0G-3A) in 11 games
December: 4 points (2G-2A) in 13 games
January: 12 points (7G-5A) in 13 games
February: 8 points (3G-5A) in 11 games
February: 1 point (0G-1A) in 2 games
March-April: 7 points (2G-5A) in 17 games
I’ll never argue that 8 points in 19 games – the numbers Sergei put up after the team traded for Andrei – is anything but a slump for a forward of his talent. But he had already gone through an even worse stretch once in the season, posting just 7 points in 24 games during November and December. The more likely explanation for Sergei’s drop-off is that he’s streaky. Andrei’s arrival probably had some negative effect, but it’s unlikely it was significantly greater than a number of other factors that contributed to Sergei’s streakiness in 2011-12.
Barry Trotz’s system tends to spread point production all across the roster. (PHOTO: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
4. The Predator Way.
Coach Barry Trotz’s defensive-minded system isn’t the most efficient model for wringing lots of points out of forwards. It’s more about forcing opponents into mistakes that can then be capitalized upon. Since nearly every player is asked to contribute the same amount of attention to detail defensively, nearly any player can be on the ice when the system creates a chance.
That’s part of why the team’s all-time record for points in a season is still 85 (Paul Kariya, 2005-06). It’s also how you end up with 10 players scoring at least 10 goals in one season but none of them topping 27, which happened in 2011-12. The idea of Sergei Kostitsyn posting 60 points or more in a 48-game lockout season, in this kind of system, sounds more like a video game result than a potential reality.
5. Multi-goal and multi-assist games (or lack thereof).
There needs to be a lot more of this every game for him to lead the Preds in scoring.(PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)
One of the highlights of last season for Sergei was his New Year’s Day hat-trick against Calgary. Thing is, that was his only multi-goal game of the entire season. And in 2010-11, his first year with the Predators, he posted 2 goals in a game only three different times. And the first one of those didn’t come until Game #49 – which would be one game too late in the proposed 48-game 2013 season. Sergei doesn’t fare much better trying to pick up points in bunches by dishing the puck; he only had three multi-assist games in 2010-11 and three more in 2011-12.
If you’re going to stand out in a team-first system, you’re going to have to pick up points in bunches with consistency. In his time with Nashville, Sergei Kostitsyn hasn’t yet shown the ability to do that.
I like his skill set, but Sergei Kostitsyn has a track record that says he’s more likely to compete for the team lead in scoring with players like Martin Erat, David Legwand, and Mike Fisher than he is to dominate them. If he exceeds my expectations and lives up to Josh Cooper’s, I’ll be the first to congratulate him – after all, any one player’s success helps the entire team. But I’m not going to be putting any money on him leading the team in scoring anytime soon.