Benoit Pouliot An Example of an Advanced Statistics Failure | - Edmonton Oilers News and Rumours

Benoit Pouliot An Example of an Advanced Statistics Failure

Depending on who you ask, Benoit Pouliot either is or isn't an effective player. When he was signed by the Edmonton Oilers in summer of 2014, the "fancy stats" crowd loved the deal. They cited his possession stats, his shots per 60 minutes, his Corsi and his relative Corsi all as reasons for fans to be excited about the player Edmonton would be getting. At the time, not a lot of people knew what those terms meant like they do now.

Pouliot's signing came at a time in which advanced statistics were really starting to find a home with the NHL media who covered the sport. NHL teams were publicly beginning to pay attention to the underlying numbers and players who weren't being thrown the big dollars prior, we're starting to get a little consideration. Pouliot was one of those players.

A Poor History of Free Agent Signings

In previous years, the Oilers hadn't done a very effective job of recognizing real NHL talent and the pro scouting department was beginning to take a lot of heat for not finding players Edmonton could plug into the lineup and make a difference. Pouliot was signed at the same time as Mark Fayne and both were stats-heavy type free agent signings. Both were also hoped to be players who could change Edmonton's poor free agency track record.

With that context in mind and knowing that Edmonton was going to lean a bit more heavily upon analytic favorites, Pouliot was a gift from possession heaven. Before joining the Oilers, Pouliot had six seasons where he produced at a rate of 1.93 points per 60 minutes 5v5. During that time he also averaged 7.38 shots per 60 minutes, shot at 11.74%, and had a Corsi For a percentage of 52.5% with a CFRelTM of 2.7%. There were few forwards better than him and available on the free agent market. Those numbers earned Pouliot $4 million per year over five years.

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Where the "Stats Guys" Were Wrong

With all that said, those who didn't follow advanced statistical data as closely thought the Oilers overpaid for him. In his entire NHL career — which at the time of his signing was now in its ninth pro season —  Pouliot had never cracked 36 points. He'd had three seasons where he'd come close to playing a full schedule, but he was never really a player who made an impact on the score sheet. His effectiveness was solely hidden in those advanced numbers the "stats guys" wanted fans to look at so favorably.

Even in Edmonton, where in his first two seasons Pouliot's advance statistics were strong, he wasn't a big-time difference-maker. In his first season, he could have been as he'd scored 19 goals in 58 games, but he missed a quarter of the season and ended up with 34 points. He's regressed ever since.

This season, Pouliot is having his worst NHL season to date and his advanced stats numbers this season have started to hit the toilet. He's played 18 games and has three goals and four points. He's on pace for just over 18 points and he was a healthy scratch on Saturday as the Oilers snapped a five-game losing streak to beat the Dallas Stars. The Oilers didn't miss him.

To Make Matters Worse

Here's where things get interesting. Despite his wonderful advanced statistical numbers, Pouliot has never been the type of player that can be trusted. He takes awful penalties at the most inopportune times and often in the offensive zone or in close games where he completely deflates the team with his inability to temper his frustration. Those penalties have cost the Oilers points in the standings and victories on the ice. And that's not just this season. He's been that way since his arrival in 2014.

Pouliot is the first to admit his mistakes, but the key you want to see from a player who errs is that he's learning from those mistakes and not making them time and time again. Not so with Pouliot. Now in his third season with the Oilers, he's caught the ire of coach Todd McLellan on more than one occasion and he's been benched and now scratched to make room for a player that is less likely to cost his team.

NHL Expansion

For fans fed up with Pouliot's play and hoping that Edmonton might lose him in the expansion draft to Las Vegas, something to consider is that Edmonton has two more years to cover Pouliot's $4 million dollar salary per season. That's a high enough dollar figure to where a team might not want to trade for him or Vegas may not want to draft him in the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft. Prior to this season, Pouliot likely had the best odds of being snagged. That has to have changed since opening night.

What do you think of Benoit Pouliot? Is he still a talented enough player that his statistics this season are just an anomaly of the player he typically is and can be? Or, was he never the player the advanced stats community wanted us to believe he was?

I'm always of the opinion that it's unfair to go too hard on a player who's snake-bitten and can get back what he's lost with the proper motivation. I'm not sold however that Pouliot is that player. If it weren't for his history of terrible penalties, games missed due to injury or temporary chemistry with other forwards, I'd say maybe. But, in my opinion, those obstacles are just a bit too much for me to overcome to believe Pouliot will ever be anything other than an advanced statistics failure.

This is one example of a time where the stats crowd got it wrong.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.

Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.

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1 Response to "Benoit Pouliot An Example of an Advanced Statistics Failure"

  1. Good points about the statistics - and I am not a great stats person. The thing that I sense is that he just isn't part of the "team" - just sort of out there beside the team as opposed to part of the core.