Clayton Stoner vs. Bryan Allen: This doesn’t look good
After the Anaheim Ducks signed free agent defenseman Clayton Stoner, I wanted to check into some numbers to get a fuller picture of the team’s newest (spoiler alert!) boat-anchor blueliner. A few seasons ago, he played upward of 15 minutes per game, so he’s capable of more than the 13 minutes he averaged last season for the Minnesota Wild. Based on that fact alone, however, it’s truly puzzling the Ducks gave him a four-year deal with a $3.25-million salary cap hit.
To be fair to Stoner, Ryan Suter played roughly half of every game he appeared in for the Wild — literally 30 minutes each night. Every Minnesota blueliner suffered a dip in minutes overall due to that. While Stoner didn’t earn more minutes despite that, in this case, it’s most likely the third pair just wouldn’t have seen much ice time under any circumstances besides injury.
That being said, Stoner certainly doesn’t do anything worth making more than $3 million per season, especially considering he’s likely going to seriously hamper the Ducks if he ever sees ice time in excess of 20 minutes a game. His contract is the cost of doing business on the first day of free agency.
The real measure of Stoner’s worth is in rating him as a defenseman, regardless of his contract. The best way to do that is to look at how he has fared in preventing shot attempts. Why shot attempts and not preventing goals? The prevailing published literature suggests defensemen don’t actually contribute to the normal variance in on-ice save percentage. Stoner has also benefitted from a lot of really good fortune in that area, as the Wild’s goaltenders posted a 5v5 save percentage of .926% when he was on the ice.
The next question to ask, then, is are those goaltenderes facing fewer shots when Stoner plays? Minnesota is by and large a below-average puck possession team, meaning it surrenders more shots and attempts per game than it directs at its opponent’s net. That is important to consider when looking at Stoner, because his numbers will naturally look worse on a team with a Corsi (shot attempt) share of 50% or less, like Minnesota. To account for that, we can look at his possession numbers in relation to the team’s numbers when he’s not on the ice to gauge his performance — and those figures don’t paint a pretty picture, either.
Here’s a look at Stoner’s performance relative to his team’s over the past four seasons. The green line represents the percentage of shot attempts Stoner’s team gets with him on the ice at 5v5, and the blue line indicates how well the rest of the team does when he’s not on the ice (again at 5v5):
Through his four full seasons with the Wild, Stoner was typically 1.6 to 3.4 percentage points below his teammates. That means in his limited (and sometimes sheltered) minutes, he was often worse than the Wild average. The largest gap occurred in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, although that does not offer an appropriately full sample.
However, his bookending years with similarly negative numbers suggest that’s who he is, sample size issues or not. Further hurting his case: in his one positive season (2011-12), the team around him was absolutely atrocious. His showing there was more likely due to being used in a limited role on a bad team than it was an indication he had markedly improved. And despite the gradual incline of the green line (Stoner’s possession share), the team’s number jumped more dramatically during the same period, suggesting it was likely a case of a rising tide lifting all boats, and not anything Stoner specifically did to drive the team’s improvement.
Those numbers are ugly, but not outrageously terrible. Stoner is not the worst player in the league by any stretch, but he’s also not nearly good enough to sign for four years, especially at the price Bob Murray paid. At 29 years old, he likely won’t improve his game all that much — in fact, it’s virtually guaranteed he’s already begun a downward slide. But it can’t be undone, and the only ostensible reason the team made the deal is to replace — or upgrade — the player on the roster who sees the most similar deployment: Bryan Allen.
So how is Allen as a defenseman? Using the same parameters to evaluate him as we did with Stoner, here is his how the shot differential battle looks with No. 55 on the ice (the team line is broken to delineate his time before and after signing with the Ducks, while the green line is Allen’s Corsi %):
During the same period of time, Allen played for three different teams — he spent most of 2010-11 with the Florida Panthers, but ended with the Carolina Hurricanes. In 2011-12, he was in Carolina, and since then, he has played for the Ducks. As with Stoner, it is prudent to remove the 2012-13 numbers from consideration when rating Allen due to sample size issues, although it was a poor season and didn’t win him any favors with the Anaheim fans.
Twice in four years Allen has been just 0.3 percentage points below the not-terrible puck possession numbers posted by his teammates. During the smaller sample of the shortened season, it was -3.1. In 2010-11, there was also a noticeable gap, although Allen’s own performance was more or less in line with his career expectations, and it was his teammates’ most successful year of the four. That’s still more consistent and also not nearly as alarming to see as Stoner’s numbers. Allen is older, by all accounts slower, and less able to handle the puck — yet when it comes to playing defense, he has arguably proven to be better at it than Stoner. Allen also holds the edge in career puck possession numbers (keeping in mind it’s only been tracked since 2007-08) by two percentage points — at 47.5%, Allen is a third-pairing defenseman, and at 45.5%, Stoner has performed even worse.
That, in a nutshell, is why this contract looks bad. The term and money are not so awful that Stoner can’t be moved in the future, but it seems the team’s plan as executed only succeeded in adding a younger, inferior version of a current roster player — and that’s not an upgrade at all.
*all data for this article was sourced from HockeyAnalysis.com for consistency, as ExtraSkater.com only contains data going back to the 2011-12 season