Should Canucks Be Wary of Re-Signing Shawn Matthias?

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Dissent in the ranks! A couple days ago, my colleague Deep took a look at some of the reasons why the Canucks should lock Shawn Matthias up for the next couple seasons. While I agree that Matthias has often been a fun player to watch, I also think there are a couple reasons to be concerned about expecting too much out of Matthias long-term.

For starters, for a player who has been widely praised for his grit/effort/drive etc. this year, Matthias’ underlying numbers come with a few major red flags. For his career, Matthias has never been a proven possession player, and has failed to crack the 50% CF barrier in every season he’s played so far in his career. Now in his seventh NHL season, it seems unreasonable to expect Matthias to drastically improve in this regard, especially seeing as–despite some flashy play, and the “max effort” narrative riding on his massive shoulders–this year he is right in line with his career averages, with a Score Adjusted CF% of 48.8 overall. Don’t get me wrong, this is pretty okay for a depth bottom-6 winger, but by no means above replacement level if Matthias is demanding too much in contract talks.

Additionally, Matthias has long been billed as a work-in-progress, or somebody who has yet to achieve his untapped potential. However, as a 26 year-old, in his seventh pro season, history suggests that Matthias has very little growing to do–and in fact, he may have even peaked in terms of overall production.

This chart, via sbnation.com, shows that production for forwards tends to drop consistently once a player has passed their age 25 season. Last season, between the Panthers and Canucks, Matthias posted 23 points in his age 25 season. This year, he seems on pace to outdo that number by a small margin, but historically, it seems unlikely that he will ever explode past the 20-30 point range–not insignificant for a 3rd liner, but far from irreplaceable.

Of course, there is a good reason so many have been high on Matthias this year, and I can admit that there are certain signs that he could be an exception to certain statistic rules.

For one thing, Matthias has switched positions this year from centre to wing. It’s certainly possible that Matthias could improve his play-driving and two-way abilities now that he’s being asked to carry less responsibility, and gaining the ability to drive hard to the net along the boards. Backing this up is the fact that, since the new year, Matthias’ CF% is a more respectable 50.1%

Also going in Matthias’ favour is his scouting report, and his performance as a prospect in the lower levels. According to hockeysfuture.com, Matthias has been a late bloomer at every level he has played in so far, and “is used to being overlooked and then working hard to shine.” If this is the case for Matthias at the NHL level, then it could be possible that he has another gear to offer, but the older he gets, the less likely this appears. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but just make sure to have a paramedic on-hand if you’re planning on holding your breath.

Overall, maybe the best example of what a confusing player Matthias has been is this fantastic chart, courtesy of  Dominic Galamini and his site, ownthepuck.blogspot.ca:

This chart shows why Matthias is such a confusing player when you compare his underlying stats to the good ol’ eye-test. When it comes to usage, Matthias is being used as a typical third liner, in terms of ice-time. His possession stats all seem to reflect that he is an average, to slightly below average third liner, when it comes to generating chances, and is maybe a bit better than average at suppression. (Hence his success on the PK.) Where it gets a little more baffling, however, is how effective Matthias is at scoring goals relative to his ice-time–a skill that doesn’t seem to be percentage driven, so much as it is a result of his ability to generate a great amount of shots per 60. His goal rates seem consistent with his career shooting percentage, so it’s hard to say it’s luck. However, his underlying stats suggest that a coach should be wary of playing him more minutes, as his possession rates aren’t at a level of your elite second or first line players.

Overall, this shows that what you get in Matthias is a guy who drives play and possesses the puck like a below average third liner, who represses shots slightly better, and somehow has found a way to produce points at an elite level that seems, at least somewhat (because of his career sh% and shots generated/60) sustainable. There is value in this, of course, but not as much as some would think. It’s really more confusing than inspiring overall.

What this all adds up to is an intriguing player–one the Canucks should strongly consider taking a gamble on in a short-term contract, but not one that they should fall in love with so much that they’re not willing to part with him, should his production spike down the stretch and he demands more than a reasonable amount in negotiations later on. I would also be very interested to see what his trade value is in relation to Higgins or Richardson going into the deadline. I think Matthias might have more upside than those two forwards, but if Matthias brings a greater return, with his underlying risks, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull that trigger.

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