Analytics Corner: How to Maximize the Value of Casey Cizikas

A common perception among post-John Tavares New York Islanders is that their success depends heavily on the production of their fourth line, with Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. Regardless of how valid this premise has been in years past, one truth has become striking: The Islanders’ fourth row is a shell of what it was.

Clutterbuck and Martin are the two oldest members of the line and have been in their thirties for several years. Their production has declined along the standard aging curve. While both players can add value in specific situations, neither has been a holistically valuable player for quite some time now. Since Cizikas entered on the wrong side of his 30s, his production has plummeted as well.

Casey Cizikas is back with the Islanders for six more seasons (Photo courtesy of Rob Carr / Getty Images).

Since Cizikas’ decline began, his attacking game has deteriorated. Since the start of the season, Cizikas has gone from the 28th percentile in even-handed offense –– measured over the past two seasons –– to the 15th percentile. In addition, it went from the 41st percentile in finishing to the 16th percentile. To some extent, age has caught up with Cizikas and his limited offensive abilities. As a result, its overall value, measured in Greater Than Replacement Earnings (WAR), declined accordingly – from the 56th percentile to the 29th percentile.

However, Cizikas remains one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL, sitting in the 84th percentile on even-handed defense and the 94th percentile on shorthanded penalty. Although Cizikas is no longer the offensive player he used to be, his production in a defensive situation is still extremely efficient. So Cizikas’ seemingly disastrous decline in WAR is not simply a reflection of his talent; its use is also a key factor.

Due to the Islanders’ fourth line’s lackluster offensive production, they should never start shifts in the offensive zone. While their offensive zone starts are the lowest on the team right now, by hockey benchmark, there’s no reason they should start in the offensive zone even 30 percent of the time. Additionally, there are some obvious cases where fourth row defensive skills can come in handy – when playing a very strong front row, like the Bruins’ front row, for example. However, against teams that fight offensively their playing time should be severely limited.

Ultimately, the Islanders should have confidence in the defensive capabilities of the fourth line. But before each shift, they should ask themselves: when is defense most needed? When the answer to this question does not present the present moment, the fourth row should remain on the bench.

All statistics are from Fresh hockey, Unless otherwise stated.

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