The Dallas Stars have been pretty busy this offseason. New GM. New jerseys. New coach. New players! New scouting staff! New...okay, I'm going to get carried away.
The Stars now have Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff on the roster thanks to those trades Jim Nill made on the Fourth of July, and they also have Sergei Gonchar and Dan Ellis thanks to free agency.
But don't forget about a player already on the team who was brought over from the Montreal Canadiens in the middle of the 2013 season: Erik Cole.
From a point production standpoint, Cole's statistics last season were disappointing, as he scored nine goals and four assists in 47 games played with Montreal and Dallas. In Montreal, Cole scored three goals and three assists in 19 games, while he scored six goals and one assist in 28 games with Dallas. Cole produced at a higher point per game rate in Montreal (0.32) than in Dallas (0.25). This comes a season after Cole scored 35 goals and 26 assists while playing 82 games with the Canadiens in 2011-2012, a 0.74 point per game rate.
So, what is the deal? Is it because Erik Cole is 34 going on 35 and on the decline? Or was it because when he got to Dallas he primarily played on a line that was not used for scoring goals?
Cole's drastic reduction in point production very well could be a combination of those two factors, but playing on a line with Eric Nystrom and Vernon Fiddler last year definitely hindered his point output.
Using SomeKindOfNinja's player usage chart, here is how Erik Cole was used with the Canadiens in 2011-2012. (For more information on these terms, go here.)
- Offensive Zone Start Percentage: 51.5
- Relative Quality of Competition: 0.005
- Relative Corsi: +12
Erik Cole's shifts started in the offensive zone 51.5 percent of the time. The competition of opponents he faced relative to the rest of his team was about average, but the Canadiens took 12 shots more than the team average with Cole on the ice. The only player who had a higher Relative Corsi rating was his linemate Max Pacioretty at +12.3, and David Desharnais, who centered Pacioretty's and Cole's line that season, had a +3.8 Relative Corsi. Needless to say, Montreal put him in a position to succeed in 2011-2012.
According to LeftWingLock.com, Cole's line with Desharnais and Pacioretty saw the ice 19.86 percent of the time, by far the most frequently used line by the Canadiens that season. Both Pacioretty and Desharnais were also productive that season for Montreal, as any team's top line should be.
Here is Erik Cole's player usage data from 2013 that combines his time with Montreal and Dallas.
- Offensive Zone Start Percentage: 41.2
- Relative Quality of Competition: 0.744
- Relative Corsi: -7.1
Coach Glen Gulutzan used Erik Cole in 2013 in a drastically different manner than Coaches Jacques Martin and Randy Cunneyworth did in 2011-2012. Gulutzan gave Cole tougher competition to face and less offensive zone starts, and as a result of playing on Eric Nystrom's and Vernon Fiddler's line, his Relative Corsi rating too a huge hit. Keep in mind Cole's numbers are averaged between his time in Montreal and Dallas, so he really started fewer shifts in the offensive zone with Dallas than that chart indicates.
Here is Eric Nystrom's player usage data from 2013:
- Offensive Zone Start Percentage: 32.5
- Relative Quality of Competition: 0.812
- Relative Corsi: -11.4
And Vernon Fiddler's.
- Offensive Zone Start Percentage: 30.7
- Relative Quality of Competition: 0.758
- Relative Corsi: -13.2
This is not to suggest that Vernon Fiddler and Eric Nystrom are bad players. These metrics show that Vernon Fiddler's line got the least amount of offensive zone starts among all Stars forwards because that's how Glen Gulutzan used that line. However, that line did not do enough to keep the puck out of the defensive zone. The Erik Cole-Vernon Fiddler-Eric Nystrom line saw the ice 6.28 percent of the time, the second-most frequently used line combination last season, with the Ray Whitney-Jamie Benn-Loui Eriksson line seeing the ice 6.39 percent of the time. Dallas spent a lot of time in its own zone last season, and as a result were the eighth-worst even strength puck possession team.
Erik Cole has two years left on his contract. It would be unwise to give up on him based on his small 28-game sample size from last season. This sounds self-explanatory, but if Coach Lindy Ruff places Erik Cole on a line that's designed to generate offense--as in with either Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, or with Ray Whitney and Shawn Horcoff/Rich Peverley--fans can expect more offensive production from him.
Unlike last year, the Stars will have a full training camp and preseason to figure out the best line combinations for the 2013-2014 season, and because they went under another huge makeover this offseason, they will definitely need it. We can all expect big things with Tyler Seguin having Jamie Benn on his wing, and that alone should have us excited. But if the Stars can put Erik Cole in a position to come close to replicating his 2011-2012 point output, next season will be even more fun to watch.