Rob Scuderi: Past and Present

Bruce Bennett

A look into how well Scuderi played when he was with the Kings and why he's struggled this year with the Penguins.

One of the least controversial statements we can make about the Penguins this year is that Rob Scuderi has struggled. Whether looking at goals, shots, Corsi or Fenwick, every metric we have indicates that Scuderi was not playing good hockey. While this is concerning, it becomes even more worrisome given his contract. Scuderi is currently 35 years old and signed for three more years with an AAV of $3.375 million. The chances of Scuderi getting better as he nears 40 are pretty low, so it's imperative that the Penguins either try to fix the problem or find a way to get rid of him.

I'm specifically looking at two things in this article. First, I want to see how Scuderi performed in his last two years with the Kings. Second, I want to catalog all of the evidence from this year that highlights just how much trouble Scuderi has had. I want to see if the problem is merely how the Penguins are using Scuderi, or whether he's just deteriorating at a faster rate than anyone anticipated.

Scuderi's Previous Two Seasons with the Kings

Scuderi is a pretty one-dimensional player. In his last two years with the Kings, he had only 21 points in 130 games. While he had average even strength minutes, he saw a ton of time on the PK and had virtually no presence on the powerplay. So in looking at Scuderi's numbers with the Kings, I'm going to focus on even strength usage and linemates. The reason for this is because I suspect that the Kings were doing a decent job sheltering Scuderi and pairing him with their elite players during even strength play.

Below is a chart looking at Scuderi's possession numbers, offensive zone start percentage (OZS%), and quality of competition with the Kings. His rank among the King's defensemen is in parentheses next to each statistic:

CF% CF% rel OZS% QoC
2011-2012 52.9% (6th out of 7) -2.8% (6th) 48.1% (6th) 28.8% (2nd)
2012-2013 51% (6th out of 6) -8.6% (6th) 49% (6th) 28.8% (2nd)

From this we get a picture of Rob Scuderi playing the tough minutes. He had one of the lowest offensive zone start percentages among Kings d-men, and he was always facing tough competition. But Scuderi's possession numbers reflected his tough usage--he was one of the worst possession players on the Kings and at the bottom among Kings defensemen. Yet being the worst on the Kings means a CF% still north of 50%, which is really good. The reality is that any defenseman who can play tough minutes like these and come out with a CF% like Scuderi's is playing some really good hockey. So naturally the question then becomes: was Scuderi driving play or was he being carried by his linemates?

To figure this out we can look at with or without you (WOWY) stats to see who Scuderi spent the most time with and how he played when he was away from them. In 2011-2012, Scuderi spent the overwhelming majority of his ice time paired with All-Star Drew Doughty and the forward line of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Justin Williams. To give you an idea of how tilted this was, Scuderi spent nearly 990 even strength minutes skating with Doughty; the next closest defenseman he shared ice time with was Jack Johnson at 260 minutes. Likewise, Scuderi shared the ice with Kopitar, Brown, and Williams for more than 400 minutes for each player; only two other forwards on the team had more than 300 minutes of ice time with Scuderi.

Given that he spent so much time with this group, the chart below looks at how Scuderi's CF% changed when he was not on the ice with these players (please click all images to enlarge them):

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Too obvious to miss. Scuderi had significantly worse possession numbers when he was away from each of these players. The difference in his play away from Doughty is itself pretty startling. So far it looks like Kopitar and Doughty were propping up Scuderi.

As a bit of a sanity check, I want to look at how each of these players did, in terms of CF%, when they were away from Scuderi. If they were truly carrying him, then we'd expect them to have much better numbers when they weren't sharing ice with Scuds. The graph below contains the numbers.

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Same story. All four of these guys are doing much better when they're away from Scuderi. The conclusion is really two sides of the same coin: this group was carrying Scuderi and making him look better than he really was, and they were performing much better (closer to their elite level) when Scuderi wasn't on the ice with them. And this reverberated throughout LA's lineup: of the 16 skaters who spent more than 100 minutes of even strength ice time with Scuds in 2011-2012, 14 of them had a higher CF% away from him.

The story for the following season in LA was similar. Scuderi spent most of his time with the Kopitar-Brown-Williams line, but this year he was paired with Slava Voynov for most of the season. To see if he was still being carried by his teammates, lets look at Scuderi's CF% with and without these players.

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Similar but not identical to the previous year. While Scuderi's possession numbers crater when he's away from the Kopitar line, this time he sees an uptick in CF% when he gets away from Slava Voynov. This is less surprising since Voynov isn't as good as Doughty. But to really see if it was Scuderi weighing Voynov down or vice versa, we'll again look at how all of these teammates did when they weren't skating with Scuderi.

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Not only are the forwards doing much better away from Scuderi, but Voynov's numbers skyrocket. Relative to Scuderi's minor bump up when he's away from Voynov, the massive difference in play from Slava suggests that it was Scuderi who was bringing that pairing down. And this again was true throughout LA's lineup -- all 14 skaters who shared at least 100 minutes of even strength ice time with Scuderi in 2012-2013 saw higher CF% numbers away from Scuderi.

Overall, Scuderi skated tough minutes in LA and put up good possession numbers, but he did so while being flanked by elite players. Doughty and Kopitar are two of the best in the league at their respective positions, and they were good enough to cover for Scuderi's deficiencies. If anyone was paying attention or checking out this data, they should have seen that Scuderi wasn't driving play; he was truly a passenger on a very talented team.

I don't take this evidence to suggest that Scuderi can't cut it in the NHL anymore. But these are not numbers which scream "please sign this 35 year old guy to a four-year deal worth $13.5 million."

Scuderi Returns to Pittsburgh

Scuderi hasn't played well for the Penguins, and whether you're into goal-based stats or shot-based measurements, everything we have indicates that Scuderi has been making this team worse.

If you're into counting goals, you'd note that Scuderi finished this year a minus 8, which bested only Sutter, Pyatt, and Adams. Moreover, Scuderi had a Goals For % of 43.8%, one of the worst percentages on the team. And he only had four points in 53 games during the regular season.

We can dig deeper though by looking at Scuderi's possession metrics with the Penguins. Below is a chart indicating his possession numbers and usage during the regular season (with rankings among Penguins defensemen).

CF% CF% rel OZS% Qoc
2013-2014 43.9% (8th out of 9) -6.4% (9th) 50.8% (3rd) 28.7% (4th)

There are two big differences here compared to his time in LA. First, his possession numbers are real bad. Second, he's being used in easier situations. Scuderi had pretty cushy starts this year (for reference, Orpik had the toughest starts at 45.4%), and he was on the bench while Orpik and Martin were facing the other team's top competition. The fact that he saw his possession numbers drop while playing easier minutes is concerning.

To see if this was his fault, we should look at WOWY stats for this year. Below is a chart looking at the CF% for those players who shared at least 150 minutes of even strength ice time with Scuderi.

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Lord have mercy. All 11 skaters saw their CF% numbers increase when they weren't being held down by Scuderi. This is in common with his time in LA: nearly every skater with the Kings saw a bump in possession when they took shifts that didn't include Scuderi. But Doughty, Voynov, and Kopitar were enough to prop up Scuderi, whereas there doesn't seem to be an answer in Pittsburgh. I think this is a product of two things. First, Scuderi is a year older and his skills are deteriorating. His numbers dropped in LA from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013, and we're simply seeing the latest drop this year.

The second reason is that we don't have the personnel to hide Scuderi like LA did. For one, we don't have a Drew Doughty (though Paul Martin is pretty close). Maybe Scuderi does better if he's paired with Martin, but we already had the Orpik-Martin shutdown pairing that was very effective, so there was little reason to disrupt their chemistry. Moreover, we don't have a dominant defensive forward like Kopitar. Sure, Crosby and Malkin are better in their own right, but the Penguins offense relies more on Crosby and Malkin than the Kings offense relied on Kopitar. So if Scuderi weighed Kopitar down, they were better suited to deal with it since they were a deeper team. With a top-heavy unit like ours, we simply can't have Malkin or Crosby being consistently held back by Scuderi since Tanner Glass and Taylor Pyatt won't make up the difference.

Bylsma is well aware of Scuderi's struggles. Below is a graph showing Scuderi's game-by-game ice time up through the Olympic break.

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It's clear that as time went on, the coaches lost confidence in Scuderi and gave him less ice time. The Penguins were without Martin and Letang once the Olympics ended, so everyone on the blue line (including Scuderi) saw a bump in ice time throughout the rest of the season.

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Yet despite the initial bump, we again see a trendline with a negative slope, as Scuderi saw diminishing ice time as the season came to a close. Indeed, once healthy bodies started returning, Bylsma cut back on Scuderi's ice time.

Scuderi in the 2014 Playoffs

Some people have suggested that Scuderi's struggles in the regular season didn't matter because we got him for the playoffs. The argument supposedly went that Scuderi's game was better suited for the style of play in the playoffs, and that he would morph back into The Piece™ once the postseason started. Nothing of the sort happened. Instead, the increased speed and intensity of the playoffs have only exacerbated Scuderi's weaknesses and laid bare the fundamental problems with his game.

In nine games this postseason, Scuderi has 0 points and is a minus 2 (worst among Penguins defensemen). What's worse is that he's been a train wreck in terms of shot attempts. The chart below includes his possession numbers in the playoffs and ranks him among Pens defensemen (stats current through game 3 of the NYR series).

CF% CF% rel OZS% QoC
2013-2014 Playoffs 45.5% (7th out of 7) -11.9% (7th) 51.9% (5th) 28.7% (4th)

Nothing surprising here. Bylsma continues to give Scuderi easy minutes but he responds by getting hemmed in his own zone like no other defenseman on the team. The worst display of this was in game 3 of the New York Rangers series. Looking at all situations in that game (PP, PK, EV), New York had a CF% of 85.7% when Scuderi was on the ice. When Scuderi was off the ice, New York only had a CF% of 54.1%. Tough to imagine that's even possible.

***

Scuderi left Pittsburgh on the highest of high notes in 2009. Leaving to play on the west coast meant few Penguins fans saw him play on a regular basis once in LA. Perhaps this time away from watching him play led some to think he would be a sort of savior to our defense, or at least the glue that we were sorely missing. After more than 50 games back in a Penguins uniform, it's clear what the Penguins brought back: an aging defenseman who has trouble skating and handling the puck, and who can't help his team unless he's propped up by elite players. Teams that want to contend for the Cup can't pay $3.3 million a year to guys like that.

Though it would entail admitting he was wrong, Shero needs to find a way to either trade or buyout Scuderi this summer. The Penguins will be better off in the future if he does so.

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