Chris VandeVelde isn’t a player that’s going to make a huge difference every night.
The fourth line typically gets limited ice time and is used for special teams if necessary. VandeVelde isn’t great, or even good, at one aspect of the game. In fact, he is below average in nearly every aspect. However, the North Dakota product has remained in the lineup for what seems like forever. Well, it seems like forever because he hasn’t really missed many games over the past three seasons.
Since the Philadelphia Flyers recalled VandeVelde from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on October 15th, 2014, he has played in 216 of 225 possible NHL games for the Flyers.
He missed the first four games of the 2014-15 season as he was with the Phantoms, but played in 72 of the final 78 games. He missed four with an injury (from November 22nd to the 28th), and was a healthy scratch for the other two (December 18th and 20th).
In the 2015-16 season he played in 69 games before being suspended for two (March 19th and 21st) and was a healthy scratch on March 22nd.
This season, he has played in all 68 games so far. Only VandeVelde, fellow untouchable Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and top players Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek and Ivan Provorov have played in all 68 games.
Giroux, Simmonds, Voracek, Provorov…..VandeVelde and Bellemare. They just don’t belong.
That’s right, Chris VandeVelde has been a healthy scratch just three times in the past three seasons. Meanwhile, Travis Konecny was a healthy scratch three times this season already, and Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch five times this season. It doesn’t add up.
The team has already shown its allegiance towards Bellemare, however, re-signing him to a two-year deal and naming him the alternate captain after Mark Streit was traded. Therefore, we can only hope that VandeVelde isn’t re-signed after this season as well.
Many of the defenses of VandeVelde, or of Hakstol’s fourth line usage in general, is that your 12th forward won’t cost you a game night in and night out. There are a lot of other factors that will play larger roles in determining the outcome of the game. While that is true, the fourth line still plays their role in a game; especially if they are used on the penalty kill.
VandeVelde has been one of the worst Flyers’ forwards over the past three seasons, period.
VandeVelde has somehow gotten worse offensively over the past three seasons.
His corsi for per 60 minutes relative to his teammates, which essentially measures how well a player helps his team generate shot attempts, has declined in each of the past three seasons. This season the Flyers get 10 less shot attempts per 60 minutes with VandeVelde on the ice compared to when VandeVelde is off the ice.
Corsi against per 60 minutes relative is just the opposite of that, measuring how well a player helps his team suppress shot attempts. When looking at this- a positive number is bad, as that means they are surrendering more shot attempts with the player on the ice than without him. VandeVelde has actually improved after a horrid shot suppression season last year, and has a positive impact in suppressing shots.
However, the liability of his shot attempt generation heavily outweighs the suppression, giving him a -4.03% corsi for relative to his teammates. This basically means that the Flyers get 4.77% less shot attempts vs. their opponents when VandeVelde is on the ice compared to when he is off the ice.
The same goes for his impact on goals.
This season he’s been okay at not allowing goals, but his inability to generate offense has him at a -5.32% goals for relative to his teammates. These numbers aren’t horrific for a fourth liner, but there are better options out there.
The few positives to take out of this is that VandeVelde has somehow improved off of last season’s numbers, yet he is still pretty bad when you look at the three seasons as a whole.
He is getting less ice time, being on the ice for just 19.19% of the Flyers’ total 5v5 icetime, compared to a 23.24% last season. That comes down to a few minutes per game.
“But VandeVelde is a fourth liner, he isn’t supposed to be that good!”
Well, maybe that’s the case. However, he is being used over various other options that provide more to the team.
VandeVelde has played in nine more games than Nick Cousins, 17 more than Dale Weise, and 22 more than Roman Lyubimov. All three of those forwards are better options on the fourth line than VandeVelde.
Cousins and Weise would be the best options for fourth line wingers. They are the only two with a positive corsi for percentage and have proven to be mostly reliable in all three zones. Even Lyubimov would be a better option. He has similar offensive inefficiencies to VandeVelde, but that could simply be due to playing only with VandeVelde and Bellemare.
All three of these options win out across the board when comparing them to VandeVelde.
“But VandeVelde is good on the penalty kill!”
Well, actually he’s pretty terrible.
Chris VandeVelde has been one of the worst penalty killers on the Flyers this season, and over the past three seasons. Let’s highlight this season since we saw how ineffective he can be as recently as Monday night.
The Flyers allow 26 more shot attempts per 60 minutes when VandeVelde is on the ice compared to when he is off the ice. Yet, he is still used on the top penalty killing unit with Bellemare. In fact, he has been on the ice for nearly 50% of the possible ice time at 4v5. He has been on the ice for 49.86% of all of the Flyers 4v5 minutes this season. That is staggering.
In the past two seasons he has gotten away with it, lucking out and allowing less goals than his teammates, but it’s catching up to him this season.
Hakstol choosing to use VandeVelde on the penalty kill instead of a few other candidates is costing him big time.
The most obvious choice for the penalty kill is to switch the two units. Give Sean Couturier (or Valtteri Filppula now) and Wayne Simmonds more time. Simmonds has been one of the team’s best players in terms of not allowing shot attempts, and he’s keeping the shot attempts to the outside as his expected goals against is low as well. However, the difference in usage between VandeVelde (49.86%) and Simmonds (32.05%) remains.
Some people want Matt Read to be used more on the penalty kill, but he has been just as bad as VandeVelde in terms of shot suppression. He’s lucked out in the goals against column, but he wouldn’t be the answer.
An easy replacement for VandeVelde, both on the fourth line regularly and on the penalty kill, would be Roman Lyubimov. Lyubimov isn’t flashy but he seems to do everything a few notches above the level of VandeVelde. He has numbers similar to Simmonds when it comes to shot suppression, and goals against, but he still isn’t used on the penalty kill. He has seen just 24 minutes while shorthanded this season.
When it comes down to it using VandeVelde on the fourth line hasn’t cost the Flyers too many points. Maybe a handful at most. But those would be crucial points if the Flyers were closer to the playoff race.
VandeVelde is just a fourth liner, but the main issue here is talent evaluation. The trust in Dave Hakstol has been wavering over the past few weeks, hell it’s been months at this point, and the main issue is with the lineup, as well as matchups.
Hakstol consistently puts the team in a position to fail. He has shown willingness to scratch players for “accountability” reasons, but then there’s a certain group of players that seem to be exempt from that. VandeVelde, Bellemare, and Andrew MacDonald are the main culprits
Overall this team might be a playoff team on paper, but it just hasn’t gone their way. It’s tough to pin it all on one reason with the multiple inadequacies this season. The Flyers haven’t been getting the puck luck, Hakstol has been making questionable decisions, the “star” players aren’t performing up to their potential, and the depth players aren’t making up for it. The players underperforming could be fixed by better coaching decisions or a more optimized lineup, and vice versa, but they haven’t been able to make up for one another. The blame game just keeps going around in a circle.
We saw what can happen when they all click at the same time when the Flyers had their 10-game winning streak, but the rest of the season has been an exhibition showing what happens when nearly everything goes wrong.
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