Kyle Turris: The Black Sheep Of The Predators' Offense
December 11, 2018
As luck would have it, I was in the middle of recording a podcast episode when news broke that Kyle Turris was coming to Nashville. Although I had been excited to watch Samuel Girard on Nashville’s blue line, losing him and Vladislav Kamenev was, to me, a fair price. After all, the Cup Final series exposed a desperate need for a true second line center.
Many watched excitedly as Turris made his first start for the Predators, and he didn’t disappoint. It didn’t take long for his linemates, Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala, to start racking up the points. After the dust settled, he had earned 42 points in 65 games for Nashville, leading many to believe he’d indeed be worth the shiny six million dollar contract. Upon further inspection, though, you’ll notice something a little disturbing.
Of his 42 total points with the Predators, Turris produced just 24 at five-on-five. In the same 65 games, Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala produced 33 and 29 points at five-on-five, respectively. Both wingers also had more primary points (goals and first assists) than Turris had total points at five-on-five. In short, Nashville’s new second line center appeared to be more of a power play specialist than anything else.
Although I had my concerns about his high price tag from the beginning, I was willing to cut him some slack. After all, moving to a new city with a young family isn’t easy by any means. What’s more, after six seasons with the Ottawa Senators, jumping in mid-year and adjusting to new linemates is a major challenge. Still, after his opening season for the Predators, I really hoped to see more balanced production from him.
That said, with 23 games under his belt in the new season, and concerns looming over the impact of his likely extended absence, I want to take a look at his year so far. I figured now would be a decent time as his stats are static until he returns from injury, but his sample size is big enough to identify trends. As usual, all stats ahead are at five-on-five unless explicitly stated otherwise.
A Quick Start
Turris has had himself a productive start to the 2018-19 season. In all situations, he’s tallied five goals and eleven assists. However, much like last year, his five-on-five numbers are a little disappointing. He’s notched just eight points, tied for eighth most on the entire roster (obviously, he gets a break for playing fewer games than all but Viktor Arvidsson ahead of him). Interestingly though, all of his five on five points have been from goals or first assists, indicating how involved he’s been once he’s actually gotten into the play.
There could be some explanation for Turris’ relative lack of production. Smith and Fiala had slow starts to the season and have been in the line blender since opening week. On top of that, both wingers have definitely been unlucky. Fiala has brought his shooting percentage back up to 9% in the last four games or so, but was rocking a 4% for the first 23 games. Smith is still shooting at just over 6%, but that’s understandable considering he shoots from truly anywhere on the ice. When your regular linemates are scoring at such low percentages, you’re not going to get many assists.
Turris is also shooting at 4.76%, doing him no favors. Unlike Craig Smith, though, Turris is failing to score because he fails to get to the high danger areas. Frankly, he doesn’t shoot much from anywhere (he’s averaged just under one shot per game in his 23 appearances). Additionally, he’s registered just 24 scoring chances so far this season, which may not sound too bad at first. However, it ranks 10th most among Predators and is two fewer than Miikka Salomaki has produced (no offense to Salomaki, but he’s not getting a $6m contract anytime soon). The fact is, Turris continues to rely heavily on his wingers bringing the points to him.
Admittedly, shots on goal and point production fail to paint a full picture. In these modern times, though, super nerds are taking huge strides in player analysis, allowing us to look deeper than ever. One relatively basic example is shot assists. That is, how many times does a teammate’s shot result directly from a pass by the player in question?
To be fair, Turris’ shot assist numbers have been excellent this season. In fact, he’s ranked in the 76th percentile among skaters in this metric – spot on for a second line center. Relative to last year though, he’s passing to high-danger areas at a lower rate. Most of his shot assist numbers come from “low to high” passes: those from the corner to the blue line. Imagine what that looks like on ice, and you’ll see why those are pretty harmless.
Another cause for concern is that Turris seems allergic to the high danger scoring area. Worryingly, he has produced just six individual high danger chances this season. His usual linemates account for 26 (Smith) and 22 (Fiala). Certainly, Turris has contributed to their relatively high numbers, but it’s puzzling that he’s so averse to the low slot himself.
Turris is a solid possession player, but there’s a lot of context needed. Let’s turn to Bill Comeau’s (@Billius27) excellent SKATR tool.
Don’t worry about Johansen’s numbers for now – the tool simply requires that two players be selected. As you can see, Turris has been a bit of a mixed bag this season. We’ve already talked about his assist totals and individual contributions, but now let’s focus on the On-Ice and Context sections.Your first impression of the on-ice portion is probably “that’s a lot of red.” Turris currently has a 50.29% Corsi and a 50.25% Fenwick, meaning the Predators are producing more shot attempts than they’re giving up with Turris on the ice, but that quickly changes when we only account for shots on goal. No matter which way you cut it, with Turris on the ice, the Predators allow more shots on goal than they produce. In fact, he’s given up the third most shots per 60 of any Predator who has played more than 20 games, contributing to his quite poor 48.81% shot share.
Turris is also below average in terms of scoring chances, as the team has produced fewer (48.24%) scoring chances than they allow while Turris has been on the ice. This unfortunate trend continues into high danger chances, where he has a 44.94% share. Unlike many of the other metrics, though, this is not the result of allowing too many by the opposition, but a failure to create them in any sizable quantity. While Turris allows the 5th fewest high danger chances per 60 of any Predator who has played 20 games or more, he’s produced only the 12th most high danger chances per 60 in the same time frame.
Perhaps, though, Turris isn’t primarily to blame for these lackluster numbers. It’s possible that he’s getting defensively-weighted zone starts or playing against top-notch competition, which would certainly detract from any possession category.
Unfortunately for him, this is certainly not the case. To say that Turris is offensively sheltered is a massive understatement – he starts in the offensive zone a team-leading 70% of the time. What’s more, he regularly sees lesser competition. For this, we’ll turn to Emmanuel Perry (@manny_hockey), proprietor of Corsica.Hockey. In terms of relative Corsi, Turris’ quality of linemates has been about 3% higher than his quality of competition. This is consistent with what we gather from the eye test. Whenever possible, Peter Laviolette will throw out Turris against third or fourth lines, in order to create favorable mismatches and jumpstart scoring.It’s a nice, simple formula. The only issue is that it isn’t working.
Goals And Expectations
Turris has been on the ice for 10 goals for and 12 goals against. I’m no mathematician, but I can tell you that’s not a good ratio. The worst part is that Turris’ season is actually in line with its expectation, in some ways. Once again, we’ll lean on Emmanuel Perry for his expected goals model. Using six shot quality metrics, this formula produces an expected value for the number of goals resulting from each player, combination, or team’s on-ice performance. I highly encourage you to read more about it here. This model essentially excludes luck (i.e. poor goaltending), so the values produced are a reliable indicator of how Nashville’s performance is affected by the presence of, in this case, Kyle Turris. With Turris on the ice, over the course of his 23 games, the Predators have 9.66 expected goals for and 11.86 expected goals against. Because of the comprehensive nature of the expected goals approach, it’s safe to say that these numbers will only improve if Turris sustainably changes his play quality
All in All
Primarily due to the value and length of his contract, I’ve been skeptical of Turris since he joined the Predators. However, in the interests of reducing bias, I should mention the things he does well. He’s dynamite on the power play, excels on the rush, and does a good job of getting the puck to the point. While the point isn’t usually an ideal passing destination, when you’ve spent your career with either Erik Karlsson or Nashville’s defensive top four, it’s an understandable strategy. Sure, the Predators don’t produce much offense when Turris is on the ice, but they don’t allow much either. Check out the chart below, created by Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey), to illustrate the rate at which the Predators and rest of the league generate and surrender shot attempts.Unfortunately for us viewers, the Predators would be considered a “dull” team. Nashville seems to be more interested in preventing goals than scoring them. This is strange, considering that they have one of the more gifted offensive groups in the West (if you’ll forgive the tangent, I think the Predators should feel more confident in “opening up” their play and try to generate better shots more often).Relative to his career, Kyle Turris has been underperforming. This is good news because it means we might expect him to improve over the course of the year. Unfortunately, though, his production has been in line with his on-ice quality. The five-on-five points won’t start flowing until he makes real changes to his style of play.My hope is that he takes all the time he needs to recover from his injury so that he can come back and be a positive contributor at five on five.If last year is any indication, Turris will go as far as Fiala and Smith take him. Fiala is truly elite in transitioning from the defensive to the offensive zone with possession, and Smith loves shooting the puck more than Michael Wade loves Ryan Johansen. With Fiala steadily improving his game and Smith remaining consistent, I think the trio could still come to dominate as they did last season. If Turris can return energized and improved, he could be exactly what the Predators need to remain atop the Central Division. Unfortunately, that’s a very big “if” indeed.