2009-01-02

The Zorg Element



This is Zorg Stortini, hired gun of the Edmonton Oilers. He's a funny looking fellow whose contribution is often misunderstood and frequently underappreciated.

Zorg bleeds Oiler blue, yet is often badmouthed by fans of his own team. Just the other day, Oilogosphere stalwart Andy Grabia made the following drive-by analysis:

I can't take any team with Zach Stortini on it seriously. Or any organization that considers him a Top 12 forward. I just can't.
A while back, the esteemed Lowetide made the following comments in his early season report card:

30%: Zack Stortini- Well, we knew he wasn't going to have a season like last year but I thought he'd be more than Wilfredo Tejada. I don't think it's his fault, really. Giving Stortini at-bats when he clearly doesn't give you offense is like playing Bob Natal at first base: he can do it, but does it help you? You'd have to write a 4,000 word essay on how being purely physical overwhelms putting up even a dribble of offense with the minutes Zack is getting.
Now it's not like I'm going to write a 4,000 word essay -- right??? -- but at the time I defended Zorg with these words:

I think "incomplete" would be a much fairer mark than 30 frickin percent for a guy who has only received 70 minutes TOI. Hard to deliver
offence from the pressbox or the bench. ... Zack's track record is that the more regularly he plays, the better he plays. Instead, MacT screwed around with the Pisani at centre experiment at the expense of young players including Brodziak, Pouliot, and Stortini.
Zorg's season continued in fits and spurts until he was inserted into the line-up on Dec. 13 against Vancouver, a team he has driven crazy his whole career. Since then he has played 9 games in a row, with a total ice time of 64:30, or slightly over 7 minutes per. All but 7 seconds of that was at even strength.

Zorg is an interesting player to track in that any line he's on is by definition the fourth line. Just as the Hemsky Line is the first regardless of who the other guys on it may be, the same may be said about the Stortini Line at the other end of the roster. Not that there's anything wrong with that; a healthy fourth line is critical to a team's success in my view.

Right now the canary in the coal mine is alive and well. Check out these numbers for those 9 games:

1G + 1A = 2P (1.86 P/60)
+3/-1 = +2
+2.79/-0.93 = +1.86/60
25 SoGF ON / 26 SoGA ON = -1 differential
16 hits
0 giveaways
1 takeaway
2 blocked shots
2-0 = 100% faceoffs

The usual caveat about small number statistics applies, but this looks like a typical 9-game stretch from last year's second half when even his many detractors had to admit Zorg was helping the club. The only large numbers in Zorg's stats apply to the physical side of the game: height, weight, hits, penalties, and fights. These are elements otherwise in very short supply on this team, that Zorg brings in spades.

For example, in those 9 games the Oilers landed a total of 128 hits. Stortini delivered fully 12.5% of those, in roughly 2.5% of the total individual ice time.

Let's look at that aspect of the game over the course of the season to date:

Hits/60 (20+ GP)
----------------
13.3 Stortini
6.8 Smid
6.4 Cole
6.2 Moreau
5.2 Strudwick
3.7 Staios
3.6 Pouliot
3.5 Penner
2.8 Brodziak
2.7 Cogliano
2.5 Nilsson
2.2 Souray
1.9 Grebsehkov
1.6 Gilbert
1.5 Visnovsky
1.2 Horcoff
0.9 Gagner
0.8 Hemsky

... meaning Zorg's hit rate is equal to the NEXT TWO highest regular Oilers. A few of those hits have been beauties, such as those on Shane O'Brien and Todd Fedoruk to name two.

Some of the small-number statistics are impressive by their very smallness. For example, giveaways. Zorg had none during that 9-game stretch; in fact he has had none to date in the entire season. Of the other 20-game Oilers, Strudwick has 7, Pouliot 8, everybody else at least 14. Zorg has Zero.

Then there's this one. A while back BCB made an insightful post in his blog Bringing Back the Glory about "aggressive" vs. "lazy" penalties. Accepting his definitions of what constitues each category (and there are some acknowledged gray areas), the Oilers as a team take about 2 lazy penalties for each aggressive one.


So far this season, Zorg leads the club with 87 PiM as befits his position description. In total he has taken 19 penalties, with the following breakdown: 19 aggressive penalties, 0 lazy penalties.

I would conclude here is a guy who understands what his job is. The vast majority of his penalties are coincidental of course, but the remainder are of the charging and roughing type, establishing a physical presence, standing up for teammates. Not a single obstruction foul for the entire season. It's kind of amazing when you think about it.

Heaven knows the Oilers, like all teams, need a physical presence. Indeed, Oilers have been branded a small, soft team. Zorg Stortini addresses a very major need on this club, and he does so while holding his own on the ice, by contributing a little bit and by giving away absolutely nothing. He can play in my Top 12 any day.

14 comments:

B.C.B. said...

Good write up Bruce.

First of all I think 'Zorg' is almost better then HuggyBear, if only Zorg can keep throwing the punches. And his fighting has improved over the last two years.

Second, I agree with you that Zorg makes the Oil a more physical, hence better team. The hitting stat alone goes a long way to demonstrate this.

Third, I think he is a better option on the fourth line then SMac. He is about equally aggressive: Zorg has 0.659 PIM/60 to Smac's 0.686 PIM/60. Smac must take a penalty each time he is out there to do his job, but Zorg can pick his spots more (hence the little difference in PIM/60) . But Zorg receives more minutes and can put up more hits and be a better pain in the A$$. As Zorgs AG/GP shows: 0.73 AG/GP to SMac's 0.60 AP/GP.

Lastly here is a break down of Zorg's penalties (As of Dec. 11: I'll up date it later in the year)
5 fighting
1 charging
2 misconducts
1 roughing
1 unsportsman like

Doogie2K said...

One could argue that the lack of giveaways is probably a symptom of not having the puck as much as anything else, but then that's not really his job, is it?

Stortini had a rough start to the year, but he's hardly alone in that (Horcoff, Penner, Cole, Gagner, and Pisani all spring to mind). He's done his job of late, which is more than can be said of some others on the team. The problem with the Oilers has nothing to do with #46, unless he starts playing on the penalty "kill" at some point.

Bruce said...

First of all I think 'Zorg' is almost better then HuggyBear

BCB: Did you see the movie? (The Fifth Element) One of my all-time favourites.

Lastly here is a break down of Zorg's penalties (As of Dec. 11: I'll up date it later in the year)

So happens I have reviewed every game since Dec. 13 so can update now:

11 fighting
2 charging
2 misconducts
3 roughing
1 unsportsman like

The unsportsmanlike was offsetting, with Cam Janssen, in the aftermath of the Backes on Visnovsky hit. One of the misconducts also occurred at that time; the other misconduct came when Ian Laperriere hugged Zorg and then publicly mocked him, when both players got 5 and 10. As was the case last year, Zorg has received no instigating penalties, and keeps the post-fight or end-of-game shenanigans to a minimum. I for one really respect that, although obviously there are many who do not.

One could argue that the lack of giveaways is probably a symptom of not having the puck as much as anything else, but then that's not really his job, is it?

Doogie: Yes of course, he should have fewer giveaways due to less ice time and less puck time, but Zero is pretty goddam impressive. It's not like he doesn't ever handle the puck. Many of the big goobers on other teams are in the single digits, but 0 isn't even a digit.

OTOH, Donald Brashear has 18 GV. And all bets are off w.r.t. stupid penalties. Sometimes there's a heavy price to be paid for carrying muscle in the lineup. In Zorg's case, that price is pretty minimal.

The problem with the Oilers has nothing to do with #46, unless he starts playing on the penalty "kill" at some point.

That problem could be exacerbated if he took a bunch of needless penalties. I don't mind the occasional penalty of aggression (and a couple of them have been pretty borderline), but Zero stick fouls on the season and Zero holding or interference calls is pretty extraordinary for any player. If a clumsy skater who prides himself on his defence can do it, I wish there were a few more on the team who would follow his example. "Chopper", are you paying attention?

Doogie2K said...

Many of the big goobers on other teams are in the single digits, but 0 isn't even a digit.

Well, technically, it is a digit, if not necessarily a number, depending on your philosophical point of view, but now I'm getting off topic; point taken. ;)

That problem could be exacerbated if he took a bunch of needless penalties.

Let's try this: "The problem with the Oilers has nothing to do with #46 at this point." Assuming he continues as he is, give or take a bit of regression toward the mean (because everyone takes a hooking penalty eventually, even Kyle Wellwood), it will continue to have nothing to do with him.

Bruce said...

Doogie: Of course. All I'm saying is with the Flusterpuck PK system, Oilers would be in even more trouble if they had a less disciplined player in the 12F role.

Ribs said...

I sometimes wonder if Zorg is looked upon in a lesser light solely because of his fighting abilities. People want a fighter on the team and he's supposed to fit the bill. This city's been blessed with some real bruisers in it's time and maybe people just need to realise that "Huggy Bear" isn't going to be the thug they're used to seeing.

He brings a much needed element in his hits, sticks up for his teammates, and manages to not be a meathead when it comes to penalties. What more do you want from the guy?

I guess for him to one-punch Regehr every Flames game. It's not going to happen, but I'll take a good bear hugging and a nice hit over nothing anyday.

Unleaded said...

Solid work Bruce. I didn't realize how positive his work on the ice had been recently until I saw the numbers.

Good to know his arrow is pointing the right way too.

Coach pb9617 said...

I said it last year and I maintain this POV. Glencross - Brodziak - Stortini were the Oilers version of Draper - Maltby - McCarty in that order.

They all had elements that didn't work independently of each other, yet when you put them together, they mesh well.

Bruce said...

He brings a much needed element in his hits, sticks up for his teammates, and manages to not be a meathead when it comes to penalties.

Ribs: Exactimundo. He also manages to not be a meathead when it comes to playing the game. MacT has had that line out there against the Sedins, the Heatleys, in the last minute of periods, for own zone draws (48 for Zorg on the season compared to just 32 in the offensive end). This trust has been repaid with solid defence, robust forechecking, and finally a smidgen of offence.

I'll take a good bear hugging and a nice hit over nothing anyday.

You bet. Those nice hits can be important. e.g. Saturday night when Niklas Grossman really hammered Penner and then Strudwick on the same shift, and both times Zorg responded by clobbering a Star (Robidas and Neal) within a couple of seconds. His later scrap with Barch wasn't exactly a hugfest, either. Thugfest, more like it.

Bottom line, Zorg and his team responded to the physical challenge of the Stars in a manner that a more skilled player in a smaller line-up would not be capable. You gotta have that physical element in this league, and Zorg's been bringing it. He is clearly a team leader in this respect, and on nights like Saturday when the other big guys like Penner, Cole, Moreau, Strudwick, Smid and Souray all bring their game faces the Oilers simply are not going to be pushed around.

I said it last year and I maintain this POV. Glencross - Brodziak - Stortini were the Oilers version of Draper - Maltby - McCarty in that order.

Coach: Now it's the offensively-challenged Jason Strudwick in the GlenX role, and still the line is delivering positive results. Much as I disliked Strudwick's outcomes on the blueline, I am liking what he brings up front. He seems to be more physical in that role, and brings some defensive smarts in a position where lack of foot speed isn't death.

With Brodziak playing a smart, simple, opportunistic game in the middle and the big boys providing muscle everywhere but between the ears, the modified trio is not a fun line to play against. They are, however, a fun line to watch.

Doogie2K said...

A quick question for you, Bruce.

Do you remember offhand how often they played games in the O6 era? It seems to me with train travel in effect it would be much rarer to have back-to-backs than in the modern, jet-fuelled era. I ask this because I've been thinking about the incidence of goalie injuries (and how goalies used to play damned near every game), and wondering if the frequency of play, as well as the style, has changed at all.

Bruce said...

Doogie: Yeah, they used the train but those cities were close together. The longest journey was Montreal to Chicago. On the longer trips the players generally slept en route.

With 70 games in 24 weeks they averaged 3 games a week in a pretty regular pattern. The whole league usually played on Saturday and Sunday, with typically one mid-week game per team, primarily Wednesdays and Thursdays, with occasional Tuesday games in the States. The league was dark on Mondays and Fridays.

The weekend sets were frequently but not always home-and-away doubleheaders; sometimes the two teams travelled in the same train (although in different cars!). The Canadian teams nearly always played home games on Saturdays (the original Hockey Night in Canada) and in the States on Sundays. Indeed, it was a law in Toronto that Sunday sporting events were verboten, so the Leafs played all their home games on Weds. and Saturdays. (Some things haven't changed a whole lot.)

Here's the schedule for the 1966-67 season.

In general I reckon the modern schedule is tougher in many important respects. 12 more games crammed in to a slightly longer interval, longer playoffs (for teams that go anywhere), and jet lag. Not to mention off-season training and competition in training camp. A three-hour plane flight with check-in and -out time and a bus ride on each end is probably less restful than an overnight train ride. The pace of the game is much higher too, I would reckon especially from a goaltender's perspective.

Doogie2K said...

Thanks for that, Bruce. I see what you're saying about the back-to-backs; it actually looks like there's a similar number of them, but the games are still much more regularly spaced apart, and there's much more opportunity for rest for everyone, not just goalies (though goalies would potentially gain the most: the pads were heavier and the players weren't in the kind of physical condition they are today).

Were the nets always on metal poles prior to the late '80s/early '90s, whenever those dumbass magnets came into play? Seems to me that would make life easier on goalies, in terms of discouraging the sort of high-speed crease-crashing you see today.

Doogie2K said...

Actually, maybe we should carry on this conversation by email. doogie@stillnoname.com will redirect to my Gmail, and then I can also send you what I'm working on when I'm done, to get the goaltender's perspective. (I also have a physiologist I'm consulting with; I want to get this as right as I can without overconvoluting the issue.)

Bruce said...

OK, Doogie, have done. I'm a very retired goalie, so maybe I can give you some of the batshit-crazy perspective, but you may be well advised to consult some of the other goalies on the 'sphere to pursue the art of the state. I follow modern goaltending by watching rather than doing. Presumably you have talked to Ender the Tender already, I think Oilman is a netminder and I'm pretty sure there's a couple others, drawing a blank on names at the moment. Some good stuff over at the Contrarian Goaltender's site "Brodeur is a Fraud" which is on the blogroll under a slightly altered name.

I look forward to your research.