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It's The All-Request Hour...

Rich over at American Hockey Fan asked today for an in-depth comparison between past and present Bruins centermen Joe Thornton and Marc Savard, so here we go. This is pretty much an ad-hoc analysis (rushed to the finish so I can get to a meeting), but if you feel something is missing, feel free to chime in...

As of today (11/27/2006), Thornton and Savard each have 27 points, the difference being Big Joe's 7 goals to Savard's 6, and Savard having played 3 less games (which gets Savard into 7th spot over at Hockey Recap for points per minute). Time on the ice per game is nearly identical, (19:16 vs. 19:17), so it's not like one guy is getting more opportunity than the other, and each has 2 power play goals, so it would appear at least that neither is getting a big advantage in that area. One interesting difference is that Savard tends to take more shots than Thornton (68-50), albeit with a lower shooting percentage (8.8 vs. 14.0) This is true even if you look at career stats, where Savard averages about 2.3 shots per game and sports an 11.3% shooting percentage, to Thornton's 2.1 shots per game and 15.1% shooting percentage. Note that Savard is on pace for a personal high in Shots this year (~275), so if his shooting percentage gets back close to his career mark of 11.3%, he could achieve his first 30-goal season. What I really need to work on is a quick way to do Shot Quality analysis on a player-by-player basis, to see where the difference in shooting percentage comes between these two players. I'll save that for another day...

As far as assists go this season, I show 13 of Thornton's 20 assists being "first assists", along with 13 of Savard's 21. Last year, Thornton and Savard ranked among the league leaders in overall assists, but the difference was that over 72% of Thornton's were first-assists, compared to 58% of Savard's. One could make the argument that first-assists are a better indicator of offensive impact than the overall number. It looks like a wash so far on this count.

For forwards, the readiest (although crude) measure of defensive responsibility probably lies in the +/- figures, where Thornton boasts a distinct advantage over Savard careerwise (+51 vs. -54), but this season Savard is actually +4 and Thornton -5. As far as other stats go, Thornton has 17 Takeaways to Savard's 12, but then Thornton has 28 Giveaways to Savard's 12 (although I'm not sure I'd put much stock in the value of Giveaways). In Blocked Shots, Savard has 9 to Thornton's 5.

Big Joe typically takes a few more penalties than Savard, but this year they're within 2 PIM of each other. On faceoffs, performance is nearly identical as well (53.5% vs. 53.3%).

Basically, it would appear that these guys are pretty close in their performance so far this season. Thornton seems to have come back to Earth a bit after a career 125-point season (Earth for him being 25-30 goals and ~100 points), whereas Savard seems poised to build upon his last two seasons of tallying better than a point per game if he can stay healthy.

So Rich, I wouldn't get too upset about some Boston writer comparing the two in a spiteful jab at "Jumbo Joe." I'd say that Savard is marginally outperforming Thornton so far this year, but this level of offensive production is new territory for him, and secondly, it's only November, so we've got a long way to go.