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The Sergei Kostitsyn gambit: an early appraisal

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At the very least, SK74 has provided the gang at <a href="">PredsBlog</a> with some comedic material.
At the very least, SK74 has provided the gang at PredsBlog with some comedic material.

One of the more interesting storylines heading into this season for the Nashville Predators was the acquisition of Sergei Kostitsyn from Montreal, in exchange for the rights of two pending free agents (Dan Ellis & Dustin Boyd) who the Preds weren't going to re-sign. Often at the center of controversy in Montreal, the thinking was that a fresh start in Nashville might get him back on the track towards a regular job as a talented winger at the NHL level.

Sergei Kostitsyn

#74 / Left Wing / Nashville Predators



Mar 20, 1987

2010 - Sergei Kostitsyn 12 2 1 3 -4 2 0 0 0 7

With the Predators heading into the Bell Centre for a matchup with the Habs tonight, this marks a natural point to see where things stand. So follow after the jump as we take a look at how SK74 is working out so far as a Nashville Predator...

The trade was, at the time, met with a wide variety of opinions among Nashville fans. The fact that Kostitsyn had once scored 131 points in an OHL season provided hope that desperately-needed offensive talent had been found on the cheap, while others saw a problem child who seemed to lack the qualities of character which the Nashville Predators proclaim as essential. The team's chief amateur scout, Jeff Kealty, spoke about how a hockey player's character is demonstrated in a 2009 interview leading into the Entry Draft:

It can be identified several different ways. Maybe a player who's been injured and persevered, or a player who has been cut, or not as heralded coming up, but has proven to be hell-bent and determined to prove everyone wrong. It could be a guy who always rises to the occasion when a game is on the line... those are the guys you really want to have, the guys that have won championships. Can they play through adversity? Can they handle it when the pressure gets turned up?

Now ask yourself, is SK74 someone who sounds like he meets those criteria? Remember, this is the guy who refused to report to the AHL and demanded a trade after he missed a team bus and Jacques Martin demoted him. Already this year there was the incident in Anaheim on November 7 where he was scratched, and during the pre-game radio show it was said that it was due to his missing a team meeting. This was quickly re-communicated as an "internal matter", but the scratch was telling considering the fact that he had been producing on the ice at the time (with a goal and assist in the previous two games), while the Preds were incredibly short-staffed at the time due to injuries.

There's a whiff of smoke around that story, plain and simple.

Kostitsyn has played in all three games since then, although his ice time is all over the map. Last Thursday at St. Louis, he got a season-high 16:30, but that was followed with a season-low 6:59 against Chicago on Saturday (he played 8:43 in Toronto Tuesday). Since Martin Erat has returned to the lineup, Sergei has been relegated to 4th-line duty centered by Jerred Smithson.

Some 5-on-5 Behind the Net data from the last two seasons might give us a little insight as to how he's being used, and what his results are:

5v5 TOI/G Pts/60 Relative Corsi Shots/60 PDO Qual Comp Qual Team
2009-10 (47 GP, 7G 11A, +4) 11:45 1.85 (6/14) -2.2 (10/14) 5.64 (12/14) 1033 (1/14) 0.051 (6/14) 0.023 (7/14)
2010-11 (12 GP, 2G, 1A, -4) 9:42 1.55 (10/13) -0.7 (9/13) 3.61 (12/13) 976 (11/13) -0.068 (10/13) -0.288 (12/13)

Most of these stats should be familiar to regular readers here, but the new one I've tossed into this discussion is PDO. In a nutshell, PDO represents the shooting percentage for a team while a given player is on the ice, added to his team's save percentage. The idea here is that individual players have almost no influence on overall team shooting & save percentages, so these values should hang right around the 1000 mark. Anything higher than that is a sign that the bounces went his way over that duration, and low numbers show he just didn't get "the breaks".

Next to each of the stats is SK's ranking among the regular forwards on that respective team. So, for example, his Points/60 rate was 6th-best among the 14 regular Montreal forwards last season. What jumps out to me here is that PDO number, which suggests that his goal-oriented results in 2009-10 (the +4 Plus/Minus, for example, and his scoring totals, which all came at even-strength) were in some part attributable to luck.

Consider - when Kostitsyn was on the ice last year in 5-on-5 play, the Canadiens were outshot 31.3-24.3 per 60 minutes of play, but actually came out ahead on the scoreboard, 23-20. That's because they happened to score on over 10% of their shots - a fluky value that bounces up or down from around the 8% mark. In case you think that's a trifling difference, consider the volume:

47 Games Played * 11.76 Minutes/G * 24.3 Shots For / 60 = 224 shots for by the Canadiens in 5-on-5 while SK74 played. On the shots against side, 288. That lofty PDO value benefited Kostitsyn somewhere in neighborhood of 4-8 goals to the good. Take those away to get a more balanced view of his contributions, and that Plus/Minus slips below water, and that 18 points in 47 games looks more like 15. Whoopee.

And no, I don't believe there's anything magical about his play that suggests he can repeat that level of PDO in the future. The previous season he was in the ballpark (but for the opposite reason, goaltending instead of shooting). This year's number is on the low side, so we can give a small boost to his middling results so far, but there's little to suggest that this is a difference-making player for the Predators.

There are, perhaps, two excuses one might pull out. The first, a broken toe that bothered him at the start of the season and caused him to miss two games. Since his return to action a month ago this hasn't been mentioned by the team at all - hence, no excuse. Secondly we have the issue of how he's being used, and there perhaps we have something.

Outside of the briefest of cameos, Sergei has toiled mostly on the 4th line so far, and is getting barely any special teams work (38 seconds per game of PK, 9 seconds per game of PP). At even strength, probably the one guy he'd have a shot at beating out for a prime spot would be Jordin Tootoo, who is getting work on the second scoring line. Tootoo, however, is off to a pretty fine start (7 points in 15 games). Special teams is perhaps where an argument could be made to get Kostitsyn some more ice time; the current group isn't exactly playing well, and SK74 brings a reputation as a solid penalty killer to the Preds.

Outside of perhaps Tootoo, is there anyone else SK would bump down the depth chart on wing? Not really, and that's your biggest indicator that this relationship isn't going anywhere.

The jury's out, but not for long

So far, then, I can't say there's been very much to be impressed by with Sergei Kostitsyn. Granted, it cost the Preds basically nothing to get him, and they have very little invested in him financially (his $550,000 salary is lowest on the team). There are perhaps reasons to give this experiment a little more time to pan out, but that's about the best you can say.

Picking up Kostitsyn was like finding a scratch-off lottery ticket on the sidewalk. It made every bit of sense to check it out, but after a brief bit of anticipation, we're really not left with much value. The Hockey News' Adam Proteau is guessing he'll be in the KHL next year ("Kostitsyn: 8:43 of ice time & 1 shot. Enjoy the KHL next yr, Sergei'), and I'm inclined to agree.

Then again, maybe he'll suddenly flip the switch and start making an impact on a nightly basis, proving me (and the folks that will boo him tonight in Montreal) wrong, demonstrating the type of competitiveness that Kealty spoke about above.

Which do you think is the more likely option?

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