By The Numbers: The failed Alexander Burmistrov return

Fine… The title may be a bit harsh and premature. It is still pretty early and there is a good chunk of the season still to go. Things could potentially change, but at the moment the sun is not shining on young Alexander Burmistrov and I didn’t want to go with the overused “The Curious Case of…” title you see throughout sports writing.

The truth is Burmistrov has come back to the Winnipeg Jets and it has not been pretty.

Now I know what some people are going to be thinking right off the top… “Finally Garret sees what we all saw back before Burmistrov left to the KHL.” In fact, I guarantee that a large grouping who only read the title, maybe from me tweeting out the article, think just that at the very moment of this publishing.

Except they are wrong.

This premise requires that Burmistrov prior to his KHL experience was the same player as he is now, that it is my opinion changing and not the player. While he is the same person, his impact on the game has very much changed.

Burmi

The internet contained quite a few individuals that misunderstood 2011-13 Burmistrov’s impact on the Jets. I tried to correct for this, which led to many falsely viewing me as a Burmistrov super-fan, searching for any shred of evidence that would paint him in a positive light.

I did like Burmistrov, but because he helped the team I liked win games. He was a great example of hockey analytics, my new hobby, ability in showing where players improved their team outside of scoring points.

Burmistrov’s linemates consistently did better with him in controlling shots with him than without. The Russian’s linemates for 2011-13 seasons controlled 49.8 percent of all shots (goals, saves, misses, and blocks) without Burmistrov on the ice, but controlled 52.6 with him. The difference between the two was the third largest for the Jets over the same time.

Another silly misconception came out from this information. Since Burmistrov was a weak point-scorer and shooter, many thought that meant Corsi overvalued his impact on goal differentials. While shot quality does have an impact and we know a lot more about that than we did back then, Burmistrov had a similar impact on his linemates for goals as shots. His linemates’ share of goals increased 3.4 percentage points, an increase even larger than his impact on shots.

This should not be surprising, as even strength goal differentials regress towards shot differentials in the long run.

But that was then, and this is now.

BurmiRolling

While Burmistrov carried a +2.9 relTM Corsi% and +3.4 relTM Goal% over 2011-13, his numbers since his return are not nearly as pretty, with a -3.0 relTM Corsi% and -11.0 relTM Goal%. It is unlikely that Burmistrov’s terrible goal rating will persist at that same level, but his impact on shots suggests any improvement will still see him in the red.

Other than a short stint playing between Mathieu Perreault and Marko Dano, Burmistrov has been a shadow of his former self.

Has this progression been expected?

We do not have shot metrics for levels outside of the NHL, so the only thing we can use is scoring pace, and use NHL Equivalent scoring to reduce the differences in quality and goal rates between leagues.

BurmiGrowth

Tracking Burmistrov’s NHLE career it looks like their is a slight trend upwards like one would expect with growth and development.

Burmistrov’s first dip makes sense with being a NHL rookie. His second dip occurred during a well publicized year of disagreement between the player and his coach.

The then 22-year-old left North America for Russia, scoring at a respectable pace for such a young player while playing top-line centre for arguably the best team in their conference. Things were looking up and Burmistrov was showing that he could develop into an impact middle-six centre.

Then came the collapse, which in part led to Burmistrov’s return to the NHL.

The cause of the collapse, though, is the tougher question to answer. How did a young player change so much in such a short span of time?

It is interesting that a large chunk of the public perception surrounding Burmistrov has gone unchanged. The complaints have always been the same: selfish, won’t shoot, holds on the puck too long. I have difficulty taking seriously someone’s eye-test on a player that goes unchanging despite such a huge contrast in results and impact.

I took an informal survey of people I trusted to help investigate, with people ranging from Jet fans, to NHL scouts, and hockey analytics consultants. I asked what was different with Burmistrov to cause such a shift in results. 

There were many possibilities brought up; here is a short sample (with editing for grammar):

  • When a player like Burmistrov suddenly becomes uncharacteristically bad, my first instinct is an unreported injury or illness.
  • His zone exits and entries are worse is my guess. He can’t get/keep the puck deep. He use to leave options for himself at least, he’s not anymore. He paints himself into a corner all the time.
  • He’s a weird player; honestly I don’t know.
  • He had tendencies that bothered me and that were probably reinforced in the KHL.
  • Some players just peak earlier than expected. Whether that be due to health, injuries, lifestyle, or effort.
  • He used to play mostly with Evander Kane, Kyle Wellwood, Nik Antropov, and Blake Wheeler. Now he plays mostly with Drew Stafford, Adam Lowry, and Chris Thorburn.
  • Could it be that Claude Noel got the best out of Burmistrov due to his system playing the centres so deep, nearly always behind the goal line?
  • He might just be one of those players that needs a very particular environment to succeed.

Any mix of these are possible, and a good number of them are even probable.

The change in common linemates is an interesting point. While Burmistrov posted highly negative relTM ratings in both Corsi and Goals, his most common linemates sometimes performed worse. Stafford is the only Jet with a more negative relTM Goal% and both Lowry and Thorburn have carried a more negative relTM Corsi%.

Whatever the case may be, whether one single issue or a run of negative influences, unless there is a dramatic and consistent shift to the better, Burmistrov is unlikely to be a Jet for the 2017-2018 season. Especially with players like Nic Petan, Marko Dano, and Jack Roslovic looking to push for fulltime NHL gigs.

Numbers courtesy of Corsica.hockey and stats.hockeyanalysis unless otherwise stated.


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  • jetsfanmike

    Based on the fact that Scheifele and Little are entrenched at centre and the Jets appear to love Lowry (and I have to admit, I’m liking Lowry much more now that his line with Armia and Mattias have started to dominate play), that leaves probably a 4th line centre role for Burmistrov as his best case scenario with the Jets.

    With Copp, Petan and Roslovic behind him on the centre depth chart but pushing hard for an NHL spot, I’m guessing Chevy’s probably just wanting Burmi to show enough to enhance (create some?) trade value.

    Obviously, Stafford and Thorburn aren’t in the Jets long term plans at this point, so IMO Chevy needs to trade them both away ASAP.

    Once Little returns to the line up, this would allow

    Perreault / Burmistrov / Dano to be a corsi dominant line combination which could finally create some Burmistrov trade value (assuming they don’t perform so well as a trio that, like the new Lowry line, they become a fixture in the Jets’ line up).

    Connor / Scheifele / Wheeler

    Laine / Little / Ehlers

    or some other variation of these six would round out four lines that should provide enough goal scoring and puck possession for success.

    IMO, this is the only way Burmi’s NHL career is salvaged while he’s in Winnipeg, even if it just means that it creates enough trade value that he’s moved to another NHL team rather than just going back to the KHL after this season.