Many Jet Fans Undervalue One of the League’s Best Forwards

I said it and I mean it. 100%.

Mathieu Perreault is honestly one of the best forwards in the NHL. The analytical darling improves the team by a great deal and is literally on one of the best value, non-entry-level, contracts in the entire league…

…but for some reason, a lot of Winnipeg fans do not seem to know.

The Always Underrated

Perreault understands what being it’s like being underrated and under appreciated; it’s been the story of his entire life.

Perreault started his major junior career as a third-line rookie in the QMJHL. He eventually pushed his way up the line, putting up 52 points in 62 games. By the time playoffs hit, he was on the top line leading the team in scoring with 21 post-season points in 17 games. Despite his performance, Perreault fell all the way to the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft that year. He nearly matched his previous season’s point totals in goals alone, and went on to place third and first in QMJHL scoring the two years following his draft.

Perreault transitioned into pro-level hockey quite cleanly, putting up 50 points in 77 games as a rookie. The 5’10 forward found himself bouncing between leagues the next two years, despite posting fairly impressive numbers while in the NHL.

The Washington Capitals traded Perreault away to the Anaheim Ducks for John Mitchell and a fourth-round pick. John Mitchell never played the NHL and the Capitals traded that fourth round back for 18 games and 3 points of Dustin Penner. Over his 159 NHL games prior to that trade, Perreault posted a 54.3 adjusted-Corsi percentage (42nd), a +4.4 relative Corsi percentage (34th), and 2.13 5v5 points per hour (49th) over that time frame. The numbers in parenthesis represent Perreault’s ranking out of the 352 forwards over that same time frame with at least 1500 minutes played.

In Perreault’s only season as a Duck, he put up the team’s third highest 5v5 point pace with 2.54 points per hour, a 51.0 adjusted-Corsi percentage, and a +0.97 relative Corsi percentage. That was not good enough apparently, and the Ducks let Perreault walk to free agency.

Since being picked up by the Jets, Perreault has posted a 55.8 adjusted-Corsi percentage, a +5.96 relative Corsi percentage, and a 1.78 5v5 point per hour pace. That places Perreault as the top Jet in shot differentials and sixth highest 5v5 point pace for all regulars over that time frame.

Since his entry into the NHL, Perreault has posted a 2.02 5v5 point per hour pace (60th), 54.5 adjusted-Corsi percentage (26th), and +4.56 relative Corsi percentage (16th). Again, numbers in parenthesis represent Perreault’s ranking out of the 459 forwards over that same time frame with at least 2000 minutes played.

In other words, there are very, very few players who score as well as Perreault did relative to ice time, or out shoot the opposition, or do relatively better in shot differentials with the player on the ice versus on the bench.

One of The Best This Season

While 5v5 point production and shot differentials are large indicators of a player providing value, they fall short in providing how much value a player truly carries. These numbers carry no context to their relative importance or account for the environment the player provides the results with. There are also other areas a player drives value, like penalty differentials, face-offs, and power play.

This is where WAR comes, which I’ve written on before. WAR (Wins Above Replacement) simply combines multiple statistics into one currency, allowing one to estimate the overall on-ice impact a skater has over the season for their team. It does this while adjusting for the environment a player has posted those results (linemates, line matching, zone starts, coaching impact, schedule, and score).

WAR suggest that Mathieu Perreault is a very, very, very good player. WAR ranks Perreault as the 29th best overall impact player in the NHL (tied with Mark Scheifele in fewer games played). Now, WAR combines multiple statistics, and with each statistic comes uncertainty. For this reason, we cannot say that Perreault is the 29th best player in the NHL with a lot of confidence, but we can say with a great deal of certainty that he provides value of a player around the 29th best in the NHL range, plus or minus a couple of rankings.

For these reasons, I typically suggest that WAR is the start of an investigation to a players, not the ending place.

When we break it apart, we find that Perreault fairs pretty well offensively. He ranks 45th overall with his offense being about 5.2 goals above replacement (we’ll get more into why that is with his 97th highest points per game pace). Defensively he does well, with 2.8 goals above replacement placing him 40th overall. Then there are all the small incremental areas to the game: 1.5 goals above replacement placing him 76th overall in power play offense, 1.0 goal above replacement placing him 45th overall in drawing penalties, 0.3 goals above replacement for 267th place in being called on penalties, and 111th with 0.2 goals above replacement in face-offs.

While Perreault does not dominate in any one area, he is consistently providing value, and everything adds up. This is why he ranks overall higher than he does in any one particular area… and he does this at a cheap cost.

At only $3 Million salary this season, Perreault is one of the best values in terms of wins per dollar, excluding entry level contract players. He is getting paid like Michael Raffl, Joe Colborne, Jannik Hanse, Jamie McGinn, Derek Dorsett, Brian Boyle. And for those with concerns over the next few years, Perreault will only get a raise of $1.125 million average annually to one of the lowest salary cap teams in the league.

His raise will only increase his cap hit by under 2% of the the total cap ceiling, placing him comparable to players like Mikkel Boedker, Darren Helm, Nikolai Kulemin, Matt Beleskey, and Brandon Sutter.

Perreault is the perfect player for Winnipeg, a veteran who provides great value with minimal cost impact, a bargain deal player. He’s the type of player that helps a budget team win. Yes, I said budget team. While the Jets have stated they are willing to spend if need be, the team has yet to sit outside of the bottom half of the league in salary. Until the team pays unlike a budget team, they are one, even if it is only temporarily.

Why So Undervalued

There are a few reasons why I believe this to be.

The biggest reason is likely due to height bias. Height matters; it helps a player in many different situations allowing them to do good things. However, height is not an intangible. The only reasons why height matters is due to it helping out a player provide better results. Height is part of a much larger package that makes a player as good or bad as they are. It is merely an input that combines with others to produce a player’s statistics.

If you are comparing two players that provide the same value, but one is taller than the other, you should not have any preference. The reason why the taller player is just as good as the shorter one is in part due to their size difference. The smaller player is equally good because they provide value elsewhere that the larger player does not. The larger player is equally good despite being weaker in other ares because their height presents an advantage there that the other player does not have. If you give a preference to the taller player, you are actually accounting for the height twice and overvaluing size two-fold. (Personally, this is where I would view intangibles like leadership, cognitive fatigue, resilience, etc. should come into play to break a tie.)

I think a giant factor is that a lot of Perreault’s value comes in the multitude of small, unnoticeable things that add up over a game. Earlier we noted that Perreault provided 45th highest even strength offensive impact, despite only scoring at a much lower pace regardless if you use point totals or points per game. This is because there are two ways a player improves a team offensively: 1) directly through their own point production, scoring chances, and shots and 2) indirectly through doing the little things that tilt the ice causing their linemates to generate more offense than they would have without you.

Perreault excels in the latter.

Here is one such example at even strength:

Patrik Laine has played with three players as his primary winger on the other side: Perreault, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Blake Wheeler. Laine has produced far more goals, shots on net, and shots with Perreault on the opposite side than the other two.

This is only one example, but it is the norm. On average since his move to Winnipeg, Perreault’s linemates produce 3.94 shots on net per hour more with Perreault on the ice than they do without him. Despite Perreault dealing with low shooting percentages last year, these same linemates score 0.22 goals more per hour with Perreault than without.

Defensive impact is even more difficult to comprehend. It is very easy to see the obvious defensive things a player does, like good positioning in the defensive zone and not being yelled at for losing their check. However, defense is also the absence of ever having to experience those moments by tilting the ice and decreasing the opposition’s opportunities.

The difficulty in being able to visually notice and evaluate indirect impact is a large reason why good Corsi players and shot drivers, like Perreault, tend to be the best value in wins per dollar.

The final major reason I think fans and hockey professionals undervalue Perreault is due to his injury history. Perreault has yet to play over 71 professional, regular-season games since after his NHL rookie season. He did, however, play a total of 80 games the year prior to signing with the Jets.

People overly penalize players for the number of games they tend to miss. I’ve seen it far too often brought up with Perreault when discussing the expansion draft and protecting him versus a bottom-six player.

This brings up another strength in WAR. WAR accounts for games missed, since it’s the aggregate impact a player has on the team’s goal differential and, therefore, win column.

Unlike other aggregate statistic, like point totals, WAR also accounts for the fact that a player will need to fill in for the missed games. All values within WAR are relative to a replacement level player. On average, you should expect a +0 WAR level for a replacement player, by definition. If any team provides a more or less valuable replacement player, that’s on the hockey ops and not the injured or suspended player.

So if a player is worth 6 wins and plays 60 games and another is worth 6 wins and plays 82 games, then that accounts for that difference.

6 wins /60 games + 0 wins /22 games
6 wins /82 games + 0 wins /0 games

The first player is likely more skilled, as they are providing more value relative to their ice time. Both players provide equal value to the team. The second player makes up for their lesser skill and impact on the ice through their durability in playing the whole season and continuing to provide value. Just like the height factor mentioned earlier, you cannot provide a preference on either due to durability (unless you expect the durability of one or the other to change), otherwise you will be double counting that player’s contribution.

So when we say that Perreault ranks 29th in WAR, we mean that after accounting for the fact that Perreault has missed games.

All numbers provided by Corsica.hockey unless otherwise stated.