The Pavel Buchnevich Conversation

I know I’ve been absentee for a while – the rest of life has been kicking my butt a bit lately – but there’s been some fiery debate amongst bloggers and fans recently concerning our favorite Russian winger (not counting young Vitali, who is outside of our jurisdiction for favorites).

Pavel Buchnevich has been a polarizing player for some time now, with his playing time under AV, and his playing ability broadly, being somewhat controversial. Proponents think he’s the real deal, detractors think he’s overrated, but one way or another this needs to be a breakout year for him. If it is, he’s likely to be a top-6 winger around whom we’ll be building the future. If it isn’t we’re in a sticky spot as far as building the next contending Rangers team goes. It’s in this team’s best interest for him to succeed, and with the David Quinn era just getting underway, expectations are high on a lot of levels.

Let’s talk about Quinn first, because there’s a specter hanging over this debate and it’s him. Quinn was tapped to lead this team behind the bench for a couple of reasons, but one of the big ones is his ability to develop young players into complete packages. In particular, Buchnevich’s name popped up in a few ways, some having to do with the AV-related communication issues, some having to do with the aforementioned big-picture projections for this team, some having to do with who’s going to be left after this year’s selloff, and so on.

Quinn scratching Buchnevich, and the rather terse explanation of why – I’m paraphrasing here but it’s somewhere along the lines of “he hasn’t been good enough” – raises a lot of questions about equity, evaluative fairness, and relative performance among the forward group that touches a nerve for a lot of people. Meanwhile, significantly less skilled players like Jesper Fast and Jimmy Vesey are getting top-six minutes. That’s not a slight against Fast/Vesey, who have been playing well. Then there’s the Cody McLeod issue.

Let’s start with Buch himself. He ranks third from last in TOI for forwards, although a slight asterisk on that because he’s played three fewer games than most everyone else (forgive me, but I can’t crunch the TOI/GP for every forward). That’s not so great. His primary points per 60 minutes of hockey played of 1.5 is fourth however among forwards, behind Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, and Brett Howden. Points aren’t everything of course, although at the end of the day you need the biscuit in the basket, so let’s look at the underlyings.

Relative to his teammates in shot attempt for percentage, he’s -5.16 below (fourth from last), but leads in relative goals for percentage at 20.48 percent. As far as scoring chances represented by xGF percentage goes, he is dead last at -10.2%. So he’s having a pretty damn weird season so far, and it’s not entirely unwarranted to say he maybe needs to be better. That’s a huge maybe though.

Because when we look at Fast, who –regardless of what your personal like/dislike of him– really does not belong on one of the top-two lines, we’ve also got a weird season. Fast is last among forwards in primary points per 60 at 0.35 (Lettieri and McLeod don’t even register because we’re looking at primary points at evens, and they have none). When we go to the more fancy stats we find we’re looking at a picture that’s also muddy, but maybe less so and in different ways than Buch. Fast leads the team in relCF% at 9.03, which is excellent, ties Howden for fourth at an 8.06% relGF%, and also leads the team in relxGF% at 10.16%. So here we’ve got more or less what we kind of could tell – he’s more than solid but has absolutely no scoring touch. An argument can be made for “needs to be better” here as well.

For comparison’s sake, let’s also look at McLeod’s and Vesey’s numbers. McLeod has no P1/60, his relative CF% is third lowest at -5.35, his relative GF% is -55.0 (!!!) and his relative xGF% is one spot above Buch at -7.18. Vesey is obviously a better player: his P1/60 (1.07), relCF% (0.11), relGF% (-17.62), and relxGF% (2.83) are all ahead of McLeod. He’s actually made a decent name for himself, in that he’s consistent and unconfusing, but not necessarily a superstar.

As a team, we’re ranging from a 53.76 CF% to a 39.04% (Fast to Spooner), a 60.0% to 16.67 GF% (Chytil to Lettieri), and a 58.81% to a 40.85 xGF% (Lettieri to Buchnevich). Points wise we’ve got 1.79 to a 0.35 P1/60 (Kreider to Fast). That is all over the place, both in terms of numbers and who’s putting them up. This team is weird as hell, and is probably not going to be great, but the number one thing that sticks out to me is that nobody is playing consistently. It’s also early and these number fluctuation a lot.

Going off all of that, it seems weird then that Buch would be the guy who gets scratched twice consecutively, especially given the explicitly mandated need to develop him further. There’s obviously the notion that he’s not being scratched in lieu of Cody McLeod, he’s being scratched in his own right, but the problem with that is when McLeod is the next worst forward on the team and Buchnevich is the one sitting it out, well, he kind of is getting scratched for a bruiser who doesn’t score.

Even if you, for whatever reason, want to cordon off McLeod into a category separate from skill players, let’s talk about Ryan Spooner, who has been visibly bad. Young and old alike can recognize that he simply isn’t a great player despite his occasional flashes of almost-brilliance, and while that’s fine for a rebuilding team, it certainly doesn’t put him out of the debate for who takes a game off.

There’s also the issue of sticking with a winning lineup. Obviously, there’s a certain calculus a coach needs to consider on this kind of thing – do you want to seemingly punish guys who helped push the team to a victory, or do you want to retool the lines and what have you as if it didn’t happen? The thing is, where this team is at, the record doesn’t matter really, and that’s crucial to understanding why or why not Buchnevich is a healthy scratch. So much of player development, which is our number one priority right now, is being able to look beyond a win or a loss.

Sure, when you’re pushing to get into the playoffs at any cost a win’s a win, but that’s not where we’re at. Quinn needs to be able to say to the team “hey, we won, but some guys need a chance back in the lineup, so we’re making adjustments,” and more importantly, he needs to get the room to buy in. So much of his job is managing the strange vibes floating around this team right now, and communicating not only to individual players but the group as a whole.

Then there’s the practice issue. I’m not going to go full debate club and say that any appeal to authority is wrong, because I think that specialized knowledge and the relative veil of ignorance we live behind as fans are two very important caveats to any analysis. But I will say this: effort in practice is such a subjective, fraught concept that it’s maybe not the best way to determine who’s in and who’s out. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to put together all of the ways in which “I like what he did in practice” is problematic, but it needs to be said that effort and commitment are deeply challenging things to deal with from any evaluative standpoint. Let’s not throw it away entirely, but let’s remember that when a coach says things like that, we don’t need to take it without question.

Lastly, there’s a philosophical difference on the matter of tough love vs unconditional playing time. This is an area in which reasonable people can always disagree, but to me, benching a guy for a game or two to get him frustrated and ready to push harder is counterintuitive, especially when that player has avowed issues with trust in coaching. It brings about a self-aware manipulative dynamic to the relationship between player and coach. I think I’ve made my stance clear: let a young guy work his issues out on the ice, build up some confidence, and get angry and motivated on an organic level instead of doing some Machiavellian mood manipulation.

A big part of this is the logjam we’ve got and the impending fire sale that’s yet to happen. That’s a conversation for another day. Buchnevich is a blip on the radar in the larger problem of evaluating who’s who to this team. He’s not the problem, or, if he is, he’s a component part of the problem and not the whole thing. He’s not even like the foot of the Voltron robot.

This conversation maybe doesn’t need to end, because it’s certainly not going to go away until he posts a 60-point season, but we need to consider how worthwhile it is to debate performance and value. There’s going to be a lot of weird things going on this season, a lot of questionable (in that we are literally able to question them, without any broader value judgements attached) coaching decisions, and a lot of up and down performances. Let’s not blow out a fuse on something this small, let’s cool off a bit, and let’s try and be self-evaluative about what things we should and shouldn’t be arguing over.

"The Pavel Buchnevich Conversation", 1 out of 5 based on 9 ratings.

20 thoughts on “The Pavel Buchnevich Conversation

  • Nov 4, 2018 at 11:14 am
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    as you mention a lot of this conundrum has to do with gorton flooding this years roster with “bodies”. they need to make up their minds as an organization – are they going to rebuild/play youth or keep trying to chase 7-8 seed? half measures are usually losing measures. hence I agree with brooks that a firesale should start early.

    I will add that rhetoric from vets about winning development etc doesn’t help. like Kreider saying this isnt a development league or staal lundqvist saying you need to win games.

    get everyone on the same page (players, coaches and mgmt) or get the ones who aren’t, out.

    • Nov 4, 2018 at 11:45 am
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      The Rangers do not have lot of bodies. Hartford does not have a good team. They have six forward with 0.5 points per game or better: Fogarty, Andersson, Holland, Schneider, Gettinger, Butler. It seems preposterous to argue that anyone who is not on this list should be in the NHL – realistically the play the kids group only has Andersson and Gettinger to latch onto. and the argument for the inexperienced Gettinger, 7 pts in 13 games, is pretty weak. And frankly some of the guys on the NHL roster don’t belong here either. Cody McLeod is a warm body on a team that sadly needs warm bodies. And a firesale just means either getting more warm bodies or playing so many overmatched kids that no one learns anything.

      The best way to develop Chityl and Howden (and they are Quinn’s primaray responsibility) is to surround them with something that looks like a team and create an environment where they can make mistakes and others will bail them out – rather than having to bail out kids who are not ready.

  • Nov 4, 2018 at 11:30 am
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    This won’t be a total response as I generally disagree with each sentence. But here goes. So far, Buchnevich is actually the fifth best scorer on a team with four guys scoring. Unsatisfactory. He is eighth in TOI/GP, behind the four scorers, the clearly superior Hayes, the best penalty killer so far Fast, and Vesey. Not really so low on the totem pole.

    “raises a lot of questions about equity, evaluative fairness, and relative performance” We should not care about these things. Not one whit. When the goal is development, you handle every player differently. When you bench Buchnevich, you are telling him he is being unsatisfactory for an NHL player. Whether or not he is better than McLeod, who is not part of the future, is not relevant.

    When every coach that coaches Buch is messing up, maybe, just maybe it is not the coach. Think about it. Anthony DeAngelo has a reputation for attitude and personality. ADA has been somewhat good so far, but has not gotten to play much. Yet we have not heard a peep from him against either AV or Quinn. Instead, it has been the disappointing Buchnevich who gripes.

    coming logjam??? So far, the Rangers look awful thin up front. Except for maybe Andersson, no one in Hartford is NHL ready and there aren’t that many with bright futures. Meanwhile, McLeod and Lettieri at the least don’t belong in NY, and others like Spooner are quite marginal. If the Rangers deal Hayes and Zuccarello, they may be many years from having a satisfactory forward group.

    Oh — and stop referring to primary points. Secondary points tell you who is a complete player.

    • Nov 4, 2018 at 11:51 am
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      Can I ask a genuine question? How does factoring in secondary assists paint a better picture than isolating goals and first helpers?

      • Nov 4, 2018 at 12:13 pm
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        Hockey is a very complicated game. When a goal is scored by either side, all five guys play a role — and yet, the guys we notice are the guys who put the puck in the net or contribute the primary helper. So throwing out secondary assists makes the data conform to what is already our bias. Plus, it reduces the data set, which is always a bad thing. It is funny that people want to count shots to get more data – and then toss out secondary assists.

        The truth is that goals are complicated. Sometimes a goal is the result of a screen and the screener, who was totally responsible, gets no credit. [here the shooter hardly mattered.] Sometimes it is a breakaway and the breakout pass was the critical step. On a PP, often the goal is the result of great passing and everyone deserves an equal share. Also note that typically one forward has more defensive responsibility than the other two – and that player is more likely to get the secondary assist. And yes, sometimes, someone does nothing and gets credit.

        But, when there is an argument about whether a guy is playing a whole game – or just scoring – it seems to me that secondary assists provide an answer. Also, my own feelings are that you win by signing players who are worth more than you pay them and not less than you pay them. So I like undervalued stats.

    • Nov 4, 2018 at 2:00 pm
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      “Secondary points tell you who is a complete player”—Ray, this statement is insane, even by your high standards for madness. Secondary points are where NHL vultures make their living—guys like Rob Brown, Kevin Stevens, and John Cullen back in the Lemieux Pens days; Mikael Renberg riding Lindros’ and LeClair’s coattails in Philly; or more recently guys like Alex Burrows in Vancouver, Patrick Maroon in Edmonton, or Michael Ferland in Calgary to name a few. when players like these are taken away from real play-drivers like the Sedins or McDavid their production plummets, proving their secondary points are mostly the result of their teammates’ skill.

      Along with your recent argument about the highest point totals in a given season for a player’s career not actually being defined as a player’s career season, you’ve got me wondering what your next theoretical surprise is. I’d like to hear something along the lines of why hockey stats compiled by Henrik Lundqvist don’t actually exist.

      • Nov 4, 2018 at 5:10 pm
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        When Maroon and McDavid were separated, Maroon’s points dried up — oh, and McDavid missed the playoffs.

        Of course, I would rather have McDavid, the Sedins, Crosby, Laine, McKinnon ahead of almost anyone else. But when you are talking about players who don’t dominate the game, when you are comparing for example Fast and Buchnevich, I don’t give a crap whether the points are primary assists or secondary assists. I don’t even care so much about the number of goals, although do rate a little higher value. In case you didn’t notice, no one on the Rangers is accumulating a ton of secondary assists on McDavid goals.

    • Nov 4, 2018 at 2:45 pm
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      So another words, a pass from the D zone just handing off a puck to a forward, is more important than that forward passing to a teammate that leads directly to a goal?

      Raymond, Raymond, Raymond.

      I think you’ve taken more hits than Eli has.

      • Nov 4, 2018 at 5:23 pm
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        Here’s reality. Everyone who scores a goal gets a point – instant reward. Now consider Zuccarello. He makes this great pass to a forward for a goal. Does he get a primary assist? Only half the time actually, because the other half of the time, the goal scorer screws up the shot. He earns maybe two primary assists for every one he gets credited with. Now consider Pionk carrying the puck up ice, which everyone here loves. He creates an opportunity. He deserves an accolade. He has done the work for a secondary assist, but only one time in ten does a goal result. He earns ten secondary assists for every one he gets. Yes, his role in that particular goal was less than that of the other two guys – BUT there were nine other times when he did the same thing and got no credit at all.

        It balances out – people assigned assists do less to get them on a particular goal, but just as much overall. So much of their contribution is wasted. But unless all those potential secondary assists happen, there will be far fewer goals.

        And regarding a point made by MC above, players got secondary assists on McDavid goals comparatively easily. However, they also get primary assists and even goals comparatively easily when McDavid is on the ice.

        • Nov 4, 2018 at 6:17 pm
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          I would say, my guess, that 33% of the time the secondary assist is meaningless to the resulting goal.

        • Nov 4, 2018 at 6:35 pm
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          Nine of every ten assists by Pionk are secondary? Give me a break, you’re making this up, Ray. That’s a patently false statement.

          And regarding your false equivalency between Pat Maroon, Connor McDavid, and Edmonton finishing out of the playoffs:

          McDavid 2016-17 30 G, 70 A—100 points (with Maroon)
          McDavid 2017-18 41 G, 67 A—108 points
          (without Maroon)

          McDavid’s production increased without Maroon on the Oilers. In a year where injuries hit the Oilers hard and McDavid had a number of different line mates rather than a set combo, his production increased. Great players who get primary points are the complete players.

  • Nov 4, 2018 at 11:51 am
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    There’s nothing wrong with Quinn trying to bring out the most in Buchnevich.

    Yes, he’s been producing ok, but there’s so much skill in him…. they’re trying to take him to the next level. Be a legit top 6 forward.

    So you push him. You put the pressure on him. You sit him and say in spite of being good you need to do better. And we’ll watch him tonight, but I’ll bet anything Buch brings his A game tonight.

    And if/when he does, it’ll feel really good for him. And what will the coach say? That he needs to bring it EVERY night!

    He set the example with Shattenkirk. Said no one is above being benched because of poor play…. Then benched Buchnevich. Don’t be surprised to see more players sit, or even sent down.

    • Nov 4, 2018 at 12:32 pm
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      But it’s been proven over the last three years that sitting Buch doesn’t produce a positive result. Why continue doing the same thing and expecting him to get it all of a sudden. Quinn is putting himself and his public perception ahead of Buch’s (and ultimately the organization’s) development.

      The coach is paid handsomely to find what makes each player better not to apply his unbending rules to the team in a blanket fashion.

      Stick Buch on the top line for 10 games and see what happens. AV used to catch grief from everyone for sitting kids at the first mistake, now Quinn is doing the same thing but he is being lauded for it. We aren’t trying to audition for the best drill sergeant, we are trying to develop skilled hockey players into NHL caliber weapons.

      • Nov 4, 2018 at 5:42 pm
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        That was a different coach. Buch is no longer a kid – Quinn is pushing him for sure and thats good. Agree with R S above – he will be noticeable tonight.

      • Nov 5, 2018 at 12:19 pm
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        I agree with you, but I do take issue with the comparison between Quinn and AV — AV benched/scratched Buch for mistakes … Quinn is doing the same but for different reasons — it’s about the perceived effort from Buch.

    • Nov 4, 2018 at 5:38 pm
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      100%

  • Nov 4, 2018 at 12:23 pm
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    The Fast Howden Vesey line has been soild since Quinn put them together. They are sound defensively and have scored some timely goals. They work hard and make a difference everytime they step on the ice. They earn their playing time.

    Buch needs to do the same.

  • Nov 4, 2018 at 12:48 pm
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    It is Simple – For Buch to be successful he has to play hard and assertive and put shots on goal.

    if he gives the effort and shoots the puck, he WILL be successful because the talent is there. I hope he makes it to the Kravtsov era…

  • Nov 4, 2018 at 1:00 pm
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    I’m loving these lines that are suppose to be projected tonight.

  • Nov 4, 2018 at 3:32 pm
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    Did anyone reading your article understand what you were saying? DQ is making rookie mistakes and hurting the team. While everyone can’t understand what he is doing and for what reason. The number don’t say why he is sitting and players of lesser qualities are playing and producing nothing. Yes I think the coach is on drugs and I think he should stop it. DQ maybe you are in the wrong business. Dairy Queen may be more acceptable to you if you keep this up.

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