The Rangers Should Not Bet on JT Miller

Two blogs in one month brought to you by: Me needing to kill vacation time at work so I don't lose the hours.

All stats for this blog provided by Corsica.Hockey unless otherwise stated.

Chances are if you got into a discussion about the New York Rangers and JT Miller, you'd hear a lot of praise. On the surface, the 24 year old C/W has 24 points, good for 2nd on the team. He's been utilized across the forward lines at all positions by the coaching staff. He's trusted, and they like him. Maybe they should. But what happens when you dig deeper into those numbers?

For starters, his goal scoring has become a concern. Despite two goals in the last two games (one an empty netter, but at the end of the year, a goal is a goal, and no one is being picky about them in contract negotiations (cc: Michael Grabner's agent)), Miller is still struggling. Of his six goals this year, only 2 have come during 5v5 play (12th on the team), for a 5v5 goals per 60 rate of 0.27 (last among TOI qualified forwards on the team). The reason for JT's goal scoring downfall is no mystery, he's not shooting nearly enough. At an individual shot attempts per 60 of 9.07, the only forwards on the team who attempt less shots than JT are Desharnais, Nieves, Carey, and Fast.

If we dig slightly further into JT's point total (back to all situations), we discover that half of his 18 assists are secondary. The only issue with this is that secondary assists are less repeatable than primary assists. They are given out less often, and are far more subjective on the scoresheet. A point is a point, but a primary point is a bit more important.

Another item to take a look at is how JT's career is pacing thus far:

Miller has been in the NHL full-time for this season and the two prior, so if we take a look at these three years, we can see how Miller is trending in some important metrics:

(5v5 only to ignore noise of differentiating PP time)

(5v5 only to ignore noise of differentiating PP time)

Now. It is important to keep in mind that JT's shooting percentage has plummeted this year, and GMs are extremely susceptible to trading low on players when their Sh% has a dip year (see: Stepan, Derek or Smith, Reilly).

The million-dollar question becomes, what is JT's actual shooting %? Well, we can use Manny Elk's expected goals model to see where JT should be. JT's expected total sits just under 4 goals at the moment. The thing is, even taking into account his low shooting percentage, his expected total is also drastically beneath where it should be, and again, this falls back to the fact that JT Miller is not shooting the puck enough during 5v5 play.

His iCF60 dipped from 15-16 into 16-17, but he kept up his shooting percentage, so the goals still came. This year, thus far, JT's shot attempt numbers have dipped again, and the shooting percentage has not been sustained.

One more point on this is, was JT Miller ever actually a 14 or 13% shooter? Rephrasing: Is JT Miller's shot good enough to be a 14% shooter? Going back once again to Corsica's expected model, In 16-17, Miller outshot his expected rate by nearly 2%, in 15-16, that number was 4.5% Again, the million-dollar question: Do you bet on JT Miller reaching or exceeding his expected total again? How good is his shot?

JTM_prog.png

With this viz, coupled with the data tale above, we can see that in terms of expected goals, JT is essentially the same player this year than he has been in year's prior (slight dip), but, he's not converting. Is this because he's shooting less? It could be. Is it bad luck? It could be. That's the bet. Where do you fall?

There are things that JT Miller does well on the ice, obviously. His versatility is important. Up and down the lineup, and across the line. JT is also a good, if not great, passer, and is adept at carrying the puck into the zone.

But, he's not scoring goals anymore. And, he's never been a true diver of shot attempts. Securing a now barley positive relative shot attempt percentage this year after a -4% last year. JT is also failing at suppressing shot attempts against, operating at a +4.3 after a+6.62 relCA60 last year (the amount of shot attempts per 60 that Miller is on the ice for relative to the team when he is off the ice). 

There was a sneaking suspicion last year that it was Kevin Hayes bringing down JT's shot-attempt based metrics, but Hayes has rejunivated the strong shot suppression game we saw from him in 15-16, operating at -3.04 this year. It should be noted that JT, while allowing shot attempts against, is also still driving shot attempts for, with a +4.22 relCF60 slightly. JT is slightly outpacing his weak suppression with strong generation.

What does this all mean and why is it important? Well, the Rangers are coming up on what is going to be a very important off-season in terms of the direction they want to take the team. Nash's $7.8m AAV is going to come off the books, and Jeff Gorton finds himself with four restricted free-agents to re-sign. JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, and Brady Skjei will all be in need of a new contract. Vesey can't really demand more than $2m AAV, so that's an easy one if the Rangers decide to make it easy. The big decisions will come at the table with Miller, Hayes, and Skjei.

Brady Skjei should be bet on long-term. Kevin Hayes, if he continues his strong play from this season, should also get a long-term deal.

But what do you do with Miller? JT Miller who has 6 goals in 33 games this season, 6 in 45 dating back through last year's playoff run, and 12 in 87 if you dial that back to last year's all-star break. This is a goal-scoring slump that is flying under the radar as JT continues to rack up A1s and A2s.

Do you bet long-term on that banking on JT rekindling whatever it was he had before that had him outshooting his expected totals at the rate which he was? Coupled with the decline in his shooting rate?

I don't think I would.