Fringe NHL defenseman Brandon Manning battled his way to a regular lineup spot on the Philadelphia Flyers this season, finding success alongside Radko Gudas
The Philadelphia Flyers began the season with an unruly gaggle of defensemen. They had NHL veterans Mark Streit, Nick Schultz, Luke Schenn, Andrew MacDonald and Michael Del Zotto, players fighting to break through like Radko Gudas and Evgeny Medvedev, and looming prospect Shayne Gostisbehere. Brandon Manning made it 9 bodies, and he carried the least gravitas.
Somewhat against the odds, Manning earned his way into a regular roster spot from this crowd. With Michael Del Zotto out injured, Manning was top-6 regular down the stretch and in the playoffs.
This was the first season that Manning was an NHL regular. He played 21 NHL games over 3 previous seasons, but this season he played 56 games. He ended the season with a line of 1 goals, 6 assists, and +2.
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The graph above shows that, measured by possession, Manning was a positive player and in about the middle of the pack for Philadelphia Flyers defensemen. Most of these positive results came when he was paired with Radko Gudas down the stretch. Playing with Gudas, Manning was a 56.8% Corsi player. Prior to that, Manning’s most common partner was Shayne Gostisbehere, at which times Manning performed at a 46.6% Corsi.
This is a pretty impressive achievement for Manning. Those kind of numbers for the Manning-Gudas pair are very good. They are only partially mitigated by three factors. This chart shows how Flyers defensemen were generally utilized this season.
The lower right corner represents the easiest deployment, with down showing the lowest quality of competition, and right showing the greatest ratio of offensive zone faceoffs against defensive zone faceoffs. This shows that Manning had the easiest overall usage of all Flyers defensemen at 5v5.
Second, there are some indicators that while Manning and Gudas piled up numbers on aggregate shot counts, the relative quality of their shots lagged behind their teammates.
Maybe there is some luck factors playing into this, but using “expected” shooting percentage (weighing the league average of shooting percentage from the sample shot locations and situations) yields similar results–Gudas, Manning and Del Zotto have lower expected shooting percentages as well. Certainly that was somewhat apparent to the eye for a guy like Gudas, who flings the puck at net when in doubt resulting in a lot of harmless wrist shots on net (indeed, Gudas’ average 5v5 shot distance of 57.61 feet is the clearly the worst of all Flyers defensemen).
The third mitigating factor is penalty differential.
Manning and Gudas both come out on the wrong side of penalty differential, as the table shows.
Speaking purely subjectively, Manning can do a little bit of everything, but all of them at a marginal NHL level. For me, this pegs him as a #6/7 NHL defenseman.
Manning playing his way into the Philadelphia Flyers lineup was an accomplishment for the player this season. At 25, the time is now for him to cement an NHL future. His Corsi possession stats with Gudas down the stretch say a lot, but must be taken in context. Furthermore, Manning is not a power play asset, and is only an occasional penalty kill player.
Brandon Manning is a restricted free agent this offseason. The Philadelphia Flyers paid him only $625,000 this season, and he should see a raise. It was a nice season for Manning, showing he is a capable NHL defenseman. His NHL future, however, is at the lower ends of a NHL defense corps.
The Flyers will likely try to re-sign Manning, but at only a moderate raise. That would be a nice arrangement for the team and player, I think.