Philadelphia Flyers rookie Robert Hagg has plenty of potential, but his prominent role on the team is not justified by his advanced statistics.
There are a lot of reasons why Andrew MacDonald has become such a popular scapegoat among Philadelphia Flyers. His albatross of a contract certainly doesn’t help things (6 years, $30 million? Really, Paul Holmgren?) but the larger issue has to do with the discrepancy between how the Flyers and the fans view MacDonald.
In the minds of Ron Hextall, Dave Hakstol, and the rest of the Flyers’ front office, AMac is the quintessential reliable veteran. He’s strong with the puck on his stick, makes the right decisions, and provides a steadying presence for the team’s youthful blue line. That’s why MacDonald has received top-line minutes alongside the Flyers’ young star, Ivan Provorov, for the past year.
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According to advanced statistics such as Corsi and Expected Goals, however, MacDonald is not nearly the player the Flyers seem to think he is. AMac has never posted a 5v5 Corsi For Percentage higher than 50%, for example, which is generally considered to be the benchmark which separates the good territorial players from the bad.
Which brings us to Robert Hagg, one of the Flyers’ two rookie defensemen. Hagg has gained the trust of the Flyers’ coaching staff remarkably quickly and, in conjunction with the numerous injuries which have plagued the organization’s defensive depth, ascended to the top of the depth chart. Hagg is currently paired with Provorov, who happens to be the only Flyers skater who has seen more ice time than him.
But is Hagg truly deserving of the playing time he’s been given? As with MacDonald, advanced statistics point towards “no.” Hagg’s Corsi For Percentage sits at 43.98%, lowest among qualifying Flyers defensemen. That means that Hagg is the worst at generating shot attempts while preventing attempts by the opposing team, a metric considered to be predictive of future goal differential.
Hagg’s Expected Goal Differential per 60 of -0.33 is equally disappointing. That means the Flyers would be expected to score 0.33 fewer goals than opposing teams while Hagg is on the ice- also worst among Flyers d-men. And perhaps the most glaring indicator that Hagg is more like MacDonald than we’d like to think: he consistently makes his teammates worse when playing with them. Only three Flyers skaters- the frequent second line of Valtteri Filppula, Jordan Weal, and Wayne Simmonds– have a better 5v5 Corsi For Percentage when playing with Hagg than without him.
The one huge factor in Hagg’s favor that separates him from MacDonald is his age. Hagg is a 22-year-old in his first full season of NHL hockey. He’s far from a finished product, and there’s more than enough time for him to turn things around and grow as a player.
Still, it’s impossible to ignore the parallels- two players who have gained the coach’s stamp of approval without the results to show for it. Hagg will almost certainly improve, but his current stage of development is not accurately reflected by his role on the team.
(Stats via Natural Stat Trick and Corsica Hockey)