Ahead of last night’s tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins, for the fourth consecutive game, Evan Rodrigues was listed as a healthy scratch for the Buffalo Sabres . As players like Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson have continued to struggle offensively (Thompson’s goal last night notwithstanding), the decision to continuously leave Rodrigues in the press box is a bizarre one.
Some have theorized that Phil Housley has left him out so not to disturb his team’s winning formula, but that logic doesn’t really follow.
Inserting Rodrigues into the lineup in lieu of any one of the aforementioned under-performing former-Blues wouldn’t require a wholesale shake-up of the forward ranks.
As the team prepared for their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning last week, Phil Housley indicated that since his team would be playing five games in the next nine days, he would be cycling players into the lineup in order to get fresh legs on the ice.
Four games later and the roster has remained exactly the same at forward.
The most obvious move would be to swap Rodrigues with Tage Thompson who continues to show that a stint in the AHL would perhaps suit him well. While Thompson did appear on the scoresheet last night for the first time in five games, the 21-year-old has been largely ineffective (and at times a liability) since the beginning of the season.
Rodrigues’ positional versatility would also allow him to sub in for the first unit power-play juggernaut, Berglund. Through 18 games, the 30-year-old has only managed to produce four points. Sobotka is in the same boat statistically, with only four points on the year. Oh, and did I mention that collectively they’ve combined for six points in their last 15 games?
This isn’t to say that Rodrigues is some sort of offensive maven in comparison, but he certainly brings more to the table. As arguably the fastest skater on the Sabres roster, his skillset would benefit a team that is relatively average as a whole in the speed department.
The situation becomes even more vexing when you look at his advanced statistics.
As it stands, he is currently sixth among Sabres forwards with 1.49 points per-60. His individual Corsi-for per-60 of 13.74 ranks third on the team.
Compounding on the statistical evidence in his favor, the fact that he’s managed to post these numbers with a 22.22 zone-start ratio is actually quite impressive.
By comparison, Berglund (who holds a similar ZSR of 22.54) has the third-lowest individual Corsi-for per-60 among Sabres forwards at 9.69.
So why on Earth is Rodrigues not a roster regular on a team that continues to struggle producing offense outside of the top-six?
It’s been speculated that the organization is trying to avoid sending Thompson to the minors since he was one of the key pieces coming back in the O’Reilly trade, but that seems like a bit of a stretch. Jason Botterill doesn’t seem like the type to let his ego get in the way of icing the best possible roster.
Perhaps Rodrigues is having some difficulty adjusting to life with a newborn baby. Just three weeks ago he missed three games for the birth of his first child. These guys are human, after all.
Do those reasons sound like I’m grasping at straws? Good, because they should.
In reality, there is no statistical evidence that would suggest that a player of his caliber and production should be scratched on a team that isn’t exactly brimming with offensive talent in the bottom-six. Last season, Rodrigues produced at better-than a .5 point-per-game pace and while his six points in 15 games this year haven’t quite matched his 2017-18 rate, it certainly doesn’t warrant him sitting beside the likes of Remi Elie on a regular basis.
Without actually being present in the locker room and at team practice on a daily-basis, it’s impossible to know for sure what the logic is behind Rodrigues’ benching, but based on the information at hand, it simply doesn’t make sense.
We’ll have to wait and see what the lines look like on Wednesday as the team welcomes the Philadelphia Flyers to the KeyBank Center, but it’s high time to inject some speed and creativity into a largely ineffective third line.
If he truly isn’t part of the team’s plans this season and moving forward, then trade him and try to recoup some assets.
That isn’t sarcasm either.
The team is winning games without him, and if they want to roll with the current group, then it’s time to make him available. It’s not the ideal move, but it’s certainly better than having him watch the game in a suit and tie every night.
(Corsi Stats Courtesy of Corsica.Hockey)