Back in late May, following quite a bit of speculation, the Buffalo Sabres signed Victor Antipin to a one-year contract. Sabres fans, for the most part, were excited. Antipin arrived from the KHL team Metallurg Magnitogorsk, who had an impressive playoff run. He also had secured a bronze medal at the World Championships. Back at that time, the hot topic was upgrading the Sabres defense with an emphasis on the defensive players’ offensive output, and GM Jason Botterill seemed to have made the right move.
Fast-forward to today, Antipin has become an interesting case. Many are surprised to see him scratched at the rate he is - playing just 44 games so far this season, albeit missing ten due to illness. Many say he has proven to be a solid player via the eye-test. However, many also complain that he also only has ten points, all of which come from assists.
In order to address this debate, let’s take a deep dive into Antipin’s stats, beyond just brushing him off as useless because he has zero goals.
Up first, a quite broad look of exactly how much playing time he is getting. Here is a visual of the up and down nature of Antipin’s games played (blue) versus games scratched (red). Games missed from injury are in black.
Despite speculation otherwise at the time, Antipin missed ten games due to illness. When bringing that into consideration, his number of games missed becomes a little less dramatic. Antipin has played in about 60% of Sabres games so far, but with the ten games on injured reserve removed, this number rises to 70%.
For the games that he does play, Antipin has averaged about 15:25 of ice time. Here is a look at a three game moving-average of his time on ice throughout the course of the season:
Antipin’s playing time appears to be trending upward lately, after seeing an initial drop and recovery followed by a slight downward trend. His current overall average of 15:25 per game puts him around the 15th percentile of all NHL defensemen, with at least twenty games played. This number ranks him seventh out of the eight Buffalo defensemen, who fall into that category. Here’s a summary broken down in minutes - not minutes:seconds.
Bottom line here is Antipin’s overall playing time is quite a bit lower than many thought it would be going into the season. He has been scratched fairly frequently and when he does play, he is getting low minutes for a defensemen.
The next question is - is this lack of playing time justified? To answer that let’s look that how he’s performed on the two different sides of the puck. Several graphs will follow that compare Antipin’s stats to NHL averages, not including Buffalo, and Buffalo averages, not including Antipin.
All graphs will have the same criteria: defense only - minimum of twenty games played. To make this analysis as accurate as possible, the graphs based on time will be on a per 60 minute basis, as a opposed to a per game basis. This will control for the difference in playing time among defensemen.
Let’s get goals out of the way.
Again, Antipin has zero goals this season. Disappointing? Absolutely.
However, the Sabres scoring has been awful this year. The Sabres scoring from defenders has been even worse. I truly believe this is simply a case of Antipin being unlucky not to have one of his shots find its way to the back of the net. If Antipin had just one goal, he’d be at .088 goals per sixty minutes, putting him not too far away from the Sabres average value.
Annoyed that I used “unlucky” in a statistical analysis? Don’t be. Here’s a chart of opponent save percentages:
That’s the best way I can quantify it. Goalies have been hot while Antipin was on the ice. Whether it be due to luck, quality of Antipin’s on-ice teammates, or something else, the bottom line is that it was something out of Antipin’s control.
Let’s look at assists and points.
All of a sudden Antipin isn’t looking so bad for a guy with zero goals. Production wise, he is closer to the NHL average than he is the rest of the Sabres average.
Let’s look at some more advance stats. Corsi is a proxy for possession. I was curious to see Antipin’s overall corsi for percentage as well as that same percentage conditioned on trailing in a game.
Antipin is above average for the Sabres both in all situations, specifically while trailing. This shows that even if he’s not scoring he is a valuable defender to have on the ice.
One last thing - as far as breakouts and progress down the ice goes, it’s important that defenders have a low number of giveaways. Let’s see how this looks.
Here we see more data that support the eye-test that has lead people to believe Antipin has been under played. His giveaway numbers are not only impressive compared to the Sabres average, but the entire NHL as well.
Let’s see how things look on the defensive side of the puck. Since we just saw giveaways, let’s take a look at takeaways.
While his puck control seems impressive, Antipin doesn’t equal this success in terms of getting the puck back. How about his physicality?
Not much of a physical guy. Going off of that, here’s a look at PIM.
A slight difference here, but nothing significant by any means. Here are blocked shots:
Antipin also lacks in this category.
When Antipin was first signed, Botterill mentioned how he would be used as more of an offensive type player.
The above analysis shows that Antipin has been pretty successful in that aspect. Although not stellar by any means defensively, he has been above average in contributing on the offensive side of the puck.
Despite this, Antipin sees far less than average playing time. For a team that is severely lacking offense, especially from their defenders, it might be time for Antipin to start seeing an increase in playing time, even if for nothing more than an experiment at this point.
Where do you want to see Antipin next year?
This poll is closed
Not in Buffalo
In Buffalo with a similar role to his current one
In Buffalo with an increased role