Welcome back to the ongoing series that tries to figure out just why Markus Naslund's production has been wavering the past two years. Today we're going to look at the issue of linemates and try to assess how important the loss of Bertuzzi was in downgrading Naslund's play. At first glance the effect seems pretty large. The fine folks at The Canucks Genome Project blog have helpfully put together a chart of Naslund's production with and without Bertuzzi which I'm now going to shamelessly rip off. The short version is this: Naslund's ppg with Bertuzzi:0.93 Naslund's ppg without Bertuzzi: 0.52. Of course this doesn't necessarily prove anything. Bertuzzi only played with Naslund when Nazzy was at the peak of his career. Naslund's stats during his peak years are gonna be higher than his stats before that with or without Bertuzzi. Nonetheless, I think there's something to this theory, and that Bertuzzi was a huge part of Naslund's sucess. This old article from The Sporting News explains why as well as anything else:
Naslund is not big and leaves the banging to power forward linemate Todd Bertuzzi. Naslund can win a battle for a puck but is best when playing with a linemate who can go into the corners and feed him the puck. Because he thrives most often in open ice, he is not as successful if his space is limited. Teams can contain him by crowding him.
As we all know, Naslund's greatest skill as a player is his shot. But in order to use this skill he needs some sort of room out there, and that's exactly what Bertuzzi, with his big frame and his ability to battle guys provided. Without someone like him making room Naslund found himself under more pressure from defensemen and less able to get a shot off effectively. Maybe that's why last season Naslund attempted the fewest shots he has since 1998-99(2.7 per game, down from an average of 3.58 per game his previous 4 years), and had his lowest shooting percentage since 1999-2000, scoring on only 10.8% of his shots. Another huge piece of evidence in support of his theory is the fact that Naslund's effectiveness has declined at even strength but remained the same on the powerplay. Room isn't as big an issue on the powerplay, so it's logical that his effectiveness would remain the same there.
So here's where we are so far: Naslund's drop in effectiveness can be blamed in large part on the lack of a big man like Todd Bertuzzi who can go out there and make room for him to get his shot off. More to come, including hopefully a more detailed analysis of Naslund's shots at ES and on the PP to see if this theory holds up.