Tyler Motte won a lot of fans last season thanks to his blue-collar, lunch-bucket style of play. He worked hard right from the first game of the preseason, making an impact when the rest of the team struggled. That included Sam Gagner, who was waived to make room for Motte on the roster.
That hard work kept on throughout the season, where Motte played in a thankless role and neither complained nor took a shift off. That earned him a new contract in free agency, as Jim Benning and the Canucks re-signed him to a one-year deal worth $975,000.
Motte’s new contract doesn’t guarantee him a spot on the roster to start next season, however. The departure of Markus Granlund, buyout of Ryan Spooner, and long recuperation timeline for Antoine Roussel creates more space in the Canucks’ bottom six, but it’s still relatively crowded. A lot will hinge on what the Canucks decide to do with Loui Eriksson.
Where does Motte fit on the Canucks roster next season and what should they and their fans expect from him? As Raven once said, "Without the past, there is no future," so let’s look at Motte’s past season to see what we should expect.
Motte played the bulk of the season on the third or fourth line, with Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson as his most frequent linemates. He also spent at least 100 minutes at 5-on-5 with Tim Schaller, Markus Granlund, Antoine Roussel, and Bo Horvat.
Let’s look at some of Motte’s numbers. Here’s a big chart of Motte’s 2018-19 statistics and where Motte ranks among the 16 Canucks forwards that played at least 200 5-on-5 minutes last season. Or, for the penalty killing statistics, among the 7 Canucks forwards that played at least 40 minutes on the penalty kill. See the bottom of the article for a glossary if you’re unfamiliar with any of the statistics.
Motte was tied with Antoine Roussel, Sven Baertschi, and Tanner Pearson for eighth on the Canucks in goals last season, though it should be noted that Roussel, Baertschi and Pearson played fewer games than Motte — far fewer in the case of Baertschi and Pearson, who played 26 and 19 games for the Canucks, respectively.
Two of Motte’s goals were into an empty net, but they count just the same. He scored a particularly pretty goal against the New York Rangers in March, part of his lone multi-goal game of the season, as he tallied another goal 11 seconds later.
Getting nine goals from the fourth line is a nice bonus, though the Canucks shouldn’t expect more than that out of Motte next year. Empty net goals are unpredictable, dependent on usage and opportunity, and Motte doesn’t have the offensive upside to play further up the lineup. Given his career shooting percentage and shot rate, 10 goals is probably the upper limit for Motte.
Motte’s underlying statistics at 5-on-5 aren’t pretty. While he’s not last on the Canucks in any of the shot metrics, he’s not far from the bottom. When he was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Canucks didn’t create much offence, and gave up a ton to the opposition.
Only Brandon Sutter was on the ice for a lower rate of Canucks goals, so that’s not great. To be fair, that’s not really the role either Sutter or Motte play. The trouble is that neither have done a great job preventing goals either.
To be fair to Motte (and Sutter), he was used in an overwhelmingly defensive role last season. Of his shifts that started with a defensive zone or offensive zone faceoff, just under 37% started in the offensive zone.
That’s not as extreme as, say, Brendan Gaunce’s usage last season, when Gaunce had the lowest OZS% in the NHL at 17.86%. It’s not even the most extreme usage on the Canucks this season, as Jay Beagle started just 19.13% of those types of shifts in the offensive zone. But it was still among the most defensive usages in the NHL last season.
It’s not just about usage, however; it’s what you do with that usage, and most NHL forwards that had a similarly extreme usage as Motte performed better in that role. The only player with a more extreme zone start percentage that had a worse expected goal percentage than Motte was Vladimir Sobotka.
The only two players with a more extreme usage than Motte that allowed a higher rate of goals against were Brandon Dubinsky and Travis Zajac. In other words, Motte was used in a defensive role, but was not particularly strong defensively.
We can see that reflected in his heatmap from Hockey Viz, which adjusts for contextual factors like Motte’s zone starts, linemates, and competition. Motte is only slightly below average in his offensive impact once you adjust for his usage, but he gives up a lot defensively, with a scary deep red right around the net, indicating that Motte was on the ice for a lot of dangerous scoring chances.
Motte did play on the penalty kill, but it’s an open question how effective he was in that role. Most of his metrics are well-below average league-wide, apart from actual goals against, which is what actually shows up on the scoreboard. He was helped by an above-average performance by Jacob Markstrom.
That said, I’m inclined to cut Motte some slack when it comes to the penalty kill. It’s automatically going to be a smaller sample size and the impact of teammates is significant.
Motte was significantly better when paired with Loui Eriksson on the penalty kill, for instance. That duo wasn’t on the ice for a single goal against while shorthanded. He struggled when paired with Antoine Roussel, however: 7 of the 10 goals given up by the Canucks while Motte was on the penalty kill came with Roussel, and that was in about 19 minutes of ice time.
Overall, the picture of Motte’s 2018-19 season is, appropriately, mottled. It’s a real mixed bag: by the eye test, he worked hard, skated fast, and provided some much-needed energy when he was on the ice. He also popped in some goals while playing difficult minutes.
By the numbers, however, that hard work and energy didn’t always lead to the best results. Even considering his usage, Motte gave up a lot defensively. On a shutdown line, Motte just didn’t do much shutting down.
There are reasons for optimism when it comes to Motte. Last season was his first full season in the NHL, so there were some growing pains. He just turned 24, so could see some further progression to his game. He’s also cheap: $975,000 is obviously more than league minimum, but it’s an appropriate price for a fourth-line winger.
Motte shows that there is always room on an NHL roster for a player that puts their head down and works hard every shift. What’s key for Motte is that he never lets his foot off the gas: there are plenty of other wingers waiting to take his spot. That should keep him motivated and continually working on his game.
- TOI/GP - Time on ice per game played.
- CF/60 - Corsi for per 60 minutes of ice time. Corsi is shot attempts when a player is on the ice, so Corsi For is the number of shot attempts by a player’s team when he is on the ice.
- CA/60 - Corsi against per 60 minutes of ice time. Shot attempts by the opposing team when a player is on the ice.
- CF% - Corsi for percentage. The percentage of shot attempts taken by a player’s team when he is on the ice. 50% indicates an even split, so a number above 50% is better.
- xGF/60 - Expected goals for per 60 minutes of ice time. Expected goals is a measure of how many goals you would expect to be scored given data like shot location and shot type.
- xGA/60 - Expected goals against per 60 minutes of ice time.
- xGF% - Expected goals for percentage. The percentage of expected goals for a player’s team when he is on the ice.
- GF/60 - Goals for per 60 minutes of ice time. Actual goals scored. You know, goals.
- GA/60 - Goals against per 60 minutes of ice time.
- GF% - Goals for percentage.
- OZS/60 - Offensive zone starts per 60 minutes of ice time. The number of shifts for a player that start with a faceoff in the offensive zone.
- DZS/60 - Defensive zone starts per 60 minutes of ice time. The number of shifts for a player that start with a faceoff in the defensive zone.
- OZS% - Offensive zone start percentage. The percentage of a player’s defensive and offensive zone starts that start with a faceoff in the offensive zone.
- FA/60 - Fenwick against per 60 minutes of ice time. Fenwick is unblocked shot attempts, which is particularly useful when looking at the penalty kill.