Note: All stats current as of 12/13/11 @ 6:00 PM EST (aka no Stars game/time of writing)
"There's a lot of weight that comes with the contract I just signed, and a lot of expectations that come with it, but I think I am ready to take that step and make sure that I play up to those expectations. I think I am improving and getting better each and every year, and I don't think this year will be any different. I look forward to build off the success I had last year. But to take that next step, personally, I need that consistency every night, the consistency in the level of my play. With the responsibility I have to the team, consistency is a big part of it for me." - Brandon Dubinsky
Obviously that quote stems from when Dubinsky signed his new deal this past offseason. I got the full quote from here, Nick also mentioned it back in the summer here (Nick's article on Dubisnky so far this season inspired this writeup - go read it); but the funniest part of all is that the original source was here at Blueshirts United. To which now you get the following screen:
That's kind of funny, no? I tried searching for it, really, but I couldn't find it (click above to see it). Anyways, Brandon Dubinsky is a fine hockey player - he's just in a small slump. Let's see why and how (flawed) expectations have made Dubinsky into a bit of a scapegoat lately.
1) Last Season and Career Development
While many would probably argue that 2010-11 was Dubinsky's breakout season, I would argue that in reality it was 2009-10. He increased his PPG from 0.5 the year previous to 0.64 - a 52 point pace if he didn't happen to miss 13 games (his point total went up 10 in 2010-11 with an additional 8 games to his name); all while going from a protected offensive role to a full-on two-way forward role playing against the other teams top competition (3rd in qualcomp amongst forwards min. 30 GP 2009-10).
He took the change in stride, and had a generally similar year in 2010-11 and was rewarded for his solid play and development over the previous four seasons. Everyone wanted Dubinsky back, and I dare you to find one person who didn't. Then came the money, which as we all know, changes everything life one way or another. This is where the expectations all changed, and Dubisnky was again expected to have another "breakout" or "big" season. Herein lies the problem; he's already broken out as explained above.
In less importance but still to note: Dubinsky is actually out performing his junior hockey self when it comes to league translations (Note: I personally alter the CHL coefficient from 0.29 to 0.43 - I feel its more accurate for many reasons which I will explain if asked). See the chart/graph below (click to enlarge):
Now it's not a bad thing Dubinsky is out performing these numbers, they are just essentially averages and guidelines. The career average PPG red dotted line represents Dubinsky's average NHL season based on his career average PPG in the WHL (0.98). His eventual NHL career PPG rate should be around that, but it appears Dubinsky will most likely end up higher than that unless he has a few seasons below that line.
2) Expectations and Dubinsky's Role
As the size of Dubinsky's contract inflated, so did expectations for him, as he noted in his quote over the summer. While this may seem justifiable, at the same time isn't because the Rangers are paying Dubinsky to replicate his past results, seeing as he was already a top-six player before the contract (aka signing at fair market value). And with the signing of Brad Richards to be the "number one" center the Rangers also acknowledged the fact that they didn't expect Dubinsky to grow into a #1 center, as we could all probably agree that he is best fit for a second-line role.
So with that said, Dubinsky was handed multiple top-six roles to begin the season but has recently seen bottom-six duties, as his scoring touch has seem to go astray. Outside of the scoring concerns, he's actually been the Brandon Dubinsky we've all seen before - and the chart below shows it (click to enlarge):
He's starting in his own zone a little more often than in the past, but this can be negated somewhat by playing the lowest quality of competition of his career. His PDO is high, but this can be attributed to the great goaltending NYR has received thus far. His possession statistics are generally in line (Corsi QoC and Corsi Rel the focus), so what gives? I think its pretty simple: Dubinsky just needs to pull the trigger more often.
3) Dubinsky and Shooting
Now I'm not saying this is the be-all end-all solution to Dubinsky's play, but even those of us who don't rely on these numbers for more context could probably agree that Dubinsky hasn't looked that different this season, either (at least he hasn't to me - but come with some kind of evidence to convince me otherwise). The fact is this: when it comes to shooting in the NHL (even bar league hockey to an extent) there are two parts. Firstly, shooting (and subsequently scoring) is very much subjected to luck; and secondly shooting percentage is generally a law of averages. It's very hard to be a consistent shooter of the puck, which is why players have highs, lows, and outliers when it comes to putting the puck in the net.
Dubinsky's Shots For/60 (all shots NYR takes when Dubinsky is on the ice) is down in the chart above exactly 3 shots. Not that much right? Well, let's look at him individually, courtesy of hockeyreference.com (not as accurate, but still a good general look):
What's very obvious with this chart is the Shooting %. At a paltry 2.4% this season, Dubisnky is experiencing the worst stretch of luck in his career, by far. I think its also fair to say Dubinsky suddenly didn't lose his talent to shoot at an NHL level overnight because he's produced four seasons of average to above average shooting; with a career average of 9.4%.
So what about shooting the puck more? Well, that's the whole idea. Any player with top, even middle, six NHL talent can shoot the puck pretty well. With 41 shots through 27 games, Dubinsky is on pace for 124.5 shots this season - which would easily be his career low. Even at his lowest total thus far, his rookie season, Dubisnky was shooting the puck 25% more than he is this season - this figure jumps to 47% more when compared to last season (career high).
After all of that my conclusion is simple: if Dubisnky starts shooting at a higher rate like he has in the past, his bad luck will end at some point and he will start to find his "scoring touch" again. He's had a bad start to the season, this cannot be denied, but as explained when it comes to shooting it is difficult to do consistently - let alone at the NHL level. Even so far this season Dubisnky is still on pace for 36 points in 82 games, only a couple of bounces away from that career low of 40 points his rookie season. But lets look at the bright side: the Rangers are winning (and playing better of late) and Dubinsky is still playing good all around hockey. Once the bounces start to fall his way, we'll start see him celebrating more often.