When discussing Lexie Laing’s impact on the Boston Pride, both Head Coach Paul Mara and General Manager Karilyn Pilch rave about her two-way ability. Patrice Bergeron’s name has been invoked on multiple occasions.
As defensive contributions are often difficult to determine from a basic box score, I wanted to look under the hood a bit and see what makes her great.
So, using the data that Mike Murphy so graciously provided the public, I calculated several additional numbers that do not exist in the public sphere, all related to per-hour rates of existing numbers. It is important to note that there is a level of ambiguity here given that this is estimated Time on Ice, not true Time on Ice numbers, as they do not currently exist. This does, however, provide a reasonable proxy to use for analysis and comparison.
In considering defensive impacts, I chose to focus on a few key aspects that were available to me. I looked at the even strength goals for impact, blocked shots per hour, penalty differential impact, and the difference between takeaways and giveaways per hour, which I’ve taken to calling a player’s individual Safety Quotient. I also took a look at Mike’s Game Score metric on a per game basis in order to contextualize Laing’s season within the greater scope of the entire league.
In terms of Laing’s goals for impact at 5-on-5 play, she falls securely in the “Dull” quadrant of the graph, meaning while there aren’t a large number of goals scored for the team while she’s on the ice on a per hour basis, there aren’t very many being scored against the team either.
Ideally, this measurement would be taken using shots as a measure rather than goals, but this still provides an insight into how someone like Laing impacts the team’s two-way game within the context of the team.
The player all the way off to the right, firmly in the “Good” quadrant, is Alyssa Wohlfeiler, who will be a recurring guest in the “huh, interesting to see her there” section of this piece.
Laing is clustered with frequent linemate Tori Sullivan and defenders Jenna Rheault and Briana Mastel. The only player to the left of that group is Jordan Juron, who played a significantly lower number of games as compared to the rest of the team.
When considering the context of the entire league, you can see just how good Laing is at offensive prevention. While much of the league falls in the “Dull” quadrant, it tends to skew towards the “Bad” or “Fun” quadrants, indicating a higher rate of goals being scored against their team. Ashley Johnston is the league’s most “Fun” player – a lot was happening both for and against the Riveters when she was on the ice. The same goes for teammate Kiira Dosdall-Arena and Whale forward Janine Weber.
When you boil it down, few players, particularly forwards, have a lower rate of goals scored on them across the NWHL at even strength than Laing. There’s one point for her defensive prowess.
I look at blocked shots, not because I believe them to be a defensive indicator, but quite the contrary.
It is my belief that players who are blocking a lot of shots are doing so because they are stuck in their defensive zone on a much more regular basis. It is much more indicative therefore of a player’s time spent in their own end, rather than any actual defensive impact.
This is evidenced further by Whale captain Shannon Doyle, who led the league in blocked shots by an absurd margin, as she was the workhorse for the league’s most porous team.
Laing is about average for the Pride, clocking in right around the midpoint of the team in blocked shots per hour, but the team did not spend nearly as much time in their own end as the rest of the league. She is in the lower-third of blocked shot- per-hour leaguewide, indicating that she is not forced to spend as much time in her own end.
When looking at Safety Quotient, Laing is firmly a part of the “Safe” quadrant – she’s not going to turn the puck over a lot, but she isn’t taking the puck away a lot either. This doesn’t scream defensively minded, but it does indicate a risk-averse player. Those type of players are often the ones trusted to lead breakouts or kill penalties, both of which Laing showed proficiency in as a rookie.
Meanwhile, the Pride’s riskiest player is Wohlfeiler, who has by far the highest rate of giveaways per hour on the roster. Recently re-signed Mary Parker and Christina Putigna are both considered “Fun” in that they tend to turn the puck over quite a bit more than their teammates, but make up for it on the other end by generating a lot of turnovers from their opponents.
Parker simultaneously has the highest giveaway AND takeaway rate per hour on the team. One can consider Lauren Kelly, McKenna Brand, and Jillian Dempsey as the three most defensively sound players on the team, as they don’t give the puck away a lot, but manage to create a significantly higher rate of turnovers from their opponents.
When you place Laing into the context of the rest of the league, you can see just how risk-averse the NWHL tends to be.
Parker’s team-leading takeaway and giveaway per hour rates are also the highest across the league, meaning her game embodies chaos. In my opinion, Laing is close enough to the defensive quadrant to be considered a strong defensive option without sacrificing her offensive abilities. The riskiest players in the league appear to be Buffalo’s Sara Bustad, and the Riveters’ Nicole Arnold and Tatyana Shatalova.
The most defensively inclined players appear to be Minnesota’s Haylea Shmid and Allie Thunstrom, and (moderately surprisingly) Connecticut’s Sarah Schwenzfeier.
Drawing penalties is one of the most important aspects to a player’s impact. This deserves a lot of props to both Mike Murphy and Karl Khendela, who for the first time this season tracked the players who drew the penalties in addition to taking them.
Given Boston’s firepower that they can deploy on the powerplay, being able to create powerplay opportunities is a key skill that they should (and have) target for their roster. Laing was tremendously disciplined all season, with only swing player Whitney Renn taking fewer penalties per hour. However, Laing drew penalties at a rate higher than all but three members of the Pride (Lauren Kelly, Emily Fluke, and Jillian Dempsey).
It is a far cry from Alyssa Wohlfeiler, Kaleigh Fratkin, and Marisa Raspa, who all can be categorized as delinquents given the ratio of penalties drawn to penalties taken.
The Pride lack a true agitator – someone who both takes a lot and draws a lot of penalties – which somewhat explains why the majority of the roster falls into the “Disciplined” quadrant.
If you expand your analysis to the entire league, you see Laing has one of the higher ratios of penalties drawn to penalties taken overall, falling into a cluster that includes both co-League MVPs in Dempsey and Allie Thunstrom, as well as Minnesota’s Meghan Pezon and Audra Richards, and Buffalo’s Brooke Stacey.
Only the Riveters’ Kate Leary and Buffalo’s Erin Gehen draw a significant number of penalties while taking a significant number themselves (Leary has the highest rate of penalties drawn per hour in the league). The league features only three true agitators, and two should be rather expected.
Both the captain of the Riveters (Madison Packer) and of the Whale (Shannon Doyle) draw a significant number of penalties-per-hour while taking a similar amount themselves. They actually draw penalties at the second and third-highest rates in the league, and are in the top-five in penalties taken-per-hour leaguewide as well.
The third agitator is Slovakian rookie Iveta Klimasova, who has the fifth highest rate of penalties drawn per hour while having the second-highest rate of penalties taken per hour. She was a physical force all season for Buffalo, so that’s unsurprising.
What’s more surprising is the number of players that fall into the “Delinquent” quadrant.
As previously mentioned, Boston’s Fratkin, Raspa, and Wohlfeiler all find themselves in the quadrant, and are joined by the Riveters’ Rebecca Morse and Anna Keys, Minnesota’s Kalli Funk, Connecticut’s Kayla Meneghin, and Buffalo’s Richelle Skarbowski, Kim Brown, and Meg Delay. Delay takes penalties at the highest rate per hour in the league, and it isn’t particularly close. She’s the only player averaging over 10 penalties-per-hour across the league.
Here’s where Laing truly shines. She isn’t a superstar in one specific area, but she’s so good at so many different aspects of the game that, when it’s all put together, she’s one of the most effective players in the league.
Per game, Laing has the sixth-highest game score. Three of the players ahead of her are teammates, and the top two players happen to be the league co-MVPs. Only Dempsey, Thunstrom, McKenna Brand, Mary Parker, and Jonna Curtis have higher average game scores than Laing.
The difference is, all five of those players are first line players. Laing was the Pride’s second line center all season, and was utilized in a much more defensive role than her compatriots. In fact, she is the only player in the top-10 who did not play first line minutes this season.
Lexie Laing is the third of the Laing sisters to play professionally in Boston. I think that the family has such ties to the city and organization that she is unlikely to play elsewhere in her career. And that is an absolute coup for the Pride.
Lexie Laing should be on the radar of the U.S. National Team every single year until she retires because of her defensive and transitional abilities, and that is not hyperbole. I made it through the entire piece without mentioning that, in addition to everything mentioned here, she was a point per game player as a rookie.
I’ve run out of adjectives. Lexie Laing is a superstar in this league. I think Patrice Bergeron would be honored to be considered the Lexie Laing of the Boston Bruins. Or, at least, he should be.