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The Past, Present, and Future of Andre Burakovsky
Andre Burakovsky was drafted by the Washington Capitals, #23 overall, in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Players drafted by the Capitals in the Ovechkin era, prior to Burakovsky, have averaged just under 358 career games, so there were similar expectations for Andre after being taken so high.
After only one season with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Burakovsky immediately made the jump to the NHL, playing 53 regular season games with the Caps, finishing with 9 goals and 13 assists. He continued to impress into his next season playing 79 regular season games, finishing with 17 goals and 21 assists, and, what’s even more impressive, he did it mostly as a third liner. If you account for his limited icetime, his 5v5 production that year looked even better as his Points/60 (expected points per 60 minutes of ice time) was 1.98 which was good for 52nd in the entire NHL (minimum 500 minutes).
Then the injury bug hit Burky. He suffered a hand injury in a February game against the Detroit Red Wings and the next day reports said he would be out until mid-March. This was Andre’s first of three injuries in his career with the Capitals and it came at a time when he was promoted to the second line. His 5v5 Points/60 was 2.39, prior to his injury, good for 19th in the NHL (minimum 500 minutes) and, when he returned from that injury, he produce just a sliver under the same rate, finishing it off with 6 points in 13 playoff games.
This brings us to his most recently completed campaign. The 2017-18 NHL season was lackluster with respect to what we expected from Burky. He found himself back on the third line, being quickly surpassed by rookie Jakub Vrana and as Tom Wilson took first line duties. The biggest question that came of that year, and still lingers as we are now one month into the 2018-19 NHL season is, What happened to Andre? His shooting percentage has only dipped below double digits once in his career, but that season he was shooting 13.43%, up almost 4% from the prior season. His Points/60 was the lowest it had been in his career that year, which when you’ve got youth infiltrating you locker room puts you on thin ice rather quickly. But, two major trends that can be seen, just under the surface of his “boxcar statistics,” are his possession metrics as well as his giveaway/takeaway rates.
Burakovsky has always been a strong CF% (percentage of all on-goal, blocked and missed shots in favor of a players team when he is on the ice) player however, he may have succumb to what some may view as “gaming” the stat. His CF% over the last four seasons respectively has been 54.60%, 51.47%, 55.34%, and 52.36%. Generally, any value above 50% is viewed as “good” because then the player is producing more shots (of any type) than his opponents when he’s on the ice and, looking at Andre’s values, he is always well above the cutoff. However, this value does not care whether the shot is being taken right in front of the goaltender vs. from center ice, for example. In short, a shot is a shot in the world of Corsi. One stat that can build off of regular CF%, without jumping deep into the rabbit hole that is hockey analytics, is HDCF% which is exactly the same as CF% but, it’s only accounting for shots generated deep in the slot. Natural Stat Trick can provide a much better explanation of this stat, but, simply put, HDCF% is only looking at the type of shots that make you get out of your seat. The best way to compare Burakovsky’s CF% to HDCF% over the years is graphically and it’s quite telling.
The blue points on the graph are Andre’s CF% for each season and the orange points are his HDCF%. For reference, “2015” is the 2014-15 NHL season. The dotted blue and orange dotted lines are the trends of those points for their respective colors. As you can see, the trend of Burakovsky’s CF% is level, for the most part, and shows no indication of any apparent issues. However, when you look at the trend of his HDCF%, you can see his numbers plummeting year in, and year out, with no signs of stopping. Burky finished last season ranked 559th out of 579 players (minimum 500 minutes) in HDCF%. Only three players worse than him in that stat finished with higher offensive zone starts (the percentage of a players total shifts started in the offensive zone), which indicates that even in a sheltered role he struggled.
Here’s the raw numbers in case the graph doesn’t do it for you.
Did Andre forget that the puck is supposed to go towards the net? His HDCF% was great in his first season, falling just below what his CF% was, which is expected because a player isn’t going to predominantly produce offense in the deep slot. However, as you can see, it took a dive off the deep end as he progressed in the league. Burky can possess the puck all he wants and finish it off with a shot from the boards or a feed back to the point for a Hail Mary slapshot, but that’s not going to cut it for the hopeful top-six forward. Whether this is a product of the system or a product of his own game, this is a major reason why he is not celebrating on the ice as often as he once was.
Another peculiar trend of Andre’s is his giveaway and takeaway rates. As you can see below, in his first three seasons as he ascended to potential NHL stardom his giveaways stayed relatively consistent where his takeaways almost doubled… until last season. His giveaway rates soared to records highs and his takeaway rates fell under 2 for the first time since his rookie season.
While this doesn’t cover every aspect of Burakovsky’s game, it definitely gives some insight into the direction it is trending and some of the glaring pitfalls that may be causing attributing to his downfall. Running around with the puck and then giving it up before getting an honest chance on the goalie is a recipe for disaster. That said, if Andre can put more focus on these parts of his game, then he can return to what felt like a glimpse of dominance that he gave us in his early years.
Looking forward this season, in a notably small sample size, his CF% if 50.00%, HDCF% is 37.50%, Giveaways/60 are 3.29, and Takeaways/60 are 1.1. These numbers are… terrible. BUT, as we detailed early on, Andre has the ability to finish as seen in his relatively high-end shooting percentage. His demotion to the fourth line wasn’t the way we expected him to attack a contract year however, after a handful of solid play he has found his way back into the top-six. Whether this remains following the end of Wilson’s suspension is a big question, so this upcoming stretch could be a defining moment in Burky’s career with the Washington Capitals.
In addition to his concerning statistics is Andre’s current cap hit. He is making $3M in the second year of his two year “bridge deal” signed prior to the 2017-18 NHL season. However, his lack of production makes that current value concerning as, without withholding a qualifying offer and attempting to sign him as a UFA, Andre will be making that, if not more, next season. Of 15 NHL players on deals between $2.6-3M AAV, Andre was the 11th lowest point producing player of the bunch. What’s even worse is players 12 through 15 were all defensemen. 23 year old Ryan Strome most recently signed a 2 year, $3.1M AAV extension over the offseason after a 5v5 Points/60 season of 1.46. In comparison, Andre had 1.67 5v5 Points/60 so a deal currently around what he is already making isn’t out of the question.
All of the uncertainty surrounding his game certainly does not benefit from the plethora of RFA’s needing new deals over the next offseason. Vrana, Christian Djoos, Chandler Stephenson, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nathan Walker are all coming off of cheap contracts with the Caps and most will likely need a raise. The Caps will have an estimated $11.8M of cap space to work with and that’s if the cap does not rise. A conservative assumption of the estimated cap space next season can be based off of the 5% cap escalator implemented in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which you can read all about here. If the NHPLA decides to use this then the cap space would be an estimated $83.5M and the Caps would then have $15.8M of cap space instead. Here’s what the picture could look like next season were Andre to sit at the same price he is now and all of our RFA’s, including UFA Nic Dowd, were to return.
This roster carries a cap hit of $82,719,294, as well as 2-year contract estimations for all of the FA’s mentioned above. It also provides the Caps with the 13th forward and 7th defensemen that they generally run with throughout the season. In the scenario where the salary cap rises, I believe that this will not be Burky’s last season in Washington. However, if money becomes tight and the cap does not rise as it has of late, then Andre could be the odd man out given his moderately hefty price tag.
At the end of the day, we would all prefer that these speculations become white noise towards the end of the season and see Burky break out of this slumping decline. We have seen flashes of brilliancy from the young forward however, if things don’t begin trending upward then the future of Andre in a Capitals sweater could grow more uncertain by the day.