Why Mark Stone deserved more praise than he received last season

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Steve Marcus

Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone celebrates his hat-trick goal against the San Jose Sharks in the third period of Game 3 of a first-round playoff series at T-Mobile Arena Sunday, April 14, 2019. San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson is at right.

Sun, Aug 25, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Mark Stone finished 12th in the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player last season. He finished second for the Selke as the league’s top defensive forward and was recently named the 13th-best winger in the league by NHL Network.

By all measures, the Golden Knights’ trade deadline acquisition had a tremendous year. But it was still underrated. Stone was one of the best players in the NHL last season and should have gotten more MVP love.

According to Evolving Hockey, Stone was worth 21.6 goals above replacement (GAR) and 3.8 wins above replacement (WAR), measures of his skill against a hypothetical replacement player who a team can throw into its lineup. Both of those were fourth in the league, but only factored in his 59 games with the Senators. His 18 games in Vegas add 3.6 GAR and 0.6 WAR, giving him a league-leading 25.2 GAR and 4.4 WAR.

By Evolving Hockey’s model, Stone was the best player in the entire NHL last season. Over the last three seasons, he’s been the second-most-valuable player in the league, behind only Connor McDavid.

It’s not just the one model. Corsica is even higher on Stone, rating him worth a league-best 7.72 WAR over the full season.

GAR and WAR are not perfect stats. Even the same stat rates Stone worth more in one model as opposed to another. It comes down to an equation that’s harder for some to understand. So it’s easier to default to goals, assists and points for forwards, and hockey fans like to overrate points.

Scoring a goal is the most important thing a skater can do, so goes the argument, and scoring or helping score goals is the most important. It’s part of why Nikita Kucherov won the Hart in a landslide. He had 128 points, the most by any player since Mario Lemieux in 1996.

It helps that Kucherov played on perhaps the salary cap era’s best team. Everyone on the Lightning scored. Steven Stamkos was ninth in the league with 98 points. Brayden Point was 13th with 92. The Lightning had nine players with at least 40 points.

Stone though? He played most of the season with Ottawa, whose leader among players who were on the team the entire season was defenseman Thomas Chabot, with 55. Once he reached Vegas, the team leader was Jonathan Marchessault with 59. It’s impossible to know how many points Stone would have had if he played on a team with the skill of the Lightning (and it’s not like Stone wasn’t scoring: he finished with a career-best 33 goals and 73 points).

Kucherov was a scoring machine last year. But Corsica tabs him for 6.1 WAR, which was fourth in the league, while Evolving Wild gives him 3.2 WAR, which was 14th.

The discrepancy in value between Kucherov and Stone comes from defense. Stone is generally considered one of the best defensive forwards in the league, while Kucherov comes in slightly below average.

Stone led the league with 122 takeaways, was sixth among forwards with 71 blocks and had a relative Corsi, a percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts compared to your teammates, of 8.6%. Kucherov was 29th among forwards with 58 takeaways, 201st with 31 blocks and had a relative Corsi of 2.2%.

Stone also started 53.4 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone, while Kucherov started 67.2 percent of the time in the offensive zone. That’s not Kucherov’s fault that the Lightning felt most of his value was in the offensive zone. But it does speak to Stone’s game that both Ottawa and Vegas were willing to start a 73-point player in front of his own goalie as often as they did.

Vegas center Paul Stastny told the Sun in December that he doesn’t think the league has too many true 200-foot players left. That was before the Golden Knights acquired Stone, who might be the best in the league at doing it all.

His all-around game came close to getting him a Selke last year, which was well-deserved. It’s debatable whether Stone should have won the Hart, but to claim he was only the 12th-most valuable player or even the 13th-best winger simply isn’t grounded in reality.

 

 

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