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Avs add Evan Rodrigues to glut of center options

AJ Haefele Avatar
September 12, 2022

In what seemed like a most destined to happen from the start of free agency, the Colorado Avalanche reached an agreement with forward Evan Rodrigues on Monday morning.

The 29-year-old, right-shooting Rodrigues gets a one-year deal from the Avs for $2M after choosing not to sign for basically all of the offseason. There were a number of teams reportedly vying for the services of Rodrigues, including Anaheim, and his choosing to land in Colorado is a sign of the opportunity he will get to cash next summer and the team’s elevation as a more preferred destination after winning the Stanley Cup.

Rodrigues is coming off a career-best season with the Pittsburgh Penguins (19 goals, 24 assists for 43 points in 82 games) that saw him as one of the NHL’s surprise breakout players in the first half of the season in keeping the injury-riddled Pens afloat before cooling significantly in the second half and struggling to find a place in the lineup (we’ll get to that in a minute).

The short contract has to be somewhat of a disappointment for a player who was no doubt looking to land contract security as he’s never signed a deal longer than two years in his career.

From their seat, the Avalanche land an undervalued analytic darling whose hallmarks of his game include his skating acumen and ability to transport pucks through the neutral zone with control. Sound familiar?

Now, onto where Rodrigues fits with the forward group because this will be a pretty important part of how this contract plays out.

If we’re just looking at last year, Rodrigues profiles very nicely in an Avalanche sweater, so much so the general reaction from the hockey community to the signing was more or less that meme of Jesse Pinkman shouting, “He can’t keep getting away with this!”

Anyway, to the fancystats.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to read all of this, the tweet and player card is basically “Blue good, red bad” and the heat map chart you want positive numbers on offense and negative numbers on defense.

That’s precisely what Rodrigues has, which is why he is the aforementioned analytics darling.

With 19 goals scored last year, what’s the issue here? Why did it take so long for Rodrigues to find a new team and why is the contract so limited?

Well, for those hoping Rodrigues is the new 2C to replace Nazem Kadri, let’s pump the brakes just a bit and look under the hood a bit more.

I mentioned Pittsburgh’s injury issues last year. With 82 games played last year, it seemed Rodrigues was the only one immune to the injury problems that plagued the Pens, especially early. Those issues gave Rodrigues an opportunity to see the kind of minutes he really never has before in his career, both at even strength and especially on the power play.

Rodrigues ended up averaging 15:50 TOI per game, a new career high (his old career high was 15:49 back in 2018-19 with Buffalo, his only other season above 70 GP). 1:55 of that came on the power play and he scored seven power play goals and added one power play assist.

Considering Rodrigues had never surpassed 29 points in a season before last year, this little spike in production with the man advantage is meaningful, though certainly not the entire reason for his success.

One of the areas that historically drives a career-best season is shooting percentage, one of the stats most susceptible to year-to-year randomness. With Rodrigues, however, he shot just 7.8% on the season compared to his career average of 7.6%.

His shooting was both a testament to his play-driving ability as his 243 shots on goal was 29th in the entire NHL last year (just four shots shy of…Nazem Kadri) and also his problem finishing. Only three forwards registered at least 200 shots on goal and a worse shooting percentage than Rodrigues: Travis Konecny, Blake Coleman, Mikael Backlund.

This is all to say there’s evidence that last year could be an anomaly in terms of, well, just about everything. Even his underlying numbers took a huge leap last year compared to his career.

This shows Rodrigues as a consistently good defensive forward but one who struggles with regular positive results offensively. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s an extremely common archetype in the NHL, especially at the bottom of the forward lineup when teams stop trying to score goals and prefer to just limit the bad things that might happen to them.

Rodrigues has shown an ability to keep bad things from happening to his team when on the ice as he rarely takes penalties and puts his team in bad spots.

For my money, it’s the offense that is why no team was looking to give Rodrigues the kind of security he no doubt craves. I mentioned earlier that he was a breakout star in the first half of the season before falling off late. The splits are pretty extreme.

Pre-All-Star break: 46 GP, 15 G, 17 A, 32 points, 17:19 TOI
Post-All-Star break: 36 GP, 4 G, 7 A, 11 points, 13:56 TOI

That goal-scoring, especially, is what stands out the most there. The TOI is also notable, but as the Pens got healthier, Rodrigues naturally moved back down their lineup and to a more expected role. It’s very fair to wonder how much his production was driven simply by playing over 300 minutes at 5v5 next to Sidney Crosby.

While the shooting was notably rough last year, and his career percentage isn’t very impressive, you can see here from the “Finishing” stat below that he isn’t historically such a poor finisher of opportunities.

While he’s never been a quality finisher, his struggles last year do look a little extreme compared to his career. Is that the result of him creating so many more chances and just not being able to finish, or will he finish better given another full season of ice time? That is Colorado’s conundrum here and why Rodrigues always made sense as a good fit, but not the kind of slam-dunk answer they hoped to find.

If you’re looking at Rodrigues to be Colorado’s solution at center (specifically 2C), that kind of inconsistency is what makes you uncomfortable that he’s the real answer. Now, as an extra option alongside Alex Newhook, J.T. Compher, and Ben Meyers, Rodrigues is a great fit. He can move all over Colorado’s lineup until they find a place that really works.

For those who put a lot of stock into it, Rodrigues would not address the ongoing deficiencies among the Avs’ centers in the faceoff circle as he’s at 45% in just about 2,000 faceoffs across his career.

On just a one-year deal, however, and with right around $2M in cap space remaining, the Avs added a solid NHL player to their roster and might have addressed their most glaring roster weakness. Of course, they might not have and could have just added to their logjam in the bottom six.

That’s uncertainty is no doubt part of why Rodrigues was even still available in the last two weeks before training camp officially opens. Given Colorado’s recent track record, however, nobody would be surprised if Rodrigues is gearing up for the best season of his career. Time will tell, but this is as good as it gets this late in the game.

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