In what has been an otherwise successful year for the St. Louis Blues, Steve Ott has been a black mark. This post will show you how and why. If you're an analytics person, there are data and charts for you. If you're just here for the clips of Steve Ott being bad at hockey, not to mention reckless, stupid, and dangerous, scroll down to see video upon video of Steve Ott being bad at hockey.
His play on the ice is just one of multiple ways in which Ott is a detriment to the organization. His contract's value and term hamstring the club's salary cap situation. He's kept younger, better players from having the opportunity to develop.
Perhaps most damaging: his presence on the club and the role he plays (that of the "gritty pest"), despite its imminent extinction in the NHL, bring about a familiarity bias within the Blues' coaching staff and front office which, if it goes unchecked, threatens to cloud their decision making for years to come.
We'll get to all that. But first, let’s revisit how Steve Ott became a member of the 2014-15 St. Louis Blues. (SPOILER ALERT: he wasn't even supposed to be here.)
Steve Ott came to St. Louis in the last year of a four-year, $11.8 million contract as part of the ill-fated Ryan Miller trade. The Blues acquired Ott and Miller from Buffalo on February 28, 2014 in exchange for Chris Stewart, Jaroslav Halak, a prospect, a 2015 first round pick, and a 2016 third round pick. When the team flamed out of the playoffs, Miller shouldered much of the blame and subsequently signed with Vancouver.
But when we look back at that trade in 20 years, we might not call it the "Ill-fated Miller Trade." In fact, it is the acquisition of Steve Ott that could prove much more harmful.
Because Ott's contract expired after the 2014 playoffs, Ott was nearly off the Blues’ hands forever. The Blues had no intention whatsoever to re-sign him. In Doug Armstrong's words about Ott from June 22, 2014:
The above is just one of many quotes from Doug Armstrong about Ott that will appear in this post. They'll require us to read between the lines a bit, so let's acknowledge one thing: NHL general managers are extremely secretive and tight-lipped. They don't reveal anything they don't have to. Moreover, they often speak in cliches, and frequently pay lip-service to the media, or are excessively polite about players and coaches.
Therefore, negotiations "gone quiet" is about as forthright as we'll get from Doug Armstrong. But as far as Doug Armstrong quotes go, "gone quiet" is jarringly blunt. Negotiations "gone quiet" is GM-speak for "He's gone."
Armstrong had accurately decided that Ott's days as a productive NHL player were behind him. In the 2008-09 season, Ott scored 19 goals for the Dallas Stars. The next year, he scored 22. The two years after that, he scored 12 and 11 respectively. Ott's NHL.com stats page. But since the 2012-13 season began, Ott has failed to crack double digits in goals.
The advanced stats also demonstrate how much worse he got as he aged. (They also suggest that even when he was putting up decent goal totals, he wasn't that good).
Take a close look at these charts from stats.hockeyanalysis.com.
Here's what we're seeing: out of the eight hockey seasons since 2007-08, Steve Ott has been on the ice for far more shot attempts by the other team than by his team. With Ott on the ice, his team struggles mightily to possess the puck. And it's gotten worse over time.
"Sure," you might say, "of course the other team will outshoot Ott's team when he's on the ice. He starts most of his shifts in the defensive zone." And you'd be right. But luckily, we have ways to normalize statistics for zone starts. I present to you, in all their glory, Steve Ott's zone start-adjusted Fenwick numbers, again from stats.hockeyanalysis:
Still mostly below 50 percent. "Well, ok" you might respond. "But he's been on bad teams for many of those years." Again, you'd be right. So let's take a look at his Corsi numbers relative to the teams he's been on (from war-on-ice.com):
See how that last column is usually negative? It tells us that even though he's been on some bad teams, when he's on the ice, the team becomes even worse.
It's pretty clear that Steve Ott had been bad in recent seasons and was moving in the wrong direction. Most players tend to get worse once they enter their 30's, as Ott did on August 19th, 2012. And Doug Armstrong was absolutely right to move on from him.
Ott had done nothing productive for the Blues since they'd acquired him. He scored zero goals, tallied three assists, and racked up 37 penalty minutes in 23 regular season games.
On Twitter and on message boards, the narrative emerged that Ott was one of the only guys to "show up" in the Blues' playoff series against Chicago. Perhaps his tendency to push and shove opposing players after whistles had something to do with it. Evidently, Ken Hitchcock began to buy into that narrative as well; he went so far as to put Ott on the power play. Yet, the numbers demonstrate that narrative to be false.
In those six playoff games against Chicago, Ott's Corsi number, relative to the team, was -3.9. He was bad in that playoff series. In particular, he was terrible in Games 4 and 5, where the series swung. His Game 4 Corsi Rel: -17.1. His Game 5 Corsi Rel: -13.9.
Other than fictional narratives such as "grit," the only possible reason for the narrative about Steve Ott to have arisen is his assist on Alexander Steen's game-winning goal in triple overtime of Game 1. But let's take a look back at that goal:
To my eyes, it appears as though Ott inserted himself into a situation where his presence was completely unnecessary. (He's rather accustomed to doing so, particularly in scrums during stoppages in play, under the pretense of "sticking up for a teammate.") Would that puck have made it to Alexander Steen without Ott's help? Sure looks that way.
In fact, I would venture to say that David Backes' pass was intended for Steen the whole time, and that Ott's touch only risked derailing the play. No one could reasonably contest that David Backes and Alexander Steen are much better hockey players than Steve Ott. They're operating on another level altogether— a much higher, quicker, slicker level of hockey than Steve Ott. Ott unwittingly wandered into a gorgeous setup between two elite hockey players and nearly mucked up a pretty goal with his slow, awkward, and superfluous pass.
So, no: Steve Ott was not good in that playoff series. And his one potentially good play wasn't all that good either.
Doug Armstrong was right not to want the then 31-year old Ott back. He recognized the Blues' need to improve overall, but specifically to improve their scoring depth and their depth at the center position. The Blues needed an upgrade over Ott.
The Blues had no use for an aging, expensive veteran with a tendency to take penalties, poor possession numbers, and no scoring touch. Especially because Ott probably was demanding a salary close to what he had made with Buffalo: an Average Annual Value of near $3 million.
The only contribution Ott could provide, as he sat and pondered his post-Blues future during the summer of 2014, was that imaginary trait called "grit." Even if "grit" or "toughness" actually existed, it's easy to come by in today's NHL. And it's very cheap.
When July 1, 2014 came, plenty of "gritty" players were available in free agency for one-year, league-minimum deals. But Doug Armstrong wasn't interested in "grit." He was more interested in things that actually help win hockey games, like goals and possession of the puck. With that in mind, he signed Jori Lehtera and Paul Stastny on July 1 to round out an excellent group of top-nine Blues forwards.
Hockey teams seemingly have begun to understand the value of the fourth line in recent seasons. Chicago and Los Angeles, in particular, have employed positive possession fourth lines en route to Stanley Cup victories. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's top-heavy approach has gotten the Penguins into trouble; their fourth lines in recent seasons have been routinely hemmed in their own zone, unable to ease Sidney Crosby's scoring burden even a little bit.
The decision not to bring Ott back signaled a positive step in Doug Armstrong's perception of the fourth line. Yes, he had signed the lumbering Ryan Reaves to an inexplicable 4-year contract (a post for another day). And for some reason, he employed the useless Maxime Lapierre. But everyone else Armstrong envisioned as contending for a role on the fourth line was exactly what you want fourth liners to be: young, agile, cost-controlled, with positive possession numbers and the potential to provide 10 or more goals, if things went well.
Armstrong signed Joakin Lindstrom in May, 2014. Lindstrom was added to a group of Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, Dimitri Jaskin, and Vladimir Sobotka—players who could join Lapierre and Reaves on the fourth line and possibly even knock Lapierre and Reaves out of the lineup entirely. That group, Armstrong knew, would have the potential to be a dynamic fourth line.
Sobotka was the lynchpin. Since his arrival in St. Louis before the 2010-2011 season, he had been one of the best, most underrated, players in the league. He consistently put up excellent possession numbers, and did so for a cheap price: a $1.3 million cap hit.
Teams succeed in the NHL by finding and exploiting small inefficiencies, by having tiny advantages over their opponents. One common place to find inefficiencies in the market is on the fourth line. For the Blues, Sobotka was one such advantage.
Sobotka was eligible for arbitration during the summer of 2014, and by any metric, he deserved to earn more than he was making. But Sobotka was set to become an unrestricted free agent the following summer, and he and his agent were dead-set on testing the open market. They believed (rightly), that Sobotka's advanced stats could have earned him a multi-year deal between $3 and $4 million per season. No, he didn't score 20 goals a season; but he was an exceptional hockey player.
Check out his zone start-adjusted possession numbers. Despite starting a ton of shifts in the defensive zone, Sobotka was putting up gaudy shot attempt percentages:
With Sobotka and plenty of other cheap, talented forwards available; with the top-nine chock full of elite talent; with the blue line as deep as any in the league; and with two solid goaltenders on the roster to double the odds of having a hot goaltender entering the playoffs, the Blues had had the perfect offseason and had clearly improved. The 2014-15 team was—on paper, at least—perfect.
Doug Armstrong's perfect summer went to hell on July 10, 2014. On that date, Vladimir Sobotka signed with a team in the KHL. Sobotka had been seeking a 1-year, $3 million contract, which would have paid him fairly for the 2014-15 season and allowed him to test the open market thereafter.
The Blues countered with a 1-year, $2.7 million contract. Armstrong also reported that a 2-year deal for $3 million per year was on the table. He also reported that he offered Sobotka the option to choose between a three, four, and five year contract "north of $3 million" per season. But such a contract would have bought out a year, or multiple years, of unrestricted free agent status, and Sobotka and his agent were unwilling to agree to that idea.
Of course, Blues fans were quick to call Sobotka greedy. The rumor floated that Sobotka's demands were less about money and more about getting to play on the top two lines, with top-flight linemates, so Blues fans called Sobotka selfish.
Regardless, on the morning of July 10, 2014, Vladimir Sobotka was officially out of the Blues' plans for the 2014-15 season. It was a bitter pill to swallow; the Blues lost their most valuable market inefficiency for nothing. Not even a draft pick.
Painful as it was, at least the Blues had plenty of solid potential fourth liners. None of them was Sobotka, but choosing fourth liners is kind of like throwing darts. If you have have enough options—that is, if you throw enough darts—eventually you're bound to hit a bullseye. The Blues had plenty of darts to throw.
With Sobotka gone, the Blues had about $5.5 million of salary cap space, although owner Tom Stillman had implied the team would not spend to the cap. Still unsigned was Restricted Free Agent Jaden Schwartz, who had established himself as one of the best young players in the league.
After Armstrong plucked Stastny and Lehtera in free agency, Schwartz's contract became the top priority. Negotiations with restricted free agents are often contentious. However, the one silver lining to Sobotka's departure was that the Blues would have plenty of wiggle room to avoid any relationship-damaging negotiations with one of their most important players.
Let's pause here to assess the then 31-year old Steve Ott's standing in the NHL on July 10, 2014, when Sobotka signed in the KHL.
Nine days had passed since the beginning of the free agency period, and Ott remained without a contract. Most of the big names had signed on July 1 or 2. The pool of available talent continued to dwindle over the next several days, the game of musical chairs growing tenser by the day for the players who remained without teams.
If you were still an unrestricted free agent on July 8, for example, a full week into free agency, you were looking at contracts in the league-minimum range, almost certainly for one year. In many cases the players who signed a full week after free agency began were inked to two-way deals, so they could be sent down to the AHL during the season.
The Blues themselves made some moves on July 8. They signed forwards Sebastian Wannstrom, John McCarthy, and Pat Cannone that day. Those players are, more or less, the company Steve Ott occupied on the NHL ladder that late in free agency. A few recognizable names remained; Brendan Morrow, Lee Stempniak, Daniel Winnik. But we're talking about the bottom of the scrap heap. These were players who were going to sign one-year contracts for—at most— around $1 million.
Let's revisit Doug Armstrong's opinion of Steve Ott, keeping in mind what we acknowledged earlier about general managers hardly ever saying anything meaningful or forthright and often speaking in platitudes (emphasis added):
"He’s a really good sort of jack of all trades," Armstrong said. "He can go up and down in your lineup. Obviously I don’t think there’s any more expanded growth in Steve Ott’s game — he is what he is. We want to do fair contracts, but we don’t want to be anybody’s retirement package."
Close your eyes and imagine Doug Armstrong speaking those words. "He is what he is," though Armstrong does his best to make it sound like a compliment, is not one.
"If he had signed on July 1st or July 2nd, we would have been out."
In unusually clear language, Armstrong said that if another team had wanted to sign him, the Blues weren't even going to try to match the offer. The problem was, no other team wanted him. At least, no one wanted him anywhere near his price or term. (The only information I could find about his contract demands were that he was asking for "a longer term deal than what the [Blues] were offering.")
Call me a conspiracist if you must. But the lack of any concrete information about the Blues' negotiations with Ott before Sobotka left is interesting. Combined with Armstrong's own less-than-flattering remarks about Ott, it leads me to believe the Blues never offered Ott a contract. They did not want him back. I doubt Armstrong even had a token discussion with Ott's agent.
Now, combine all that information with the fact that Ott went more than a week as a free agent without a signing a contract, while all his NHL peers were being gobbled up by eager general managers. Does it seem to you as though Steve Ott's skill set was valued?
Sure, Ott said he had been "mulling a few offers." But come on; if he'd had any offers, he almost certainly would have accepted one, especially because the Blues didn't want him back. (And the term "mulling a few offers" just reeks of bullshit, doesn't it? Isn't that the quintessential I-don't-want-to-embarrass-myself response from people who are unemployed and are asked whether they're looking for jobs?)
In that vein, let's check out yet another quote from Doug Armstrong. Doesn't this sound like something the dumpER says to the dumpEE when they're breaking up?
"I talked to Steve when the season ended about wanting to come back here," Armstrong said. "We weren’t able to get to a conclusion before free agency and we both said, ‘Stay in touch.’
I'm sorry, it's over. It's not you, it's me. But hey—let's stay friends, ok? Stay in touch.
It appeared as though Steve Ott was, at best, a borderline NHLer. Nobody wanted him. But then, Sobotka signed in the KHL. Doug Armstrong must have been furious; his best laid plans had disintegrated. He had lost his most valuable market inefficiency for nothing in return. He must have felt jilted and betrayed.
Because what happened next boggles the mind. Doug Armstrong did the one thing an NHL GM—the man entrusted the make calm, level-headed, rational, logic-driven decisions at all times—can never do. He panicked. How else can you explain his sudden reversal of course, a sudden rejection of the savvy, analytics-driven, well-calculated decisions he had been making all summer?
Within hours of Sobotka's decision to leave North America, Armstrong reached out to Ott and offered him a contract. Ott accepted immediately, likely having come to understand how unwanted he was by the 29 other NHL teams.
Armstrong's decision was appalling. He signed a player no one else wanted. He signed a player well past his prime, and whose prime hadn't been that good to begin with. He signed a player whose only positive attributes, such as "grit" and "determination" have been shown to be imaginary. Fake. Non-existent. Or, at least, unable to be measured...which in Doug Armstrong's world of necessarily fact-based decision making, might as well be the same thing.
Because Steve Ott garnered so little interest among NHL GMs, it stands to reason that virtually any other player Armstrong could have signed would have been better, or at least equal, to Ott. But Ott happened to have played 29 games for the Blues, and Armstrong fell victim to familiarity bias, something coldly calculating businessmen cannot do. Remember, Ott had played five years for the Dallas Stars, when Armstrong was the GM there.
When I saw the Blues had re-signed Ott, I freaked out. "You're kidding me," I said in disgust to the computer screen that displayed the headline. But before I clicked on the article, I took a deep breath.
Merely re-signing Ott, though inexplicable and a massive downgrade from Sobotka, was not the end of the world. The Blues still needed to re-sign Jaden Schwartz, but they had enough wiggle under the salary cap room to afford $600,000 on a one-year contract for Ott.
Except that wasn't the contract.
Instead, Doug Armstrong offered a player nobody else wanted $2.6 MILLION—about 40% of the Blues' remaining cap space. Ott's contract, which all evidence suggests could have been signed for less than $1 million, jeopardized Jaden Schwartz's immediate future with the club.
The Blues' negotiations with their star restricted free agent became contentious. Armstrong ultimately was able to fit Schwartz in under the cap. But he could have done so much more comfortably, and without creating bad blood between Schwartz and the organization, had he not signed Ott.
Instead, Armstrong offered Steve Ott, a 31-year old "pest" who had contributed nothing—less than nothing, actually, considering his penchant for taking penalties— nearly the same amount he'd offered Vladimir Sobotka. Surely Armstrong didn't think Ott was Sobotka's equal...did he? No metric—not traditional stats, not advanced stats, not the eyeball test—could have brought him to that conclusion.
As upsetting as it was to read Ott's cap hit, I gathered myself. "Well, ok, we'll still manage to fit Schwartz in. And maybe Ott won't be so bad. At least it's only one year. Maybe Sobotka will return next year. Either way, Ott will be gone. We can stomach (with difficulty, but we can do it) one season of Steve Ott." That was my internal dialogue.
But my world, and the world of Blues fans everywhere, was about to be rocked once more.
Armstrong didn't just pay Ott four times more than he was worth—that is, FOUR TIMES more than he would have gotten eventually on the open market. No. Armstrong handed Ott a two-year contract, insuring that his cap hit would hamper the Blues' roster not just in 2014-15, but also in 2015-16.
Armstrong decided to pay Steve Ott $2.6 million for seasons in which he would be 32 and 33 years old.
Again, Ott had been a free agent for nine days. He had enjoyed his time in St. Louis. He'd liked it here: "I wanted to go to St. Louis," Ott said. "That was my No. 1 spot. I told my agent, 'Listen, let's make this work any which way we can.' My heart was already locked up with St. Louis. I'm happy that my family and myself, we're where we wanted to be. That was my No. 1 thing, to be a Blue again."
Even if Ott was speaking in platitudes as Armstrong usually does: does that sound like a guy who would have turned down a one-year, league-minimum contract after going to the hassle of moving his family to St. Louis? Does that sound like a guy who would have turned down anything from his preferred team after nine days twisting in the wind without a contract? After nine days of wondering if his days as an NHLer were over?
Doug Armstrong held 100% of the leverage in his negotiations with Steve Ott. Ott was a stray dog begging for table food scraps. He would have taken anything.
No matter how out of control with rage Doug Armstrong was on the morning of July 10, 2014, when he learned Sobotka had bolted for the KHL, he couldn't possibly have overestimated Ott's market value so grossly...right? Maybe Armstrong had fallen victim to familiarity bias. Maybe he had become best friends with Steve Ott during their time together in Dallas. Maybe their families were close. Who knows? But Armstrong still had a job to do: to make the best possible deals for the Blues.
Despite a brilliant, analytics-influenced, businesslike demeanor in his time with the Blues—he traded Erik Johnson, the assumed franchise defenseman, for goodness' sake—he failed his job badly in the Steve Ott case.
The only explanation other than familiarity bias is that Doug Armstrong actually believes Ott brings something productive to a hockey rink. But could Armstrong actually believe that "grit" is something worth paying for, despite the wealth of information at his fingertips to suggest otherwise? If he does, despite all the sound moves he's made, we should question his capabilities to be an NHL general manager.
We at least have to allow Armstrong to defend himself (emphasis mine):
"But I think when you look at the acquisitions made — (Paul Stastny) and (Jori Lehtera) — I think it's really important to have that type of grit and determination in our lineup and that's why I have the admiration for Sobotka but also Steve Ott. I look at Ott and (Ryan) Reaves, they really provide us a real strong component of nastiness. I like the make-up of our team, and I like having a little bit of sandpaper in there."
GRIT and DETERMINATION. SANDPAPER. Doug Armstrong paid $2.6 million per year, for two years, for "grit, determination, and sandpaper" when A) those things don't exist/aren't measurable and B) insofar as some people believe them to exist, those traits come very, very cheaply in the NHL.
If you absolutely must believe in this "sandpaper" nonsense, at least skimp on it. Pay for stars. With all the information, the statistics, the analytics we have these days, paying for stars—for goals, assists, possession...measurable contributions— and skimping on the fairytale stuff is Building a Hockey Team 101. Basic.
So Armstrong stuck the Blues with Steve Ott for his age-32 and age-33 seasons at $2.6 million a pop. Before we get to Ott's on-ice shortcomings (and I promise...LOTS of videos below!), we first must assess how Ott's contract and mere presence hamstring the club.
The 2014-15 team just barely squeaked under the salary cap. Next year, Armstrong will have to re-sign Vladimir Tarasenko, among others. And yet, he'll be spending $2.6 million—aka $2 million more than he had to on Steve Ott. That money sure would have come in handy when Tarasenko asks for the moon.
It's still possible, of course, that Sobotka returns to the Blues. He still owes the team a year of service, after all. And if he returns, thanks to Armstrong's knee-jerk, unnecessary, expensive, disproportional decision to sign Ott for two years, the team will be in the unenviable position of having to cut salary elsewhere.
Armstrong was asked, after Sobotka left and Ott was signed, what would happen if Sobotka wanted to return:
Putting on "dancing shoes," in the understated, tight-lipped NHL GM vernacular, sounds complicated. Because the salary cap might catch everyone off guard and go down next year, regardless of whether Sobotka comes back, Armstrong might have to do some dancing. Especially with Tarasenko ascending to superstardom.
It might involve trading the valuable, underrated Patrik Berglund, as has been rumored. Maybe a popular, contributing player like T. J. Oshie has to go. Perhaps it means Armstrong can't re-sign Barret Jackman, the longest-tenured Blue and a fan favorite, after this season. Because the Blues once again will be near the salary cap next year. That $2.6 million could really come in handy.
Of course, the best solution to free up money would be to trade Ott himself. But again: no one wanted him when he was a free agent. Why would another team part with an asset to acquire Ott and his outsized contract?
If Steve Ott's damage to the Blues only ended THERE, as an albatross of a contract for an aging, ineffective player, maybe Armstrong could have salvaged some dignity. But Ott's presence in the lineup keeps younger, better players out of the lineup and impedes their development. (And because Ott is a veteran with "experience," it's unlikely Ken Hitchcock scratches him, no matter how badly he performs.)
Out of training camp, that player was Dimitri Jaskin. You know, the really promising prospect who figures to be a big part of the Blues' near AND long term future. The guy who needs as much playing time as he can get to learn the NHL game. Yeah, Steve Ott kept HIM from making the roster out of training camp.
"Out of training camp, [Jaskin] deserved to be on the team."
Both Hitchcock and Armstrong acknowledged how talented and promising Jaskin looked. At the very least, Jaskin's presence on the roster at the beginning of the season could have been the silver lining to the Sobotka situation. "Well, we lost Sobotka," we could have said, "but at least we can get a good look at Dimitri Jaskin!"
Or, the up-and-coming Ty Rattie could have made the team and been playing all along. Rattie has only played 10 games this season, and the verdict is still out on his ability as an NHL player. We sure could have used an extra spot in the lineup to give him a look. Instead, the Blues will enter next season without knowing what they have in Rattie.
By the way, both Rattie and Jaskin have been very good possession players this season for the Blues. As I'll show below, Ott has been a negative possession player. That swing alone could have been worth a valuable point or two in the standings.
How about Magnus Paajarvi? You know, the former 10th overall draft pick. He's seen less than 100 minutes of ice time this year. In that small sample size, he's put up solid possession stats; a Corsi Relative of +2.5. He's been buried in the AHL most of the year, but he deserves more of a chance.
Any of those players might have flourished with more playing time in a low-pressure fourth line role. We'll never know, because they didn't get the chance this year. Remember: Ott "is what he is," according to Armstrong himself. What was gained by giving those minutes to Steve Ott? We already knew what he was.
We all wish Ott's impairment of the St. Louis Blues franchise ended there. Hadn't he done enough already? He'd hamstrung the salary cap for two years. He'd forced the club to play hardball with Jaden Schwarz, potentially damaging the relationship. He'd kept better, younger, cheaper players out of the lineup. What more could he possibly do?
Well, the season hadn't even begun yet. Steve Ott was about to actually take the ice for the Blues. Perhaps unsurprisingly—because as we saw above, he had been terrible and only getting worse for the last several years— his on-ice performance has been the biggest disaster of all. (Again, videos to come...I promise. But let's get through this season's numbers first.)
Here's a chart showing Ott's usage-adjusted possession numbers this season from Domenic Galamini at Own The Puck. It accounts and adjusts for where on the ice Ott has started most of his shifts, the quality of his teammates, and the quality of his opponents.
Let's break down this information. The only metric in which Ott has been better than the average fourth line NHL player is the one over which he has no control: time on ice. Out of 390 NHL forwards, Ott's time on ice per game of 11:39 ranks 194th.
The fourth number on this chart is Usage-Adjusted Corsi %, and it's the most important. It's about as close of a metric as hockey has to the all-important WAR statistic (Wins above Replacement) in baseball. As the chart shows, Ott's number has been below that of almost every fourth line player in the NHL. Out of 390 NHL forwards, Ott's UA Corsi ranks 368th.
The rest of the numbers there paint a solid picture. We don't need to examine all of them, but it suffices to say Ott has been absolutely destroyed from a possession standpoint this season.
There's more. As Ott's War-on-Ice player page shows, excluding fighting and coincidental penalties, Ott has taken 17 penalties this season. He's drawn nine. Per 60 minutes of ice time this season, Ott has a penalty differential of -.7. In other words, for every 60 minutes he's on the ice, Ott's "shenanigans" (which the videos below will show clearly) put the Blues shorthanded for 1 minute and 24 seconds. Given his inability to score or to possess the puck, even a bad player who didn't take penalties would be a vast improvement over Ott.
Now, in the interest of objectivity, we must mention Ott's faceoff statistics. He's been a very good faceoff taker throughout his career, ranking 32nd (55.57%) in faceoff percentage out of 2,077 players who took faceoffs between the beginning of the 2005-06 season and the end of the 2014-15 season. He has been good this year as well. Of the 226 faceoffs Ott has taken this year, he's won 134, or 59.29%, not too far off Patrice Bergeron's number, who's considered the best in the league.
However, if faceoffs are Ott's greatest contribution (aside from the mythical "grit" and "determination," of course), they're a bad metric on which to hang his hat. Faceoffs are simply not as important as people believe. They rarely lead to meaningful puck possession, they don't lead to many goals, and because they don't lead to many goals, they don't lead to many wins. Now that we can calculate such data, skills in the faceoff circle—Ott's only measurable attribute—have been marginalized.
(By the way, as good as Ott is at winning faceoffs, Sobotka was even better, according to the Goal Impact of Even Strength Faceoffs article, linked above).
We've covered two of Ott's supposed strong suits: "grit/determination" and faceoffs. But wait! There's one more! Trash talking. (Although, perhaps trash talk falls under the "grit" label.) Regardless, trash talking has never won a hockey game, and it never will. It's just a way for Ott to mask his lack of talent, athleticism, and hockey sense.
Ok, at long last: time for the fun. THE VIDEOS!
Throughout this season, I've been keeping a close eye on Ott whenever he's been on the ice. Yes, I admit: I began the season with a bias against Steve Ott, so maybe, at times, I've seen what I've wanted to see. But I've tried to be objective in my "eye test" evaluation of his play.
Starting on Opening Night, I've watched all 82 Blues games and have been logging Ott's mistakes (and I probably missed at least a few, because, you know, I was also enjoying the games and the other players during this excellent season of Blues Hockey). Again, I'll admit to bias: I have not been logging Ott's good plays. But if you've been watching this team all year, you know: there haven't been many.
I hoped, back when I began the log on Opening Night, Ott's mistakes wouldn't be prevalent. "Maybe he'll be ok," I thought hopefully. My hopes were wishful thinking. He has been SO BAD. In every zone, in every situation, he's made glaring mistakes.
Some of these, of course, are worse than others. And on some, you'll accuse me of making mountains out of molehills. But sift through these videos and try to tell me Steve Ott is a competent hockey player. I double-dog dare you.
Settle in, folks. There's a lot to get to. I'll bold some of the most egregious. But really, they're all egregious.
Without further adieu, I present:
STEVE OTT'S 2014-15 GREATEST "HITS"
Let's start by setting the stage with the narrative that pervades hockey and surrounds Steve Ott. Check out the first video on the linked page above, from the second game of the season, and observe the way the writer describes the sequence: "Hits like this kept the Blues working in the offensive zone." Really? Looks to me as though Ott's focus on making a hit, instead of on the puck, allowed Calgary to clear the zone with ease. HITS ARE NOT GOOD, PEOPLE. When you're hitting, it means you A) don't have the puck and B) are taking yourself out of position to get it.
On October 16, with the Blues in Los Angeles. Ott has the puck late on a penalty kill and can clear the zone easily. Instead, he does....this, and risks a costly turnover. EVEN Darren Pang CALLED HIM OUT! (And this is about as critical as Pang ever gets toward a Blue).
Later in that same game, watch Ott skate full speed, from blue line to blue line, for no apparent reason, and take a run at an innocent Tyler Toffoli. Sure, Steve...go ahead and give LA a power play. They need help beating the Blues!
Against the Coyotes on October 18, Ott found himself with the puck on a 2-on-0. This might be a nitpick here, but doesn't this seem like a really....slow....pass over to Backes, giving the goaltender plenty of time to get over?
On October 23 against the Canucks, we're going to watch Ott get taken off the puck painfully easily...twice! What the hell does he think he's doing on that second one?
Here's Steve Ott, killing a penalty against Chicago on October 25. He has all the time and space in the world to send the puck the length of the rink...and he put it right into Duncan Keith's glove. He could have killed an extra 10 seconds of the penalty.
In the third period of that game against Chicago, with the Blues PROTECTING A ONE-GOAL LEAD...again, in the THIRD period...Ott takes a little bump from Kris Versteeg, completely loses self-control, and takes a two-handed chop at Versteeg. I mean look at this! Why, Steve, why!?!? Is this the "GRIT AND DETERMINATION" we wanted?? (Side note: what is Pang talking about here? This is vicious.)
Want some stuff that wound up even more costly than giving up power plays? On October 28 in Dallas, watch Ott whiff at the puck twice here on the backcheck, and watch the puck end up in the Blues' net. And then watch Ott have the gall to throw his arm up in disgust! That's some grit right there, I tell ya.
I guess this penalty was a decent one to nullify a scoring chance. But how did the Rangers GET that scoring chance, here on November 3? Because Steve Ott was so slow in covering Tanner Glass! Could my grandma skate faster than that? Of course not. But could just about every single serviceable NHLer? You bet.
THERE ARE NO WORDS FOR THIS. Just....watch.
Later in that same game against Buffalo on November 11, Ott takes this wonderful, "gritty" penalty 200 feet from his own net. In the third period, with the Blues nursing a lead.
Does James Neal pull off an acting job in St. Louis here on November 13? Absolutely. But still...the puck was nowhere close, and Ott had no reason to be anywhere near Neal. With Ott's reputation as "gritty," he forfeit the benefit of the doubt long ago.
On November 18 in Boston, Ott has a GLORIOUS chance to score his first goal of the year. You won't believe what happened.
Here's the worst one of all, folks. It demonstrates how brain-dead Steve Ott is on the ice. With time ticking down in Ottawa on November 22, Ott has the puck on his stick. ALL HE HAS TO DO is skate it into the corner, eat it there, and the Blues have two points. Do you think he makes the smart play, or the dumb play to take a shot? And, assuming he made the dumb play—a safe assumption, since he is dumb—what do you think a player of his...abilities...did with the shot? Stick around as I switch from the St. Louis feed to the Ottawa feed to hear the Senators' broadcasters criticizing Ott.
Can we just reflect on the idiocy of that play for a minute? Because he's so dumb, he shot. Because he's so terrible, he shot wide. Because he shot so FAR wide, it started a rush for the Senators that nearly cost the Blues a goal in the dying seconds of the game. Good lord.
Just a few days later, also against Ottawa. Just...why? The puck's nowhere near. What are you accomplishing with this? Demonstrating your "grit?"
Surely you've heard how NHL players have to be able to "think the game" at an NHL speed. Here's Steve Ott's attempt at that.
Again, Ott falls victim to an opponent's embellishment. BUT HE PUTS HIMSELF IN POSITION TO BE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF! And again, his reputation as a dirty, dumb player works against him. Here's another two-handed chop to the back of an opponent's leg. For someone who prides himself on being able to get under opponents' skin, it's awfully easy to get him to overreact and do something dumb. But: Grit. Determination. Sandpaper.
Here, against the Kings on December 18, Ott takes an interference penalty in the offensive zone. Isn't he so adorable, though, pretending to be innocent and chirping as he skates to the box? Surely that's the "determination" Doug Armstrong paid $2.6 million for.
Here's an underratedly terrible little play that Ott bungles, from that same game in Los Angeles. Vladimir Tarasenko makes a beautiful backhand pass to Ott as the Blues attempt to exit their own zone. Watch what Ott does with it. Watching Ott on the ice with Tarsenko is like watching a 1964 Chevy try to keep up with a brand new Ferrari.
Same goes for Ott trying to play with Kevin Shattenkirk. Here, against Edmonton in mid-January, Tarsenko and Shattenkirk join forces to create a perfect scoring chance for Ott. He has a wide open net. He doesn't even get a stick on the puck.
Same thing happens here just two days later against Detroit. Oh, and then because he's so frustrated, he shows his "grit" by starting a scrum. There are multiple replays, and toward the end of this clip, listen to Darren Pang and John Kelly discuss Ott's hobby of racing outboard hydroplane boats (whatever those are.) "He had to give that up to concentrate on hockey," Kelly says. Perhaps he should've stuck to the hydroplanes, given his finishing ability.
Here's sheer filth from Steve Ott. Just a dirty, dangerous play that puts the Blues shorthanded. To demonstrate the #narrative that the Blues and their broadcasters have created around Ott, contrast the Blues' broadcast with Nashville's. Both are presented below.
Here's Cody Eakin's agility making a fool out of Ott. Of course, to compensate, Ott sticks his foot out, slew foots Eakin 200 feet from his own net, and goes off for two minutes. Dirty, Dangerous, Stupid: The Steve Ott Story.
Just, like...whatever. Grit. Determination. Sandpaper. Powerplay for Montreal.
Here's the slow, lumbering, indecisive Steve Ott with all the time in the world to gain the red line and dump the puck in, doing god knows what, turning it over, and handing Winnipeg a scoring chance.
WHY DOES HE DO THIS!? The puck is tied up along the boards...just, chill, man. Again: dangerous and stupid.
"Ott...[on a breakaway]...rifles one wide."
Offensive zone holding the stick penalty. He must REALLY be getting in the opponents' heads here. I'm sure they can't stop thinking about how "gritty" Steve Ott is.
Not sure which is worse here: if Ott was trying to cover one of Minnesota's most dangerous players and failed, or if he simply forgot to cover one of Minnesota's most dangerous players. Puck meet net.
This easily could have resulted in a penalty for "closing his hand on the puck." Luckily, it wasn't called. But watch Ott inexplicably throw...or bowl...or roll the puck into the corner here. Huh!?
Here's a shocker: a dirty, dangerous, stupid play by Steve Ott. Then, he shows lots of "grit" and "determination" as he tries and fails to bring someone to the box with him.
Same game. Plenty of time and space to clear the puck...and he clears it right into a Winnipeg stick. Luckily, no harm done.
Well, he can't skate...but because he can't skate, it sometimes looks like he's playing really hard, showing lots of "determination."
Here, it appears as though Ott overcommits to a play along the boards while killing a penalty, falls down, is out of position, and Minnesota scores.
Please...pretty please...watch this shift and focus on #9. He's going to ice it twice under little pressure, and render useless a very pretty little pokecheck from Jay Bouwmeester. He's going to lose two puck battles and get walked around as Detroit enters the offensive zone.
Alexander Steen with a pass perhaps a little behind Ott, but he still can't handle it. #S. #M. #H. #SMH.
Do bad bounces happen to every player? Yes. Do they seem to happen to Steve Ott much more often that most? Yes. Watch him overskate the puck on the penalty kill, allowing Vancouver to keep it in the offensive zone.
Most recently, on April 9 vs. Chicago, with the Blues leading late in the game, Ott figures it's a good time to show his "determination." In doing so, because of his reputation as a dirty, reckless player, he risks putting Chicago on the powerplay. The referee could have decided to send only Ott to the box. Luckily, he sent both Ott and Versteeg. However, 4-on-4 hockey is more open, free flowing, and higher scoring. Chicago was grateful for that open ice; it gave them a better chance to claw back into the game. And they did just that. As Ott demonstrated on November 22 in Ottawa (clip above), he lacks awareness of score and time.
Ott did not suit up in the Blues' regular season finale against Minnesota. On one hand, I was glad about that; it meant I wouldn't have to upload another clip. On the other hand, though, Ott was scratched alongside David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, and T.J. Oshie. The fact that Blues management thought Ott is in the "too valuable to risk playing in a meaningless game" category, alongside the team's most important players, proves how out-of-whack their opinion of Steve Ott is. Familiarity bias at its worst.
I think I've made my point. Whether you believe in numbers or video, and regardless of your prior beliefs about Steve Ott, he's a bad hockey player. There's no arguing otherwise. The Blues didn't want to re-sign him, but GM Doug Armstrong panicked and did so. He signed Ott for way more than market value, and for two years, when he could have had him for one.
Ott hurts the franchise in many ways. He hurts the franchise by being a bad hockey player. He hurts the franchise by impeding the development of younger, better players. He hurts the franchise by eating salary cap space that will be badly needed this off-season. He hurts the franchise because Doug Armstrong and Ken Hitchcock are victims of familiarity bias. When watching Ott, they see what they want to see. They see what fits their desired narrative of him. And if seeing what they want to see carries over to other players in other situations, it's big trouble in River City.
In today's NHL, fourth lines are more important than ever. A good fourth line is a requisite for a Stanley Cup Championship. And with Ott, it is difficult to see how the Blues' fourth line will be good enough.
So what can we do? Share this post. Tell the world. Shout it from the mountaintops. Maybe, hopefully, it'll wind up on Armstrong's or Hitchcock's computer soon. Or on the computer of someone who covers the team. If Blues Beat Writer Jeremy Rutherford sees it, maybe he'll ask Armstrong—plainly and directly—to justify the Ott contract.
It's possible, but unlikely, Armstrong has tried to trade Ott this season. Given his contract and inability to contribute anything of value, who would want him? If Armstrong can shed the Ott contract, I'll pop champagne. He probably can't, though, so we'll just have to hope Hitchcock reduces Ott's playing time drastically, or (ideally), benches him permanently.
Barring such a glorious miracle, we need to hope one of Ott's dumb penalties or incompetent plays doesn't cost his team a playoff game or series. It's my deepest fear. Having worked so hard to dispel the notion of "grit," having known from the second Ott arrived in St. Louis that he would create trouble for the franchise I love, if he costs the Blues in the playoffs, it might actually kill me.
So if you care about me (you probably don't), or if you care about the Blues (you're reading this, so you probably do), please join me in the fight against Steve Ott. He is so, so bad. In every way imaginable.
Find me on Twitter: @trevorkraus or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have more instances of his terrible play you'd like to share? Have ideas on how we can raise awareness of the Ott Problem? Do you just need a shoulder to cry on when he does something stupid? Reach out to me. We'll try to get through this together.