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One of the things that baffles me this season is that, despite having a breakout season, Wojtek Wolski has taken an extraordinary anmount of grief from fans (and so has Stastny, Clark . It seems like every time the Avs have any kind of slump, or even just the top line, Wolski is getting hammered for being "lazy".

There's no question that Wolski has, at times, dogged it in his young career. He's been in Joel Quenneville, Tony Granato and Joe Sacco's doghouse at least once. Sacco benched him earlier this season, and a large part of that was that Wolski wasn't giving the effort that Sacco thought he should. I have no problem with the early season benching, as it was warrented.

The one downside to benching a player for lazy play is that the label will stick, long after it becomes obsolete. It's good for the team, but for the player; Sacco might as well have taken out the 'ol branding iron, and held Wolski down to a table and branded "LAZY" to his forehead, because no matter what he does, any mistake or bad play will be attributed to laziness for the rest of his time as an Av. And that's a shame, because after a few years of longing for him to finally breakout, he has (in ridiculous fashion) And it would be nice if that story got proper credit.

more after the jump


Wolski is second on the team in points, with 45, and has a PPG of .87. Here's some other players who are sitting at .87 PPG this season:

Jarome Iginla (.87) Henrik Zetterberg (.87)
Jeff Carter (.88)
Rick Nash (.89)
Jaimie Langenbruner (.87)
Marion Hossa (.90)
Tomas Fleishmann(.86) Nathan Horton (.90)
Ryan Kessler (.88)
Michael Cammalleri (.85)


That's pretty impressive company, and gives a sense as to how well Wolski has played. Historically, this season he's scoring points at a pace that's similar to Milan Hejduk's career. He's been phenominal. Oh, and his defensive stats have been pretty decent too. His GAon/60 is 2.08, which puts him well on the bottom half of the team (that's good)

So the only reason to call him out for lazy play would be because the coach is benching him, which did happen in the beginning of the year. Sacco has shown that he's not going to take lazy play from anybody, so I think we can be reasonably sure that if Wolski is slacking, his ice time would decrease substantially over a few games. When you look at his game log for the season, since his obvious benching on back to back games ending OCT 21 there's been a handful of games where he's played less than 18:00 of ice time. Here they are:

Date Opp. TOI
Jan 24 DAL 16:56
Jan 18 EDM 14:03
Jan 2 CLS 16:11
Dec 30 OTT 17:59
Dec 21 MIN 17:56
Dec 15 WAS 14:42
Nov 25 NSH 16:38
Nov 4 PHX 17:57
Nov 1 VAN 14:08


That seems like a lot, but lets throw out blowouts (Jan 24, Jan 18, Dec 15, Nov1) and the ones that are within a few seconds of 18:00 (like 17:56) (Dec 30, Dec21, nov 4), and that leaves us with two games where it's possible that Wolski was demoted:

Date Opp. TOI
Jan 2 CLS 16:11
Nov 25 NSH 16:38

In the Nashville game his EV TOI was 4th among forwards (behind Jones, Stastny and Hejduk) and if you look at the data sheet there was very little difference in his ice time from period to period. In fact he played more at Even strength in the last period than any other period in the game. It would be hard to argue he was demoted or benched in this game.

The Jan 2 tilt against Columbus has a slightly different story. His even strength ice time was low compared to his teammates (6th in ice time among forwards) and after the first period he had significantly less ice EV ice time.

So he's had exactly one benching/true demotion since Sacco called him out. The lax play can still be a problem with Wolski, but it hasn't been an issue this season, certainly since he left Sacco's doghouse in late October. He's also finally turning 23, so there's no reason to think this is a completely flukey season. Players tend to enter their primes around 23, and the average top season is the age of 26.

For all the crap he gets, I don't think the perception of Wolski matches the output. I think the perception is clouded by a number of things. He's a first round pick who has been in the lineup since he was 19, so it's taken him nearly 4 years to breakout. That feels like eternity especially for impatient fans watching their beloved team struggle. However he's just turning 24 next month, and there's nothing out of the ordinary for players to breakout at 23, even after playing a few years in the NHL. Wolski's size works against him as well. He's got a big body so people expect him to be a physical force of nature, but he's not really a physical style player. Joe Thornton was simalarly criticized in Boston for the exact same thing, but when allowed to play his game he flourished (as Wolski's doing this season).

Wolski has put added pressure on himself by being lazy at times and getting himself benched, that's increased the spotlight at least 10-fold. And when he's been benched he's deserved the criticism. But I also think the combination of the forces working above causes people to have a bias and see ghosts of laziness. If he makes a poor pass, misplays a defensive read, or loses a puck along the boards the first assumption made is that he's being lazy. And when he does something good, as he's done quite often this season, the reaction downplays the good. Reactions tend to be more of the "well he should do that" or "it's about time" variety.

All in all, the top reason for the Avs resurgence has been the play of Craig Anderson. The second big story is the play of the Avs young players. Mile High Hockey recently made this photoshop:

Wolski is younger than two of those guys (Yip and Jones) and within a year of Wilson. He also has more points than any of them. Wolski's breakout season should get more attention, because it's been every bit as crucial to the Avs as the play of the players in that photoshop.