Chris Higgins, Under the Radar Trade Candidate >
 
 

by Michael DeNicola


Monday, June 16th, 2014 --



Last Friday I went into great detail about Matt Read and how there's basically no one else on the Flyers who can say they start as many shifts in the defensive zone, routinely skate against some of the opponent's highest quality of competition, AND is still good for 20+ goals each season. Seriously, Read is a friggin' two-way beast. If he were given more prime opportunity, there's no statistical reason to believe he's not capable of 30+ goals in a season. 


Some fans may demand he get top line shifts with Giroux and Voracek, or at least slot in with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds to balance out Line 2's even-strength production. In my article from Friday, I said I wouldn't have any problems with that whatsoever. But there's an underlying issue: Matt Read's skill must be replaced on that third combo with Couturier, because that pair carried the heavy load all year in 2013-14. 


Demoting Hartnell, and promoting Matt and expecting better results is NOT the answer. In actuality, it weakens our middle combinations from a defensive standpoint. Perhaps Hartnell's offensive production could benefit from filling more of a depth role, but we're still missing Read's key defensive output. Like I said before, there's no one on this roster who comes close to what Read has brought the Flyers over the past three playing seasons: a conclusive, comprehensive style on every inch of the ice. Another game of Musical Chairs with our player personnel ain't gonna cut it. 


If the Flyers are interested in taking full advantage of Matt Read's offensive prowess, we'll need to look outside the organization for his Line 3 substitute. Someone who produces similarly offensively, but nearly identical defensively. 



Enter 31-year old Canucks winger, Chris Higgins.


Higgins just turned 31 fourteen days ago, so he's a young 31... if there is such a thing. Nevertheless, Higgins is 6'0" 205-pounds, and has a pretty good deal of speed and skating agility. He's made his money in the NHL by being a dependable two-way forward, a PK player, and has been utilized all over the Top 9. This past season, Higgins averaged 19-minutes a night under Tortorella, scoring 17-goals and 39-points; 15 of those goals and 20-assists came at even-strength.


In his last three seasons, Higgins skated in 190 regular season tilts and combined for 45-goals; that's a good enough pace to average 19-goals per 82-games (accounting for the lockout-shortened year). Read has averaged slightly north of a 20-goal pace each year, so we're on track in that department. But that's not what sold me. 


Diving deeper into player comparisons, if I analyze Matt Read & Chris Higgins on a Player Usage Chart each season for the past three seasons, then I'm convinced Higgins is our Line 3 candidate. 



Season: 2011-12







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Season: 2012-13




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Season: 2013-14







































If you need a refresher on how to read those charts: the further left you are from the origin, the less your shifts began in the offensive zone. The higher your name is from the origin, the higher quality of competition you faced. And, of course, all of this data is even-strength data, so special teams aren't skewing the visual. 


For numerical perspective, in 2013-14, CHI Jonathan Toews averaged facing the highest in QoC (Quality of Competition) with 30.1%, and EDM Boyd Gordon had the lowest ZS% (Zone Start Percentage) with 17.9%. 


All data provided by ExtraSkater.com.



This past season, Higgins and Read were used virtually the same way, but while Read has received more and more heavy-lifting minutes each passing season, Higgins has been hardened at that role for basically his entire NHL career. He knows what he is, and he plays it well, no bullshit. 


One of the better conditions is his average annual value; the forward is an economical $2.5mm hit against the cap for three more seasons. 


In short, Chris Higgins can handle Line 3 duties on this Flyers team, and still get you 15 - 20-goals while he's at it. He'll compete in takeaways, he's responsible with and without the puck, and he's got excellent anticipation. A reliable hockey player, Higgins comes with an omnipresent-like playing style, perfectly capable of sustaining a steady level of production from the third combo while Matt Read helps burn bulbs from the Top 6. 


Sometimes an answer is right under your nose. We're looking for a sniper? Read can be that guy. But it starts with acquiring and deploying his defensive doppelgänger.


Question becomes -- what would Higgins cost the Flyers?



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