9

Taking A Look At Player Usage

A big part of coaching is finding the right roles for your players to play in to maximize their effectiveness. Being a free-flowing game where each team has four forward lines and three defense pairings, hockey is a sport that is big on player roles. Therefore, when analyzing players' talent, we should always take into consideration how they are used.

With the help of the wonderful new website ExtraSkater.com, I'm going to take a closer look at how MacLean deploys his players. To start, we'll look at how he distributes time on ice. 

TOI Distribution

The main stat I will be using here is TotTM%, which is simply what % of a team’s ice-time that a player is on for. For example, if a player plays 18 minutes in a 60 minute game, his TotTM% would be 30% ((18/60)*100). 

Now, let’s take a look at the each player’s TotTM% this season:

- Kyle Turris, who has been without a doubt the team’s most improved player this season leads the team in TotTM%, with Spezza coming in 2nd place, making it even more clear who's this team’s 1st line center.

- Matt Kassian does not get much ice-time. Dang.

- Bobby Ryan sits just 5th in TotTM%, behind Michalek and Spezza who have been nowhere as good. This may make an easy case to critize Paul MacLean for not giving more minutes to the team’s best goal scorer. Although by breaking down his deployment we may be able to learn a bit about this by breaking down the forward’s ice-time by even-strength, power-play and penalty kill.

- Bobby Ryan is 2nd in both EVTM% and PPTM%, which is ideal for a player with his offensive prowess. The only reason he is just 5th in TotTM% is because he doesn’t play on the PK, unlike Turris, MacArthur, Spezza and Michalek who do.

- Condra is 1st by a fair margin in PKTM%. I think the Sens could benefit from adding more bottom 6 players capable of playing heavy PK minutes to maybe help MacLean use his top offensive players more at even-strength as opposed to on the penalty kill.

- Surprisingly, Zack Smith is tied with MacArthur for 4th in EVTM%. Personally I'd rather Zibanejad getting more-ice time, but this is something we'll get to later.

Here's the team's defense TotTM% breakdown:

- Erik Karlsson is way ahead of him fellow defenseman in ice-time, leading them in EVTM% by 6.2%, and PPTM% by a large margin as well. Overall, Karlsson plays in just over ¾ of the team’s power-play ice-time. His PPTM% would be even higher had he not missed out on the 4-minute PP in the Colorado game after getting high-sticked. Not to be mistaken, Karlsson is still very effective at even-strength. In the past 5 years, he is behind only Cody Franson in 5-on-5 points/60 minutes, who plays much easier minutes. (I excluded Byfuglien since he played some forward with Chicago)

- Sort of odd to see Methot being 4th in PKTM%, given that’s he’s much better than both Phillips and Cowen who are logging more PK ice-time than he is. Personally I’d like to see a Methot and Gryba pairing take on more minutes on the PK as they seemed to be the team’s best at it last season.

Quality of Competition

Another fun and educational aspect of player deployment is the quality of competition they face. To quantify quality of competiton, I’m going to use is TotTM%QoC, which is the average TotTM% of the opponents that a player faces at 5-on-5. Personally I prefer a quality of competition stat based off TOI instead of Corsi, since I believe if you’re going to rank player’s by just one stat without context, TOI is more effective.

- Unfortunately this graph doesn’t really help us visualize the type of competition these guys face. For example, Colin Greening’s average on-ice opponent plays in 28.5% of their team’s ice-time. The problem is a forward with a TotTM% is typically something like a constant 2nd liner. But a defenseman with a TotTM% is usually just a 6th defenseman. So instead, we could divide up a player’s quality of competition by forwards and defenseman:

- The MacArthur-Turris-Ryan line takes the cake, facing the toughest forwards and defenseman.

- The interesting thing about this graph is we can see who MacLean likes to use as his "shutdown" players. The Greening-Smith-Neil line are bit behind Spezza and Michalek in the strength of opponent’s defenseman they face, but are close in quality of forwards that they face. This shows MacLean’s fondness of this line as a way wearing down oppenents Top 6 forwards and trying to keep some of his other forwards (such as Zibanejad) away from harder match-ups.

- MacLean does not trust Kassian at all. Good lord.

One final way we can look at QoC is by dividing it up by home and away games, since coaches have a better control of match-ups at home when they have the last change:

- The top line of MacArthur-Turris sees more or less the same quality of competition at home and away, with Bobby Ryan seeing slightly tougher match-ups on the road.

- Michalek and Spezza see similar quality defenseman at home and away, but face much easier forwards at home. In effect, the Greening-Smith faces duo the same quality of forwards as the Turris line at home, whereas they face much easier competition when MacLean doesn’t have last change. Condra and Neil also see big jumps in QoC as one of the two are usually the RW on that line.

- Pageau was also pretty sheltered at home. He was recently sent down after it was announced Neil was back from injury. By sending him down, he’ll be able to log a lot more minutes, and will also retain his eligibility to play in the AHL during the Olympic break, which is probably the best move for his development in the long term.

- Overall most players seem to face better defenseman at home, most likely due to opposing coaches being weary of playing their bottom pairing defenseman when they don’t have the last change, since most 3rd pairing defenseman are one-dimensional players who are liabilities at even-strength.

Now let’s take at the team’s defenseman:

- The quality of competition doesn’t seem to change as much for the team’s defenseman as they do for the forwards

- The only defenseman who sees a big change in QoC is Eric Gryba, who goes from seeing similar minutes to the team’s bottom pairing defenseman on road to facing the toughest forwards at home.

- Overall, Karlsson faces the same competition at both home and away, but hovers much closer to his teammates at home when MacLean is able to control match-ups and throw guys Gryba to the dogs.

Conclusion

While the Sens roster, most notably their defense could use a few additions to help them become a sure-fire playoff team. It's a tad disappointing to see how Spezza has been demoted to the second line and continues to be sheltered due to his struggles during the first half. While he's actually been playing a lot better lately, if his poor play starts up again, the Sens could always benefit by giving more responsibilites to a deserving player like Zibanejad or acquiring another strong forward via trade, which may be unlikely due to the team's financial situation. With the team still fighting for a playoff spot, hopefull things will sorted out quickly.

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