The Noon Number: 74.5

74.5

That was Daniel Sedin's offensive zone start rate, meaning the percentage of the times his shifts started in the offensive zone divided by all the times he was out for a shift that started in the defensive or neutral zones. This rate was the highest in the league among forwards who played at least 40 games this season.

This has become a new thing in the NHL, and a tactic used most often by Alain Vigneault or Chicago's Joel Quenneville to match up lines to the location of the puck rather than the individual player matchup.

Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows were #3 and #4 on the list, with St. Louis' Cam Janssen, the goon, as #2 on the list. The way Vigneault chose to deploy his top line is consistent in a manner that some coaches throw out their goons, as in, don't give them a lot of defensive zone starts because they're liabilities in their own end. The stat-head term for this is "sheltered" or "protected" shifts.

If you look at the full list, only one other top line really shows up: Chicago's trio of Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Why this is interesting is that, even though he only saw rare defensive minutes, Toews was nominated for a Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward. If you crunch the numbers and adjust his Corsi and Fenwick numbers (advanced metrics that look at certain events the player was on the ice for, and not necessarily the ones he simply took part in) for his high zone start rate, he is still one of the better players in the NHL at keeping the puck out of his own end.

When I write about the Blackhawks, I'm opening myself to some visitors from our good friends over at Second City Hockey, many of whom have watched hockey since Chicago came to prominence as one of the Original 30 franchises of the league back in 2008 (can you believe there was once a team in Atlanta?) but today, I have no appetite for explaining to hobbyists and casuals why Toews' defensive play is overrated because he didn't get to actually play any defensive minutes. Instead, the argument today is that he should, and the success that the Vancouver Canucks have had with their balancing act at centre is important.

Two more noon numbers today: 50 and 25—The respective offensive zone start rates of Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra. Kesler was deployed as a dual-threat, and Malhotra had a terrific season in a defensive role and, for my money, should have been the Canuck nominee for the Selke (alas). The Blackhawks have the advantage of Dave Bolland at centre, who had a more modest 34.2 start rate yet still did a fantastic job with possession. Chicago's problem is that they have nobody in the middle between Bolland and Toews. The answer: slide Toews down.

Joel Quenneville is one of the better coaches in the NHL, and he had to send either Dave Bolland or Jonathan Toews out for nearly every faceoff. There was talk this week of switching Patrick Kane over to centre, which makes a truckload of sense: Moderate Toews' shifts, allow him to be the two-way player he can be, and let Kane run amok as a scorer with Sedin-style minutes up front. He can re-unite the Sharp-Toews-Kane line for powerplays (as Vigneault does with the Sedins and Kesler) and use Bolland to compensate (as Chicago's Malhotra) for the couple shifts after a powerplay to let them rest up.

Using Toews at only one end is wasting half of his talents. The move might decapitate his fantasy value since he'll lose about 15 points worth of having a scorer line Kane on his line, but it will probably make up and exceed the difference in goals against.

Again, this isn't a Blackhawks blog, but the situation Joel Quenneville is very close to that of Alain Vigneault's. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it certainly helps that the NHL's two biggest rivals have quite the collection of talented, multi-use forwards.

On Vancouver's side, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sedins play a little less in the offensive zone as Kesler heals, simply because the Canucks will probably need to shelter a couple of unproven second liners, so the zone start effect may not be as pronounced this season. His start rate spiked from 61 to 74.5 over the course of two seasons.

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