FanPost

Positivity Redux: I was wrong (sorta)

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

There’s not much hockey stuff to actually talk about these days, which has led to some very silly discussions throughout the blogosphere. Perhaps it’s time to find something to think about which actually involves the Canucks next season.

What started as my hasty comment on a post about Linden Vey, led to the Czar of NM reposting it as "Canucks Positivity" and it got some attention and surprising support during the summer lull in actual hockey news. As it happens, that un-researched semi-rant contained an error that is worth examining as we speculate on what will happen come October.

The essence of what I was trying to say was that it looked to me like the Canucks may indeed have lost an elite level second line centre, but were well constructed to have a lot of middle six forwards and not have to carry any plugs.

One of the things I actually said (again: off the top of my head) was:

A prototypical "Fourth" line player is usually given about 5 minutes a night, (maximum 10 minutes) includes the type called face-puncher/enforcer and at least one spare part for the other lines or special teams. Some times even a seventh D man takes a spot when the coach doesn’t feel like there are better options during the regular season. The "Fourth" line may actually not play much together as a line, but the players can be used to fill in other lines or specialty team 2nd units.

Alert NM member "Thursday" pointed out quite rightly, it is not quite true:

that a "prototypical 4th liner" gets five minutes a night. Very few players get that little ice in the NHL: teams have their low-end guys getting 8-10 minutes with rare exceptions (hello, Calgary!), and frequently those are call-ups getting a few games in as replacements. Defenesive specialists tend to fill the bottom two lines – including the PK guys – or high-energy agitators who can pin the opposition in their own end and draw penalties, if not score. I would call those the more typical 4th liners than the fighters.

In my defence, when I used the term "Prototypical" instead of "Typical" I meant the image in the mind of some people of a certain age who recognise Paul Bissonette as the heir to the proud tradition of Gino Odjick, Tie Domi, Tiger Williams etc. Entertaining character tough guys riding the 4th line pine alongside a bunch of young hopefuls trying to stretch out their injury call-up or garner a one-way contract despite being more familiar in most NHL rinks with the press box popcorn than the flex of the back boards. I was not intentionally writing for wide publication so I did no research at all, and while I thought that style of bench management was getting stale, my impression of the Cap Era was that it required great drafting (or out-of-the-box scouting) to get more than face punchers and spare parts for the 4th line.

I was wrong.

After Thursday and Mercad briefly discussed the actual use of 4th liners in the present NHL, I thought I’d do a little fact-checking. What I found out about player TOI and zone usage for the Canucks last season compared to the rest of the league was fairly interesting.

All the data below comes from the excellent (and now presumably defunct) Extra Skater website. I’d link to it but apparently the data is now the property of the NHL, and the brain behind it is now the property of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Lucky for me, I collected my stats when and where it was apparently legal (and I didn’t inhale). Anyone who’s ever been to Amsterdam, and remembers the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, understands what I mean.

Executive Summary.

Last season the Canucks were coached essentially as a TWO line team, with a third line doing journeyman duty, and some bench warmers filling out the roster. I’ll get to my lazy and questionable methodology in a moment, but the conclusion I took from TOI/game and the nifty Extra Skater "Player Usage Charts" was this:

Two lines were played as though they were first line on a contender:

Line 1a

Sedins & Burrows/Jensen

  • - played against top competition,
  • - got pretty exaggerated Ozone starts
  • -were good possession players.

Line 1b

Kesler/Santorelli & Higgins + Hansen

  • -played against top competition
  • -Got somewhat defensive Dzone starts
  • -were good possession players

There was no group played as thought they were second line on a contender

Line 2

none

There was a group used like a contending team third line

(or average team second line)

Line 3

Richardson/Mathias & Kassian/Booth/Schroeder

  • - Played against second tier competition
  • - Got somewhat defensive Dzone starts
  • (extreme D for Richardson, extreme O for Schroeder)
  • - Had poor possession from Mathais
  • - Had fair possession from Richardson
  • - Had good possession from Kassian, Booth, Schroeder

There were a bunch of guys that got used like casual stand-ins for a fourth line on an industrial league Senior Mens’ team. Unfortunately, three of them dressed for more than half the games.

Line 4

Sestito/Dalpe/Weise

Lain/Welsh/Archibald

These guys didn’t see much ice time, and more of it was on Dzone starts, so they didn’t get an opportunity to show anything we can examine. All we know from these stats are that the Coaching staff probably didn’t have much confidence in this group to do much more than chip it out and get off the ice.

For Sestito that seems reasonable, but at least in the case of Dale Weise, that’s a bit surprising. Weise is fast, defensively responsible, and has played well enough on the third line in previous seasons to get more than 7.6 min of ice time per game. I would absolutely call Weise a prototypical "Energy" line guy. In his new home they gave him more opportunity, and he did something with it. He was effectively a clutchy third line player in the ECF, but treated like a scrub on the Canucks.

Positivity Confirmed

If my amateur and untutored analysis is correct, it more than validates my positive feelings about the chances for the Canucks making the playoffs and starting the climb back to being a good team. In fact, the coaching melt-down may have been more serious on the ice than everything else we’ve been talking about. Granted, Torts didn’t set the team up for success by alienating the veteran players, losing his head and charging an opponents dressing room, getting suspended for a lot of games, and switching to a low scoring system with a team built for run-and-gun. However, only using half his forwards gives the opposing coach an easy job, and might very well have contributed to the untimely injury situation that looked a lot like bad luck for players getting rapidly older. Player usage may have been more of a melt-down than all the stuff that made the headlines.

To make my theory a bit clearer: Last year the Canucks seriously overplayed the top two lines compared to the better half of the league, vastly underplayed a third line, and filled out the roster with bench warmers. There was no "Youth Movement" and not much chance for anyone in the bottom six to show what they could do.

I think it’s fair to say that there’s plenty of room for "Positivity" with the latest edition of the Canucks having:

  • - been constructed to roll four lines,
  • - a coach that will hopefully not underplay guys like Booth, Kassian, Richardson, Schroeder
  • - a coach that will give the youngsters a chance to actually play, and not leave guys like Weise stapled to the bench
  • - some reasonable expectation of a return to normal production from the core, and
  • - a few hot prospects challenging for roster spots.

Is it October yet? I am not one of the Twitterati,but if I was, every tweet would contain: #isitOctoberYet?

Half-baked methodology

I was just looking into this for my own gratification, so here’s what I did to figure out what a modern "Typical" 4th liner was getting for TOI.

Divide all the forwards with more than 10% of the games last season (that is, 8+ games) into four equal buckets, and see what the lowest 25% were getting for TOI. Then, do the same for all the forwards who played 75% of the games (that is 62 games) to see if any of the actual regulars were being played like the occasional roster players.

That led me to question my impressions of how much TOI the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd lines were getting, so I looked at them the same way.

Then, since I had already done the hard work looking at over 500 players, I did the same thing with the Canucks. That led to my eye-popping suspicion that there was something VERY out of the ordinary.

For brevity sake, I’ll call the TOI of an "Average" team the breakdown of all forwards who played 8+ games; and the TOI of a "Contending" team the breakdown of all forwards who played 62+ games. My thinking is that a Stanley Cup Champian(sic) contender will have above average 4th liners, and be able to, as the pundits say, "Roll four lines." I even took a bit of a look at some top teams and some bubble teams to see if that was somewhat valid. You can decide for yourself from the data beyond the facetious warning.

Here’s where the smart folks who know more about hockey than me will point out that this is an oversimplification of monumentally stupid proportions — but what the heck, I was just fooling around with something for my own (and hopefully now your) amusement. I don’t claim to be as astute as Sham Sharron or anything like that.

Unfortunately, with Extra Skater down, all I have to go on are some notes that I banged into my Mac while I was trying to make sense of the tables I had to manually load on page after page of a website. I can’t even jazz up this post with the sexy looking colour "Player Usage Charts" but I did have fun looking at them too. Unless someone has another way of checking these things, you will have to take my word for it: this is what I recorded. Any errors are mine alone. It’s even possible that I didn’t understand the charts at all and I will be immediately chastised by someone who can tell I flubbed it completely. In that case, I’ll claim Court Jester status and say it was all "Satire."

Since the rest of this post is mostly dry lists of how player TOI was broken down, I think it's time for a small break to talk about something as far from Forward deployment as possible. Goalies. We will return to stat-head heaven after the break.

Goalies:

As we were discussing in another thread, the Great Goalie Gambit of the last two seasons has plenty of blame to go around, but the "Un-trade-able-ness" of Luongo’s contract comes down to one thing only: a retroactive punitive change to the latest CBA. From all of us in Canuckistan to you, Brian Burke, I extend this heartfelt sentiment as sung by the not "Prototypically" genteel and polite Canadian Folk Legends "MacLean and MacLean."

F**k Ya (via Fred Kuzyk)

Read more (if you dare -- better pack a lunch)

Now back to our scheduled meat & potatoes to feed your hunger for something HOCKEY related to think about.

Here’s what I found in the depths of my hard-drive:

AVERAGE NHL TEAM

Only 20 players averaged >20 min/game, with another 3 getting exactly 20.0 min

Looking at the names on the list, I think it’s safe to say that these are elite players on their own teams, and mostly the kind of player considered elite in the whole hockey world. What are sometimes called "Franchise Players."

The Canucks had three.

3 Ryan Kesler 21.4

12 Henrik 20.3

13 Daniel 20.2

Now, some of this is relative, as the list was headed by D. Byfuglien, and includes names like T. Bozak and R. Nugent-Hopkins — but in any case, the NHL coaches who decide ice time consider these the top players on their own teams by a long shot.

among all 507 Forwards with 8+ games we can do a crude analysis of what playing time is like for each line.

line 1 is up to 127 = 16.8 min

125 is L Rick Nash, 16.8

126 is R Marian Gaboirk 16.8

127 is R Brad Boyes 16.8

128 is C Aleksander Barkov 16.8

129 is C David Legwand, C, 16.7

209p = 15 min+

(Saku Koivu 14.9)

Line 2 is up to 254 = 14.1 min

254 Carl Soderberg 14.1

Line 3 is unto 380= 11.1 min

380 Blair Jones 11.1

127 "4th liners" with 81 having less than 10 min/60

CONTENDING TEAM (4 line team)

293 Players with 62+ games (75% Of regular season)

1st line is up to 73 =18.1 min

73 Joffrey Lupul 18.1

2nd line is up to 146 = 15.7 min

146 Sean Monahan 15.7

3rd line is up to 220 = 13.7 min

220 Mathieu Perrealt 13.7

4th line includes only 10 players with less than 10min

(with the exception of PK specialist Adam Hall, almost entirely at 5v5)

Guess who is second last in ice time? Tom Sestito.

Now, does that seem to fit with actual contenders and average teams?

Comparison with SCF teams:

LA Kings:

Regulars (62+ Games) = 11 forwards

First line minutes(18+):

2 players

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

2 players

Third Line minutes (13.7)

3 players

Fourth Line minutes

4 players

All 8+ players = 18 forwards

First line (18+):

2 players

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

3 players

Third Line minutes (13.7)

4 players

Fourth Line minutes

9 players

(Three less than 10 min)

NY Rangers:

Regulars (62+ Games) = 10 forwards

First line (18+):

1 Player

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

3 Players

Third Line minutes (13.7)

3 Players

Fourth Line minutes

3 Players

(0 players less than 10 min/game

All 8+ players = 17 forwards

First line (18+):

2 Players

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

4 Players

Third Line minutes (13.7)

3 Players

Fourth Line minutes

8 Players

(1 player less than 10 min/game

Compared to bubble teams (8th in Conference)

Detroit Red Wings

Regulars (62+ Games) = 5 forwards

First line (18+):

0 Players

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

1Player

Third Line minutes (13.7)

4 Players (one with 13.6)

Fourth Line minutes

0 players with less than 10min/game

All 8+ players = 21 forwards

First line (18+):

2 Players

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

4 Players

Third Line minutes (13.7)

10 Players (3 with 13.6)

Fourth Line minutes

5 Players

(2 players with less than 10 min/game)

Additional note:

There were only 5 forwards that played 75% of the season.

The Canucks had 9 forwards that played 75% of the season

Injury trouble as an excuse? Cry me a river…..

Dallas Stars

Regulars (62+ Games) = 12 forwards

First line (18+):

2 Players

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

1 Player

Third Line minutes (13.7)

6 Players

Fourth Line minutes

4 Players

(0 players less than 10 min/game)

All 8+ players = 15 forwards

First line (18+):

2 Players

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

1 Players

Third Line minutes (13.7)

6 Players

Fourth Line minutes

6 Players

(2 players with less than 10 min/game)

Additional note:

HOLEY MOLEY!!! They only used 17 forwards for the whole season! That’s an incredibly healthy team. Too bad about the playoffs.

Not Bad for an armchair analyses

It seems that my original estimates were not really that far off, except for the 4th line.

Rather than what I said which was:

Top line = 18-20 min

2nd = >15 min

3rd = 10-15 min

4th "Prototypical" 5-10 min

It is more like for an average team:

Top line = 17-20 min (with the really elite 23 players >20min)

2nd = 14-17 min

3rd = 11-14 min

4th = mostly less than 10 min/game

(Yes, I know, that looks like less than 60 min per game average. Just for self-serving justification let’s say they take more penalties than average and lose some TOI average per player because they’re on the PK more than the PP by a few minutes a night.

For a good team:

Top line = 18-20 min (again, with the really elite 23 players >20min)

2nd line = 16-18 min

3rd line = 14-16 min

4th line = 10-14 min

(Ok, that looks like a bit more than 60 min per game average, but in the same vein as my previous totally unfounded assertion, let’s say that they not only don’t take too many penalties, but they get to overtime more than most teams and that bumps their TOI up a bit).

What about the Vancouver Canucks???

Here’s the stuff you’ve been waiting for as you wade through the background on all players on all teams.

The number of skaters that made it to the bench on at least 62 game is 9.

Based on the numbers I’ve established for average and contender teams, let’s examine what we had last season.

As an contender team, with players that played 62+ games:

First line (18+):

R. Kesler

H. Sedin

D. Sedin

C. Higgins

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

None.

Third Line minutes (13.7)

J. Hansen

Fourth Line minutes

B. Richardson

D. Booth

Z. Kassian

T. Sestito

As an average team, with all players that had 8+ games

There were a total of 19 forwards that played 8+ games for the Canucks last season.

First Line minutes (16.8+)

R. Kesler

H. Sedin

D. Sedin

C. Higgins

M. Santorelli

A. Burrows

Second Line minutes (14.1+)

N. Jensen

S. Matthias

J. Hansen

B. Richardson

Third Line minutes (11.1+)

J. Schroeder

Fourth line minutes

D. Archibald

D. Weise

Z. Dalpe

J. Welsh

T. Sestito

K. Lain

Just for the heck of it, let’s look at

Contender minutes for all Canucks 8+ games.

First line (18+):

R. Kesler

H. Sedin

D. Sedin

C. Higgins

Second Line minutes (15.7+)

A. Burrows

Third Line minutes (13.7)

N. Jensen

S. Matthias

J. Hansen

B. Richardson

Fourth Line minutes

D. Booth

Z. Kassian

J. Schroeder

D. Archibald

D. Weise

Z. Dalpe

J. Welsh

T. Sestito

K. Lain

Finally: let’s see how the Canucks actually divided the ice time:

Top 25 % "First Line" minutes:

21.4 to 18.2 min

"Second Line" minutes:

17.6 to 14.6

"Third Line" Minutes

13.3 to 7.6

"Fourth Line" Minutes

7.0 to 5.2

There’s a huge drop off after "Second Line" minutes.

Verbatim from the "Executive Summary" above:

Last season the Canucks were coached essentially as a TWO line team, with a third line doing journeyman duty, and some bench warmers filling out the roster. I’ll get to my lazy and questionable methodology in a moment, but the conclusion I took from TOI/game and the nifty Extra Skater "Player Usage Charts" was this:

Two lines were played as though they were first line on a contender:

Line 1a

Sedins & Burrows/Jensen

played against top competition,

got pretty exaggerated Ozone starts

were good possession players.

Line 1b

Kesler/Santorelli & Higgins + Hansen

Played against top competition

Got somewhat defensive Dzone starts

were good possession players

There was no group played as thought they were second line on a contender

Line 2

none

There was a group used like a contending team third line

(or average team second line)

Line 3

Richardson/Mathias & Kassian/Booth/Schroeder

Played against second tier competition

Got somewhat defensive Dzone starts

(extreme D for Richardson, extreme O for Schroeder)

Had poor possession from Mathais

Had fair possession from Richardson

Had good possession from Kassian, Booth, Schroeder

There were a bunch of guys that got used like casual stand-ins for a fourth line on an industrial league Senior Mens’ team. Unfortunately, three of them dressed for more than half the games.

Line 4

Sestito/Dalpe/Weise

Lain/Welsh/Archibald

These guys didn’t see much ice time, and more of it was on Dzone starts, so they didn’t get an opportunity to show anything we can examine. All we know from these stats are that the Coaching staff probably didn’t have much confidence in this group to do much more than chip it out and get off the ice.

For Sestito that seems reasonable, but at least in the case of Dale Weise, that’s a bit surprising. Weise is fast, defensively responsible, and has played well enough on the third line in previous seasons to get more than 7.6 min of ice time per game. I would absolutely call Weise a prototypical "Energy" line guy. In his new home they gave him more opportunity, and he did something with it. He was effectively a clutchy third line player in the ECF, but treated like a scrub on the Canucks.

If my amateur and untutored analysis is correct, it more than validates my positive feelings about the chances for the Canucks making the playoffs and starting the climb back to being a good team. In fact, the coaching melt-down may have been more serious on the ice than everything else we’ve been talking about. Granted, Torts didn’t set the team up for success by alienating the veteran players, losing his head and charging an opponents dressing room, getting suspended for a lot of games, and switching to a low scoring system with a team built for run-and-gun. However, only using half his forwards gives the opposing coach an easy job, and might very well have contributed to the untimely injury situation that looked a lot like bad luck for players getting rapidly older. Player usage may have been more of a melt-down than all the stuff that made the headlines.

To make my theory a bit clearer: Last year the Canucks seriously overplayed the top two lines compared to the better half of the league, vastly underplayed a third line, and filled out the roster with bench warmers. There was no "Youth Movement" and not much chance for anyone in the bottom six to show what they could do.

I think it’s fair to say that there’s plenty of room for "Positivity" with the latest edition of the Canucks having:

  • - been constructed to roll four lines,
  • - a coach that will hopefully not underplay guys like Booth, Kassian, Richardson, Schroeder
  • - a coach that will give the youngsters a chance to actually play, and not leave guys like Weise stapled to the bench
  • - some reasonable expectation of a return to normal production from the core, and
  • - a few hot prospects challenging for roster spots.

Is it October yet? I am not one of the Twitterati,but if I did, every tweet would contain: #isitOctoberYet?

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