Monday, December 31, 2007

The lines they use

There's an excellent post over at Tyler Dellow's digs I wanted to quickly point out (and it's not the one about him shopping for slacks at Banana Republic).

Tyler's crunched the numbers to show how Oilers coach Craig MacTavish used his forward lines last season, but there's a ton of interesting info there about all 30 teams' coaching staffs. For one, well, we know that John Tortorella in Tampa loves to ride his No. 1 line, but it actually turns out his second forward unit plays the most minutes in the league as well. The Lightning third liners fall 27th, while the fourth line might as well not exist (or be all Belaks).

On the flip side, the Blues get sizable minutes out of their lower lines at the expense of the top three skaters.

Something like this is influenced by which players a team uses on its penalty kill; the Big Three in Tampa, for instance, all played considerable minutes while shorthanded. In St. Louis, Dallas Drake, Dan Hinote and Jamal Mayers — all pluggers — led the team in those minutes.

Playing on the power play would influence those numbers as well, but shorthanded ice time shifts a forward's numbers even more significantly compared to his teammates — mainly because only a few forwards are playing those minutes. There are really only about 40 forwards in the league who play three minutes a night shorthanded, but on the power play that figure jumps to more than 150.

There really aren't all that many players who fall into both categories anymore, but the ones that do — Mike Richards, Mikko Koivu, Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Drury, Ryan Kesler, Rod Brind'Amour, Shawn Horcoff and Nik Antropov — would shift Tyler's charts quite a bit.

If you never play on the penalty kill as a forward, you'll spend about 13 per cent (eight minutes) of every game nailed to the bench. Lupul played just 2:45 all season last year in Edmonton on the penalty kill, around two seconds a game, and picked up about three minutes a game on the power play.

This year in Philadelphia, he's playing 2:20 more every game just on special teams, including 1:20 on the penalty kill, and my guess is that's where the perceived "rolling of the lines" comes in.

John Stevens doesn't use his pluggers on the PK. (And he apparently loves Lupul, who is among the league's top 50 forwards in total ice time this year so far.)

Anyway, that's all just a tangent. This is pretty interesting stuff, as it shows just how equitable the workload is spread on every team. There are certainly some surprises, with a few of what are known as "one-line" teams actually using their depth quite a bit.

Vancouver, for one, gets a lot of give from its third and fourth lines — although that may just be the shorthanded minutes talking.


At 3:51 a.m., December 31, 2007, Blogger Andrew Bucholtz said...

I think part of Vancouver's ice-time parity comes from Alain Vigneault's love for matching lines: he usually tries to get a checking line (whose composition is somewhat fluid, leading to the parity between forwards 7-12) and a shutdown defence pair out there against the other team's top line all the time at even strength. Thus, when the Canucks play a team with a first line that picks up big even-strength minutes, their checking lines pick up many of those same minutes. Your penalty kill point is also important though: none of the Canucks' top scoring line (Naslund and the Sedin twins) play much shorthanded, leading to greater ice-time parity (to such a degree that many local media outlets have been calling for the top line to get more minutes recently).

At 5:14 a.m., December 31, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Canucks also are 4th overall in the NHL for most PIM. It would explain why lines 3 and 4, which do most of the PK now Morrison is injured have such high ice time minutes.

Monsieur Parafect
aka Canucks Fanboy


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