Recently I was afforded the opportunity to participate and contribute to a project that Rob Vollman created called the 2011/12 NHL Player Usage Charts. You may remember Rob from his appearance on from our podcast that discussed Ottawa's first round playoff series versus the New York Rangers, or more likely through his excellent work at Hockey Prospectus, ESPN Insider, NHLNumbers.com and HockeyAbstract.com. If you're not already, I highly recommend checking out these aforementioned sites and following Rob on Twitter @robvollmanNHL.
The purpose of the publication was straightforward: to provide objective hockey analysis that acts a useful supplement to everybody’s own experience-based understanding of the game, our aim is to develop statistics that are both understandable and relevant.
Published as a PDF file that Vollman insisted be distributed and made available to download free of charge, the 68-page publication features Player Usage Charts and includes accompanying analysis supplemented with other insights. You can download the PDF by right-clicking and saving this file. Please help spread the word and encourage your friends to download it as well.
Introduced approximately a year ago on Artic Ice Hockey, Player Usage Charts were designed with the purpose of being accessible graphical representations of the statistical advances that have been made in hockey. These charts are the culmination of a season’s worth of work by analysts across over half the league and one NHL front office. They demonstrate how players are being used and how they performed at even-strength by mapping the percentage of shifts they started in the offensive zone (horizontal axis) against the average quality of their competition, as measured in attempted shots (vertical axis), with sized and coloured bubbles denoting how well the team performed with them on the ice relative to everyone else. (Note: these particular player usage charts are all even-strength only.)
As I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, I was fortunate enough to be asked to contribute and provide some analysis on the Ottawa Senators’ 2011/12 Chart.
Now before I post Ottawa’s Chart, here are some details that you’ll need to know so that you can understand what the Chart is showing:
What are Offensive Zone Starts (Horizontal Axis)?
Offensive zone starts is the percentage of all non-neutral shifts started in the offensive zone. A common misconception is that it's the percentage of all shifts started in the offensive zone, but it ignores those in the neutral zone and is therefore perhaps poorly named (like most hockey statistics). Think of it more as a representation of whether a player is used primarily for his offensive talents, or defensive.
What is Quality of Competition (Vertical Axis)?
Quality of Competition is the average plus/minus of one's opponents over 60 minutes, except that it is based on attempted-shots (Corsi) instead of goals. In this particular variation we are using Relative Corsi (explained below). Players who face top lines will have high QoC's while those with the easier task of facing mostly depth lines will have negative QoCs.
What is Relative Corsi (The Bubbles)?
Corsi, another poorly named statistic, is simply a player's plus/minus, except that it's measured in attempted shots instead of goals. In this case it's calculated over 60 minutes, and Relative Corsi is calculated relative to how the team did without him. As explained by Corsi bubble innovator Eric Tulsky, a big blue bubble represents someone whose team attempts a lot more shots than their opponents while he's on the ice, and a big white bubble is someone whose team is usually getting outshot badly. In Tom Awad’s variation the bubble is sized according to a player’s ice-time and shaded dark green or dark red based on their Relative Corsi.
What do the asterisks mean?
Since it's not generally appropriate to compare the raw usage data of a player on one team to another, which can often be like comparing apples to oranges, players who played part of the season elsewhere are marked with an asterisk. Those who started the season with the team but ended elsewhere have the asterisk as a prefix, and those that started elsewhere but ended with the club have an asterisk as a postfix. Stick tap to Timo Seppa for this one.
What does the purple writing mean?
Defensemen have their names in purple to differentiate them from forwards. This is one of the great suggestions we got from an NHL executive who swears by these player usage charts.
Now here’s Ottawa’s Chart:
Ottawa’s second that consisted of Turris+Alfie and whoever (it varied between Klinkhammer, Foligno and occasionally Condra) was relied upon to play against the opposition’s best players. Given the relative size of their blue bubbles, one can understand why.
Surprised to see that Filip Kuba has a small white bubble. As a player who spent 88.2-percent of his 1,273.10 5v5 minutes partnered with Erik Karlsson, an elite offensive defenceman who tilted the ice towards the opposition’s net and finished 2nd amongst Senators players in Relative Corsi.
Speaking of successful coaching strategies, it's important to reflect on the usage of Erik Karlsson by Paul MacLean. Last season under Cory Clouston, Karlsson's 5v5 minutes were played with a balanced usage of linemates.
- Foligno: 29.2%
- Michalek: 25.6%
- Fisher: 23.0%
- Alfie: 22.9 %
- Spezza 22.6%
Now contrast that with 2011/12:
- Spezza: 41.7%
- Michalek: 36.8%
- Greening: 35.0%
- Alfie: 27.6%
- Foligno: 22.4%
As you can see, he's playing with the team's best offensive players with a greater frequency.
Colin Greening (64.8% of 5v5 shifts) and Milan Michalek (80.3%) spent the bulk of the season playing alongside Jason Spezza. Interestingly, both forwards also spent more than half of their 5v5 minutes playing on the ice with Erik Karlsson, yet neither player had significant Relative Corsi metrics – despite having some of the team’s highest offensive zone start rates.
For me, the usage chart exemplifies exactly what went wrong for the Spezza line in the playoffs. With two wingers whose puck possession skills don’t translate well once the Senators gain entry into the offensive zone, Spezza acts almost like a basketball point guard. The offence has to run through him because his two wingers can’t create their own shots (scoring chances). Playing against a great defensive team like the Rangers that also has an elite goaltender, Spezza got caught up trying to force plays because his linemates could not generate enough chances. Further to this point, it’s not surprising to see that whenever the Spezza line was struggling to create offence, Paul MacLean would put Alfredsson on that line to jumpstart it. With the highest relative Corsi rate amongst regulars on the team, putting Alfie on Spezza’s line makes sense.
In the context of the regular season, it’s important to note the role that players like Konopka and Winchester played in the faceoff circle and the residual effect that it had on Jason Spezza. In the 2010/11 season, Spezza’s offensive zone start percentage was 47.5 percent. This year, that number is up to 59.3 percent. After being on the ice for 240 o-zone faceoffs during the 2010/11 season, that number leapt up to 499 for 2011/12. Unlike his predecessor, Paul MacLean relied upon Winchester and Konopka to take some important d-zone faceoffs and removed Spezza from that burden. The logic is pretty straightforward, as one of the league’s best faceoff men and as one of Ottawa’s best offensive talents, Spezza and his going to residually benefit from gaining possession of the puck in while in the offensive zone. I believe that this notion is reflected in the improved point totals of the players that he most often played with – Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek. If I had a wish, it’d be for the organization to acquire a good puck possession winger for Spezza this offseason. (Not too sure if the option is there internally, although Peter Regin and Spezza had postseason success in their 2010 series vs Pittsburgh.)
Proportionate to his 5v5 ice-time, of NHL forwards who played in more than 40 games, Foligno had the 37th best points-per-60 minutes rate in the league at 2.40. Of the forwards who played in 80 or more games, Foligno had the 20th best mark in the league - finishing ahead of big name offensive talents like John Tavares (2.37), Anze Kopitar (2.25), Zach Parise (2.18) and Daniel Alfredsson (2.16). Albeit, he did most of his damage against soft competition but looking at the success that he had playing with Turris and Alfie on the second line during the playoffs, he looks like a good internal option for top six duty next season.
As far as being sheltered, it looks like the coaching staff has finally acknowledged that Chris Phillips is no longer capable of playing against the opposition’s best players. Last season, Phillips had the highest Corsi Rel QoC amongst Senators blueliners by a large margin. This year, only Jared Cowen had a lower mark (amongst regulars). Not surprised to see that young players like Da Costa and Filatov were being sheltered by the coaching staff. Neither player is renowned for their defensive aptitude or their strength and conditioning. Further to that point, having had some lingering issues with his knee, I’m not surprised to see that Carkner was being sheltered as well.
Just download the 2011/12 Player Usage Charts. Do. It. Now.