Last month, I took a look at NHL defensemen who were deployed more often than they should have been when their team was protecting a lead. Today we’ll be looking at forwards who are trusted too much to protect a lead.
Evaluating how a player is deployed is a good way to judge what a coach thinks of specific players on his roster and how much he trusts them.
The sample is from 2012-15, all forwards who have been on the ice for at least 500 5v5 minutes while their team is leading. In the chart below, the x-axis is the player TOI% or, the percentage of time that player was on the ice of the total amount of time his team had a lead. The y-axis is that player’s relative shot attempt (Corsi) percentage.
The sample is 288 NHL forwards and can be viewed in it’s entirety here.
The labels are very simplistic, but are meant to give a general feel of where a player lands. The further up the y-axis a player is, the better his team does in terms of shot attempts when he’s on the ice. The further right on the x-axis, the more a player is deployed when his team is protecting the lead.
Remember, zone starts and quality of competition likely don’t color the possession numbers as much as one might think.
Ten Blackhawks’ forwards are in the sample and Kane received the highest TOI% among all of them at 29.85 percent. Kane ranked only eighth out of the 10 in relative shot attempts, as the Blackhawks saw 3.16 percent less of the overall shot attempts with a lead when he was on the ice as opposed to when he was on the bench.
Kane has been a negative relative possession player over the past few seasons. His elite level of production helps offset the possession disadvantage. However, Chicago also has a smaller share of the overall goals scored when Kane is on the ice with a lead, 2.67 percent less, as opposed to on the bench.
When protecting a lead, Chicago does better in terms of shot attempts and goals percentage when Kane is on the bench, yet he’s their most used forward in such situations. The Blackhawks might be better served to not make Kane their most often deployed forward when they are defending a lead, as the team should give some of his minutes to players who drive possession more effectively.
Sutter is on the left-hand side of the graph, so technically, he’s simplistically labeled as “low usage.” But his usage isn’t all that low and, given that some believe he is a “defensive specialist”, his terrible possession numbers are noteworthy.
Sutter finished in the bottom seven percent in relative shot attempt percentage (-7.75 percent) and relative scoring chance percentage (-6.83 percent). Boosted by a 103.8 PDO, the Penguins did have a goals for percentage of 60% with Sutter on the ice when leading. But the underlying numbers suggest that those results aren’t sustainable.
The Canucks have experienced with Sutter playing in more of a scoring role alongside the Sedin twins. Perhaps this will help Sutter not be the possession liability in Vancouver that he was in Pittsburgh. Regardless, the Canucks should limit his minutes, especially when they are protecting a lead.
After six seasons with the Coyotes, Korpikoski has a new home with the Edmonton Oilers in 2015-16. The Edmonton coaching staff would benefit from deploying Korpikoski less frequently with a lead than he was in Arizona. Only seven forwards in the sample had a worse relative shot attempt percentage than Korpikoski’s -8.32 percent and none of them were used as frequently. Of the seven other Coyotes’ forwards in the sample, none had a relative shot attempt percentage below -3.47 percent.
The Coyotes also did significantly worse in terms of scoring chances, as defined by War on Ice, when Korpikoski was skating. His -11.29 percent relative scoring chance percentage was far and away the worse among his teammates and the fifth worst in the sample.
When protecting a lead, team’s should play players who help them possess the puck. After all, the less your opponent has the puck, the less chances they’ll have to come back and tie the game. The three forwards above are examples of players who should be trusted less to protect a lead.