Advanced statistics in hockey aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Also, not everyone likes tea in the first place, so when you offer them a cup of tea and they politely, yet firmly, decline and you keep shoving tea in their face, it’s rather rude. And yet, I continue to talk about advanced statistics on PITB, trusting that the tea-drinkers will appreciate a nice rooibos tea while everyone else will ignore it completely.
But what if I promised a pretty picture that might make advanced statistics a bit more clear? Or, in my increasingly forced tea metaphor, what if I added a bunch of high-fructose corn syrup to green tea but still pretended it was healthy by putting ginseng in it?
Robert Vollman of Hockey Abstract has released the 2011-12 Player Usage Charts, which take three of the most common and useful advanced statistics and put them into a handy-dandy chart that makes it easy to see at a glance how a player was used and how well they performed in their role. I’ve taken a look at these charts in regards to the Stanley Cup Finalists over at Backhand Shelf; now let’s take a look at the chart for the Canucks and see what can be gleaned from it.
I recommend downloading the PDF of the Player Usage Charts as it has a more complete explanation of the charts as well as analysis of each team. I know that these charts will be my first stop when the Canucks acquire any new players this offseason.
First, a quick explanation of the elements of the chart:
- All statistics are at even-strength.
- The horizontal axis represents zone starts: the further to the right, the more often the player is starting in the offensive zone.
- The vertical axis represents quality of competition: the higher up the chart, the more often the player is facing the opponent’s best players.
- The bubbles represent Relative Corsi, which is a puck possession statistic that uses shot attempts. The blue bubbles indicate a positive Relative Corsi, the white bubbles indicate negative Relative Corsi. At it’s most basic, a big blue bubble is good, a big white bubble is bad.
- Defencemen are in purple.
- Players with an asterisk did not play a full season with the Canucks.
One of the first things I noticed when looking at the Canucks’ chart as compared to those of other teams is how small the spread of quality of competition is. Over the last few seasons, Alain Vigneault has moved away from hard line-matching to deploying his lines according to zone starts. Instead of sending checking players like Malhotra and Lapierre out against the opposition’s top forward lines, he buries them with defensive zone starts instead.
Context matters here, which is why I like these charts. Malhotra and Lapierre, as well as Volpatti and Weise to a certain extent, have a legitimate excuse for their poor puck possession numbers and their big white bubbles on the chart. Those four players started in the defensive zone more than pretty much any other player in the NHL. Given that kind of deployment, it would be astonishing if they didn’t have negative Corsi numbers.
As we start to get more towards the middle of the chart, however, there’s less excuse for Alberts, Rome, and Ballard, who are all clustered near each other. While they did start more often in the defensive zone, it wasn’t to the extreme degree of the forwards and they faced weaker competition. Comparing them to Gragnani does make me a bit wary, however: Gragnani’s positive Corsi is somewhat in proportion to his higher number of offensive zone starts and he faced similar competition to Alberts, Rome, and Ballard.
As for the rest of the defencemen, the duo of Hamhuis and Bieksa come out looking very good, facing the toughest competition among defencemen and pushing puck possession in a positive direction. Tanev had a strong season as well: he wasn’t the least bit sheltered and pulled his own weight. Salo and Edler, on the other hand, don’t come out of this as strong. Salo’s puck possession numbers were not good and Edler was barely in the positives despite starting more often in the offensive zone. As Harrison suggested, finding a partner for Edler will be one of the major challenges of the offseason.
On to the forwards, and Chris Higgins is a good player to start with: he faced the toughest competition among Canucks’ forwards (other than Pahlsson, whose numbers are skewed by his time in Columbus) and still managed to keep his puck possession in the positives. Hansen’s white bubble isn’t a huge concern considering his zone starts and quality of competition and he posted a career-high in goals, assists, and points.
The Sedins obviously benefit from Malhotra’s defensive zone starts, starting nearly 80% of their shifts in the offensive zone. Burrows benefits also, of course, and all three took advantage with the best Corsi numbers on the team.
Hodgson’s white bubble is conspicuous. The only other forward with a white bubble near him is Raymond (you can barely make it out behind the “m” in his name). While Hodgson wasn’t sheltered all season (and wasn’t with the Sabres after the trade), he was sheltered throughout January and February, seeing a big boost in offensive zone starts. Prior to that, however, he was deployed in a pretty normal fashion and, in terms of puck possession at least, struggled.
Kassian, on the other hand, was sheltered, though the chart more represents his usage in Buffalo than in Vancouver. He did put up a positive Corsi, but it was against weaker competition.
One player to keep an eye on is Ebbett, who played just 18 games for the Canucks due to injury, but moved the puck forward in his limited minutes while starting more often in the defensive zone. Personally, I’d like to see him re-signed as a 13th forward option who can slot in and out of the lineup as necessary.
The one other observation is how well Samuelsson did in Florida. The chart barely represents his time with the Canucks this season as he was traded early on, but it does show that he faced tough competition, started more often in the defensive zone, and still pushed puck possession forward for the Panthers. Sturm was also a positive puck possession player for the Panthers, albeit in slightly easier minutes.