Western Conference: Line/Tier v. Team Production

Updated: January 10, 2018 at 7:05 pm by Travis Yost




One of the elements of hockey analytics that I think is understudied is the midpoint between individual and team-level data. Line combinations change an awful lot over the course of an eighty-two game season. Even in forty-eight, we see coaches — be it injury-related, performance-related, whatever — continually juggle trios of forwards on a game-by-game deployment. For this reason, I think a lot of people unfortunately shy away from it.

Rather than exhaust the endless-run of combinations per team and pick through a bunch of data that’s short on sample size, I’ve decided to look at tiers of players based on total TOI. This tends to correlate strongly with the actual, most-regularly used combinations by each coach, but also corrects for a number of potential errors.

One example would be the loss of a player long-term, like, say, Chicago’s Patrick Sharp. Sharp, a Quenneville favorite and bona fide top-six forward, missed twenty games during the regular season. As such, he was only available to Chicago for about 58% of regular season games. Another example would be concerning a situation like Ottawa’s, where a player like bottom-six staple Zack Smith would log relatively heavy minutes after a run of losses in the depth chart.

Additionally, it tells us just how well teams were able to play with the pieces available over an entire year.


Each team’s twelve most-regularly deployed forwards are sorted by even-strength time on ice. Data was culled for each individual at even-strength using Corsi, a proxy for possession-time and scoring chance differential. The number was then adjusted for zone-starts, and then dropped into a weighted tier of most-commonly used forwards. It was then (a) compared to the team’s even-strength zone-adjusted Corsi to identify potential outliers; and (b) compared to other team’s similar tier.

Not included is the entire Eastern Conference. Comparing the two in a year where zero cross-conference games were played only makes the numbers more noisy.

And, as always, context is important. Especially when looking at data like this.





Anaheim kind of suffers from the same thing that ails Pittsburgh over in the Eastern Conference, and that’s a lot of top-heaviness. It’s interesting to me that, for how much analytics guys killed Anaheim as a team last year, the Winnik-Koivu-Cogliano line was actually pretty damn good.




Pretty standard stuff for Calgary. The team wasn’t good, no line was particularly good, and their lowest-crop of talent more or less got killed whenever they were on the ice. Keep dressing Brian McGrattan, though.




Chicago’s a weird team with these tiers, because guys like Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa — as referenced earlier — kind of slip based on a lack of total ice-time. Either way, Chicago has about nine players that were consistently relied upon last year to crush competition. Even the guys rotating in/out of the lineup managed to get close to 50% of the shot differential battle. This is how you win a Stanley Cup.


A lot of people fell in love with Columbus last year as this wild sleeper that sort of came out of nowhere. It’s funny how goaltending can play a big role in making a crappy team look not-so-crappy. I’ve got high hopes for Jarmo Kekalainen, though. Better chance than not this team will head in the right direction.


Fun fact: Reilly Smith’s even-strength adjusted Corsi was a rock-solid 54.6%. He’s now in Boston. The Seguin/Eriksson swap is going to be talked about an awful lot in the coming years, but there was hardly a word about Smith’s inclusion when that deal went down. Maybe there should have been.



Another team, like Chicago, that was pretty exceptional at winning the shot battle. They went ahead and added Daniel Alfresdson and Stephen Weiss. Along with Boston, I’d say they’re the favorite to win the Atlantic.


Good lord. Tambellini’s hard-on for team toughness is one of a few reasons why this team absolutely stunk last year. Get away from Taylor Hall et al., and you’re pretty much playing an AHL team. Biggest problem for other teams is that Tambellini’s gone, and MacTavish seems to know what the hell he’s doing.



*picks jaw from floor*

At what point do people start talking about the Anze Kopitar line (along with Dustin Brown and Justin Williams) being one of the best in hockey? Analytics guys have rightfully carried Los Angeles’ water for years, but perhaps more time should be doled out to this trio. They’re eviscerating everyone. Everyone.


This data seems weird to the eye, but Minnesota’s problem and search for a second-line is quite real. Away from Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, only Charlie Coyle really towed excellent possession numbers. A lot of the guys plugged who were shuffled around the middle of the forward ranks (e.g. Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck) were all sub-fifty.


Yeah, this is concerning. Nashville had seven forwards log at least 400:00 TOI at evens last year, and not one came close to breaking even. Patric Hornqvist was well above the mark, but he missed half of the season.


It’s going to be interesting to see the impact Mike Ribeiro has on this team. The Coyotes, collectively, weren’t bad last year. Wonder how the loss of Boyd Gordon impacts them, though. The shutdown center was the team’s second-best adjusted Corsi guy last year, trailing only David Moss.



It’s like a mini-version of Los Angeles, or Chicago. I think the team had an idea of really shoring-up the bottom-six this off-season for the reasons illustrated above, and Tim Kennedy might remediate that issue to some extent. Someone should really pull Ray Shero’s phone cord out of the wall jack, or at the very least, block Doug Wilson’s number from incoming calls.


Lot of balance there. One way to offset having an elite top-line is to have nine, preferably twelve competent guys who can regularly win on margins against their competition. It adds up.


I’m going to present that one without commentary. Ryan Kesler can’t return to form soon enough. Problem is, I think this team needs like two or three Ryan Keslers.



Forty-eight games isn’t a massive sample, but when you look at the disparity between Los Angeles/Vancouver/Detroit/Chicago and Calgary/Columbus/Nashville — sheesh.


If these bars were buildings, someone took sticks of dynamite, threw it on Edmonton’s ground-floor, and watched the structure razed into absolute rubble.