Eastern Conference: Line/Tier vs. Team Production

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



On Thursday, I took a look at how individual tiers for each Western Conference team performed relative to their team’s overall production through even-strength adjusted Corsi. Today, the tiers of the Eastern Conference.

Using tiers of players collected per team by total even-strength TOI is a way of getting around some of the issues when looking at line-by-line performance. Over the course of an entire season, dozens of different line combinations are deployed by coaching, normally the result of injuries or roster moves (e.g. trades, free agent acquisitions, mid-season call-ups). The good thing is that these tiers tend to correlate strongly with the most-regularly used line combinations to begin with, so it’s not just a series of dart throws at numbers.

As always, context is important. Pittsburgh’s run of injuries to all-world talents like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin shuffled the Penguins tiers up quite a bit. Ottawa’s situation was even more ridiculous. Zack Smith, a guy with twenty-four career goals, logged the third-most even-strength minutes on the team.


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 Western Conference Conference. Comparing the two in a year where zero cross-conference games were played only makes the numbers more noisy.




Loaded, loaded top-six. And yet, all I can think of is this Cam Charron piece on Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot. When the Kelly/Peverley PDO machine came apart at the seams, the Bruins well-oiled machine looked just a hair less intimidating. Either way, the top six or so forwards on this team are so fantastic, they can cover a lot of deficiencies.



Show of hands, how many non-Sabres fans could peg Marcus Foligno as the team’s leading adjusted-Corsi guy last season? One of two qualified roster players — along with Christian Ehrhoff on the blue-line — who managed to break-even for an otherwise awful hockey team. 




Kind of a weird team here. Of qualified forwards, Jiri Tlusty’s 49.4% was the adjusted-Corsi floor. What can sink an OK team like this is getting a .908 save percentage at even-strength, combined with nearly thirty-two shots against per sixty minutes.




Peter Mueller, the team’s second-best adjusted-Corsi guy last year (Drew Shore being numero uno), still sits in free agency.




There’s an awful lot of debate about the Montreal Canadiens and whether their regular season success was a smoke-and-mirrors show, particularly after being bounced by the Ottawa Senators in round-one. I don’t see it. This is a good hockey team from top to bottom, with an interesting balance across the top-nine.




Mike Babcock’s infamous “possession is everything” quote should probably be rewritten after last year’s debacle in New Jersey. Perhaps: “Possession is everything, unless your team’s shooting percentages crawl into the gutter permanently and your goaltending duo of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg sandbag your team on a nightly basis.” It really can’t be emphasized enough how unlikely it was/is for a team like this to miss the playoffs. It takes a herculean effort, like, say, .905 SV% at evens.






Balance, balance, balance. I expect tier one to rocket up in the next couple of years. John Tavares really is one of the league’s best players. He’s twenty-two, remember.




This is the nosedive to end all others. That fourth-tier? That is neolithic incompetence for a playoff team, and a decent playoff team at that. Over 500:00 of ES TOI between guys like Darroll Powe and Chris Kreider ended miserably for New York.




I said Montreal wasn’t some weird fluke earlier. So, what does one take from this? They’re certainly the most positive-balanced team in the Eastern Conference, which helped stave off almost historically bad shooting percentages and an innumerable run of injuries. You’ve got guys like Zack Smith in the first tier; Chris Neil’s not far behind. It also shouldn’t surprise that a team with a head coach who consistently talks about shot differentials (i.e., Corsi) is towing this kind of team.




For a team that’s all about offense, the Philadelphia Flyers sure started a hell of a lot of shifts in the defensive zone. You look at this kind of data and automatically assume that deployed specialists like Fedotenko and Talbot were hurting their tiers, but perhaps understated is that guys like Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, and Hartnell were all just below the 50% zone start mark, too. Seemed to take a bit of a toll.






Not that a second-round pick doesn’t have value, but it’s still hard to understand moving Tyler Kennedy on a roster that’s looking to win now. That’s a New York Rangers-esque drop-off in the fourth-tier, but in Pittsburgh, the team is buoyed by incredible shooting percentages on the front-lines. Crosby/Malkin, by the way: over 56% of the shot-attempt battle. Stay healthy.




This should be the least surprising chart of any, I think. The team just had very little outside of that Steven Stamkos line, and it showed. Good news is that the Bolts hold one of the best prospect pools in the league. Bad news is they’re now competing against four teams that got 53% or more Corsi last year. Welcome to the Atlantic.




There’s just so many things to write here, but so little space. Losing Clarke MacArthur was bad, but to a division rival was probably worse. Jay McClement finishing seventh in TOI seems absurdly high. Colton Orr finishing eleventh in ES TOI also seems absurdly high. Mikhail Grabovski’s adjusted-Corsi was higher than fan-favorite Joffrey Lupul’s, and he was a compliance buyout. Phil Kessel’s contract is expiring. Fin.





Tier four includes names like Wojtek Wolski and Mathieu Perreault. Wolski’s become one of the poster boys for being weirdly buried in the depth chart in favor of crappier players, like, say, Jay Beagle. My favorite complaint about Wolski is how hockey is a two-way game, and that forwards need to be responsible on the defensive-end, and how that all ties into some scathing indictment of his play. Wolski led the team in CA/20 last year by an unbelievable margin. Defense matters. He knows it, though.





Positive-thinking: Evander Kane’s really good, turned twenty-two years-old today, and is signed long-term in Winnipeg. Negative thinking: Winnipeg just lost their second-best adjusted-Corsi guy to the KHL, because who the hell knows. Burmistrov was .001 behind Laad for the team league.




Boy, you can always find a new way to make New Jersey’s season look more bizarre by the minute. Here’s their tops competing directly against other teams tops. If that isn’t ridiculous enough, remember that New Jersey and Buffalo finished the season tied in points.




Yeah, I think New York and Pittsburgh have a bit of work cut out for them during training camps in terms of identifying guys who can pick up these lesser minutes.