On Jan. 24, Elliotte Friedman offered up some thoughts about shift lengths in his 30 Thoughts column. Specifically, it was about how much time Erik Karlsson spends on the ice over the course of a single shift (#17):
A year ago, Karlsson played the most in the NHL (2,375:55) and had the longest shift length (1:04). But he was tied for 72nd in shifts per game and 34th in overall shifts taken. It’s not like he’s stapled to the bench, as his overall time is eighth. But he’s now second in the NHL in shifts per game, going from 27.1 to 32.2 per night. His length has dropped to 0:50, which is 38th. He’s agreed to stay out a little less, but the trade-off is minimal as they put him out there more.
What does this have to do with the Flames? Well, shorter shifts generally result in more effective shifts. And Johnny Gaudreau has gone from being tied for 64th among all forwards in average shift time in 2015-16 to fourth this season.
That’s quite a jump, wouldn’t you say?
Here’s the Flames’ average shift time for the past three seasons. We start with 2014-15, when the Flames unexpectedly made the playoffs; we continue into 2015-16, when they bottomed out again; and we finish with this season, when they have a new coach (and are back in the playoff hunt). (Click on the chart for full-sized image.)
Just about everyone’s average shift length has gone up this year, with a couple of exceptions in T.J. Brodie (who’s been bumped down to the second pairing in place of a top pairing that’s working pretty dang well) and Jyrki Jokipakka (who has been, well, bad).
You see some guys with notable increases, too. Matt Stajan is one; he’s a responsible bottom six centre who has proved himself reliable once again over the course of this season. Michael Frolik has gotten a jump, too, as the line he plays on has been the Flames’ best this season.
Then you’ve got guys like Sam Bennett, still finding his way in the NHL, getting much longer shifts. Sean Monahan went from modest growth under Hartley to much more this season. And then there’s Gaudreau, who leads everyone on his team in shift length – including the defencemen.
We’ve seen Gaudreau try to do a lot on his own this season, and a fair amount of the time, that backfires. Monahan going out there and scoring goals with a high shooting percentage – as he has done throughout his NHL career – does a lot to alleviate any flaws in his game, but Gaudreau has (deservedly) set himself up for higher offensive expectations.
Both Monahan and Gaudreau have had about an extra four seconds added to their shifts this season. The difference? Monahan’s shift length this season was Gaudreau’s last year. Gaudreau has had even more time added to his – and it’s not exactly paying off.
Perhaps reigning Gaudreau in could be a solution to some of his struggles this season. Not to say he doesn’t have the endurance a professional athlete requires, but we are talking about a now-23-year-old (still a kid, really) who once overdosed on Nutella and can’t identify fruit.
On a more serious note, though, there is evidence to believe players Gaudreau’s age should be playing longer shifts – but perhaps not as long as he currently is. Hockey Graphs took a look into when NHLers are at their peak physical condition, and surprise, they tend to have greater stamina when they’re younger – but having their shifts exceed 50 seconds on average may be asking a bit much.
Brodie is the only other Flame to hit the 50 second mark in the past three years, and remember, Brodie is one of the few who actually plays shorter shifts this season.
As talented as Gaudreau is and however much he deserves top line minutes, maybe shorter (and more frequent) shifts would be a better way of utilizing him. Even if he is the go-to guy when the Flames end up down a winger (such as they were against the Flyers), Gaudreau could probably stand to spend a little less time on the ice all at once.