John Tortorella loved his matchups. One of the major points of his coaching style is giving tough minutes to those he could rely on defensively. If there is one area where he and new coach Alain Vigneault are similar, it is here. Both coaches are known for matchups and zone-starting, deploying the offensive players in the offensive zone draws and defensive players on defensive zone draws. This style plays to the strength of certain players, and particularly keeps the weak defenders away from big draws in the defensive zone. Explaining how players are deployed is tough, but luckily Rob Vollman has HockeyAbstract.com, where we can create player usage charts.
A quick note about the chart above, the Y axis is Corsi Rel QoC, the X axis is OZone start percent. The size of each bubble represents the average TOI per game (larger bubbles for more ice time), and the color represents the RCorsi (red is bad, blue is good). The chart is broken down into four quadrants, which tells us how each player was deployed: Shut Down, Two-Way, Less-Sheltered, and Sheltered. Put it all together, and you get how each forward was deployed on the ice, for how long, and how effective they were at driving puck possession. Also, I set the GP minimum to 20, so that’s why Mats Zuccarello doesn’t appear on this chart.
First and foremost, Brian Boyle was almost exclusively used as a shut down guy. Less than 40% of his zone starts were in the offensive zone, which means he was tasked with winning key draws and preventing the opposition from scoring. This type of usage explains his -6.8 RCorsi, which actually isn’t bad when you consider defensive specialists don’t really generate many offensive opportunities. Only Derick Brassard comes close to seeing the type of competition and zone starts that Boyle saw.
Right under Boyle you see Darroll Powe and Arron Asham getting “less sheltered” minutes. You also notice the small size of the bubble, and the red color. This shows that neither had a very good year, They were facing by far the worst competition on the team, and weren’t able to drive puck possession (only Chris Kreider had a worse RCorsi). They weren’t trusted much by Torts, and were used sparingly. You may look at their zone starts and assume they were used as defensive specialists as well, but I believe that is misleading, since you want your offensive guys to get those draws, not your fourth line guys. This probably plays into why both were waived earlier this month.
Those four circles on the right are Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, and Brad Richards. All four received an overwhelming number of offensive zone starts, but only Nash and Richards were able to drive possession. If this chart doesn’t illustrate the struggles that both rookies had this season, then nothing will. They will obviously get better as they get more acquainted to the NHL, and a coaching change to a more agreeable personality will likely help as well. However, it should be noted that both kids struggled mightily, despite over 60% of their shifts starting in the offensive zone.
The last three bubbles I want to focus on are those of Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, and Derek Stepan. All three were used as two-way guys, relied upon to not only generate offensive opportunities, but to play solid defense as well. These three also have the largest bubbles, which is consistent with how much the coach relied on them in the game. This shouldn’t really surprise anyone.
But Dave, Torts isn’t the coach anymore. Why does it matter how Torts used his forwards?
Simple: Torts and AV both believe in matchups and zone starting, as stated above. AV is notorious for starting guys like Manny Malholtra in the offenzive zone for 30% of his shifts, while the Sedin twins got over 65% of their starts in the offensive zone (down from 80% in 2011-2012). AV is going to deploy the same strategy here, and we can expect guys like Nash, Richards, and Kreider to get 65% OZone starts, while guys like Boyle will get 30% OZone starts. It’s something to keep your eye on as we start to see AV’s strategies implemented.