Optimizing the Rangers Lineup

April 16, 2017, by

It’s playoff time, and that means over-analyzing absolutely everything there is to analyze about hockey. Whether it’s a particular goal, a bad call, or the decision to play Nick Holden and Marc Staal in the twilight of a close game, it all deserves our intense scrutiny because well, we’re talking about a chance at a Stanley Cup here. One thing that’s especially crucial in the playoffs, and thus warranting our obsessive analysis, is chemistry.

A couple of weeks back the excellent Ryan Stimson put up a piece on just that. For those of you who don’t know, Stimson runs the Passing Project, which is an effort to track passes that take place during hockey games in order to better understand the little things that make a big difference over the course of a season. While the Passing Project doesn’t quite have every game tracked, they do have a substantial amount of work done already (almost 900 games) and Ryan’s work is worth your attention. The piece can be found over on hockey-graphs.com, and I highly recommend you read it.

The bottom line is this: using the massive amount of passing data that he and his cohorts have collected so far, Stimson was able to group different players by their playing style – balanced, dependent, playmaker, and shooter. From there, he ran some calculations in order to determine the best mix of player types, in order to figure out how a team should optimize their lineup, using xG% as the indicator of success. xG% is basically an automated/mathematical way to determine the kind of quality of chances a player/team has had (think Steve Valiquette’s “1 in 3 slot line passes go in” kind of thing – that would be .33 xG – except done with the kind of data found at corsica.hockey). You can take a loot at how Stimson determines player type, and what mix of player types leads to the highest xG, below, via screencaps I took (you should definitely check out Stimson’s article on chemistry/player types, in addition to his Tableau profile with all of the graphs and data as well).

So given all of this, I decided it would be fun to take a look at the Rangers’s current lines and whether or not they’re optimally configured. Obviously opinions may differ on what works best and how, but I think Stimson’s data and work can provide an interesting perspective on how exactly to compose an ideal lineup.

First we’ve got the top line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello. It’s a touch hard to see, but more or less, we’ve got three well rounded players, with the exception of Zucc’s low shot volume. Chris Kreider doesn’t pass quite as much, but we can see he’s exceptional on transition play and build up play. This line is pretty excellently composed.

Next we’ve got Jimmy Vesey, Mika Zibanejad, and Rick Nash. Full disclosure, because Mika Zibanejad didn’t have as much data from his Rangers career so far, I used his data from his time in Ottawa, which should be more complete. Vesey here is the best forward in terms of dangerous shot contributions, with Nash having the best shot volume and total influence. Zibanejad, like Stepan, is a pretty balanced player, helping to anchor this line with his all-around ability.

As we move down the lineup things get a little bit more interesting, because the players aren’t all quite as well rounded, and so the prospect of moving guys around becomes slightly more appealing. Here Michael Grabner is not particularly balanced as a player, although his transition play is predictably exceptional. Hayes and Miller are both more or less well-rounded, except Hayes is better on shot volume, transition play, and dangerous shot contributions, while Miller is superior in terms of primary shot assists, build up play, and total passing.

Lastly we’ve got our fourth line. Here we can see that Oscar Lindberg is the most well rounded player on the line, and while Jesper Fast is pretty good in some areas, he’s lacking in terms of build up play, shot volume, and total influence. Tanner Glass is, well, not a lot of anything. For fun I’ve also included a graph of Tanner Glass compared to Pavel Buchnevich. We can see that Buch isn’t particularly great in terms of shot volume or build up play, but he excels on the transition and in terms of primary shot assists, and is particularly good at creating dangerous scoring chances.

Now I’m not exactly one to tell you what’s right or wrong, but I just think this all offers a different perspective on lineup composition and how to optimize your team’s chances, something that’s especially important in the playoffs when every second counts. Given all this data what changes, if any would you make? For me I think I’d put Buch higher up the lineup, drop Vesey to the third line, and put Grabner down on the fourth line. Maybe you’d do something different – that’s kind of the fun of all of this data, and all of this exciting hockey we have to watch.

"Optimizing the Rangers Lineup", 4 out of 5 based on 9 ratings.
Categories : Analysis, Forwards


  1. Richter1994 says:

    Buch is offensively gifted and needs to be top 6 to be effective. Putting him on the 4th line is useless. I would:


    McD-G (only because the illustrious coach won’t put him anywhere else)

    • Ray says:

      Maybe you are right, but my instinct is that a guy who isn’t good enough to play on the fourth line isn’t good enough to play on the second line of a good team. Maybe Buch belongs on the second line somewhere else.

      Of course, if one presumes he will get better, we should not give him up so quickly and the right place for him now is then likely the bench.


      It is sad that Klein and Holden are so bad that you seriously (and sanely) suggest Kampfer as an option.

    • Walt says:

      I’d chance Grabner for Vesey, and change nothing else with the lines, this is for the regular season.

      Right now it appears that Glass has earned himself ice time, so he should play until he is no longer effective!!!!!!!

  2. Bobby B says:

    Just Win Baby!!!!

  3. supermaz says:

    Hope we see Kampfer tonight.

  4. Bloomer says:

    The 4th. line has been very effective. I am puzzled why anyone would advocate taking Glass out of the lineup. If anything they should of been played more

    I would reunite Kreider and Zibanejad their speed compliment one another and they were very effective playing together in the early part of the season.

    If KK is healthy I would insert him for Holden. A fresh set of legs and a right hand shot may help with the Rangers break out.

    • Rich S says:

      Totally agree.
      You should coach tonights game!! Zib and kreider and Buch should be reunited, they were terrific the first 20 games ….before buch and zib injuries!!!
      KK for holden, agree with your reasoning….plus KK will mix it up!
      Want to keep glass in the lineup also….but who would sit?
      Probably Buch, this will be a rough game for the youngster….

  5. Chris F says:

    I’d like to see Buchnevich in the lineup tonight. Glass has played well, shown his presence, and made a critical impact in game 1, but it’d be worthwhile to add an additional scoring/playmaking touch to see what happens.

    Also, with the Miller-Hayes-Grabner trio having fizzled, there is no longer any reason to insist that Grabner remain on the third line. He’s defensively responsible, so he should fit nicely with Lindberg and Fast, plus he’s fast as hell so he can help sustain a fourth line forecheck, while still being a threat for a break if the 4th line gets pushed back into their own zone.

    Also, I want Holden to sit. Klein would be a physical replacement for Glass, and should help with clearing the net. Overall, he’s probably not going to swing things that much, but the message to Holden must be sent: he has to be more reliable and alert in his own zone.

    • Peter says:

      Grabner has two goals in two games on the third line. Shifting him to the fourth and consequently giving him less minutes makes no sense to me.

  6. roadrider says:

    What’s the mathematical formula for stapling Holden and Staal to the bench in the last two minutes of the game when protecting lead?

  7. Chris F says:

    Anyone have any thoughts on why the Hawks are so bad right now?

    • Bloomer says:

      More to do with how well Nashville is playing. They have highly skilled dmen. Grinding forwards and are getting great goaltending by Rinne.

    • Rich S says:

      Could it be Nashvilles physical play leading the hawks in hit 85-64?
      Along with Nashvilles top line and defensemen pk subban and ellis!!!

      Will Conner Mcdavid have a better career than sidney crosby?

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        If only the Hawks had claimed McIlrath when they had the chance. They’d probably be up 2-0 in this series right now. 🙂

    • Walt says:

      Maybe some of the players are starting show their long teeth, Hossa for one????? Just a thought…….

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        I think you may have nailed it. Also, they’ve had to integrate a lot of youngsters. When you draft at the bottom of the draft year after year, sooner or later, no matter how great the scouting is, the law of averages on developing succesful youngsters starts to catch up to you.

        That being said, with that coach and those elite players, I wouldn’t write them off just yet. I had them in 7 games and I’m sticking with it…or my bracket goes bye-bye! 🙂

  8. Chris F says:

    And did anyone see Brian Boyle with his dazzling behind the back, behind the net pass to set up the OT game winner last night? Brilliant.

  9. supermaz says:

    I don’t understand why everyone dismisses Kampfer. Played much better than Klein.

  10. Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

    AV just moments ago….

    “Chris Kreider has had two ordinary games,” Vigneault said, per RDS’ Luc Gelinas (quote has been translated). “I expect more from him.”

    So do we all. Message sent. Let’s see if our so-called star responds.

    • Chris F says:

      I’m fairly convinced that most of the AV critics rarely if ever listen to his press conferences or media scrums. He is very insightful and more often than not gives a fair assessment of players performances. In fact, the things that a lot of people get on him for allegedly being indifferent to or ignorant of are issues that he talks about frequently. He knows what he’s doing more often than not (though even I scratch my head at the Holden / Staal thing), but it’s up to the players to execute.

      • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

        Well, he doesnt throw water bottles enough, doesnt wave his arms or flap his gums enough (except when chewing his gum which seems to irritate some), and frankly his press conferences are as boring as I’ve ever heard. Maybe that’s it? 🙂

        But none of that means a thing. AV’s philosophy is very simple…he is going to be toughest on his most talented players. Meaning Kreider, Miller and Hayes. That’s what he did with the Sedin twins. Good coaches will hold their best players to a higher standard–especially young ones that perhaps haven’t figured it all out yet. He knows if he unlocks their vast potential, then all of a sudden, the Rangers CAN be a legit SC contender.

        • Ray says:

          Good point. He is much tougher on Holden than he is on Clendening for example. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have benched Holden in Game 2 — oh wait.

          You are just wrong. Yes, he is most likely going to criticize the top players – to wit, the players he won’t bench. Second level players get benched if they disappoint. Third level players often can’t get into the lineup no matter what they do. I’d pick being a star under AV any day.

          • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

            I have no idea what you just said.

            My point is simple…AV generally calls out players (or in the case of Miller and Hayes benches players) who he thinks have more to give. He doesnt call out Stepan or Zuc or Nash lets say, because they are max effort guys who are what they are.

            Has he stuck with Holden too long? Perhaps. But Clendo is another advanced stats darling that no one wants and might not even be in the league next year. Kampfer is adequate. Klein may not be healthy. It’s not like he has Brian Leetch sitting on the bench here.

            If Klein is healhty, I’d play him. If Kampfer can be trusted, maybe him. But there is also merit in keeping your leading goal scorer on defense in the lineup, try to correct what is wrong with his game, and maybe elevate that performer which clearly hasn’t been good.

            You can say he’s been bad for awhile now, and that would be true. Same for Hayes…he’s been brutal for two months. Should he be benched for Buch?

      • Walt says:

        the guy puts me to sleep!!!!!

  11. Johnny Red says:

    I keep seeing all kinds of different sites for all kinds of statistics, but it doesn’t work. these kinds of things are dehumanizing. These are people not computer pieces or software. The human element to all sports is a HUGE factor, that’s why they play the games!
    These statistics are good to a point, but when you start relying on them for everything that’s when it’s a problem. There is no statistic for a big hit or a fight that can sometimes change momentum in a game. There are so many other aspects of the game that can not be measured by any statistic.
    Lets just remember these are humans not chess or checker pieces of a board game. The human factor can’t be measured or controlled and that’s what makes sports so GREAT!

    • Eddie!Eddie!Eddie! says:

      Bang on correct. Joe Torre once famously said, “Never forget this game has a heartbeat to it” that goes beyond the advanced metrics. If that’s true in the ultimate “fancy stat sport”–baseball, it most certainly is in hockey, where much of the success is harder to quantify mathematically.

      (Movie version) Herb Brooks to Craig Patrick…”I’m not looking for best players Craig, I’m looking for the right ones”. Never has been said better than that. That’s hockey in a nutshell–and why we love it.

    • Walt says:

      Good point, as in the Leafs game last night. Polok goes out with a knee injury, wakes up the Leafs, they score two goals. The game goes into OT, and they win. What a novel concept??????????

    • Reenavipul says:

      27-5 10 chances against, 4 quality chances, 0 goals against

      18-22 10 chances against, 6 quality chances, 3 goals against

      27-42 4 chances against, 2 quality chances, 1 goal against.

  12. HOF 19 says:

    This has the potential to be a series changing game. Would be nice to win a game by showing the Hockey world that this Rangers team will win games and it just does not matter at all who the opponent is……..CAN WE BE THAT GOOD !!!!!!! would be nice ……for once !

  13. Barry Pratley says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the players, although Pavel definitely should be in the top six. I’d just get rid of the coach, who appeared to want Montreal to win more than the Rangers. Why else make the decisions he made in the 3rd period, Game 2?