Who are NHL Coaches Playing More with the (Big) Lead?

Photo by Michael Miller, via Wikimedia Commons

Johan Larsson’s TOI% jumps 8.5% when the Sabres are leading by 2 or more goals (which is never). Photo by Michael Miller, via Wikimedia Commons

Right out the gates, I knew two things: 1) I wanted to take TOI% data from close scores and subtract it from TOI% data from 2+ goal leads, and 2) that it would automatically tell us that perceived poorer players are given more playing time with the lead. Why? Because they tend to play less when the score is close, which increases the likelihood that a differential with 2+ goal time on-ice will show they get to play more with a big lead. That said, I wanted to run a quick study to see just how much of a difference that time swing could be, and which players come out of the woodwork on either end.

But first, I want to whittle away the small sample players, and to do that I’m going to run a quick test to see at what # of games played this TOI 2+ minus TOI Close differential (let’s call it “TOI Lead Diff”) stabilizes.

Using War-on-Ice.com data, as you can see the numbers generally settle into a typical league range after the players have reached about 20 games played. From about 50 GP onward, you really don’t see anybody go far beyond the +/- 5% range, which suggests that this kind of deployment is largely left to replacement players or (possibly) players that are dealing with injuries.

So, removing players with 19 GP or less, now I want to see just how strong the relationship is between this variable and player TOI% with the score close (generally, a trust-in-coaches “good vs. bad” player metric).

Hmm, not nearly as strong as you’d expect. Part of me wondered if maybe it’s just a matter of sample (in a lower sample, players on teams that don’t lead very often could contribute to a poor relationship), so I increased the low-water point from 20 GP to 50 GP:

Still not particularly high, though there is a trend. Overall, this suggests to me that coaches are a bit all-over-the-board when it comes to this measure. One last way to check this is to see if there are any familiar teams popping up when we look at the top and bottom of the individual player leaderboard (to stay true to what I was seeing above, we’ll keep the 50 GP low-water mark):

Name Pos Team TOI% Cl TOI% Lead TOI Lead Diff
Mark Letestu CR CBJ 19.4% 25.5% 6.0%
Deryk Engelland DR CGY 26.8% 32.6% 5.8%
Max Talbot C BOS/COL 22.7% 28.4% 5.7%
Drew Miller LR DET 21.0% 26.5% 5.5%
Stephane Robidas D TOR 29.7% 34.9% 5.2%
Luke Glendening C DET 22.7% 27.9% 5.2%
Matt Stajan C CGY 20.6% 25.7% 5.1%
Marcel Goc C STL/PIT 18.1% 23.1% 5.0%
Ryan Garbutt RL DAL 24.8% 29.8% 5.0%
Zbynek Michalek D STL/ARI 34.3% 39.2% 4.9%
Jim Slater C WPG 14.3% 19.2% 4.9%
Tanner Glass L NYR 18.9% 23.7% 4.8%
Jared Boll R CBJ 15.0% 19.8% 4.8%
Mark Barberio D T.B 31.8% 36.2% 4.5%
Dominic Moore CL NYR 21.8% 26.2% 4.4%
Taylor Beck RL NSH 21.6% 25.9% 4.3%
Eric Nystrom LR NSH 21.8% 26.0% 4.2%
Erik Gudbranson D FLA 31.2% 35.2% 4.1%
Corey Tropp RL CBJ 18.6% 22.7% 4.1%
Name Pos Team TOI% Cl TOI% Lead TOI Lead Diff
Kevin Bieksa D VAN 35.5% 31.7% -3.8%
Ryan Suter D MIN 44.6% 40.7% -3.9%
Taylor Hall L EDM 31.7% 27.7% -4.0%
Mike Ribeiro C NSH 31.0% 26.9% -4.1%
Aaron Ekblad D FLA 35.5% 31.4% -4.1%
Patrick Kane R CHI 31.0% 26.7% -4.3%
Marc-Edouard Vlasic D S.J 35.4% 30.9% -4.5%
Josh Bailey RL NYI 29.1% 24.6% -4.5%
Alex Ovechkin LR WSH 32.5% 28.0% -4.5%
Tom Wilson R WSH 24.1% 19.5% -4.6%
Blake Wheeler R WPG 30.3% 25.6% -4.6%
Tyler Seguin CR DAL 31.2% 26.5% -4.7%
Sidney Crosby C PIT 32.1% 27.4% -4.7%
Jamie Benn L DAL 29.7% 24.9% -4.8%
Jonathan Toews C CHI 28.9% 24.0% -4.9%
Phil Kessel R TOR 30.5% 25.4% -5.1%
Dion Phaneuf D TOR 35.5% 30.4% -5.1%
James Neal RL NSH 29.1% 23.7% -5.5%
Cam Atkinson R CBJ 28.0% 22.4% -5.5%

Without a doubt it seems, at least at the tails of this measure, that there are good players at the top and bottom 6 players at the bottom. Nashville and Columbus certainly seem to be using this idea at a level a bit higher than others, and reasons for doing so could include depth or conditioning issues. Also, I’m not sure what the heck Barry Trotz is doing with Tom Wilson (maybe he fears minor penalties). There are a couple of guys in the top group that have a reputation as “shutdown” guys (Marcel Goc, Dominic Moore), but they seem to be the exception.

Just for kicks, how about a list of guys that aren’t trusted with any minutes, whether in the lead or not:

Name Pos Team TOI% Cl TOI% Lead TOI Lead Diff
Ryan Carter C MIN 17.9% 17.9% 0.0%
Marc-Andre Cliche CR COL 18.3% 18.0% -0.3%
Shawn Horcoff LC DAL 21.5% 21.3% -0.2%
Boyd Gordon C EDM 21.6% 21.9% 0.3%
Daniel Briere RC COL 22.3% 22.0% -0.2%
Justin Fontaine R MIN 22.3% 22.6% 0.3%
Tomas Jurco RL DET 22.6% 22.5% -0.1%
Steve Downie RL PIT 22.8% 23.1% 0.3%
Dennis Everberg C COL 23.0% 23.2% 0.1%
Steve Bernier R N.J 23.1% 23.1% 0.0%

Yeah, that seems about right.

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