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September 21, 2011
Howe and Why
More Ice Time, Please!

by Robert Vollman


As part of a larger study to better predict breakout players, we've researched the correlation between scoring rates and ice-time, to better identify those who might be overdue for either an increase or a reduction.

Simply put, the premise is that the more you score, the more ice-time you should get, especially on the power play, and especially for forwards. Using the basic formula we developed to determine how much ice-time a player should get based on his even-strength scoring, we can find which players are getting more or less than their fair share.


For defensemen the correlation between scoring and ice-time isn't nearly as significant, since one's defensive play is a more direct route to being awarded more ice-time. Nevertheless, there is a slight upward trend for defensemen—the higher your even-strength scoring rate (shown per 60 minutes on the X-axis), the more ice-time you can expect per game (shown in second on the Y-axis).


Based on this trend line, the defensemen who were short-changed last year were generally defensive liabilities, offensive-minded blueliners like Marc-Andre Bergeron, Cody Franson, and Anton Babchuk, and tough guys who take too many penalties like Tyson Strachan, Deryk Engelland, Adam McQuaid, Mike Komisarek, and Matthew Corrente.

If we try to rule out such players by considering only those with a decent defensive GVT of 2.0, and who take penalties at a rate below 1.0 per 60 minutes, we get the following list of defensemen whose scoring should have earned them more opportunities than they actually received.

Defensemen who deserve more playing time
Player		ESP/60	EST
Cody Franson	1.3  	13.2
Ben Lovejoy    	1.4  	14.0
Anton Babchuk  	1.1  	13.3
Matt Gilroy    	0.8  	12.6
Adam McQuaid   	1.0  	13.4
Alec Martinez  	0.8  	13.4
Randy Jones    	0.9  	14.0
Sean O'Donnell 	0.9  	13.9
Brian Rafalski 	1.8  	16.6
Carl Gunnarson 	1.0  	14.3
ESP/60: Even-strength points per 60 minutes
EST: Even-strength ice-time per game
Only players with a defensive GVT over 2.0 and under 1.0 minor penalties per 60 minutes

Some of these players, like Anton Babchuk, Matt Gilroy, and Alec Martinez, are known to be defensive liabilities and were therefore carefully sheltered, preventing their defensive GVT's from becoming the disasters they otherwise should have. Ignore them.

Instead, consider players like Randy Jones, Sean O'Donnell, and Adam McQuaid, whose lack of ice-time can't be so easily explained. Despite changing teams, unfortunately Jones finds himself in Winnipeg behind Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, and O'Donnell in Chicago behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, meaning neither one is likely to get rewarded this season either.

On the flip side, those who got the most generous servings of ice-time were those whose defensive talents are most respected. Indeed, Iain Fyffe once developed a statistic to determine a player's defensive abilities based on the amount of their ice-time that couldn't be explained by one's offensive contributions. If that were still calculated today, Duncan Keith, Marc Staal, Henrik Tallinder, Jay Bouwmeester, and Greg Zanon would be among the leaders.

In our quest to identify which defensemen were overplayed, we can restrict ourselves only to those without those dominant defensive abilities, who earned under 4.0 defensive GVT.

Defensemen who deserve less playing time
Player             	DGVT 	ESP/60 	EST
Dion Phaneuf         	3.4  	0.8   	19.4
Francois Beauchemin  	3.6  	0.6   	18.6
Chris Phillips       	2.4  	0.3   	17.8
Jack Johnson         	0.5  	0.5   	18.3
Joni Pitkanen        	2.3  	1.0   	19.7
Dennis Seidenberg    	1.4  	0.8   	19.1
Zach Bogosian       	-0.4	0.6   	18.4
Sergei Gonchar       	1.7 	0.4   	17.6
Tom Gilbert          	3.2  	0.6  	18.2
Jeff Petry           	0.1  	0.2	16.9
Only players under 4.0 Defensive GVT

Given the higher difficulty of their defensive assignments, Dion Phaneuf, Chris Phillips, and Zach Bogosian are perhaps better than their GVT indicates, but are they also good enough to justify all that ice-time?

The key here seems to be playing for teams without a lot of options, like Ottawa, Edmonton, and Toronto, or perhaps to be a young, developing player in whom the team is clearly happy to invest, like Jack Johnson, Zach Bogosian, and Jeff Petry. Harder to explain are players like Joni Pitkanen, who seem to get gobs and gobs of ice-time no matter how mediocre their results.


Obviously, the effect of scoring on ice-time is more pronounced for forwards. Regardless of their defensive play, it's very rare for a forward to enjoy close to 17-18 minutes per game without scoring at least 2.0 points per 60 minutes.


Again, those being short-changed are mostly enforcers and defensive liabilities, and also those who were carefully sheltered on the fourth line—you'd expect them to light the lamp under those favorable conditions.

To truly find the players most deserving of more ice-time we had to consider only those with at least a 1.0 defensive GVT, fewer than 1.0 minor penalty per 60 minutes, a positive Quality of Competition, and an offensive zone start below 55%. Granted those are a lot of conditions, but we need to filter out the defensively weak, the undisciplined, and the carefully sheltered.

Forwards who deserve more playing time
Player          	ESP/60 	EST
Sidney Crosby  		4.2  	16.0
David Moss     		2.2  	10.6
Jeff Halpern   		2.0  	10.3
Michael Grabner		2.6  	12.6
Lauri Korpikoski	2.3  	11.8
Erik Christensen	1.8  	10.6
Tim Brent      		1.2	8.9
Teddy Purcell  		2.0	11.3
Jiri Tlusty    		1.3   	9.7
Nathan Gerbe   		2.1	12.0
Only players with defensive GVT over 1.0, under 1.0 minor penalties
per 60 minutes, positive Quality of Competition, and Ozone% below 55%.

Sidney Crosby was so dominant last year that no amount of ice-time was sufficient, but the rest of the list is composed of players whose play ought to have earned them consideration for better opportunities. With the exceptions of Tim Brent and Jiri Tlusty, everyone on the list was scoring at a top-six level, and without the typical explanations of being sheltered, highly penalized, or a one-dimensional scorer.

On the flip side there are plenty of players who received far more ice-time than their mediocre offensive play would normally have earned. Ilya Kovalchuk, Scott Gomez, David Booth, and Dany Heatley are just a few examples of players that are going to have to step up, or see their ample opportunities dry up.

Forwards who deserve less playing time
Player         		ESP/60 	EST
Ilya Kovalchuk 		1.6  	18.2
Scott Gomez    		1.0 	14.9
David Booth    		1.4  	15.9
Tyler Bozak    		1.0  	14.5
Mike Fisher    		1.1  	14.6
Dany Heatley   		1.6  	15.4
Jay McClement  		1.0  	13.6
Travis Zajac   		1.5  	15.1
Ryan Getzlaf   		2.5  	17.8
Stephen Weiss  		1.5  	14.9

Great defensive play is obviously not an explanation for most of the over-awarding of ice-time on this list—perhaps only Travis Zajac played well enough in his own end last year to justify the extra minutes (apologies to Mike Fisher and Jay McClement). Ryan Getzlaf is the only one to score at a top-six range, but Anaheim's lack of secondary players potentially earned him an overdose of even strength action.

Power play

Interestingly, the trend lines are the same on the power play for both defensemen and forwards. Even a secondary power play option who is struggling can hope for just under a minute per game, but the additional opportunities come to those whose power play scoring rate is higher, regardless of whether they're on the blue line or not.

Players deserving more/less power play time
Player          	PPP/60 	PPT
Anthony Stewart   	5.8  	1.3
Matt D'Agostini   	6.2  	1.7
Tyler Kennedy     	5.6  	1.9
Dave Bolland     	5.8  	2.0
Sergei Kostitsyn  	5.4  	1.9
Mikael Samuelsson 	6.1  	2.5
Michael Ryder     	5.1  	2.1
Nick Foligno      	4.2  	1.8
Marian Hossa      	6.5  	2.7
Saku Koivu        	5.3  	2.3
Alex Ovechkin     	4.1  	4.5
Chris Kunitz      	2.4  	4.2
Sidney Crosby     	5.1  	5.4
Brad Richards     	4.5  	5.3
Evgeni Malkin     	3.7  	5.3
Minimum 10 power play points
PPP/60: Power Play Points per 60 minutes
PPT: Minutes on the power play per game

The Pittsburgh Penguins used their top line almost exclusively with the man advantage, but Kunitz and Malkin were terrible, and Crosby non-dominant. Maybe they'd be better off using some depth options like Tyler Kennedy more often.

Given the small sample size, luck can easily account for some of these great performances with the man advantage—but only the first four names on the list (Anthony Stewart, Matt D'Agostini, Tyler Kennedy, and Dave Bolland) have failed to produce at this high level at least once in the recent past. Indeed, several of these players have been consistently dominant on the secondary units, and promotions to the top line are long overdue.

Are these breakout players?

This was part of a larger study to develop a system to identify players with the highest probabilities of either breaking out, or taking big steps backward. In hindsight, a definite correlation exists between players that significantly outperform or underperform expectations, and significant increases/decreases in ice-time.

Developing a method to identify which players are due for a big jump in ice-time is the key to unlocking that new system, and that's dependent on a deeper understanding of how opportunities are distributed in the first place.

Developing blue chippers and strong defensive players get more ice time than their scoring would normally permit, while the highly penalized and carefully sheltered get far less. This season, keep a careful eye on those without these reasons to explain their abundance or lack of ice-time, because they may significantly defy expectations.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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In The Crease (09/21)
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Howe and Why (09/20)
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Howe and Why (09/22)
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Howe and Why (09/22)

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