As this season has progressed, we have occasionally stopped to take a look at how Joel Quenneville has been using his roster. Our first stop of the season was after just 5 games, which was an opportunity to look at what might've been developing, but certainly was too early to take anything as a concrete trend. One of the things we saw then was the Jonathan Toews line getting more defensive zone starts than any other; that changed when we looked again at the 25 game mark, and we will see that it has gotten even further away from that since then, along with other trends. We're halfway home, people. Let's take a look.
Something that should come as a surprise to no one is that the "Human Shield" line of Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith (along with a rotating left wing) has the lowest offensive-zone start percentage on the team. Kruger and Smith have started just 29.6% and 28.6% of their shifts in the offensive zone, respectfully. Joakim Nordstrom, who has played with those two almost exlusively when he has been with the 'Hawks this season, has the lowest on the 'Hawks at just 12.0%. Nordstrom's number ranks him the 2nd lowest among NHL forwards who have played at least 50 minutes of ice time, which Kruger and Smith sit at 11th and 10th in the same ranking, respectively. They haven't faced the thoughest competition on the team, as you can see on the chart below, but they're all right around 28.5% quality of competition, justifying them as a shutdown line. And they have been effective in their shutdown role, as Smith and Kruger both have a CF above 50%, and Nordstrom is the only forward on the 'Hawks with a CF south of 50%, at 48.9%.
Continuing with offensive zone starts, 'Hawks so-called second and third lines have incredible zone start percentages. The players that have often made up the 'Hawks middle-six forwards have been Patrick Kane, Brad Richards, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, and Bryan Bickell. These six players are the top six 'Hawks in O-zone start percetnage, and each of them have O-zone start percentages of 65.4% or higher. Among NHL forwards who have played at least 100 minutes of ice time, Versteeg owns the second highest O-zone start percentage at 70.0%. Obviously this is a pretty extreme sheltering of your middle-six, but it's for good reason. Versteeg, Richards, and Kane had been playing as a line until Versteeg's recent injury, and all three are among the top 5 'Hawks in points at 5v5. And when you have a very defensively-responsible top line consisting of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Brandon Saad, as well as an effective shutdown line via the Human Shield line, it definitely makes sense to give your better offensive players more of the offensive chances.
One player whose numbers surprised me a bit is Brandon Saad. The 22-year old winger has been nothing to scoff at possession wise, but is also the 6th lowest Blackhawk in CF at 54.2%. Certainly not a bad number, but nothing special, especially on this 'Hawks team. He and his normal linemates Toews and Hossa all have similar O-zone start percentages, all right around the 55-58% range. He is third on the team in quality of competition, and has a negative relative CF%. And yet in spite of all of those things, he leads the team in points at 5v5 with 23 (9G, 14A). That's 13th in the NHL. For a guy in his contract year (granted, as a restricted free agent), he is certainly making a case to get a sizeable raise this summer.
Here's the forward usage chart. All players presented have played 100+ minutes of ice time. It may be worth noting that I've changed the stats on the axes, and what the size and color of the bubbles represent, thanks to a suggestion from commenter birdie on the last installment.
Something that will certainly not surprise you is that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya remain the lowest 'Hawks defensemen in O-zone starts, and the highest two defensemen in quality of competition. As has been Coach Q's M.O. for the past few seasons, he's been using the Swedish duo as the 'Hawks shutdown pair. Now, whether or not that is a good tactic has started to come into question a bit more this season, as Oduya has certainly not been having his best season. He sometimes appears a bit overwhelmed on the ice, and maybe it's just me, but I don't know that anyone has made more defensive mistakes this season. All of that isn't stats related, though. In terms of possession numbers, the duo are the two lowest 'Hawk blue-liners in CF%. Oduya is the only 'Hawks defenseman below 50%, as he has a CF% of 49.0%. Hjammer boasts a 53.3%
Still unchanged is the extreme sheltering of the 'Hawks third pair. The 'Hawks third pair has been a rotating door all season, as six different defensemen have played on the bottom pair at some point this season, and none but Michal Roszival have played more than 21 games. Rozy (58.5%) is also the only bottom pair d-man that has a O-zone start percentage below 60.0%. David Rundblad remains the most sheltered defenseman, with an O-zone start percentage of 69.0%, and he gets just 11:50 of ice time per game, which is lowest among 'Hawks defensemen who have played more than 5 games (which is all but 3). I said this before, but maybe sheltering him a bit less wouldn't be the worst idea, but at the same time, if it's not broke, don't fix it.
Here's the usage chart for defensemen:
Changes that can be made
I'm hesitant to even suggest things here. The only rational thing I can think of is to try to get recent call-up Teuvo Teravainen some more ice time and see what you have in him, and that's not even made with any sort of statistical backing. Like I said with Rundblad, you'd like to think you don't have to shelter him as much, and he certainly seems to be getting more comfortable on the ice as the season goes on. But, the 'Hawks sit in 2nd place right now in the best division in hockey, so more of the same doesn't sound so bad either. We'll check in on this next at the 60-game mark.
Adam Hess is the editor and publisher of Feathers in the Hat, and a contributor to Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter at @FeathersInDaHat.
(Statistics via War-on-Ice. All are 5v5 stats.)