NHL Teams That Used Their Players Most Effectively in 2013-14
Thanks to player usage charts there's finally a way to quickly see how coaches are using their players and how effective that deployment has been. These charts are one of the most popular analytic innovations, and they are in widespread use by the mainstream media and NHL front offices. What do they reveal about each of the NHL's 30 teams?
Player usage charts are explained in rich detail in a number of places, but here's a quick cheat sheet of the most important points to remember.
- Blue is good; white is bad. Blue means the team is doing better than usual possession-wise with that player on the ice; white means they're doing worse.
- The size of the circle indicates the size of that advantage or disadvantage.
- Shutdown players are at the top, leaning to the left, whereas sheltered players are on the right, leaning down.
- Players at the top of the chart are facing tough, top-line opponents, whereas those at the bottom are facing mostly depth lines.
- Players on the left are tasked with starting most of their shifts in the defensive zone, whereas those on the right have the advantage of a lot of offensive zone starts.
- Asterisks denote players who either began (prefix) or ended (postfix) the season elsewhere.
- Remember: context is everything. Those playing tough minutes will probably have white circles, while those enjoying favorable minutes ought to have nice blue ones.
As we go through each team we'll provide some quick interpretation of which players were used most effectively and which ones should probably be deployed differently in the future. Do remember that this is just one perspective!
We also have the advantage of being able to compare the end results to our midseason charts (from Bleacher Report) to see how players were used differently as the season progressed.
Let's begin our exploration of how players were used for each of the 30 NHL teams, starting in alphabetical order.
Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are without question two of the game's most formidable top-line players, capable of taking on the best in the game and dominating. They were relied upon more and more as the season progressed.
Other bright spots include a strong rookie season from Hampus Lindholm and promising depth-line play from supporting skaters like Rickard Rakell, Mathieu Perreault, Sami Vatanen and Patrick Maroon.
Anaheim's recent success has often been anchored by the abilities of its checking line of Saku Koivu, Daniel Winnik and Andrew Cogliano to spare Perry and Getzlaf some heavy lifting. Once perhaps the best such line in the league, they have been gradually fading and will now need retooling.
The only other causes for concern are how top three defensemen of Cam Fowler, Ben Lovejoy and Francois Beauchemin faded a bit in the second half, and the relative ineffectiveness of youngsters like Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly this year.
The Ducks exceeded everyone's expectations this year, and a lot of the credit goes to Perry and Getzlaf.
You have to be careful with Boston's player usage chart, because superstars like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara are so incredibly effective, even against the best players in the world, that they make otherwise excellent players look like underachievers in comparison.
It always hurts to trade away a player of Tyler Seguin's abilities, but Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson played their roles very well this season.
Dougie Hamilton and Johnny Boychuk really stepped forward on the blue line and could be ready for some play on the top pairing. Torey Krug plays that sheltered offensive-minded role almost as effectively as Phoenix's Keith Yandle, the poster child for such types of players.
Boston's depth lines aren't as bad as the team's superstars make them appear in this chart, but several of them do require improvement, like most notably Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and even Daniel Paille.
Do the Bruins have enough blue-line depth? They need a healthy and effective Dennis Seidenberg for starters.
Boston's top lines both up front and on the blue line could be the best in the league. Some improvement among the secondary players could make the team unstoppable.
Buffalo's Midseason Player Usage Chart (note: the colors appear to have been reversed)
Among forwards, Marcus Foligno, Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis stand out. Stafford was relied on far more heavily in the second half than the first.
Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers may be overpaid, but they are the team's top defensemen. Mark Pysyk was a good top-four contributor on a team with very few decent options.
The best news for the Sabres is how well-stocked the team is with developing young talent. Adam Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons stand out among those not already mentioned. This rebuild need not last very long.
The Sabres are taking a risk in acquiring the inconsistent Chris Stewart from the Blues, who had a really disappointing season. Steve Ott might not have been too much to give up, however.
Mike Weber, Henrik Tallinder and Jamie McBain might not fit in as top-four defensemen, and Rasmus Ristolainen wasn't quite there yet. The first three might be better off on a third pairing next year.
With all the young players, the roster changes and the tight clustering of players in the middle of the chart it is very hard to form an opinion on the Sabres at this time.
Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie have been highly effective all season in one of the NHL's toughest assignments.
Who are the stars up front? Mike Cammalleri and Mikael Backlund have been possession-driving top-six forwards.
Matt Stajan and David Jones are noteworthy for taking on the tough minutes, with the latter especially coming on in the second half. Paul Byron was a pleasant surprise, becoming much more effective when used in a less defensive-focused assignment in the second half.
Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman struggled in the second half despite easy offensive-minded assignments, bringing into question whether they are legitimate top-four defensemen. The Flames have no superior options, however.
Rookie Sean Monahan scored 22 goals, but overall the team struggled with him on the ice, despite being sheltered the first half of the year. Indeed, none of the prospects of whom we caught glimpses were particularly effective, like Ben Street, Tyler Wotherspoon, Sven Baertschi and Ben Hanowski.
The speed of Calgary's rebuild will depend on how many legitimate NHLers are in their huge pool of prospects, how fast they develop and how much shelter their veterans can provide them.
I don't think it needs to be a long rebuild, but it certainly has the potential to be.
Carolina is an excellent model of how to reconstruct the top four.
- Andrej Sekera (from Buffalo via trade) was a highly effective top-pairing defenseman alongside Justin Faulk.
- Brett Bellemore (from the AHL) and Ron Hainsey (from Winnipeg via free agency) were solid top-four additions, though the former did tail off in the second half.
- John Michael-Liles (from Toronto via trade) is a big depth upgrade over Tim Gleason, albeit at a high cap hit.
Nathan Gerbe doesn't get his due as a solid shutdown forward alongside Jordan Staal.
Alexander Semin and Eric Staal also don't get their due as top scoring-line options, but probably because of their enormous cap hits.
The Hurricanes lean heavily on veterans like Manny Malhotra, Radek Dvorak and Drayson Bowman in their own end, albeit against more secondary competition, but has that been to their disadvantage?
Blue-line depth was an issue too, with Mike Komisarek, Jay Harrison and rookie Ryan Murphy all missing the mark this year.
The Hurricanes were a playoff bubble team that just didn't get the bounces this year. A few minor adjustments and improved goaltending should be enough to get them back into the postseason.
One look at the chart and you can see the difference between superstars like Patrick Kane and elite players like Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. They do their jobs against the top opponents, and while dominating the possession game.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were highlights once again.
The Hawks don't get enough credit for their excellent depth. Whether it's veteran castaways like Peter Regin and Kris Versteeg or young players like Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Jeremy Morin, they keep finding ways to effectively populate the secondary lines.
Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya took over the team's toughest minutes about a year or two ago, but it might have been taken too far.
Similarly, the checking line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith is being buried perhaps too extensively in the defensive zone.
It is nevertheless important to remember that the success of their top stars is in part thanks to the tough minutes being handled by those players.
Finally, one glance at the chart and it's no surprise to see why the team parted ways with Michal Handzus recently, and Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri earlier in the year. Is Sheldon Brookbank next?
The bottom line is that Chicago is simply excellent. It just doesn't get much better than this.
The loss of UFA Paul Stastny could affect this team more than most fans might realize. And what if contractual disagreement also forces the trade of Ryan O'Reilly?
At least the Avalanche would still be fortunate enough to be left with other excellent two-way forwards like Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene. P.A. Parenteau also came on big in the second half.
Erik Johnson, one of the few Colorado defensemen a casual fan can name, had a strong season as the team's top shutdown defenseman. Tyson Barrie very effectively played the sheltered offensive-minded role that Phoenix's Yandle is perhaps best known for.
The blue line was a significant problem, albeit one not as huge as I had predicted. Jan Hejda is a solid shutdown defenseman, but he is being played over his head right now. And when Nick Holden is the next-best candidate for a top-four defenseman, then you know there's an issue.
Weak secondary lines like Cody McLeod, Marc-Andre Cliche and Patrick Bordeleau were one of the key reasons for the first-round loss to the Minnesota Wild.
Always watch out for a young team with a new coach because it has a tremendous potential for a breakout, albeit potentially temporary ones.
Of course, the season could just as easily have turned out like Buffalo's or Edmonton's. It's hard to predict which teams will break out and which ones will bust.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan Johansen as a star top-line forward is one of the league's best kept secrets.
Other quietly effective top-six Blue Jackets forwards include Matt Calvert and Nick Foligno, the latter of whom got even better when used more offensively as the season progressed. Blake Comeau was also strong, as far as depth players go.
James Wisniewski had an incredible season on the blue line. The Blue Jackets dominated when he was on the ice, though this effect was somewhat boosted by the offensive-minded deployment of his second pairing.
I've never understood Jack Johnson's continued usage as a No. 1 defenseman, because he's always been a black hole possession-wise. Fedor Tyutin was even sucked in this year.
R.J. Umberger's weak season as the No. 1 shutdown forward was a surprise, however. It could be time for the 32-year-old to transition down the depth chart in favor of one of the team's many other strong options.
One interesting note about Corey Tropp. He may have led the team with a plus-11, but the team was seriously outplayed and outshot when he was on the ice.
Columbus is a fascinating team that is getting the most out of some lesser-known veterans and some up-and-coming youngsters. The blue line is a concern, but this could otherwise be a legitimate playoff contender.
The big stars in Dallas are obviously Seguin and Jamie Benn, who are deployed offensively against the top lines and absolutely dominate.
The biggest surprise is Antoine Roussel, one of the league's few tough guys who can effectively carry a regular shift. He and Ryan Garbutt helped form a surprisingly effective shutdown line that allowed Benn and Seguin so much time in the offensive zone.
The highly successful foursome of Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Jordie Benn and Brenden Dillon made it possible to move the previously indispensable Stephane Robidas.
The Dallas Stars had about $23.7 million in cap space devoted to Rich Peverley, Shawn Horcoff, Ray Whitney, Erik Cole, Sergei Gonchar and Aaron Rome, all of whom were acquired within the past two seasons. That's actually $25.5 million if you also include defensive-minded Vernon Fiddler.
The Stars were at their worst when these high-priced veterans were on the ice. That's a situation that can and must be corrected for the team to make a postseason return.
After five consecutive near misses, the Dallas Stars finally returned to the playoffs thanks to their high-scoring duo of Seguin and Benn, an overachieving young blue line, and an effective shutdown staffed by the two players I would have least suspected. It was a great season that they can build upon.
Detroit Red Wings
Detroit's most effective players are obviously Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the latter of whom was used much more carefully as the season progressed.
Niklas Kronwall has clearly established himself as the new No. 1 defenseman, and a solid one at that. Brendan Smith got better as the season progressed and could be a legitimate top-four option next year.
Up front Gustav Nyquist was the real deal, dominating opponents without the benefit of easy minutes against depth opponents or in the offensive zone.
In contrast, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco were all used in a sheltered offensive-minded fashion but were highly effective and should be tested as top-six options next year.
Injuries forced the Red Wings to rely on some players to too great an extent. Drew Miller was the team's overall ice-time leader, for instance, which is a bad sign. Despite it being my midseason advice to use him to a greater extent, his performance gradually slipped as he was increasingly more relied upon.
Luke Glendening is another example of a player who was used too ambitiously as the season progressed.
Despite Kronwall's success, Detroit still has a problem with its top four. Danny DeKeyser and Kyle Quincey haven't proved themselves as reliable options (analytically, at least), and Jonathan Ericsson trended down after an initially strong start.
Veterans Danny Cleary and Stephen Weiss both had disappointing seasons, but a player usage chart was hardly needed to reach that conclusion.
It was an injury-plagued season but the Red Wings nevertheless qualified for the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive time.
Their future is increasingly in the hands of their new generation of talent, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, they need to improve that blue line.
After a surprisingly slow start, Taylor Hall resumed his true form as one of the league's best players in the second half. He really is the anchor around which the Oilers' effective top six is formed.
Jeff Petry is Edmonton's best kept secret, and potentially its only truly legitimate top-four defenseman. Martin Marincin showed great potential in his limited play.
Among depth players, the most effective options were Mark Arcobello up front and Anton Belov on defense, as also noted in the midseason report.
Boyd Gordon, who was one of the team's most critical additions last summer, handled all the tough defensive-minded minutes by himself last year. Getting him some solid wingers is the key to building that difference-making shutdown line.
Who will round out the top four? None of Nick Schultz, Ladislav Smid, Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz proved effective. The former two were traded away, and the latter should probably be sculpted into more of a sheltered offensive-minded role similar to Phoenix's Yandle or Boston's Torey Krug.
The Oilers have competitive top lines, but they have struggled for years with weak secondary players, especially on the blue line. This ought to be a simpler problem to correct than it has been so far.
He may be overpaid, but defenseman Brian Campbell is so exceptional that he can make anyone look great. In the past it's been Filip Kuba and Jason Garrison, and this year it was Tom Gilbert.
Dmitry Kulikov managed to look good even without Campbell's help. Dylan Olsen was used far less ambitiously in the second half, and he was far more effective.
Forwards Sean Bergenheim, Brad Boyes and Aleksander Barkov also had strong second halfs.
In Marcel Goc, the Panthers have lost their best defensive player. That leaves Tomas Kopecky largely on his own on the shutdown line.
Mike Weaver is a solid and underpaid shutdown defenseman, but he was leaned on too heavily, and unnecessarily so.
Nick Bjugstad may have led the team in scoring (with just 38 points), but he was trending down in the second half. Jesse Winchester also trended down in the second half when used more ambitiously.
Florida has taken some interesting gambles lately, but very few of the second chances given to expiring veterans have paid off lately. Scott Gomez, Ed Jovanovski, Mike Mottau, Ryan Whitney and Dan Ellis to name just a few examples.
I'll stick with what I said in the midseason review, that "Florida is almost there and could take a lot of teams by surprise."
That being said, the loss of two of its better defensive players has to be troubling.
Los Angeles Kings
"How can this possession stuff mean anything if Justin Williams is among the leaders?" is a question James Mirtle often gets over Twitter but likely won't get anymore after Williams was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Anze Kopitar's success is even more impressive, especially relative to such a distinguished group of players like Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik and Dwight King. Brown faded in the second half, but I was wrong about King, who got hotter.
I also wrote that "Drew Doughty is perhaps the lone shining light on the blue line, although Jake Muzzin could perhaps be promoted up the depth chart." And Muzzin was indeed used against the top lines in the second half, and he remained effective in that scoring-focused role.
Among depth players, Tanner Pearson had a good second half, as did defensemen Matt Greene and Alec Martinez, to an extent.
A glance at the player usage chart explains why Mike Richards might be a compliance buyout candidate. He's given lots of opportunity in the offensive zone, and yet he still somehow puts the team in a hole possession-wise. He has six more seasons with a cap hit of $5.75 million.
I was really jumped on for questioning the Kings depth in the midseason report, but look for yourself. The team was noticeably less effective with secondary players like Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, Matt Frattin and Colin Fraser.
Perhaps this could be because their top players make them look so bad by comparison, but only two of them competed in the playoffs. Those were the only Kings besides Richards to have a negative plus/minus.
It's also reasonable to have concerns with the top four. Willie Mitchell, Robyn Regehr and Slava Voynov all dug the team somewhat of a possession hole.
Overall, the Kings were once again one of the best possession teams in the league, so it was no surprise seeing them compete for the Stanley Cup.
Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville are the heart of Minnesota's scoring, effectively playing against top opponents while enjoying a huge offensive zone boost.
Jared Spurgeon is one of the league's best kept secrets and is ready to be used as a top pairing defenseman. Marco Scandella also established himself as a legitimate top-four shutdown defenseman.
The offseason acquisition of Nino Niederreiter from the Islanders was a gamble that paid off, as he was an excellent and low-cost secondary forward.
The success of the top players is partly thanks to the fact that Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke are taking on all the toughest minutes in the defensive zone and against the top lines. It's quite natural to struggle in that role, and they could use more help. Justin Fontaine wasn't the answer.
Jonas Brodin is an impressive defenseman, but are they relying on him too much? He might be more suitable for the second pairing.
The struggling Dany Heatley is now a UFA, and it will be interesting to see which team takes a gamble on him, how he's used and how he responds.
Minnesota's model is to secure as much elite talent as it can possibly acquire, and then surround those stars with value-priced players. It's the right model for this organization, and it's being executed very well.
Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban are fantastic puck-moving, possession-driving, top-four defensemen, but are both free agents, restricted in the latter case.
Up front, the top possession-driving forwards were Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. The latter two were used in a more offensive-minded fashion as the season wore on, and rarely against the top lines.
At the mid-year point, I contended that "beyond their star top pairing, there are serious issues on the blue line." Mike Weaver was brought in to help at the deadline, but he wasn't that much of an upgrade over Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin.
Depth defensemen like Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon were even less effective. It's too bad Raphael Diaz was moved as he, and Jarred Tinordi, could have been an upgrade to the third pairing.
Veterans Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta handled all the tough minutes up front for Montreal against the top lines and in the defensive zone. Their numbers suffered for it, but probably not to the same extent as others would have in the same position. Plekanec could use more help, especially with his 35-year-old linemate becoming a free agent this year.
The Canadiens had another defensive-minded line that focused more on secondary opponents. Travis Moen actually started strong but faded throughout the season, partly because tough guy Brandon Prust proved to be insufficiently helpful.
At the midseason point, I claimed that an upgrade on the blue line could make them contenders. If they had made a bigger trade deadline move than Weaver, then it might actually have been enough for their first Stanley Cup appearance in over 20 years.
Patric Hornqvist is Nashville's unheralded star up front, leading the forwards in scoring while taking on top opponents and once again being one of the team's possession leaders.
Craig Smith and Gabriel Bourque are also quite underrated, and their sizable investment in 37-year-old Matt Cullen paid off with yet another strong season.
On the blue line, Roman Josi has stepped forward as a legitimate top-pairing option, which is perhaps to Shea Weber's credit as much to his own.
It will be exciting to see which of Nashville's promising young talents in Seth Jones, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis take the next step forward into the top four. They were all effective as secondary options this year.
The Predators were worst when defensive-minded veteran forwards Mike Fisher, Nick Spaling, Eric Nystrom and Paul Gaustad were on the ice.
In fairness to Fisher, he took on all the top opponents while Gaustad was essentially only assigned shifts in the defensive zone. Those two may actually have performed reasonably well given those circumstances.
On the blue line, moving Kevin Klein to the Rangers was a good call, but Michael Del Zotto isn't any better. Victor Bartley wasn't an effective blue-line option either. Moving forward Matt Hendricks was another good call.
There's a lot of young and/or unheralded talent to get excited about in Nashville. A retooled checking line and some blue-line depth is what the Predarots need most to bring it all together.
New Jersey Devils
Andy Greene is one of the league's most underrated two-way top pairing defensemen. And there should be many high-fives in whichever jubilant front office winds up signing UFA shutdown defender Mark Fayne.
Up front, New Jersey primarily relied on Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr, in increasing order of both offensive focus and success.
Credit is also due to Ryane Clowe, who initially struggled but eventually found his game as the season progressed.
The Devils are also rich in young NHL-ready talent. Glimpses of promising prospects used in sheltered situations this year included forward Reid Boucher and defenseman Adam Larsson, who performed even better than Jonathon Merrill, Jacob Josefson and Ryan Gelinas, the last of whom faded in the second half.
New Jersey's blue line can be called into question with the decline in play of veterans like Bryce Salvador. Anton Volchenkov and potentially even Marek Zidlicky may no longer be strong top-four options any more either.
The secondary checking line could use some work too, as there are certainly better options than Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter.
The Devils should have been a guaranteed playoff team. Their failure to capitalize on chances, especially on the shootout or in close-game situations, cost them a real opportunity this year.
New York Islanders
Frans Nielsen, Joshua Bailey and Michael Grabner were one of the league's most underrated shutdown lines, taking on top opponents in defensive zone situations and yet winning the possession game.
They also make room for Kyle Okposo and John Tavares, who have formed an effective scoring line. Look how far apart the two lines are on the graph; that shows you to what extent the ice is being tilted in their favor.
I have been perhaps too hard on New York's blue line in the past. Calvin de Haan could be ready for top-pairing duty, while Thomas Hickey, Matt Donovan and Lubomir Visnovsky were solid secondary options.
It will be very exciting to see what Ryan Strome can do next season, and 22-year-old rookie Brock Nelson is underrated.
Andrew MacDonald was in over his head as a top pairing defenseman, and Brian Strait also struggled in the top four.
The depth checking line of Colin McDonald, Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas was dominated. That's not necessarily unusual for such lines, but it's not ideal either.
Signing a legitimate starting goalie like Jaroslav Halak will go a long way to reducing the number of goals scored against the Islanders.
They could be one top-four defenseman and some depth tweaks away from being a playoff contender.
New York Rangers
Rick Nash's postseason play was much-maligned, but he effectively played coach Alain Vigneault's Ryan Kesler role in New York, taking on the top opponents.
Credit also goes to Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan for effectively taking on those types of minutes too.
On the blue line, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman were one of the league's better second pairings.
The time has come to ease up on Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who no longer need to carry some of the toughest minutes in the NHL. Spread it out to maximize the duo's effectiveness.
Someone has to be buried in the defensive zone playing Vigneault's "Manny Malhotra minutes," and this year that was Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett. Obviously they were dominated, but that's almost to be expected.
I'm not convinced that Kevin Klein was the right pickup with regard to blue-line depth, but I suppose he's no worse than Michael Del Zotto.
New York's success wasn't as much of a surprise to the analytics crowd as it was to many others.
A team always needs time to adjust to Vigneault's trademark player usage, but this is a team that was practically built for it.
Erik Karlsson had another incredible season in a scoring-focused role against top opponents. Marc Methot evolved into a usable top-pairing partner as the season progressed, but one day they should get Karlsson a worthy partner.
Clarke MacArthur was an excellent offseason addition and formed one of the league's most underrated top two-way lines with Kyle Turris. Ales Hemsky was an effective trade-deadline acquisition.
I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of Mark Stone and Derek Grant next year.
Ottawa should be looking for some defensive specialists. This year it looks like it turned to Zack Smith up front and Eric Gryba on defense, neither of whom were great (though the latter started out strong). Then again, none of Colin Greening, Chris Phillips or Chris Neil appear to be potential upgrades.
It was a disappointing year for scoring-line winger Milan Michalek, who is now a UFA, but at least Jason Spezza started to come around a little in the second half. Both players could be gone by the time the 2014-15 season begins.
Bobby Ryan had a bad second half, which we know now was caused by a sports hernia.
I'm actually not sure exactly what went wrong for Ottawa this year, a team for which I had very high hopes. The Senators have the pieces and should have been much more competitive.
Claude Giroux is obviously this team's superstar, dominating possession even against top opponents, and boosting fellow scoring-line options like Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell.
Also, Michael Raffl is underrated.
Braydon Coburn has evolved into the team's solid No. 1 defenseman. Kimmo Timonen may be 39, but his numbers suggest that he was a shrewd and value-priced re-signing.
I'm otherwise worried about Philadelphia's blue line. It was dominated possession-wise with either Andrew MacDonald or Nicklas Grossmann in the top four, while Luke Schenn, Andrej Meszaros and Erik Gustafsson weren't even that effective as third-pairing options (though Mark Streit was).
Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier may have scored 20 goals apiece but had disappointing possession numbers even though they played relatively sheltered minutes against depth lines.
Consider Matt Read and Sean Couturier instead. They were unquestionably the shutdown duo of the team, and even their possession numbers weren't as bad.
Was it really necessary for Jay Rosehill and Zac Rinaldo to play a combined 101 games?
The Philadelphia Flyers have some truly gifted players, and I admire how willing they are to take risks and change course regardless of cost.
As it stands, they have a few too many question marks to remain anything other than a playoff bubble team at best.
Mike Ribeiro enjoyed some of the most offensively tilted minutes in the league, and while the team did expectedly well possession-wise, he should have scored more than 47 points. Yandle enjoys similar treatment on the blue line, for example, and led the Coyotes with 53.
David Schlemko could perhaps be worth a try as an NHL regular next year.
Kyle Chipchura was quite good as far as defensive-minded fourth-liners go, getting better as the season progressed.
Rob Klinkhammer and David Moss formed an effective checking line with Boyd Gordon back in 2012-13. With his departure they moved into more balanced secondary roles and continued to do well.
Antoine Vermette took over Gordon's role, but he had some struggles as the season progressed. He still led the team in goals though.
Perhaps Vermette could have used more assistance from other top-minute players like Lauri Korpikoski and Mikkel Boedker.
At the midseason point, I wrote that "Zbynek Michalek and Oliver Ekman-Larsson handle one of the league's toughest assignments and could use some help carrying that load." Michalek in particular had a strong second half, but this still nevertheless remains the case.
Neither Connor Murphy nor Chris Summers really worked out in their brief trials on the blue line.
Effective player usage is especially critical for cash-strapped bubble teams like the Phoenix Coyotes. This year, a few small things missed the mark, and that's all it took to end their season early.
A player usage chart helps you see the difference between top shutdown players like Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis and scoring-oriented players like Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jussi Jokinen and Beau Bennett. The former take on top lines and in both zones, while the latter takes on second lines in primarily the offensive zone. It's much easier to dominate possession in that second case.
It is also easy to see why Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak were targeted at the trade deadline, since they can effectively play on top two-way lines.
Pittsburgh's blue line was hit pretty hard with injuries, but it was an opportunity to discover that Matt Niskanen and rookie Olli Maatta were viable top-four options. Simon Despres was also effective in his depth role.
There are still questions on the blue line, as Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin were less than ideal on the top pairing.
Rob Scuderi's season took a steep downward slide, while Robert Bortuzzo and Deryk Engelland occasionally struggled even as depth options.
The real problem was up front, however. The team struggled with virtually any of its depth-line options like Craig Adams, Tanner Glass, Taylor Pyatt, Brandon Sutter, Joe Vitale, Chuck Kobasew and even Chris Conner and Zach Sill.
Pittsburgh has a great top six, with a clear division between the top two-way shutdown line and the scoring line.
The key to success for such a team is the effective use of remaining dollars on the depth lines, a situation that could be improved.
St. Louis Blues
David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen formed one of the league's best lines last year, while Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were one of the league's top pairings. These five take on the top opponents in both zones and win the possession game.
St. Louis has also developed several strong secondary players up front, including Vladimir Sobotka, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund and the offensively deployed Vladimir Tarasenko. After a slow start, young depth option Magnus Paajarvi also showed some potential.
On the blue line, Kevin Shattenkirk has always been effective in a more sheltered scoring-focused role that perhaps Phoenix's Yandle is best known for.
There are perhaps some minor nuisances among the Blues depth lines. Maxim Lapierre, for example, may not have been the best acquisition last summer.
Roman Polak and Ian Cole weren't ideal defensive-minded third-pairing options, nor were the more offensively deployed veterans Jordan Leopold and Carlo Colaiacovo.
Brenden Morrow had a disappointing second half and may not have much time left even as a veteran depth-line option. The unpredictable Chris Stewart was wisely dealt away, and Derek Roy will likely be released into free agency.
St. Louis has a truly formidable top half of the line-up, and it's all anchored on players who are either in their prime, or developing toward it.
The Blues have simply had the misfortune of facing teams like San Jose, Los Angeles and Chicago in the first round these past three seasons, while teams like the Rangers have faced Washington, Ottawa and Philadelphia. Some teams get all the breaks!
San Jose Sharks
Logan Couture deserves credit for being the team's most effective shutdown forward and potentially a superior option to even the highly respected two-way veteran Patrick Marleau.
Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns are all highly effective top-six forwards (at least until the playoffs), especially as they took on tougher assignments in the second half.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic had his coming-out party this year on the blue line, at least for those previously unaware of his true talent. Next up could be his partner, Justin Braun. Jason Demers was also good as a more scoring-focused No. 4 guy.
San Jose's greatest individual disappointment was possibly Martin Havlat, who scored just 22 points and put the team at a noticeable possession-based disadvantage despite his sheltered ice time.
Veteran Dan Boyle may have been the best defenseman in franchise history, but he is trending down fast and it may be for the best that he moved on.
Fellow veteran blueliners Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart might only remain effective NHLers as third-pairing options, if at all. Matt Irwin also struggled in that role.
The only other beef with San Jose's player usage is the depth line, with John McCarthy and Andrew Desjardins being outplayed most nights, a situation only made worse by bringing in a player like Mike Brown.
San Jose is front-loaded with exceptional veteran talent but is in need of some blue-line depth.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Free-agent deals like Valtteri Filppula's don't often work out, especially to this extent. The veteran Finn was the team's best two-way shutdown forward this year.
The bulk of the other veteran forwards all essentially did their jobs.
Of course, this team was built on its rookies. Ondrej Palat got even better as the year progressed and would be my pick for the Calder. Tyler Johnson also trended up month over month. J.T. Brown, Mark Barberio and Nikita Kucherov were also strong in their depth assignments.
Victor Hedman is the strongest member of the team's blue line and can probably be pushed a little more on the defensive side of the game.
And don't let his similar history and traditional stats with Eric Brewer confuse you—Sami Salo was an effective top-pairing defenseman last year.
Not all the rookies overachieved this year. Richard Panik, the undisciplined Radko Gudas and Andrej Sustr's second-half slip all come to mind. Give them more time.
Matt Carle is the highest-paid defenseman but far from the most effective. This also goes to show the disconnect between these analytics and a traditional stat like plus/minus, as Carle was actually fourth on the team with a plus-11.
Rookie-laden teams with new coaches and hot goalies have the potential to surprise the pundits, much like Tampa Bay and Colorado did this season.
Now the question will be whether or not Tampa Bay can remain a playoff team without scoring leader Martin St. Louis and with Ben Bishop presumably returning to earth. Personally, I really like this roster and its enormous potential.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto's top forwards, especially in the second half, were Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk who faced the team's top opponents in increasingly offensive-minded order.
Mason Raymond and Nazem Kadri did well too, but they faced more secondary opponents.
On the blue line, the best results were achieved with puck-moving defensemen like Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and even rookie Morgan Rielly. This actually isn't surprising given how all three of them were somewhat sheltered with below-average competition and a greater share of offensive zone opportunities.
Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson did all the heavy lifting in Toronto and paid the price possession-wise.
The same goes for players like Jay McClement and Nikolai Kulemin up front, who took on a disproportionate share of shifts in the defensive zone.
The much-maligned David Clarkson was actually the team's midway point. The team did no better without him on the ice than it did with him, and all but three players enjoyed more time in the offensive zone than him.
I'm not stretching out the graph to ridiculous proportions to include players like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren. Player usage charts won't reveal anything about them that isn't already obvious.
No Maple Leaf started at least half their shifts in the offensive zone, which goes to show you where they spent most of their games. The fact that they remained in the playoff race as long as they did is a minor miracle.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin, along with their linemate Alexandre Burrows, have always been the poster child for tilting the ice in favor of the team's top scorers. Even with the effect reduced by replacing coach Alain Vigneault with John Tortorella, the impact still remains clear.
That's one reason why Ryan Kesler is so impressive, and why the team is resisting his departure. He takes on the team's top opponents in both zones and yet still wins the possession game and leads the team in goal scoring by a wide margin.
It's a surprise to see Chris Tanev join Dan Hamhuis as Vancouver's top shutdown pairing.
On a side note, Mike Santorelli was one of the league's best value-priced free-agent signings until he got hurt, and after a disastrous start, David Booth had a promising second half.
The depth lines really struggled this year, most notably forwards like Dale Weise, Zac Dalpe and Tom Sestito.
Brad Richardson struggled while being buried in the defensive zone, and new arrival Shawn Mathias doesn't appear likely to help.
Among the defensive-minded forwards who face top-six opponents, Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen ended on the decline after a great start as effective shutdown forwards.
Much has been made of Alexander Edler's disappointing season as a top-four defenseman, but to me, Jason Garrison could be the greater concern.
Everything around Tortorella's tenure as Vancouver's coach puzzles me.
If he was meant to shake things up for one last crack at the playoffs before the rebuild, then why was he signed long term? If he was meant to be the one to conduct the rebuild itself, then why was he fired after one predictably disappointing season?
It takes time to adjust from a Vigneault system to anything else, especially Tortorella. Perhaps Vancouver wasn't fully aware of this, or possibly where it honestly was in the rebuild cycle. Either way, the Canucks know it now.
Alexander Ovechkin may have been minus-35, but the Capitals have a much better attempted shot differential when he and Nicklas Backstrom were on the ice than when they weren't. Of course, that result isn't surprising given the additional time in the offensive zone that line enjoys.
Mike Green may also enjoy advantageous minutes in the offensive zone and against more average opponents, but he is also more effective than his minus-16 suggests. Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt were also impressive secondary defensemen this year.
Mikhail Grabovski could be an attractive UFA target for any team looking for a possession-driving second-line center.
Karl Alzner and John Carlson took on the team's top opponents again, and they did as well as could be hoped. They could use more assistance from Green and Co.
Brooks Laich struggled against top opponents this year, even when was used more offensively.
Washington didn't fare well with depth-line players like Tom Wilson and Aaron Volpatti on the ice.
As I wrote in the midseason report, "Washington's player usage is built around getting the most offensively out of Alexander Ovechkin."
If the Capitals can figure out why they were getting outscored so badly with him on the ice and correct it, they can return to the playoff picture.
The highly underrated Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik were the team's most effective forwards, facing top opposing lines and giving the Jets an edge in puck possession.
Among the more offensive-minded forwards the team was better off with Evander Kane than with Blake Wheeler, despite the latter leading the team in scoring.
Whether on the blue line or up front, Dustin Byfuglien was effective for the Jets this season despite his minus-20. Tobias Enstrom was probably the team's top defenseman overall.
As far as depth players go, Eric Tangradi up front and Adam Pardy on the blue line are good examples of how to effectively handle such assignments.
After a strong start, Devin Setoguchi and Olli Jokinen struggled in the second half. Caution is the order of the day for any team pursuing either unrestricted free agent.
The most disappointing players included Matt Halischuk and Chris Thorburn, and perhaps James Wright and Anthony Peluso further down the depth chart.
The Jets actually outshot their opponents this year but took a gamble on Ondrej Pavelec that didn't pay off.
They do have the talent to compete but are stuck in the super-powerful Western Conference.
Player Usage Charts are via writer's own original research, with data sourced from Behind the Net.
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