On the heels of a lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season, we stats wonks can look at a silver lining of sorts – a 48-game schedule is a bit easier to compile situational data on than an 82-game one (although it’s also less powerful). As an example, let’s take a look at something that’s always interested me, which players get on the ice the most when the game is on the line.
For the purposes of this analysis, I’ve simplified things a bit. The focus is on the last five minutes of a hockey game, as that’s arguably the most important time-frame. At the five minute mark, a coach takes a look at the scoreboard and decides whether to go for it or not. Who he sends over the boards – stars or scrubs – is influenced by two factors; whether the team has a shot at winning, and whether he trusts a player enough to let them dictate the game’s outcome.
Both of those factors are at play when looking at who Bob Hartley used in the final five minutes of regulation this season. Another factor was the departures of Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester with a quarter of the schedule left to go, as that meant some players got a lot more ice-time.
It’s probably not shocking to note that all three of the top Flames late-game minute-eaters were defenders. Yes, Jay Bouwmeester (2:01), Mark Giordano (1:55) and Dennis Wideman (1:53) led the way by a country mile. Rounding out the top five were Jarome Iginla (1:42) and Mike Cammalleri (1:37).
The next five players were Jiri Hudler (1:34), Alex Tanguay (1:27), T.J. Brodie (1:27), Matt Stajan (1:22) and Curtis Glencross (1:20). Only four other regular Flames finished with an average of a minute or more played in the last five minutes: Lee Stempniak, Mikael Backlund, Roman Horak and Roman Cervenka. (If you consider playing 10 games as “regular,” then add Max Reinhart, too.)
The regulars that didn’t crack a minute of the last five in regulation were Cory Sarich, Blair Jones, Blake Comeau, Sven Baertschi, Derek Smith, Steve Begin, Tim Jackman and Brian McGrattan. And again, if you consider 10 games as “regular,” add in Brett Carson.
None of these numbers seem all that shocking, except for perhaps the inclusion of Roman Horak in the minute-plus grouping. While he’s a strong defensive player, I wasn’t so sure that he had worked his way into the good graces of the coaching staff as much as he did.
BEFORE AND AFTER THE BIG TRADES
The departures of Iginla and Bouwmeester had a seismic impact on how players were utilized by Bob Hartley. One could argue that was kind-of the point of them. Either way, things changed quite a bit when they left as Hartley began using the young players a bit more and changed deployment strategies as an evaluation tool.
First off, six players got more late minutes after the trade deadline as they were learned on a bit more. Four of them were defensemen: Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Chris Butler and Cory Sarich all got sizable minute increases. With Bouwmeester – the team’s top minute-muncher – gone and Derek Smith going down with an injury, Brett Carson and Anton Babchuk slotted into the bottom pairing and Butler and Sarich inherited more ice time. Two forwards saw more late time without Iginla, those being Mike Cammalleri and Blair Jones.
Oddly enough, five players saw their minutes trimmed back a bit with the younger players entering the line-up. Those were Dennis Wideman, Alex Tanguay, Lee Stempniak, Tim Jackman and Brian McGrattan.
CLOSE GAMES AND BLOW-OUTS
Now, obviously situations will cause coaches to use players differently. That is obviously the case here, where a clear separation occurred between close games (when the Flames were up by one, down by one or tied with five minutes to go) and blowouts (when they were two or more goals up or down).
Perhaps owing to the Flames playing in a lot of close games this year, a lot of players spent more late ice-time in close games rather than blowouts: those were blueliners Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman and forwards Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Jiri Hudler, Alex Tanguay, Matt Stajan, Curtis Glencross, Lee Stempniak, Roman Horak, Max Reinhart and Sven Baertschi. That’s a lot of players, but the last three names are notable. Reinhart and Horak in particular got a lot of late time late in the year.
On the flip side, eight men were shielded and got more late ice-time in blowouts: T.J. Brodie, Chris Butler, Cory Sarich, Blair Jones, Derek Smith, Steve Begin, Tim Jackman and Brian McGrattan. Brodie’s the only real outlier in this group, and he got a lot of late ice-time in all situations after Bouwmeester left.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The players that Bob Hartley appeared to trust late in games are the players you’d expect him to trust – the veterans with top-six experience.
But it also appears that he gained confidence in T.J. Brodie, Roman Horak, Sven Baertschi and Max Reinhart during the season. That foursome had their late-game minutes increase throughout the season, particularly later on.