Let’s Talk About Ice Time

Ice time is pretty important in ice hockey, but sometimes we don’t talk about it very much. So today, I went over to War on Ice and generated a series of charts so we can briefly discuss things.

Today I’m focusing on two specific areas: defensemen and what I call “floating forwards.” All the charts that follow are based on rolling five-game averages of even-strength ice time.

GIORDANO & BRODIE

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In the, “Well, duh,” category, Giordano and Brodie’s even-strength usage is virtually identical all season long with tiny, tiny variations.

WIDEMAN & RUSSELL

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Aside from the short period when Engelland was on the second pairing with Russell (also see below), the team’s second pairing has been pretty much locked-in. As with Giordano and Brodie, only minor variations once they got together.

THE THIRD PAIRING

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Things were all over the place early, primarily with some experimentation by the coaching staff with Engelland and Smid’s placement and ice time. However, over the past two months or so, things have stabilized. Granted, it’s helpful (somewhat) that Smid was injured. The coaching staff seems quite pleased with Diaz and Engelland as a third pairing – an offensively-minded guy with a more stay-at-home guy, ala the first and second pairings – and I think this comfortability explains why Wotherspoon never really got in up here.

FLOATING FORWARDS

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This is my favourite chart, and not just because it’s pretty. Each of these guys has seen fourth line duty at times. Each of them has seen second and third line duty. Most recently, Bouma’s been with Backlund and Jones on the shutdown line. Byron is now on the fourth line after being on the second and third line (with Colborne and Raymond) for a bit. Jooris was also used with Raymond and Colborne before the last re-shuffling and has also seen time in the past on the shutdown group. His peak of ice-time was when he was the de facto second center behind Sean Monahan; the fact he could win draws and was right-handed made him incredibly valuable to the coaching staff in key moments. And Paul Byron has quietly drifted down in ice time all season long. I don’t think it’s anything related to his play, but rather the mere fact that other guys are hotter at any given moment – and can bury chances – so they get more time to get those chances.

The nice thing about these guys is that they are versatile enough to be used anywhere, and as you can see, that’s where coach Hartley has used them. Anywhere and everywhere.

SUM IT UP

Based on these charts, it’s easy to explain some deployment decisions that the Flames coaches have made. On defense, they seem to value stability above all else. Up front, they seem more likely to shuffle things around to protect guys or give more time to the hot hand.

  • JumpJet

    The December losing streak really jumps out in these charts. The coaching staff were riding the first two pairings hard and hardly playing the third pairing at all.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      It looks like the “Streak” might also coincide with the matching dip in Gio’s ice time and the jump in Wides’. Too much Dennis, not enough Mark means losing 8 in a row?

      • Matty Franchise Jr

        It really was opposition hot goaltending, bad luck, bad karma and good Corsi that was responsible for the losing streak! Wideman could have conributed a bit..wasn’t scoring then and team could have used a goal or tow from him.

      • loudogYYC

        I think the losing streak and D usage had a lot to do with how poorly the 3rd pairing was performing, hence the increased reliance on the top 4. This is gonna be the Flames problem down the stretch and if they make it, in the playoffs too. Engelland and Smid are both 7th Dmen who shouldn’t play more than 12-13 mins/game.

  • mattyc

    I love the 3rd pairing D chart. Engelland starts at ~18 minutes and then Hartley is all like “yeah nope, nope, whole lot of nope, maybe Smid?, yeah nope”. And now it looks like we’re settling in to the “minimum time they can be on without tiring out the other guys too much.

  • mattyc

    On a more snerious note (and tangentally related to ice time), theres been a trend that I’ve noticed really: Hartley seems to try extra hard to deploy Engelland and Diaz when he puts the Monahan/Hudler/Gaudreau line on. You can check it on the handy shift chart at the bottom here from the SJ game .

    Personally, I don’t like it, because you have a not very good D pair (charitably, although I have liked Diaz more lately), with a great offensive line, that is still weak in the D zone. IMO this effectively neuters the lines offense. A bunch of times last night you could watch them spend their whole shift chasing because Engelland or Diaz blew a breakout pass or whatever. Also relevant that McLellan actively targeted that bottom pairing with Thornton/Pavelski every time he could.

    • Greg

      That 3rd pairing is a total train wreck, and hopefully BT knows that. That’s the one trade I would be totally ok with giving up a pick or prospect to fix at this deadline, provided it’s a sub-29 year old that can fix things for at least 4 or 5 years (ie not just a rental). A top 4 guy that can push wideman or Russell down to stabilize the 3rd pairing is sorely needed, and preferably also a better #6 guy to take the other one off the ice too. Kent’s suggestion of Wiercioch the other day seems like a good option for the latter of those, and I’d take any of the bigger fish he mentioned for the former role.

      We’ve been beyond lucky with d-man injuries this year, with only Russell missing a few games from the top 4. God forbid either of Brodano went down – neither wideman or Russell could step up to the first pairing for more than a couple games, and it would just create unfathomable holes on both the 2nd and 3rd.

      Given our dearth of defensive prospect depth, this is a hole that projects out for the next 5 years at least, and probably even gets worse as wideman ages and Gio fades from Norris-candidate to just good. Given the traffic jam of forward prospects, I’d say be willing to move even, say, both Baerstchi and Granlund to get that done if need be. Again, provided it’s guys that will be extended and in their prime for at least 4 or 5 years to buy time to restock through the draft again.

  • MWflames

    Would anybody put smid back in the line up if he were healthy today? Not sure I would. Diaz and engelland have been pushing up on a realm of a serviceable bottom pairing lately. I really wanted to see a wotherspoon/Diaz line actually.