When Glen Gulutzan first took the Flames’ reins, he didn’t know exactly what he was getting. That much was evident in some of his early lineup choices alone. But as the season went on, he figured out what he wanted to do. It showed in part in the Flames’ improved play; it also shows in the team’s overall season usage chart.
Via Corsica. Click for full-sized image.
For those new to usage charts: the top left indicates a player faced top opposition and had very few offensive zone starts. It’s the most difficult circumstance to play in. The bottom right reflects the easiest situations: weak competition and a lot of offensive zone starts. The bluer one’s circle, the greater his corsi (the more he drove play north without it going back against him). The redder, the worse. The bigger, the more ice time he had.
Let’s follow this left to right:
- The 3M line stands out here in all the best ways. Not only were they the best corsi players on the Flames, but they did it in the toughest circumstances anyone on the team faced.
- Matt Stajan was notably better than all of the other fourth liners. Freddie Hamilton was a bit better than Lance Bouma.
- The Flames’ top three defencemen – Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and T.J. Brodie – are all rather obvious, while the team’s usage chart is really curious as to why Brett Kulak was never given a shot with them.
- Brodie was clearly better than his partners, who were either sheltered (Dennis Wideman) or had a tougher time, but still didn’t perform optimally (Michael Stone).
- Jyrki Jokipakka and Matt Bartkowski were basically interchangeable in terms of not being all that good.
- Micheal Ferland didn’t play in tough circumstances, but overall, he had it rougher than the rest of the non-3M top nine – and kept his head above water in doing so.
- Troy Brouwer is isolated in his own little zone of being terrible. Garnet Hathaway is the only Flame who had a worse corsi than him, and Brouwer actually got offensive zone starts. Nobody else on the team, all circumstances taken into account, was as bad as Brouwer was.
- Alex Chiasson stands a bit apart from Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett. Perhaps totally coincidentally, Chiasson spent no time with Brouwer this past season, while Versteeg and Bennett spent hundreds of 5v5 minutes with him each.
- It’s no surprise to see Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau get so many offensive zone starts: they’re the Flames’ best weapons, and were put in position to score.
The standouts are really obvious in a usage chart, both positive and negative. The 3M line and the top defence pairing were lauded for their efforts all season long, and it’s especially easy to see why when it’s laid out like this. If any of their teammates can get on their level – i.e. Brodie and his future defence partner, Monahan and Gaudreau, and maybe even Ferland or Bennett – then the Flames will be extremely well-positioned for the near future.
Meanwhile, Brouwer basically had the performance of a fourth liner – or worse – throughout the entire season, all the while being treated as a top six offensive player. If the Flames can manage to avoid picking up any more players like him, all the while having a bottom defence pairing that’s actually serviceable, then they’ll have depth they can trust, too.