San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks Leaned Heaviest on Their Top Six Forwards Compared to Western Conference Playoff Teams

It's been an assertion for awhile that the San Jose Sharks lean on their top six forwards to play heavy minutes in all situations of the game. From even strength to the penalty kill to the power play, players such as Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski consistently see a high amount of ice time across the board, leading the team in PK minutes last season while finishing 2-3 on the PP respectively.

This type of minutes allocation became prominent in the Sharks 2011 postseason. Consider this-- of the top six penalty kill leaders on the team, five (Pavelski, Marleau, Thornton, Couture, Heatley) saw top six minutes at even strength and over 2:30 per game on the power play. In essence, San Jose's top six forwards rarely leave the ice no matter the situation at hand.

In order to understand how this plays out I decided to analyze where minutes were being allocated in relation to the rest of the Western Conference playoff teams. To do this, I took the six leading ES forwards that played over 25 games with the club, broke down their average ice time per game in all three situations, and added those numbers to come up with a total figure.

San Jose's top six forwards last season were as follows-- Clowe, Marleau, Heatley, Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski.

The results are right in line with what you would expect, with the San Jose Sharks finishing at the top of the group in every category:


Western Conference Playoff Teams Top Six Minutes Allocation

Team ES TOI
Rank
PK TOI
Rank
PP TOI
Rank
TOI
Rank
Anaheim
94:90
1st
5:14
7th
16:40
3rd
116:03 1st
San Jose
90:38
2nd
7:15
2nd
17:43
2nd
115:36 2nd
Chicago
88:59
3rd
7:14
3rd
16:05
4th
112:18 3rd
Los Angeles
85:50
T-6th
5:25
6th
17:45
1st
109:00 4th
Vancouver
85:50
T-6th
6:09
4th
15:39
5th
107:38 5th
Detroit
88:00
4th
3:08
8th
14:22
7th
105:30 6th
Nashville
86:13
5th
7:23
1st
11:22
8th
104:58 7th
Phoenix
83:29
8th
5:33
5th
14:39
6th
103:41 8th

The Anaheim Ducks top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan were hands down the most relied upon top line in this group, averaging around 17 minutes at even strength per game. Those are phenomenally large numbers, pushing the Ducks into the top spot of total TOI. As the chart shows, San Jose finished second across the board by all situations.

Chicago and Nashville used their top six forwards in roughly the same way San Jose did last year-- spreading out the PK minutes amongst four or more top six forwards, with no player seeing a large portion of their minutes account for the grand total. Vancouver's Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows accounted for the most of their SH TOI (logging 2:33 and 2:15 respectively). Detroit was on the opposite side of the spectrum, putting nearly all of their PK duties on the shoulders of their bottom six forward group.

Out of this sample, San Jose was the only team to have more than five players log over a minute on the PK. The power play numbers were similar in that respect-- four of these Sharks saw over 3:00 of PP TOI per game, the most out of any team.

So what are the implications of this policy? Quantitatively, it's hard to judge-- there have been no studies that I am aware of which looks at high minutes decreasing production, either from a correlative and causal sense. Qualitatively however, I feel that there is some face validity to the assertion that more shorthanded minutes (and minutes in general) can take a toll on a player's production. It's a fine line to walk of course, but team depth and balancing minutes should seem to make player's better in the long run.

What are the implications of this type of allocation? With the Sharks out one potential top six forward for next season (Heatley and Setoguchi out, Havlat in) there is a good chance that even more minutes will be given to San Jose's top six next year. As we looked at yesterday, the Sharks have broken even in terms of SH TOI this offseason by acquiring Andrew Murray and Michal Handzus. In order to reduce PK minutes, players outside of the top six like Andrew Desjardins will hopefully see more shorthanded ice time as the season progresses.

Finding the right balance of players to complement the current cast is of the utmost importance next season. Going along with that, I am of the opinion that another third line forward would be a great addition for the Sharks, especially if said forward can play on the penalty kill. There's a lot of great things to be said for the amount of two-way skill the Sharks have at the top of the lineup, but finding a better balance on the hard PK minutes could prove to be instrumental.

The biggest lesson in all of this might be the benefits Sharks strength and conditioning coach Mike Potenza brings to the table. With all of the minutes the top six sees throughout the year, his job is extremely important.

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