We don't have a lot of tools that provide insight into the mind of the NHL head coach. One of the few we do is offensive and defensive deployment. In basic terms, coaches have a few options at the time of a face-off. They can decide which skaters to deploy based on zone, competition, score, time, and strength. In this first part of a series of articles we will take a look at how McLellan has elected to deploy his skaters with the former two, followed by subsequent articles on league wide deployment, and some specific team/game situations.
You may have seen a few of these graphs around the blogosphere. The basic idea is to separate players out based on their assignment. On the x-axis is CORSI rel QOC, which is our best guess at the level of competition a player faces on average (although the strength of this stat is heavily compromised by confounders). On the y-axis we have Defensive zone start% which is the percentage of shifts started in the defensive zone relative to the offensive zone. The bubble size indiates raw CORSI on (the +/- of all EV goals, shots, misses, and blocks). Teal is a positive CORSI, and orange is negative. As we move from bottom left to top right the assignment gets harder as players face increasing levels of competition, and more starts in their own zone. I also added dotted lines that represent SJ averages, allowing for distinct quadrants of assignments.
If you haven't heard yet, Joe Pavelski is beast mode this year. he's currently second in the NHL (>20GP) in CORSI rel QOC, and leading the team in defensive zone starts, while only 2nd to Thornton in raw CORSI for forwards. That's simply AB-surd. You can say what you want about his size and speed, but the guy shows up every game, and it shows in the numbers.
Andrew Murray safely made it through waivers, and although I agree with other people around here that I've liked what I've seen from him, it sure looks like McLellan doesn't trust him any farther than he can throw him, which is never into the defensive zone. Murray sits with the 5th worst CORSI rel QOC in the league, and is more than 2 standard deviations below the SJ mean for zone start%. I think time in WOR will be good for him, where he can tighten up his defensive game, and round out into a great player.
Brent Burns. He leads the sharks in raw CORSI with a whopping 16.04 shots directed at the opponents net more than his own (per 60 TOI), and seems to face relatively difficult competition, but McLellan has elected to use him predominantly in the offensive zone. In the past McLellan hasn't sheltered his top players, but there must be something he sees in Burns' defensive game that he doesn't like.
Other notables. Kinda disheartening to see Douglas Murray with the fat orange bubble, I hope he can turn it around going down the stretch. Havlat is still an enigma (or animole?), and it looks like Clowe and Couture still need a line-mate. I'd bet their zone start% would climb if they actually played with a real top 6 NHLer.