In case you missed it the other day, Justin Bourne of the Backhand Shelf blog posted a helpful introduction to a new stat category that evaluates which NHL players are routinely facing off against the highest level of competition. Brought to light by Eric T from NHLNumbers.com, the stat (referred to as TOI Qualcomp) is a “competition metric based on ice time” wherein stat heads and fans alike can get a better idea of a certain player’s value based on the average ice time of the forwards and defensemen they are stacked up against.
In other words, using a simple plot graph, we can see the average minutes played by the opposing team’s forwards and d-men, giving us a good sense of the level of competition that any given forward was up against when he was out on the ice.
What the graphs reveal is as follows:
- If Forward X was matched up with defensemen that average few minutes, but against forwards that frequently jump over the boards, he was probably sent out as more of a shut-down, defensive-type forward (and he would be plotted more near the bottom-right of the graph).
- If Forward Y was matched against forwards who averaged fewer minutes, but against d-men who averaged big minutes, he’d be more of an offensive specialist and less likely to be called upon to to hold things down in his own end (top left).
- Forward Z (located in the top right of the graph) is likely to be one of the team’s top guys, not only because he’s seen as a threat to score by the opposition, but also because he’s able to keep their top weapons in check as well.
- Oh, and players located near the bottom left end of the graph? Draw your own conclusions.
In order to put this all in context, let’s take a look at the Avalanche Forward Usage Graph and examine what it says about the team.
What we learn from this graph is that both Ryan O’Reilly & Gabriel Landeskog are two young but highly trusted players on this team. Not only are both at the top of the scale in terms of being matched up with opposing d-men, but both are also out on the ice against the opposition’s top offensive threats as well. Don’t forget that Landeskog is still a teenager, and O’Reilly is only 21 years of age as well. Literally no other team in the NHL features two players that young in the top right edge of their graphs. When you compare the Avalanche graph with that of the Oilers, for example, you see that young guns such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did indeed see a great deal of the opposition’s top defensive pairings, but weren’t sent out against high-level forwards nearly as often as the veteran players on the team, suggesting that they weren’t used in a wide variety of situations. This not only puts Landeskog’s rookie success in a wider and more impressive context, but the fact that he was not shielded as a rookie also lends credence to the argument that he is indeed poised for progress moving forward. O’Reilly, of course, is another key cog among the Avalanche forwards, and perhaps GM Greg Sherman ought to get the contract negotiations rolling, even in the midst of CBA uncertainty.
It’s also interesting to note that Paul Stastny ranked 3rd in terms of ‘Opposing forward TOI’, but it was Milan Hejduk who held a bit of an edge in relation to being on the ice against top d-men, meaning he still commands a measure of respect around the league. Both did suffer setbacks in terms of overall production in 2011-12, which could explain the fact that opposing coaches deemed it necessary to focus in on O’Reilly & Landeskog with their best defensemen. Matt Duchene and late-arrival Steve Downie came in at the bottom end of the top 6, while still obviously maintaining roles wherein they were expected to perform against high end defensemen.
To see where new addition PA Parenteau might fit into that mix, let’s compare the Avalanche graph to that of the Islanders.
Based on the graph, it appears as though Parenteau played against more top forwards on average than Hejduk & Stastny, and was also in and around the same range in terms of ‘Opposing defenseman TOI.’ If and when training camp does begin, Coach Sacco will have some maneuvering to do, and perhaps PA will be asked to play a similar role with the Avs alongside the likes of Matt Duchene as opposed to fellow 2009 draftee John Tavares. At any rate, it will be interesting to see who falls down into the realm of the bottom 6 as a result of his arrival in Colorado.
A few other things of note. When it comes to who might be seen as more of an ‘offensive specialist’ on the Avs, David Jones would clearly fit into that role. He played far less against top offensive threats than those who were slotted into the top 6, but was out on the ice against top d-men almost as often as Duchene & Downie. If that trend continues, he’ll be expected to approach that 27 goal mark he set a couple years ago, especially after having signed a hefty contract extension. Along with Steve Downie, another late-season arrival also seems to have made a considerable impression on Coach Sacco, as Jamie McGinn was largely out on the ice against opposing forwards, while not attracting much attention from high end d-men. He did put up 8 goals in 17 games and was a +11 in that time, suggesting that he is quite capable of solidifying an important role on the Avs 3rd line. In fact, with the addition of Parenteau and the subtraction of Jamie McClement, the Avs actually have a solid mix among their top 3 lines, and they will be well served if forwards 7-9 can contribute on a regular basis.
While the TOI Qualcomp metric is indeed a helpful tool, one shortcoming is that it doesn’t necessarily reflect how effective the players were in relation to quality of competition. On any given team, various forwards will have to bear the brunt of the load, to varying degrees of success. Having said that, it certainly serves the team well that young players have been exposed to high levels of competition early on in their careers, and the onus remains on the Avalanche coaching staff (those directly responsible for feeding input into these graphs) to find the right mix within their top 3 lines early on in the upcoming season.