I wanted to take some time to look at Player Usage and try to predict what our D pairings will look like next season. What I've also found is some apparent needs that are different from what I thought they be:
So what you are seeing here is a visualization of how players are used. Whats important here is the "Y" axis (QoC), bubble size (Corsi), and the color of the bubble (TOI/G). The "X" axis (Zone Start%) is a little tricker to take info from, and I'm likely going to ignore it.
So here's the breakdown of pairings with these charts:
QoC greater than 1: 1st Pairing (Fowler-Lovejoy)
QoC between 1 and 0: 2nd Pairing (Beauch-Lindholm/Robidas)
QoC less than 1: 3rd Paring (Allen-Sibsa/Vatanen/Fistric)
If you watched any games last season, you would probably see that this is pretty accurate with what the team looked like last season. So lets take a look though at each pairing:
Lets start with the fact that Cam Fowler is the real deal. He's putting up comparable numbers to some of the best in the game. He's driving play, producing at a good clip, and generally coming out okay against the opponent's best players.
Ben Lovejoy on the other hand is playing over his head. He's a real solid player, a actually probably a better top 4 option than most give him credit for. He'd likely strive on a lower pairing, but as a top guy he's getting killed and is killing Fowler and the team as a result.
Hampus Lindholm also the real deal and probably the only other legit top 4 Dman on the team outside of Fowler. He's like a junior Fowler, doing a lot of really good things just against slightly easier opposition. A lot of people are worried about a sophomore slump (ala Fowler), but really his underlying numbers are a lot better than Fowler's were in his rookie year. This guy is the real deal.
Alright now lets get to Beauch. A lot of people talk about how Fowler had to drag around Lovejoy and make him look respectable, but Lindholm arguable did a better job of that with Beauch. He simply wasn't that good against middling competition, and really just looked slow and old at various points during the season. Now maybe it was a nagging injury, and it would be great to see him bounce back. But at 34 years old, he's fighting the odds.
I wanted to briefly mention Robidas. He wasn't here long and he wont be returning next season, but he was actually a really good second pairing guy. I'm not sure how much he and Lindholm played together, but I feel like that would actually be probably a better second pairing than we've seen in years. After looking at this I'm really sad we didn't resign him.
Alright time to get the line that will probably get the most quotes: Bryan Allen is a decent 3rd pairing Dman. He's just expensive, but really he's no better or worse than most NHL 3rd pairing Dmen. He's decent on the PK, and offers size to a generally smaller D core. Nothing more, nothing less.
Vatanen is a miracle worker. I'm going to try to limit gushing about him, but really he's kinda like a mini Lindholm (in the way Lindholm is a mini Fowler). He's sheltered, but man he is dominant in that sheltering.
I'm not gonna talk about now Vancouver Canuck Sbisa, but I just wanted to point out that Mark Fistric is a lot worse than I remember. His minutes are crazy sheltered, and he's worse then Allen. His contract isn't crazy so its not a huge problem, but I no longer look at him as a realistic option to be a regular 3rd pairing guy. I really wouldn't care if he were to be moved, but he's a nice/cheap insurance policy for injuries I guess.
Ugh that looks awful. Stoner is so bad, that really it would be a really big win if he could be as good as Allen next season. Think about that.
Overall its not that bad though. You've got 3 young guys who can carry their pairings, and 3 anchors that weigh them down. I have a few suggested solutions though I think we could see and that would overall help the team:
1) Move Sami to the top pairing: Its a huge leap to go from 3rd to 1st pairings, but Vats is really our only hope outside of a major trade happening. He was flat out dominating as a sheltered Dman and began to see some time with Fowler late in the season. If he can handle the tougher competition, then you could see a big leap in the D's overall performance.
2) Drop Lovejoy to the 2nd pairing: He's a good, mobile, all-around Dman. With easier competition, and another great player on his pairing in Lindholm I think he could really strive. He's likely better than Beauch at this point in their careers and he's a RHS too.
3) Drop Beauch to the 3rd pairing: He's old, he's gone through some injuries recently, and he just can't handle the work load anymore. He can play the right side with Allen or Stoner on the left and probably carry the pairing enough to make it look respectable. He'll still get big PK minutes, but at this point limiting his TOI and keeping his matchups easy should be the priority in order maximize his effectiveness.
With these proposals the D would look like:
What do you guys think?