The trade deadline altered some of the message I was going to write about here today. I wanted to focus on how important the proper slotting of players is from a coaching level. Because of the nature of the sport, with so many players on the ice at one time, poorer play from weaker players can be minimized quite a bit by line pairings and overall usage.
In dealing Ben Lovejoy, general manager Bob Murray erased some of the need to address this topic the same way. I intended to get into ice share with the current roster and how coach Bruce Boudreau's inefficiencies have hurt the team. I will swing back around to it at the end somewhat, but first I will post a bit about the new defensive additions.
First, something I want folks to consider.
Anaheim's D now has left handers Beauchemin, Despres, Lindholm while Fowler, Wiz and Vatanen (when healthy) can play the right side.— Curtis Zupke (@curtiszupke) March 2, 2015
It would not surprise me if, before the year ends, we see Hampus Lindholm with Wiz, Cam Fowler with Francois Beauchemin, and Sami Vatanen with Simon Despres. (This assumes, however, Boudreau ices his actual best lineup.)
This move seems to be polarizing to some fans. From a hockey perspective, this is a smart one. For starters, Wiz can slot up and down the pairings and handle a variety of minutes. If he ends up replacing Lovejoy's role on the team, while spotting for Vatanen's power play time until he returns, Murray will have acquired a decent option to play with Fowler (or even Lindholm).
In raw numbers terms, and only using this year's most recent sample of games, it's possible to think Lovejoy is the better player. Certainly, Ben's possession numbers (with Fowler) suggest as much. I made up a web chart with Wisniewski's 2014-15 numbers, but consider this while looking at it: he has played most of his minutes with Kevin Connauton, who has been worse without Wiz; Tim Erixon, now of the Maple Leafs; and Fedor Tyutin, also worse without Wiz.
I added a few new corners than my usual charts. As a defenseman, his goals totals are less predictive of his offensive output than his first assists totals. I included first assists, all assists, and overall points (at 5v5) to show his potential additions. So while Lovejoy has a higher points/60 (of 0.94 at 5v5), Wisniewski has more direct offense by way of first assists to back up his 0.84. Further to that, Lovejoy in all situations is 0.89, showing in my opinion his reliance on Fowler in 5v5 play for his production. Wiz is 1.45 in all situations, which is behind only Vatanen (1.65) in terms of raw output put up against this roster.
The time on ice portion of the chart shows that at 5v5, he's playing around third pairing minutes. On the Ducks, his closest comparable is Clayton Stoner. In that vein, Wiz's minutes should help ease the minutes of Stoner, which will benefit everyone. But in theory, the aim with adding him should be to up Fowler's minutes by either being his partner or giving him a better one (like Frankie). Right now, Anaheim basically overplays Lindholm and Beauchemin and underplays Fowler and Vatanen, largely due to partners, at 5v5.
Wisniewski is negative in terms of overall possession: he is giving up more shots against (the suppression side) than he is generating when on the ice. The Columbus Blue Jackets on the whole, however, generated more shot attempts when he was on the ice than with any other defender. When he was off the ice, the entire team was less productive in generating offense.
Playing alongside Fowler (or Lindholm, say) should only enhance that attacking instinct he has while, one hopes, improving his season suppression numbers. Both Fowler and Lindholm suppress shot attempts at a good rate, which would help Wiz. And despite the backward trend shown above, Wiz was a positive relative player in Columbus.
In all, I'm more convinced Wisniewski is a play driver stuck on a bad roster (riddled with injury and bad circumstance all season) than a passenger alongside a better player, a la Lovejoy. It wouldn't surprise me if Wiz ends up seeing some time with Lindholm either, letting Boudreau see what Fowler and Beauchemin could do together now.
This move is more of an unknown to many people, but the short analysis is "what the heck were the Pittsburgh Penguins thinking?" The Ducks acquired a far superior player than the outgoing one, and he's younger to boot. If he can develop the same way the other three young defenders are, he will be a perfect complimentary player in Anaheim throughout his career.
Here's his chart.
Similar to Wisniewski, his ice share shows he was used as a third pairing defender in Pittsburgh. His main partner was Rob Scuderi, who isn't quite the player he used to be. Despite that, Despres generated shot attempts at a much better rate than he allowed shot attempts against. Of the pairing, it certainly seems like Despres drove positive play.
Likewise similar to Wisniewski, and thus better than Lovejoy, most of Despres' points are from direct production. At 5v5 he's posted a P/60 of 0.90, which rises to 0.99 in all situations. This is interesting because he's played virtually no time on the power play but seems capable of generating offense.
Ideally, Despres replaces Stoner outright and becomes either Fowler's eventual partner or Vatanen's partner. He is a positive relative player, he generates offense much better than his regular partner on the Penguins, and has respectable suppression numbers, all while being big, which Murray loves. Until he's more of a known commodity and could theoretically see more ice time, he would slot perfectly on the third pair over other options.
Here's how the two new additions stack up directly. They have both played in third pairing minutes, so there's a rough comparison to be made.
Every team in the league has its share of poorer players. In a hard cap league, it is impossible to assemble a perfect and highly skilled roster in every spot. Many current hockey analysts forget that the whole top six-bottom six setup came to be because the top six guys commanded so much money, the rest of the lineup began being filled with replacement level players. That trend still exists.
My original intent was to essentially argue that Beauchemin is a fantastic second pairing defenseman and should be playing top four minutes but not the top most minutes. With Lovejoy out and two new bodies in (and Holzer, who I think is alive and can skate one way, basically), I'm not certain what Boudreau will do. I suspect he'll keep playing Beauchemin the most, but with a more capable partner, Fowler may start eating into his minutes. That's necessary.
I was likewise going to discuss the overuse of Nate Thompson (again) and show how, even with his limited ability to prevent other teams from shooting at his net, what he does provide can be best exploited in a limited role. His face-offs, while statistically meaningless overall, are still parts of the game. His speed on the forecheck and willingness to play physically is very nice; only, when Boudreau uses him so much, he's never in the offensive zone to use those skills.
But I feel the easiest way to discuss all of this is to show the ice share in two specific recent games. Against the Los Angeles Kings, the Ducks were (as expected) out possessed but played a far more structurally sound game. Furthermore, Anaheim out chanced the opposition from the start. Chances, like shot attempts, can only happen when the puck is in the other end, which it isn't with Thompson playing.
Here's the Kings game, and this is now a chart dump!
The top forward players in this game are among the best on the roster, which is how it should be.
The top defensemen in this game are the best three available. This is exactly how to use this lineup against this team.
That produced this "all situations" shot attempts chart. (I use all situations in this scenario because that's the scale for the TOI charts. So, like-to-like. Normally, I use 5v5 for everything.)
Like the above chart, here's how that fell out in terms of scoring chances. As is evident, the skilled players on the Ducks outplayed the smothering system the Kings play, and Anaheim won the game.
Now here's the Stars game.
Thompson played virtually the same share of minutes as Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. There is a clear talent distinction between these players, even considering the purported roles Boudreau wants each player to fill.
Lovejoy is not the second best defenseman on the team. While Fowler getting the top draw is good, it comes at the expense of Lindholm's minutes because of bad pairings. Lovejoy is not a number-two defenseman, but he played those minutes in this game.
Here's the all situations chart of shots attempted and...this is crap.
The first period, when Thompson was getting shifted in the fourth line spot, was highly competitive. Likewise, the top two pairings were being played more equally than how Boudreau rolled them out in the second and beyond. When Bruce is rolling his lines properly, this team is good. When not, it isn't.
That is reflected in the chances battle.
Thompson is given top five forward minutes from the second on, and look...what...happens...to...the...offense... (gone).
Ultimately, when players are appropriately slotted into the lineup, the Ducks can compete with every type of team. The Kings smother offense and play more with the puck; Boudreau used his players probably the best he has all year, and the results were that Anaheim out chanced Los Angeles.
The Stars are weak defensively and speedy as all get-out up front; the team attempts to out-attack every team. Boudreau used his roster in just about the worst possible way, and the result is that Dallas dominated Anaheim.
Come on, Bruce. In the playoffs, when the team isn't facing a weak defensive team who is playing a former Buffalo Sabres goaltender, this game plan will see poor results.
Here's my point on slotting in a nutshell. (Like my handwriting?)