An NHL head coach has all kinds of decisions to make every game. If he’s at home, does he use his best players against the other club’s best? Does he use his top pairing against the other team’s best forwards? What about his 4th line? Should he use them only when the other coach sends his 4th line over the boards?
Some of those questions depend on the score (using 4th lines more usually happens when a team is ahead or behind by a significant amount, and most teams run their best pairing against the other club’s best forwards). Others are a ‘feel’ thing from coach to coach and as fans we don’t really know why things happen.
There are all kinds of things we do know today that we didn’t ten years ago. Example: how a coach deploys his roster.
EDMONTON OILERS UNDER DALLAS EAKINS, 2013-14
Now, you can enlarge it and get a really good idea about what he’s doing (basically rolling 4 lines, using Gordon for own zone starts and making sure Yakupov is getting the offensive zone starts). Eakins is not a veteran coach like Craig MacTavish when he was in his prime with the Oilers, there’s not a lot of evidence of hard matching over half a season and we can’t really identify his tough minutes line (in fairness, Eakins didn’t find Gordon-Smyth-Hemsky until the season was well worn, and other teams chase Hall’s line, so maybe this IS a little line matching with the result being the blob in the middle).
BOSTON BRUINS PLAYER USAGE CHART 2013-14
Again, if you enlarge the full roster and what it’s telling us comes into view. This more spread out group is what one might hope for, the impact guys in the top left quadrant, the offensive river pushers in the upper right, the good checkers in the lower left and the rookies and henchmen in the lower right.
Now, how do the Oilers get there? Chara, Bergeron, Boychuk, Krejci, Marchand, Eriksson. Lucic, Seidenberg. And the goalies. That’s the heart of the roster, and the Oilers have many of the forward elements but lack the defensemen and the two way ability of guys like Bergeron, Krejci and Chara.
Imagine a world in which Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 20 years old, is playing in the lower right quadrant, along with Yakupov and the other kids. Imagine more help for Boyd Gordon, and big blue bubbles in the upper right quadrant for Hall, Eberle and Perron—and maybe, if God smiles on us, one of those men eventually finding his way to the secret garden of upper left, big blue, pushing the river.
I don’t know the names who are coming in, but that’s Craig MacTavish’s job. More NHL players, more veterans, easier ropes to climb for the kids and the aged.
What an incredible task ahead.
(although these graphs are the Vollman Sledgehammer, they come from extraskater.com. My thanks to extraskater for the brilliance).