• Hawks and Oilers: Bottom of the Order

    by  • April 1, 2014 • Hockey • 12 Comments

    I’ve been fooling around a little with the idea of the bottom of the roster. It’s hard to compare fourth lines (or bottom pairings) in the NHL because the league doesn’t operate in handy five man units. Chicago’s fourth line gets minutes with Chicago’s top two defence pairings and they’re a lot better than the Oilers top defence pairings.

    What if we just screened out the top defence pairings? I went ahead and did this for Chicago, screening out any shot attempts with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya. I then took all of the shot attempts that were left that had Brandon Bollig on the ice and screened out any shot attempts with Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa or Patrick Kane on the ice. That leaves me with a pretty distilled group of fourth line/third pairing minutes (“4/3 minutes”) in Chicago.

    For the Oilers, it’s a bit messier because the Oilers have had a lot more turnover this year. Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz have played top four minutes pretty consistently but they’ve had a rotating door of defence partners. I screened out any games that they were on the ice for. Luke Gazdic has been a mainstay on the Oilers fourth line so I screened out any shot attempts for which Gazdic was on the ice. I then knocked out anything that had Gazdic on the ice with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. What remains, I called the 4/3 minutes for the Oilers.

    I think it worked pretty well. I was left with 170 shot attempts for Chicago’s 4/3 minutes and 190 shot attempts for Edmonton’s 4/3 minutes. The Hawks went 89 SAF and 81 SAA, outscoring their opposition 6-1. The Oilers went 63 SAF and 127 SAA, scoring no goals and allowing six. 52.4% Corsi% vs. a 33.2% Corsi%. That’s a pretty massive gap – it’s like two wins worth of difference between the two teams.

    Two wins may not seem like much but we’re talking about very narrow slices of the season – this is about 3.1% of the 5v5 shot attempts in Chicago games and 3.4% of the 5v5 shot attempts in Edmonton games. The goals kind of overstate the gap – I wouldn’t expect there to be such a gap going forward because a 52.4% Corsi% does not translate to a 85.7% GF%, nor does a 33.2% Corsi% lead to a 0% GF%.

    That being said, there’s clearly a massive gap between the two groups. I find these gaps further down the lineup more difficult to understand than gaps at the top of the lineup. We’re talking about players who aren’t in the top 400 players in the league or so. It should be very difficult for teams to build such an advantage, given the player movement in the NHL. And yet.

    I suspect that Chicago’s number in this situation is about as unusual as the Oilers’ number. I wouldn’t expect that 4/3 minutes generally have good outcomes. That said, I’d guess that Edmonton’s number is amongst the worst in the league.

    I was moved to do this today because I was looking at Twitter this morning and saw that Luke Gazdic was being discussed on Edmonton radio this morning.

    I don’t know how you can reconcile thinking that Gazdic can play with the fact that the Oilers get slaughtered when he’s on the ice. The reference to Laraque is absurd. We don’t have this data for Laraque but I’d venture a guess that he was one of the best fourth liners in the NHL during his time in Edmonton. I don’t like +/- as a stat but I think it can tell us something for guys over big stretches, particularly where they aren’t getting minutes that lead to shorthanded goals or empty netters. Laraque was +9 in 3950 fourth line minutes or so. The Oilers’ goaltending was, overall, nothing to write home in that time. He was probably doing pretty well possession wise.

    It seems like the Oilers are pretty happy with Gazdic. I hope that someone, somewhere, has thought through this problem and asked himself “If we want to be like Chicago, how do we get there with Gazdic on our fourth line?” Personally, I don’t see it. Committing to him just seems seems to me to mean that 19 other guys have to be that much better.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    12 Responses to Hawks and Oilers: Bottom of the Order

    1. Pat McLean
      April 1, 2014 at

      I would love to see these numbers with Chicago’s fourth line from last season, I would bet that they would just be out of this world.

      And Gazdic couldn’t hold Laraque’s jock. Maybe Rishaug should watch a game or two.

    2. ranford4life
      April 1, 2014 at

      When juxtaposing these two particular sets of fourth lines, it should also be noted how they’re deployed. Just glancing quickly at ExtraSkater’s Player Usage Charts for the two teams show that Gazdic (and co) are deployed more often than not in the offensive zone against soft competition, while Bollig (and co) face the most difficult zone starts in the league against middling competition. As a result, Chicago’s 4th line’s success in tough circumstances allows them to better leverage their offensive stars by handing them easier assignments. Meanwhile, Gazdic eats up cherry minutes and spits out SAA.

      You’ve often referred to the 4th line playing low-leverage minutes, and while I agree that that’s how many teams deploy their 4th lines, Chicago has taken a different tact and is using their 4th line to chew up the garbage assignments, and as you point out above, they’re doing so with really, really impressive results.

      Player Usage Chart: http://www.extraskater.com/players_all/deployment?min_gp=50&pos=F#player-usage-chart

      • Bank Shot
        April 1, 2014 at

        Chicago’s 3rd and 4th line guys are getting lots of Defensive zone starts, but its the opposite for their bottom three defensemen.

        Rosival, Leddy, Brookbank, all get the most offensive zone starts out of the D-core.

        What do the zone starts look like when Bollig is playing in front of Brookbank? It might be majority offensive starts for that tandem and then Bollig gets big time defensive zone starts in front of Keith.

        We don’t know that information, but it is probably pretty important in any comparisons I would think.

        Another thing to consider is that Patrick Sharp isn’t filtered out. He’s probably better then any of the Oilers forwards period when you consider all around play. Sharp being included in the Hawks bottom six is going to really help their numbers out.

        Brookbank really looks like the same type of slug that Fraser and Gazdic are so the issue isn’t really that the Oilers havea couple of these players is it?

        I think the issue is that the Oilers depth top to bottom is inferior. If the Oilers ran a 4th line composed of Pitlick, Lander, Horak, Arcobello would that line be substantially better? They would probably get killed a little less, but still get killed because there’s only one decent NHLer in that group.

        Jones, Joensuu, Hendricks, Acton, Gazdic, Lander. The Oilers entire bottom six is made up of barely NHLers and their “scoring lines” have guys like Gagner and Yakupov who can’t play NHL level defence.

        The problem in Edmonton is definitely the first 21 spots on their roster as pretty much every team in the NHL has the same sludge in their bottom two spots.

        • Bank Shot
          April 1, 2014 at

          I guess my point is that if we are looking to improve the Oilers as a hockey team then the biggest bang for the buck is probably improving roster spots say 7/8 to 17/18.

          The guys at the very top of the batting order are very difficult to acquire and I suspect the bottom 3-4 guys are pretty interchangeable on almost every NHL team.

    3. blainer
      April 1, 2014 at

      Very well done Tyler. I have been waiting for someone to notice this. Many fans always say that fourth lines don’t really matter much because they are usually always just grinders trying to give the better players a rest, fight.and provide energy. A team that can run four lines that can play gives them a huge advantage over us. Guys like Gazdic are killing us. I just don’t get their way of thinking. The oilers are already getting creamed on the corsi for the first three lines and then you send out a fourth line with guys like gazdic? Eakins had said at the beginning of the season he has no time for face punchers,boy do the oilers ever talk out of both sides of their mouth.

      The oilers have a great energy player who can fight and play in Hendricks(who also picks up for his teammates) much the same way that thornton does for the bruins. With Hendricks in our lineup I do not understand the need for Gazdic. If they re sign him and don’t do something about the fourth line the oilers are just going to keep spinning their wheels. After a season of gross mismanagement and piss poor coaching can the oilers just once in a while listen to their fanbase who have been telling them this for years. I just don’t get it. I have been in business for 27 years and to this day I am always open for advise on to make my company run better. Why can’t the oilers do the same.

    4. Simon Lamarche
      April 1, 2014 at

      I think it’s clear to most readers of the site that a team with a skilled fourth line (or at least one that doesn’t bleed chances against night after night) is in a better position to win the possession battle.

      I’m wondering though if that team could also expect a higher PDO (at least from the shooting side) by avoiding grinders and goons that usually come with low Sh% along with their generally bad play and replacing them with more skilled players, while also (as commenter ranford4life mentioned) giving more offensive zone time to your first and second lines.

      Could an effective fourth line raise your Corsi% by 1 or 2 points and raise your expected PDO a bit above 1000?

    5. woodguy
      April 1, 2014 at

      I know you are trying to control for team mates, but I still think there is a ton of team mate effects and past that “system effects”

      What I mean by system effects is that on teams like CHI and SJS, these are teams who employ good hockey players (for the most part) and who have played their system together for years and play it well. Generally everyone knows where to go and what they are expected to do.

      Those teams are also well coached, by the same coach, for years so the 4th line player, even with 3rd pairing D, is going to have a better corsi just because of where he is and who he’s playing with.

      Let’s look at Mike Brown as an example.

      Oilers last year
      38% CF overall
      With Smid 38%
      With Petry 43.7%
      With Nultz 45%
      With Potter 33%
      With Barbaro 25.4% (!)
      With Fistric 40%

      SJS this year:
      46.7% overall
      With Boyle 55%
      With Demers 47%
      With Stuart 47%
      With Vlasic 50%
      With Braun 47%
      WIht Hannan 45%

      Did Brown become a better player? No, probably not. I think its mostly due team mates and team system.

      Its interesting that if you look at the WOWY last year and this year for Brown, they average about the same.

      Using goalies as and easy proxy for CF% ON and CF% OFF we see almost identical numbers in EDM and SJS

      Goalie WOWY EDM
      Dubnyk -6.8%
      Khabby -6.1%

      Goalie WOWY SJS
      Niemi -6.5%
      Stalock -4.8%

      So Brown’s effect on his team looks to be almost identical (roughly -6% CF), its just that with SJS they are starting from a much better place than EDM.

      So where does make Gazdic good?

      No, but I think we can safely say that on a different team, his CF% contribution is better (seeing as most NHL teams are better CF% teams than EDM)

      Here is Gazdic’s Goalie WOWY (for CF ON/OFF proxy)

      Dubnyk -6.8%
      Scrivens -12.5%
      Brzy -11.3%

      So we see Gazdic having a more serious CF% effect than Brown. Given that he is a rookie, and by eye, not as good at hockey at Brown, that seems about right.

      To sum: I think team mate and “team systems/coaching” effects are next to impossible to actually remove and put a Gazdic next to a Bollig and Brown and say “he’s worse via straight corsi”

      Given that Gazdic outscored both Brown and Bollig in the AHL and is a rookie in the NHL I don’t think you can even say “he will be worse than these players in his NHL career”

      There can be an argument that put onto SJS or CHI and coached in their system for a year or two you might be comparing “Oiler Facepuncher X” to CHI’s Gazdic and showing why “X” isn’t as good as Gazdic.

      You can almost turn this into a Nature vs. Nurture argument and I don’ t think we can be entirely confident in what we see straight CF%.

    6. woodguy
      April 1, 2014 at

      Bollig’s rookie year was 43.8%CF (a whopping 103 5v5 min) Goalie WOWY looks like this:

      Crawford -8.9%
      Emery -10.2%

      Common line mates (top 4D and 4F)


      Bollig’s 2nd year was 57.2% CF (a whopping 196min 5v5)

      Goalie WOWY:
      Crawford +4.9%
      Emery +5.3%

      Common line mates (top 2D and 3F)


      So what changed Bollig to give him a 13.4% CF boost?

      Team mates for sure, especially F. (Mayers vs Krueger take you pick)
      Not being a raw rookie a bit
      A year more practice in the system

      I wonder if we could take Bollig’s rookie year and make him look like dirt next to Shawn Thornton or similar.

      Again, not to say Gazdic is a player or will be a player, there isn’t enough evidence yet, but man playing on the Oilers for the Oilers as a rookie face puncher pretty much has the be the worst job in the NHL CF% wise.

      • Neal
        April 1, 2014 at

        Hawks play their third line center (Kruger) with their 4th line wingers in more of a checking role. Then they play their 4th line center (Shaw) with their third line wingers in more of a bum slayer offensive role.

        Last season Kruger and Frolik when playing with Bollig were getting 4th line matchups. Then the Hawks would double shift a top line winger with Kruger and Frolik in more of a third line role. Somewhere at the end of last season, Q started to trust Bollig in a checking role which is how they finished last season and are employed this one. Even without Frolik…

    7. April 1, 2014 at

      Rishaug on 1260: “thing about Gazdic is he can skate and if you (c)an hit people you can play”

      So I don’t subscribe to the “hitting wins games” philosophy. If you’re hitting, then you’re defending.

      But you know who has substantially more hits per game than Gazdic?


      The same guy Rishaug also ripped during this bit.

    8. Evilas
      April 1, 2014 at


      I love your work! I bet that given your passion you have a very good sense of what a good player looks like and what it would take to make this team a playoff team next year.

      I know your site is unique in what subjects you tackle, but I would be very interested to see what moves you would make if you were in MacT’s shoes.

      Would you share this with us on a future post?

      Please and Thank you!

    9. Saj
      April 2, 2014 at

      This advanced stats stuff is kind of like an inoculation; it either takes or it doesn’t. No amount of evidence will convince a guy like Rishaug or the guys you argue with on Twitter who want more gritensity. This problem is not just common to sports; the inoculation analogy was coined by Warren Buffett with respect to value investing. The really bad news for us is that Oiler management is part of the group that doesn’t get it.

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