Drance Numbers: Harry Potter plays soft minutes; the Sedins play optimized minutes

The Canucks blogosphere (lovingly called the Smylosphere by those working within it) has been talking about zone-starts and what they tell us about this team for well over a year now. Lately, however, the conversation has gone mainstream, and articles and broadcast segments about this topic are beginning to appear in places like Hockey Night in Canada and the Vancouver Province. Between the team’s sustained run of success, the uniqueness of their zone-start deployment patterns and, hopefully, several well argued blog-posts on the subject, more people are coming around to the idea that this stuff matters.

But the data remains somewhat problematic, especially for Corsi skeptics. Where shifts begin has a demonstrable impact on possession stats, sure, but what about production? Gabe Desjardins, who runs Behindthenet.ca, suggested that the Sedins benefit from being sheltered to the tune of 7-9 points per season, but that figure was questioned elsewhere.

One of the key things I use zone-starts for when writing about the Canucks is that, if nothing else, they tell a story. If a head coach is relying heavily on a particular skater to start more shifts in his own end when the team is on the road, that’s a pretty good indicator that the coach has a lot of trust in that player’s two-way game.

To put it most simply, zone-starts and quality of competition metrics have improved our understanding of “how NHL players are deployed.” As a result, hockey math nerds have come up with labels over the years to more accurately qualify and describe the roles of certain players. I figured it might be instructive to go through them:

“TOUGH MINUTES”

For Canucks fans: This would apply to guys like Ryan Kesler, Manny Malhotra (especially last season), Dan Hamhuis, and Kevin Bieksa. These guys are the enablers. They’re usually able to turn play the other way, while frequently starting their shifts in the defensive end against the best players on the opposing team. Fans who aren’t interested in advanced stats usually perceive the value of the yeoman work these “tough-minutes” players do, but often become critical quickly when the offensive production from these skaters falls off for a stretch.

Other examples: Probably Pavel Datsyuk, with honourable mentions to Patrice Bergeron and David Backes.

Pop Culture Example: Penny from Inspector Gadget. The unheralded, unseen assistance of Penny (and Brain of course) was what made Inspector Gadget a formidable foe for M.A.D. agents. Between her computer skills, overall surveillance and espionage excellence (and occasional Irish luck — Penny had a high PDO), her steady competence allowed Gadget to benefit from a steady diet of offensive-zone starts against inferior competition.

“SOFT MINUTES”

For Canucks fans: Right now, Cody Hodgson is the guy who plays “soft minutes” for the Canucks. Hodgson’s line is “protected” or “sheltered” in that the rookie doesn’t start many shifts in the defensive-zone, and is usually kept away from matching up against the opponent’s best players. This type of deployment isn’t uncommon for rookies, but Hodgson has definitely been playing soft minutes since January.

Other examples: The Oilers’ young skaters, as well as Tomas Holmstrom, are probably the most high-profile NHLers playing “soft minutes” right now, though most fourth lines in the league do too.

Pop Culture Example: Harry Potter. Harry Potter played the softest minutes of any fantasy hero in the history of children’s literature. Under the watchful eye of ace defensive centre and two-time Selke winner Albus Dumbledore, Potter was matched up mostly against inferior competition. While he played on the celebrated “kid line,” that line featured a more talented tough-minutes skater on his left side (Hermione), and a better physical presence in right-winger Ron Weasley.

Also, Harry’s most NHL-ready skill was “magic that was “done to him”” either by his mother, or Dumbledore, or his having the same wand as Voldermort or whatever. In most of the final showdowns he gets into over the course of the series, he’s just dropped into where he needs to be, which is the magical version of the Muggle offensive zone-start.

“’SHELTERED’ OR ‘OPTIMIZED’ MINUTES”

For Canucks Fans: The Sedin twins and Burrows. A lot of people have issues with the idea of “sheltered” minutes for top offensive skaters, and I think their qualms are generally convincing. The Sedins aren’t “sheltered” from their opponents’ best skaters, as no opposing coach allows their third pairing to so much as sniff the ice when the twins take their shift. As such, I propose we use “Optimized Minutes” — the twins are deployed in the offensive zone to maximize the team’s mathematical edge, but they’re not exactly playing “soft” or “sheltered” minutes.

I think the “optimized” term is more accurate for a top-player who starts most often in the offensive zone against tough competition. In the case of players like the Sedins or Jonathan Toews who exhibits a similar deployment pattern, their constant offensive zone-start deployment is a testament to their skill-level — not necessarily a reflection of their defensive inability.

Other NHL examples: Patrick Kane, Evander Kane, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik, any NHL superstar that sees a lot of offensive zone starts and a lot of top shutdown pairings.

Pop Culture Example: I think it’s fair to go with Marty McFly here. McFly was a bad-ass: super elite skateboarding skills, bucket loads of natural charisma (i.e. he was clutch) to go along with his superior pick-handling (the guy knew his way around a guitar).

That said, McFly clearly benefited from the ability to appear at crucial moments in time throughout the Back to the Future trilogy. His advantageous deployment didn’t make his job easy, but it enabled him to do more with his impressive assortment of talents than he’d have been able to accomplish without all those O-zone Starts.

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17 comments

  1. BeCanucks
    February 24, 2012

    Arf! An excellent one! I like the idea of Sedin’s “particular” minutes: O-zone for the win!

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    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  2. sarah
    February 24, 2012

    Everyone knows that Hermione was the real hero of the Harry Potter franchise.

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    Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
    • Harrison Mooney
      February 24, 2012

      Neville could have done it in four books.

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      Rating: +20 (from 22 votes)
  3. ArtemChubarov
    February 24, 2012

    Neville’s awkwardly under-rated http://weknowmemes.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/that-awkward-moment.jpg

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  4. Cam Charron
    February 24, 2012

    Harry also played his first three and a half years with an unsustainably high PDO.

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    Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
  5. Jeff Ho
    February 24, 2012

    Great post teasing out the difference between ‘sheltered’/'soft’ minutes and ‘optimized’ minutes. I knew there must’ve been a clear way to delineate the two (as you do with QualCOM), but I couldn’t figure out. Fantastic work!

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  6. katiebakes
    February 24, 2012

    “Optimized” is such a great replacement for “sheltered.” Great post!

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    Rating: +6 (from 6 votes)
  7. Daniel W.
    February 24, 2012

    Finally, a Back To The Future reference here!

    Very good article, fun AND informative, that’s the way it’s supposed to be!

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    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  8. Karen
    February 24, 2012

    Best. Article. Ever.

    May it catch on as wizardous sedinery! has, and may no one be able to whine about Coho being shafted ever again without someone yelling Harry Potter! at them.

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    Rating: +6 (from 6 votes)
  9. akidd
    February 24, 2012

    well, thomas, nice of you to speak to your audience. imo though harrison and daniel have more than got the pop-culture reference thing covered. and then some. and it feels a little ‘dirty’ reading you do it too(“can your grandfather do this?”//old man from grandpa simpson’s old age home gets on table and does karate moves:)

    i can imagine the pitb board meeting.”great numbers, drance. great work. but could you spice it up a bit? maybe wear some tighter pants or something.”

    personally(and i get the feeling i’m in the minority here), i enjoy the change of pace that comes with your usual direct language and ideas. it’s all good of course. just keep the insights coming.

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  10. Anonymous
    February 24, 2012

    Hah! I enjoyed this immensely, the pop culture comparisons work! Which category is the second line considered to be in

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  11. Beaver Paladin
    February 24, 2012

    Hard minutes: Frodo
    Soft minutes: Legolas & Gimli
    Optimized minutes: Gandalf

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  12. MichCat
    February 24, 2012

    Loving the twins every time. No character references required.

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    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  13. colinkirk
    February 24, 2012

    Congratulations on dumbing-down what might otherwise have been a good and insightful article. In other words, a very lousy and minus shift, not what I’ve come to expect.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      February 24, 2012

      This comment makes me chuckle, just because Drance Numbers is such an alienating column. Clearly, this specific entry managed to alienate one of the few who isn’t usually alienated by it. Congratulations, Thomas.

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  14. Tom_F
    February 24, 2012

    I can see why the Sun picked you guys up. Entertaining stuff!

    I prefer the nerdy stats but I’ll take HP and Inspector Gadget references in its place…. for now….

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  15. lORTIMER
    February 25, 2012

    -10 in the playoffs…in four tries as a top center and winger..

    They are being sheltered from their defensive deficiencies…

    Gabe was right …what people forget is the ‘Net’ benefit..the goals that are not scored because Sedins are not trapped in their own zone!!!

    By not starting the Sedins in the defensive zone and all the havoc that can occur..including loss faceoffss/possesion and penalties!!

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