We just hit the halfway point in this shortened season. So what better way to kick off a weekly stats column than by putting together a St. Louis Blues Player Usage Chart?
Player usage charts were originally created by Rob Vollman over at Hockey Abstract during the offseason in 2011. These charts are a simple yet elegant way to view how players on a team are used on ice during the season. The charts plot two statistics, Offensive Zone Starts and Quality of Competition (measured using Relative Corsi of their opponents). And all these stats are at even strength (5v5). If you are interested in the specifics of these charts and the statistics behind them I strongly encourage you to read Vollman's 2011-2012 Player Usage Charts [pdf]. He does an excellent job in the introduction explaining, in plain english, the stats used and the evolution of this chart. The data for this chart came from behindthenet.ca where you can also find additional information about the statistics used.
To keep it simple, this chart shows us if Hitchcock is using a player offensively (Off Zone Starts greater than 50%) or defensively (Off Zone Starts less than 50%). And how Hitchcock is pairing his players against opponents. If a player is facing top line opponents their QoC will be greater than zero. If a Blues' player is being paired against depth lines then their QoC will be less than zero.
I added a couple of extra stats to this chart by using Tom Awad's variation. I size the bubbles by a player's ice time and color the bubbles by that player's Relative Corsi. Awad's version uses a green/red coloring. However, approximately 7% of the male population (and only .4% of the female population) are color blind. When they see green/red they see nothing but gray. So the data viz community has been encouraging different coloring to replace green/red. In this case I use blue/orange.
The first thing I noticed were the thee bubbles in the upper left "Shut-Down" quadrant of the chart. If you use your mouse (or finger on a tablet) to draw a box around those three bubbles you will see in the table below that the three bubbles are Backes, Oshie, and Jackman. It appears that Hitchcock has been using these three in a more defensive capacity pairing them up against the opponent's top players. Vollman states it is impressive for any player that is in this quadrant to have a positive Relative Corsi. So it is interesting to note that, out of these three, Backes is the only one to meet that criteria.
The other aspect of this chart that jumped out at me is how many players are clustered in the upper right or the "Two-Way" quadrant. Lots of Blues' players are getting offensive zone starts. And just underneath the 0 line for QoC ("sheltered") are a few players with positive relative corsi. These players are also getting offensive zone starts but Hitchcock is playing them against depth lines.
Compare this chart after 25 games against last season's chart in Vollman's 2011-2012 Player Usage Chart report (link above in first paragraph). Granted the Blues have only played a quarter of the games that are represented in the 2011-2012 chart, but the difference is striking. More players are in the "Two-Way" quadrant this season (so far) and less players are in the "Shut-Down" quadrant. But this is a small sample size so please keep that in mind. We will revisit this chart at the end of the season and be able to compare and contrast against the 25 game chart and last season's chart.
A Quick Note to Readers
This is the first of a weekly look at St. Louis Blues' statistics. I have two goals for this weekly column. First, I want to take the excellent analysis that the professionals are publishing using "advanced" statistics and republish it in a format that is interactive, easy to understand, and Blues-centric. Second, I will create interesting and unique visuals using "traditional" statistics that will allow you to explore those statistics interactively in order to gain better insight into statistical side of the Blues. Finally, I want to thank Laura and the team at St. Louis Game Time for extending me the invitation to write this weekly column.
Thank you for reading and see you next week!