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Which NHL Teams are Best Utilizing their Top Forwards?

Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay for Starters

Pittsburgh Penguins v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Step 1: Team utilization of the top 6 forwards. Below are the top 5 and bottom 5 teams in terms of Average Time on Ice from their top 6 skaters:Top 5
Blue Jackets 19:11
Blues 19:06
Bruins 18:49
Panthers 18:48
Lightning 18:45

Bottom 5
Devils 17:08
Islanders 17:07
Maple Leafs 17:00
Sharks 16:55
Canucks 16:39

What I find interesting here: among the top 5 teams they are currently (9th, 2nd, 29th, 26th and 1st); among the bottom 5 teams (20th, 14th, 3rd, 12th and 5th) both include a number of above average teams. Apparently the top teams are either top heavy or deep but rarely in between.

Step 2: Here are the number of shots by top 6 players (not surprising when you think about the star power on the Penguins, Canadiens, Lightning, Blues and Sabres vs. the team centric styles of the Canucks, Sharks, Devils, Predators and Bruins).

Top 5
Penguins 59.17
Canadiens 54.67
Lightning 50.33
Blues 49.83
Sabres 49.33

Bottom 5
Canucks 33.67
Sharks 33.50
Devils 33.33
Predators 31.17
Bruins 26.67

Great now what? I’m not going to lie, when I went down this road I wasn’t really sure what my end game was. Initially I was curious which teams are utilizing their top lines the most (Blue Jackets, Blues, Bruins, Panthers and Lightning vs. the least (Devils, Islanders, Maple Leafs, Sharks, Canucks) then I was curious how that played out in terms of their shots – aka are they getting more shots with their extra playing time. The answer here is not necessarily a true 1 for 1 correlation, in fact a lot of the middle tier teams are the ones getting the most shots off. So naturally I had to figure out – which teams are getting the most shots per minute from their top 6 players. Shots per ATOI among the top teams:

Top 5
Penguins 3.38
Canadiens 3.17
Maple Leafs 2.75
Lightning 2.73
Sabres 2.72

Bottom 5
Sharks 2.02
Wild 1.97
Devils 1.95
Predators 1.79
Bruins 1.44

What do I do with all of this information?

Well it emboldens the thought that the Lightning’s top stars are legit (getting the ice time, shots and goals) as well as the Sabres. The Blue Jackets are a lot more spread out in shots and goals despite the high minutes played. Their third and fourth line stars in Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson and Sonny Milano have produced 40% of their goals while top stars in Artemi Panarin, Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson have only produced 24%. Things are pointing to this being bad except for the fact that their depth carried them last season as well.

The Bruins have me nervous in terms of shots to minutes played among their stars, they are playing top minutes but shooting near the bottom of the league. Also the Sharks, who have historically been a power house offensively (and are struggling mightily this year) are clearly looking at full team approach vs. putting it all on the shoulders of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Thomas Hertl. Finally the Maple Leafs, Penguins and Canadiens are making the most of their time out there fewer minutes and more shots and goals. The Maple Leafs in particular (the young stars of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau) have done an excellent job of producing despite playing on average 2+ minutes fewer per game to their counter parts

NHL Top 6 Forwards Utilization

Teams ATOI Avg Shots Shots per Minute Goals Shoot % Plus/Minus
Teams ATOI Avg Shots Shots per Minute Goals Shoot % Plus/Minus
Lightning 18.45 50.33 2.73 8.67 16.23 10
Islanders 17.07 39.50 2.31 6.67 16.07 3
Flyers 18.14 42.83 2.36 6.50 16.42 3
Jets 18.28 40.67 2.22 6.50 16.03 3
Blues 19.06 49.83 2.61 6.33 12.75 7
Maple Leafs 17 46.67 2.75 6.17 12.87 6
Penguins 17.52 59.17 3.38 6.00 10.02 -5
Golden Knights 17.35 37.50 2.16 6.00 15.75 1
Blackhawks 18.01 48.33 2.68 5.83 12.55 4
Flames 17.27 44.67 2.59 5.83 12.85 2
Panthers 18.48 46.17 2.50 5.67 11.98 1
Capitals 18.07 43.33 2.40 5.50 11.72 -2
Sabres 18.15 49.33 2.72 5.33 10.77 -7
Senators 18.45 39.00 2.11 5.33 12.67 1
Rangers 17.14 46.33 2.70 5.17 11.15 -3
Avalanche 17.22 35.83 2.08 5.17 14.23 0
Red Wings 17.59 45.67 2.60 5.00 10.80 -1
Oilers 18.26 37.83 2.07 5.00 10.92 1
Canucks 16.39 33.67 2.05 5.00 15.15 1
Kings 18.1 47.17 2.61 4.83 8.72 4
Stars 18.05 46.50 2.58 4.83 9.33 -6
Coyotes 17.43 45.83 2.63 4.50 10.20 -9
Hurricanes 17.55 41.67 2.37 4.50 10.98 1
Wild 18.12 35.67 1.97 4.50 10.13 2
Sharks 16.55 33.50 2.02 4.33 13.25 0
Predators 17.4 31.17 1.79 3.83 14.70 2
Bruins 18.49 26.67 1.44 3.83 10.65 -1
Canadiens 17.27 54.67 3.17 3.67 6.70 -5
Ducks 18.12 38.33 2.12 3.50 9.20 0
Devils 17.08 33.33 1.95 3.50 9.07 -2
Blue Jackets 19.11 39.17 2.05 2.50 6.30 1