Note: this FanPost has been edited for front page publishing. All charts courtesy of Hockey Abstract and Rob Vollman.
Those of you with at least a casual interest in hockey analytics are probably familiar with Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) and his player usage charts. If you are not familiar with him and you're interested in learning more about hockey advanced stats, his Hockey Abstract site is a great place to start.
Vollman recently released two pieces that caught my attention: the first round of player usage charts for the 2013-2014 season, and what he calls the Hockey Abstract Luck Chart. The Luck Chart attempts to do exactly what you'd think - look at a few metrics like injuries and shooting percentages to see how lucky/unlucky teams have been, and it estimates how many standings points each team has gained/lost due to luck.
The Sabres, as shown below, have been one of the unluckiest teams in the league so far, beating out only fellow basement-dwellers Edmonton, New Jersey and Florida. No surprises there. As you can see the Sabres have been the absolute unluckiest team by far when it comes to one-goal games. Maybe that should be expected when you have a crappy team with good goaltending, but it will be interesting to see if they are able to improve there and get some more points from those games going forward. According to the chart the Sabres have missed out on approximately 3 points due to luck, so don't worry - we'd still be the worst team in the league if you normalized for luck.
As mentioned before, Vollman also released his player usage charts. These give a nice snapshot of how players are being used by their coaches and go a long way in explaining player production, or in the Sabres' case, the lack thereof. If you are not familiar with these charts or how to interpret them, you will want to read up on the Hockey Abstract site a little bit, but they are pretty straightforward.
They basically plot each player on a graph based on their average zone starts and quality of competition and give an idea of how they are doing using Corsi. Corsi is represented in the chart by color, blue is good and brown is bad, and the darker the brown the worse it is. Circle size = time on ice. Sheltered players usually get more offensive zone starts and weaker competition while your shutdown players will get tougher competition and more defensive zone starts. Here is the chart for the Sabres:
A few things jump out right away - one is that Drew effing Stafford is apparently our shutdown forward. That is surprising and explains a lot about our lack of two-way or defensive forwards, but I would have guessed Ott would be used in this role. The good thing is that the much-maligned Stafford is actually holding his own pretty well despite getting the most difficult minutes on the team - his Corsi isn't bad considering the circumstances and he doesn't get scored on very often. Moulson also stands out, and it looks like he's being sheltered, but we probably can't read too much into that because it is counting his games as an Islander too. I would expect to see him fall back in line with his teammates as the season goes on.
In fact the complete lack of sheltered players tells us a lot - we would all love to see a player like Grigorenko getting more O-zone starts and easier minutes, and I'm sure Rolston would too, but his hands are tied by our inability to carry play. You can't shelter a player if there aren't enough O-zone starts to go around. You can kind of see that Rolston is trying to shelter Grigs, Girgs, Flynn and Larsson, but it's just hard to do with this team.
As for other things that stand out, Larsson is the only blue circle in a sea of brown (a 'sea of brown' being an apt description of the team?) meaning he is the only player with a positive Corsi. Good for the rook. Ehrhoff comes the next closest to holding his own; everyone else is pretty much getting pushed around to varying degrees.
The guys struggling the most appear to be Risto, Hodgson, Weber and Grigs. I've been one of those advocating more ice time for Grigs, but this chart doesn't do him any favors.
I wonder if Hodgson is having a tough time because Rolston trusts him for defensive zone faceoffs. Regardless, we know what we have with Cody at this point - he's going to get scored on a lot, and he's going to generate lots of offense. If we can shelter him a bit more he can be a very useful player, but he's likely never going to be that #1 two-way center we would like him to be.
Weber on the other hand is getting the easiest minutes of any defenseman and is getting absolutely crushed. It is inexplicable that he's one of our leaders in ice time. Hopefully McBain or Zadorov will impress enough during Weber's absence for the team to come to its senses and send him down to Roc (he shouldn't have any problem clearing waivers). I would even try one of Sulzer, Ruhwedel, or McNabb over Weber when he gets healthy.
Foligno is another outlier in that he's playing against the toughest competition but he has above 50% offensive zone starts - considering how few O-zone starts there are to go around, one would think this has to be intentional by Rolston. Maybe he's using Foligno as a designated forechecker against the other teams' top lines?
Another interesting thing is that Tyler Myers has the toughest minutes of any defenseman, making him our de facto shutdown D-man. He honestly hasn't had as horrible a season as you might think given this role, but he certainly hasn't excelled. Unfortunately he may be forced to continue in this role by default because I don't think we have any better candidates. Erhoff and Pysyk have probably been our best defensive pairing, but they get scored on an awful lot - we probably don't want them going up against the other teams' best all the time.
What do you all think about these charts and what they say about the Sabres? Did anything else stand out to you?