Editor’s Note: This is an entry in our search for Fresh Blood at TLN. Every possible contributor will get three posts to strut their stuff and then we’ll ask you readers to help us choose who is going to join.
BY: ANDREW BATES @THESILVERFOXTO
A couple of weeks ago, after a disappointing loss to the Ottawa Senators, Maple Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson, in an effort to stimulate the offence, made a very public decision to split up the best pair of wingers this season; Phil Kessel and Joffery Lupul. To some surprise Lupul was dominant in that next game, putting up three points in a 4-1 win. It seemed as though Kessel and Lupul were apart for good. However, before the end of the next game the pair were back together, and have been since.
Having Kessel and Lupul on separate lines (and having it work), would give the Leafs two extremely dangerous lines and be a dream come true for Leafs fans. Although, would splitting up the pair be the smartest decision? I considered this and determined the best way to look at it would be to see what the best teams in the league did with their top scorers, i.e. do they play together a lot, or do they play on separate lines?
Follow me over the jump to find out.
Using behindthenet.ca‘s line-mates tool I was able to find the percentage of ice time that the two top scoring forwards on a team share. With this information I divided the percentage of ice time that Player A shares with Player B by Player A’s TOI/60. This determines what I call ‘TOI/60 with top player’ (TOI/60 W TOP), meaning, the average time that, for example, Datsyuk shares with Franzen. I decided to take a look at the top eight teams in the league, which would theoretically be home ice advantage in the playoffs.
TOI/60 W TOP gives some insight into how a coach plays their top players, i.e. how many minutes they are out on the ice together, and how many minutes they are apart. This does not mean that these two players play together this amount of time every game, it is simply an average. All of these numbers are at even strength.
Here is the data from the top eight teams:
TOI/60 – the average amount of minutes a player sees per game
TOI% W TOP – percentage of total ice time played with the top (or second) scorer
TOI/60 W TOP – the average amount of minutes a player sees per game, with the top (or second) scorer
And the Leafs:
What this means for The Leafs
Of the top eight teams the top scorers play on average 45.5% of their ice time without each other, and two of the top eight teams’ top scorers don’t play a regular shift together. One way of looking at this would be that these two players just don’t happen to mesh, but there is no way of looking past the fact that the best teams in the league have their top scorers playing shifts apart from each other.
Kessel and Lupul are the Sedin’s of Toronto this year, they barely play without each other. The pair plays nearly five and a half more minutes together then the average TOI/60 W TOP of the top eight teams. While they are both having career seasons, and unquestionably play great together, there is no denying that some teams have been able to shut them down completely, i.e. the Boston Bruins.
Even though the best teams in the league are seeing thier best players skate apart nearly half the time, Ron Wilson appears to be doing a good job of splitting the pair up when needed, as they average 13.9% of their ice time without each other and obviously, this is working. No pair in hockey has more points than Kessel and Lupul this year, and splitting them up could very well get some "fire Wilson" chants going in the ACC.
However, something I would like to see is the two of them taking, say, Joey Crabb or Matt Lombardi’s spot on the third line in close games, getting them more ice time and increasing the Leafs chances of putting the game away.
Obviously with the Leafs recent performance no one wants to see the lines tinkered with, but maybe this plays a small part in taking the next step into the NHL’s elite.