Hockey analytics pioneer Rob Vollman is ESPN Insider's armchair GM this season, exploring how modern statistics can inform front-office decisions.
The Nashville Predators hit a speed bump several weeks ago and wisely acquired Cody Franson -- only to bury him in a depth role. A similar outcome befell deadline acquisitions Sean Bergenheim in Minnesota and Curtis Glencross in Washington. For other teams, skilled players are being pushed aside in favor of far more questionable options. To secure that last wild-card spot, or an advantageous home seed, teams need to have the right players in the right roles down the stretch. Can analytics help identify some of the more obvious errors?
Throughout the season, we have showcased the many ways analytics can be used to help inform front-office decisions, but today we'll look at how this approach can help coaches with game-time decisions. Using the information pulled directly from NHL game files, and organized at websites such as Puckalytics and Behind the Net, we can determine how effective players have been at driving possession, generating offense, shutting down opponents and drawing penalties. This is further broken down by zones, the quality of his opponents and linemates.
The focus is on teams in playoff races that need some key points down the stretch, and not which lottery teams might need to do in preparation for next season (that's an article unto itself!). Moreover, this isn't about those players already at the top of the depth chart who will continue to be leaned on heavily, but rather those key individuals in a position to make a greater contribution. That means that we're not looking for strong players who are playing behind even stronger options, but only those on teams who have more disappointing players in key roles to relieve.
In the end, I have found nine players on six teams who are good candidates to move up the depth chart, including five who were recently acquired ahead of the trade deadline.