What if I told you that I could predict line chemistry using numbers?
Scrolling through the tons of data I've been able to gather has alerted me to a particular trend, especially in terms of "breakout" line combinations; that is, certain players gel very well over the course of a season, and put up good numbers for a team, occasionally even carrying them to victory across stretches of a season. I'm not talking about guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin teaming up and dominating their opponents. That much could be predicted pretty easily. I'm talking about lines similar to the Killer B's line for the Panthers this past season. They seemed to play much better together than they did apart, and really were singlehandedly able to win some games for the Cats last season. With that in mind, I looked at a couple of similar lines from both the 2012-2013 season and the 2013-2014 season and pulled some trends that I think might help the way we look at line combinations, especially for third and fourth lines, where the talent level of players varies. (Note: As I get more data, I'll see if it matches up to what I've seen so far.)
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Florida: Brad Boyes, Aleksander Barkov, Sean Bergenheim
This line wasn't the third line for the Panthers, though it probably would have been a third line on a better team.
Bergenheim gets the puck and controls it, but isn't as efficient at Boyes as putting it in the net. On the flip side, Boyes can put it in the net, but isn't as good at controlling it. Putting the two of them together on the same line with Barkov, a guy who was good at controlling the puck and scoring, was a way for each player to really compliment each other, and the result was the best line the Panthers had all season.
Here we have the third line for the Eastern Conference Champion New York Rangers. Though they were a third line, they were one (Zuccarello), two (Stepan), and eight (Pouliot) on the Rangers in points, making them one of the best third lines in the NHL.
Again, we see a trend. All three players have high career shooting percentages, but the guys that had more points had the lower dCorsi values. It seems pretty likely that they were benefiting from the fact that Benoit Pouliot is pretty good at controlling the puck and getting it to his teammates.
2012-2013 Florida: Peter Mueller, Drew Shore, Jonathan Huberdeau
Huberdeau won the Calder Trophy in 2012-2013, but got hit hard by the sophomore slump in 2013-2014. Mueller wasn't re-signed, and Shore was sent back down to the San Antonio Rampage.
This looks familiar to me. One guy has a low shooting percentage, but a high dCorsi. The other has a low dCorsi, but a high shooting percentage. The third fits into both categories. Interestingly enough, Drew Shore only had a shooting percentage of 3.1%. That was bound to progress back towards the mean of 8%, and his Corsi numbers were just phenomenal. I don't quite get why he was sent back down to San Antonio, and it clearly hurt Huberdeau. I think Huberdeau had to adjust from being fed the puck by Shore, to having to retrieve it himself. His points per game dropped, but his dCorsi improved to 0.06. (Not impressive, but at least not negative.) I think that if you play Huberdeau with a guy like Shore, who is going to be exceptional at moving the Corsi needle (the guy also put up a dCorsi of 1.96 during this season), then he gets to spend more time focusing on how to work his magic with the puck, instead of having to focus on getting the puck in the first place. He might not have had his sophomore slump this year if he had played with Shore again.
Shore should get a chance to crack the pro roster this season. In 50-70 NHL games he's put up crazy Corsi numbers, and even if the young center didn't directly benefit from the Corsi numbers, I think it's clear enough that Huberdeau did.
Again, this is just a theory, and one that will probably need more data in order for it to really be validated. Still, I think it's worth a deeper look, because if I can see what types of guys could have good chemistry together simply by looking at numbers, it's worth a shot for NHL coaches.
I'm not saying just use numbers when deciding lines. Obviously the coaches will tailor the lines to more properly fit the system of hockey that they want to play. What I am saying is that it may give teams an advantage in developing a combination of players on depth lines that can really put pucks in the back of the net and change the way opposing teams have to game plan against them.
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