A Discussion of Dustin Brown’s Ice Time Usage In 5-on-5 Play
The Darryl Sutter method for building lines is well known. He starts with a “tandem” of a Center and a Winger, then he mixes in other wingers to complete the line, according to opponent, injury, slumps etc. So, you are either part of a tandem, or you drift and get moved. This is revealed in the chart below (linkalicious).
The percentages add up to 200%, since Brown skates 5 on 5 with 2 linemates. 2 players had ice time with other teams, Versteeg and LeCavalier, so their total is not 200 percent.These facts are also shown in the ice time chart.
My point is that Brown was not treated like a scorer, he was not assigned to lines as a scorer, and in fact most of his time was spent with a checking center. Brown was moved around the most except for Trevor Lewis. His percentages most closely match Shore, Lewis and Mersch, while it differs greatly from “scorers,” in this case meaning everybody else with a salary over 2 million.
Was this the message? “Dustin, I’m gonna play you with checkers so we expect you to score 20 goals, too.” Perhaps it was. Brown had the 3rd most minutes of all forwards at 5-on-5, so it’s not like he was buried in the bottom 6 with no ice time. That speaks of Sutter’s confidence in Brown’s play, regardless of the role assigned.
Of course, one man’s use as a utility player can be seen as another man’s punishment for not producing; one could say this is like the chicken and the egg. Brown may have been deprived of a scoring role for other useful roles, or he may have “earned” the perceived demotion in the coach’s eyes. I am reminded here of a quote by R.G. Ingersoll: “There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences.”
So which is it; punishment, consequence, or was it intended toward a purpose other than scoring? And by the way, the egg came before the chicken, as the chicken was an evolutionary aberration of what was supposed to be in that egg. In Brown’s case, I believe he was moved around to protect and solidify younger players and lines.
Whichever is true, it can be seen and said: scoring was not Sutter’s focus for Brown. He was the mentor, the safety factor, as Sutter shopped guys in and out trying to find useful tandems among the bottom six.
That shopping did not quite succeed. The Kings never successfully replaced the Stoll and Lewis PK tandem. This was once the first PK tandem out and “always” skated on the same line. Sutter finally settled on Pearson as a PK tandem with Lewis, but they were rarely on the same line at even strength, so after they were used Sutter was usually forced to make a frankenstein line of forwards from among many lines, to take the first shift after a PK.
In 2012 and 2014, the first out for a PK was Stoll and Lewis, while in 2015-16 the first out was Kopi and Brown whenever possible. Since Kopi and Brown did not also skate 5 on 5 most of the time, this PK tandem solved one problem but created another, that being makeshift (pardon the pun) lines of guys playing together temporarily. Then also, you had Lewis and Pearson, PK tandem but not a 5 on 5 tandem, so now you had 2 lines worth of guys mixing up the line constitution and order of being played.
Contrast this with the gold standard of line construction; the 2012 L.A. Kings. Sutter had 3 main PK tandems. He had 3 main even-strength tandems. They were the same.
Stoll/Lewis, Kopi/Brown and Richards/Carter killed penalties. These tandems skated together 5 on 5, and killed penalties together. Stoll and Lewis were the first tandem out for a PK, and coming out of the PK it was easy to ice an intact line.
So, the “ideal” for Sutter is tandems that can both PK and play 5 on 5 together, then he rolls 4 lines in order. That line order is then not interrupted as much by special teams assignments, which is unavoidably better for team chemistry, reliability, consistency and performance level.
Not everyone is capable of the instant “awareness” with their linemates like the Sedins.
Chemistry can happen spontaneously and quickly, but that is rare. Kings go for percentage advantages, and a main one is system execution from familiarity between players. This was clearly a working philosophy; in Brown’s case, though, his utility as a solid, safe player was exhibited by his being moved so much. Brown was made to adapt to linemates, some of which were very inexperienced, or had been moved into a newer, harder role, such as Shore, for example.
If you send a guy out according to very different rules than those used for scorers, it is pretty tough to expect that player to post points like the scorers do.
- Brown has the second lowest top percentage at 36.5 for his most common linemate, Kopi. Lewis was lowest at 29.9; other similar lows include Shore at 36.9 and Mersch at 37.9, and Pearson at 39.5 as only 5 of 18 below 40%.
- Top % was Carter, who spent 65.1% of his 5-on-5 ice time with Toffoli. Now that’s a tandem.
- A quick overlook shows 7 of 18 at 50 percent or higher with their most common partner, 12 of 18 at 40% or better, with Weal, Dowd and Mersch among those 18, plus Versteeg has such a small sample size it’s tough to attribute anything to it. Among meaningful and comparable full-time players, we see 6 of 14 at 50% or higher, 8 of 14 above 45% and 10 of 14 above 40% for their most common linemate. Again, Brown is an outlier at only 36.5%.
- Almost all except Brown show a precipitous drop after the first 2-5 linemates; Brown has no such drop as the number decreases in a fairly even progression, far closer to an even progression than anyone else except for Shore. By contrast, look at any of the top row of “designated scorers.” Kopi spent time with 5 guys at almost 30% or better, and then it drops to 6.9%.
- The 2 closest progressions of decrease are Shore and Lewis, but even so Brown’s was spread more evenly among the bottom half of his linemates.
- The closest match of percentages and decrease progression is Nick Shore. I would posit that Nick Shore was not expected to score comparably to Kopi or Carter; also, the salary difference is quite stark.
- Brown spent the most time with Kopitar. But, after that it is Lewis, Shore and King. Brown spent less than half his time, 45%, with one of Lucic, Pearson or Carter combined.
- Lucic has one of the most extreme drop-offs; he essentially skated with just 4 linemates, until Gaborik with whom Lucic spent 8.9% of time. Brown skated with 10 linemates for over 8.9% of his time. Lucic had 5 guys above 8.9, Brown had 10.
Stats as compiled by Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, graphics copied absent Goalies and Defensemen http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/showplayer.php?pid=30&withagainst=true&season=2015-16&sit=5v5