On Tuesday, I had an interesting conversation with The Athletic’s Justin Bourne about which forward has the most favourable deployment situation in the National Hockey League.
Bourne was making the argument that Toronto’s Alex Kerfoot – a winger on a line featuring John Tavares and Zach Hyman – was one of the best forward slots a player could hope for, considering the insulation provided by the Maple Leafs’ other top line and the complementary skill sets of Tavares and Hyman.
My mind immediately jumped to Vegas’ Chandler Stephenson, a former depth forward for the Washington Capitals who was traded to the Golden Knights in early December. Stephenson went from playing very limited minutes in Washington to taking regular shifts with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. Unsurprisingly, Stephenson is suddenly scoring like a top-six forward.
There are probably a half-dozen more answers to this question (Edmonton’s Zack Kassian has it quite good; so too does the centre playing shifts between Boston’s David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand), but it made me think about quantifying teammate quality to understand large discrepancies in either direction.
Pick your preferred player evaluation metric and you should be able to back into which players have disproportionately favourable or unfavourable deployment, relative to the quality of players on their line.
I used Evolving Hockey’s regression based Goals Above Replacement model to quantify each player’s individual contributions, then scraped each shift a forward played (and his associated linemates) for season-to-date deployment. From there we can create segments based on incongruities between a player’s production this year and the production of his linemates.