by PuckStopsHere on 03/21/10 at 12:38 PM ET
One valuable sabermetric number that is often ignored is zone starts. For each player, the zone where faceoffs occur (offensive, neutral or defensive) with that player on the ice is recorded. Some players are used for many more defensive faceoffs than offensive ones. These players tend to be lower scoring and have worse +/- and Corsi ratings than players who are on for significantly more offensive faceoffs than defensive ones, but those differences in their numbers do not show that the defensive player is a weaker player. They have a tougher job and may more more important to their team`s success.
Last year, Evgeni Malkin was a player who had one of the easiest jobs last year in terms of zone starts. He was the top scorer in the NHL and one reason for his offensive success was that he was put on the ice for offensive situations and taken off in defensive ones. On a team with other offensive stars (most notably Sidney Crosby), it is a poor way for the Penguins to allocate their shifts. Thus it was a good prediction that Evgeni Malkin`s offensive totals would decline this year. Malkin has 70 points in 63 games. If he scored at last year`s pace he would have 87 points by now.
This year, the player who has had the easiest role of offensive zone faceoffs without getting many defensive zone faceoffs is Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. Kane has had 345 offensive zone starts and 166 defensive zone starts. This gives him 179 more offensive zone starts than defensive zone ones. This is a bigger differential than anyone had last year, though it should be noted that Kane was the second most prominent offensive zone starter last year, so this advantage is not new to Patrick Kane.
Patrick Kane is the eighth highest scorer in the NHL right now. He has 80 points. These offensive totals are inflated by the way he is used. Like Malkin, Kane would still be a good scorer if he was given a harder role on his team, but his numbers are inflated. Patrick Kane is not as good a player as his offensive numbers alone show. It is a good bet that in the future Patrick Kane will play a tougher role on his team and as a result his offensive totals will not stay as high.
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