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Top 20 Offensive Zone Starters

Recently in this summer’s look at sabermetrics and hockey, I have introduced the concept of zone starts.  I recently listed the top 20 defensive zone starters, the players who most frequently are on the ice for faceoffs in their defensive zone and not those in their offensive zone.  This is a measure of players who play tough defensive roles with their teams and are thus more likely to have poor Corsi Numbers.  Today I will look at the opposite situation, players who are on the ice for the most offensive zone faceoffs minus defensive zone faceoffs.  These numbers were pulled from NHL game summaries by Vic Ferrari at Irreverent Oiler Fans.

Here are the top 20 offensive zone starters in the 2008/09 season:

2008/09 Top 20 Offensive Zone Starters
Off - Def Faceoffs 
 Rank in top 20 Corsis  
1Ed JovanovskiPhx165


2Patrick KaneChi139


3Evgeni MalkinPit125


4Marc-Andre BergeronMin120


5Brian CampbellChi114


6Jiri HudlerDet111


7Troy BrouwerChi110


8Jonathan ToewsChi109


9Mike GreenWas108


10Nikolai ZherdevNYR105


11Kris RussellCBJ102


12Dion PhaneufCal97


13Alexander OvechkinWas96


13Nicklas BackstromWas96


15Ryan CallahanNYR94


16Markus NaslundNYR91


17Marc GiordanoCal90


18Jakub VoracekCBJ89


19Jarome IginlaCal86


20Patrick SharpChi84


This is a list of players who have been used preferentially in offensive situations by their teams.  Some were used that way because they are top offensive talents and it is the best way to use their skills (Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin), some were used that way because they lack the defensive skills to succeed in tough defensive situations (Marc-Andre Bergeron, Jiri Hudler) and some had a combination of both reasons (Dion Phaneuf, Mike Green).  This is a group of players who were not given tough defensive roles by their teams.

There isn’t such a clear correlation between having a lot of offensive starts and having a high Corsi Number as there is with those who had the most defensive starts.  In fact, the players with the two top Corsi Numbers in the league (Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski) do not appear on the top 20 offensive starts list.  The only Detroit player on the list is Jiri Hudler.  This shows how Mike Babcock largely rolled out all four lines throughout the season and did not preferentially use any given player in offensive situations only.  Since the Detroit Red Wings had the best team Corsi Number and had eight of the top twenty players with the highest individual Corsis.  Jiri Hudler, who is the one player who Babcock used preferentially in offensive situations, is not among the top 20 Corsi players. 

Five of the top 20 offensive zone starters appear on the top 20 Corsi list.  They are Brian Campbell, Jonathan Toews, Mike Green, Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.  These players probably have somewhat inflated Corsi Numbers as a result of their usage, but because the top offensive zone starters do not have as many offensive zone starts as the top defensive zone starters have defensive starts (coaches tend to be more careful with their lines in their own zone), the inflation is not as significant.  Thus we see players appearing on this list and the top Corsi list than we see defensive zone starters on the worst Corsi list.

Ed Jovanovski leads this list.  That shows he is by far the player most protected from defensive situations in the NHL.  He plays on the team with the worst team Corsi in the league and yet has the most offensive zone starts in the league.  He is not playing a big enough role for somebody who is the highest paid player in Phoenix and should be expected to score more than 36 points given how many offensive zone starts he gets.

It is interesting that Hart Trophy runner up Evgeni Malkin finishes third on this list.  He too plays on a team with a below average Corsi (Pittsburgh had a negative Corsi in a Stanley Cup winning season) and is not among the Corsi leaders in the NHL in any of the many top Corsi lists I have given.  Though he had a good season in 2008/09, his standing as Hart Trophy runner up and his lead over Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh scoring race is quite possibly because he was not used very frequently in defensive situations.

A couple players who made the top Corsi rates list in Jiri Hudler and Marc Giordano appear on this list and their high Corsi rates are due in part to being used preferentially in offensive situations.  Marc-Andre Bergeron appears in the top adjusted Corsi rates list.  He clearly succeeded with the Minnesota Wild last season but in a relatively sheltered role.  Nikolai Zherdev appears on the top 20 adjusted Corsi list and is among the top offensive zone starters.  He too benefits from a relatively sheltered usage.

Another interesting player on this list is Kris Russell of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He appears on the worst 20 adjusted +/- list.  The fact he can have such a poor +/- with a sheltered usage where he was shielded from defensive situations shows he is a borderline NHL player at best and was a liability to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The top offensive starters include players who were shielded from defensive play and players who are top offensive talents who were preferentially played in offensive situations.  There is less of a correlation between offensive zone starts and high Corsi Numbers that there is for defensive zone starts and low Corsi Number.  Part of the reason for this is that players with high numbers of defensive zone starts tend to have more defensive zone starts than those who are leaders in defensive zone starts.  The fact that Detroit Red Wings dominated the top Corsi list, but in general rolled four lines instead of preferentially playing certain players in offensive situations is another cause for this.  The fact that Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski had the top two Corsi Numbers in the league without being preferentially used in offensive situations is quite outstanding, although they did play on a team that dominated the league in puck possession and Corsi and that inflates their numbers.  Another reason for the lack of correlation between offensive zone starts and high Corsi Number is the fact that several players with questionable defensive skill wind up on this list and that will hurt their Corsi.  The defensive zone start list has only one player with a significant offensive output in Mike Richards (who should have won the Selke Trophy because of the heavy defensive load he undertook and succeeded with).  Thus there are more players on this list who are incomplete players and are unlikely to have high Corsis.  All of the players on this list had inflated offensive totals due to their usage, though in many cases it is clear that they would have remained among the top scorers in the league even without being preferentially played in offensive situations.

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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