Data Shows Sharks Perform Better Using All Defensemen
The San Jose Sharks have a history of severely limiting the ice time of unproven defensemen under head coach Peter DeBoer.
This treatment is typically reserved for players called up from the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks' AHL affiliate. These skaters don't have much NHL experience, and DeBoer doesn't want to risk one of them making a critical error that costs his team the game.
This year, Tim Heed, Trevor Carrick, and Jacob Middleton are the victims of this coaching philosophy.
If you count the games when Carrick and Middleton got their injuries, San Jose has played 10 contests with a defenseman skating for under 10 minutes. That makes up over half of the matchups so far this year.
But does this strategy work? Does limiting the play of inexperienced defensemen in favor of giving more time to Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns make the team better?
Statistics say no, it does not.
As we can see from the graph, there is no area that improves when leaning on five defensemen. The team is consistantly out-scored, out-shot, and out-chanced when doing this.
When they utilize their full lineup, however, San Jose actually has a positive corsi differential and expected goals-for percentage. They still come out negative in the goal-scoring department, but not as badly as when they only use five skaters.
Some may point toward the return of Radim Simek for these results, rather than the change in deployment.
Since Simek rejoined the team, the Sharks have gone on a three-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 12 - 8 and earning a plus-22 corsi differential in that span.
They also haven't had a defenseman log under 10 minutes because of DeBoer's trust in his six active blueliners.
But while Simek is certainly a better player than someone like Heed, we must remember that the ice time Heed didn't get at the start of the year was going to Burns and Karlsson, two offensive defensemen who should be potent on the ice. Yet they weren't able to produce positive results with the extra shifts.
Regardless of which way you put in, the Sharks are a significantly better team when they use the full lineup and don't shorten their own bench.
That's true if Radim Simek is playing, and it's true if Tim Heed playing.