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Nashville Midseason Insights: Player Usage on a Budding Cup Contender

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As of this writing, Nashville is just now through playing half their regular season games with 42 in the books so far for a league best record of 29-9-4. With so much success, a look at the player usage chart can help us understand who is playing well, how the team delegates playing situations, and which players are surprising with their play.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Player usage charts are great for getting a holistic view of a roster and serve as excellent starting points for in-depth analyses. All data is courtesy of War On Ice, and the player chart includes only skaters with over 100 minutes of 5on5 play this season. So far this season, there have been a few interesting insights. Some back up what we have been seeing, like Filip Forsberg's dominant play, but other insights help shed light on some frequent misconceptions, like the thought that Viktor Stalberg isn't any good or that Colin Wilson is still underperforming.

Nashville Player Usage Through Tuesday, January 13

Nashville Midseason Player Usage

Viktor Stalberg's Usage Is Laughable

At this point, we know Stalberg will never live up to his contract, but that doesn't mean there isn't a spot for him on this roster. I wrote about how to optimize his play during the offseason, and, as wrong as some of my assertions were in that piece, the main points are all still correct. He is not a defensive forward, he does not play well against top competition, and he isn't a top line player. That said, his SF60 (on-ice shots-for normalized over 60 minutes) before arriving in Nashville were always at 28.6 or higher. Three times he finished a season with SF60 over 34.0. Currently, he is at a career low SF60 of 24.8.

His usage is a huge factor into his poor numbers. He faces the toughest competition on the team and has an offensive zone start percentage of 34.3%. For a player with mediocre defensive play and promising shot generation numbers, his usage is baffling. Switching him with Jokinen would be an easy fix to bolster scoring depth while not really changing much. And while we are on the topic of Olli Jokinen...

Olli Jokinen, Matt Cullen, And Mark Arcobello Are Virtually Identical

Two caveats to this one: 1) This only refers to stats, not Jokinen's hair. 2) Arcobello isn't pictured, but stats are from season numbers up to this point.

1. Arcobello and Cullen have offensive zone start percentages of 61.2% and 60.0% respectively.

2. 5on5 CorsiFor% for Jokinen, Cullen, and Arcobello (respectively): 50.7%, 50.3%, and 50.5%.

3. 5on5 point totals for Jokinen, Cullen, and Arcobello (respectively): 6,6,9.

The only good thing for Jokinen out of this is he is shooting at 4.3% while the others are shooting right around 12% at 5on5. Turning around his shooting percentage a point or two should separate him from the other two comparables.

Colin Wilson's Possession Numbers Are Silly

Simply put, Wilson is one of the best players on this team so far this season. He leads the team in 5on5 CF% at all situations and score-adjusted. He also leads the team in 5on5 scoring chances per 60 minutes (34.1 - good for 12th in the league among players with over 100 minutes played) and scoring chances percentage (62.1% - 1st among all players with over 100 minutes played) all while playing with slightly worse zone starts and teammates when compared with the first line. Wilson is in the final year of his contract before becoming a RFA, and signing him to an extension should be a top priority for Nashville.

Shea Weber And Roman Josi Make Other Defensemen Better

Their possession numbers are certainly not elite, but they take the toughest assignments on the team, aside from Stalberg (see above), which opens up easier match-ups for the other two lines. Even taking those tough assignments, Josi and Weber have score-adjusted Corsi-for percentages of 49.3% and 49.8% respectively at 5on5. And that is the bottomline. The rest of the defensemen on the team have 5on5 score-adjusted CF%'s greater than 50% with Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm at 57% or higher. No matter if Weber is elite defensively or not, him and Josi play a critical role in allowing the rest of the d-men to enjoy easier, more offensive playing time.

The Fourth Line Knows It's Role

It's fairly obvious the fourth line on this team is not on the ice to score goals. They have one major role: win defensive zone face offs and get the puck out the zone. After that, the other three lines step in to handle the scoring responsibilities. Coach Peter Laviolette and his staff don't do any of this on accident. Rather than sheltering the fourth line by playing them against easy competition in the offensive zone, Nashville's coaching staff gives them a meaningful role on the team, and it works.

What's Next?

For the most part, Nashville's player usage looks well thought out. Players have well-defined roles and there doesn't seem to be much political plays by the coaching staff. Players like Wilson and Ellis are thriving in this system, while even fourth line players are helping guide the team to victory without looking for the next face to punch in at every chance. In the end, this chart isn't too surprising. Nashville is an elite team 42 games in, and the player usage is a major factor. The key now is to make this last for the next 40 and beyond.