If you ask your average advanced stat guy what's the single best metric for judging a player's talent relative to the rest of his teammates, most will say time on ice. You see, contrary to popular belief, most of us don't think NHL coaches are stupid or can't judge talent or any of the things that we're often accused of. Sure, we point out perceived mistakes when we see them but that doesn't mean we think coaches are inept -- just fallible.
Randy Carlyle falls prey to these critiques more often than most. Part of it is because the Leafs do so poorly in a lot of the advanced stat metrics that proponents of the discipline have shown correlate very closely to success and the other part comes with the territory. Leafs fans, you see, are a critical and jaded bunch.
For a lot of last season, I found myself infuriated with Carlyle's player selection. In my view, Franson, Grabovski, and Kadri weren't getting nearly enough icetime while Bozak was getting far too much. Add to this the Jake Gardiner demotion and I had ample fodder for my critiques.
Given that three of these underused assets were young, I wondered if Carlyle had an anti-youth bias. Having given Carlyle the lockout shortened season to figure things out with this roster, I thought I'd have a look at who he's using to start this year and, crucially, in what situations to see if his own assessment of players is closer or further to my own this season.
To pull the numbers, I went to the invaluable Behind The Net and pulled this 5-on-5 table and the results were a little surprising. Jake Gardiner is the Leafs icetime leader at 5-on-5. After sent to the minors and largely underused when he was with the big club, Gardiner now sees more even strength icetime than any other Leaf. Perhaps most shocking in all of this is that I actually don't think he's been as good this year as he was last season. This leads to an interesting question: Was Carlyle right to play him less last season because in increased icetime he doesn't look as good?
Now part of the reason Gardiner has seen so much even strength icetime is that he doesn't play nearly as much on the powerplay or the penaltykill as our overall icetime leaders do. There's a very real chance that Gardiner isn't even close to a Carlyle favourite but that he's merely the fresh guy once the special teams units come off the ice. Still, I'm inclined to believe that the coach is getting more comfortable using Gardiner.
Kadri is still, in my opinion, being underused. He's currently third in powerplay icetime among forwards but when you consider that he's barely ahead of the injured Tyler Bozak and a player we pulled off of the scrap heap in Mason Raymond, I think it's fair to say that a player with Kadri's offensive instincts could stand to see more time with the man advantage. Still, it isn't as though Kadri is getting the Yakupov treatment.
If any of the three young players listed above is truly becoming a Randy Carlyle favourite, it might be Cody Franson. Franson is seeing significant icetime at even strength, on the powerplay, and while shorthanded. He's been pretty inconsistent from game to game this season to my eye but Carlyle keeps throwing him out there and that's probably a good thing overall.
Carlyle is a guy who I've always thought really liked his veterans and after last year's experience, I would have thought he wasn't comfortable using young players. It might be closer to the truth that Carlyle needs to get familiar with his young players before he can find the situations in which he is comfortable using them. Aside from Bozak's apparent stranglehold on the 1C and 1PPC spots, I really can't complain about Carlyle's deployment of our top-9 forwards and defense group this season. The team needs to play better but it's tough to blame the coach.