For 8 years Ilya Kovalchuk received a huge amount of ice time from Coaches Fraser, Hartley, Waddell and Anderson. Many years Kovalchuk led all NHL forwards in Even Strength ice time, Power Play ice time and Average Ice Time per Game. With the departure of Kovalchuk and Salmela, Coach Anderson has quite a few minutes to dole out to his roster. What has he done in this situation?
I went back through the game logs and pulled out the data for the three games since Ilya was traded. I also decided to pull out the 7 games when Ilya was injured early in the season. This allows a peek at how Anderson is distributing minutes with Kovalchuk in the lineup, when Kovalchuk was injured and after Kovalchuk departed.
First up we have the even strength minutes (see table below). As you can see Bergfors is receiving many fewer Even Strength minutes than Ilya did. So who is benefiting most from the new allocation? The former checking line of Slater, Reasoner and Thorburn. That line has been broken up and mixed into the rest of the roster. Without Ilya Kovalchuk, Coach Anderson has turned the Thrashers into a genuine four line team at Even Strength. Every player falls somewhere between 13 and 8 minutes. Bryan Little has been scoring more lately--but it is not because Anderson is throwing tons of ice time at him. The Antro-Little-Bergfors line has fairly modest ES minutes, they are simply making the most of their minutes.
Now let's take a look at the defenseman. It's no knock on Anssi Salmela but Johnny Oduya is a significantly better NHL defender and he is getting many minutes. How has the ice time changed with the swap of Oduya for Salmela? Bogosian has seen his minutes cut back more than anyone, but all 5 top defenders are getting about the same amount of playing time. It could be that Anderson is still experimenting to see who plays with whom.
|Defense||ES TOI w Kovy||ES TOI Kovy injured
||ES TOI Post Kovy||Change|
|Forwards||ES TOI w Kovy||ES TOI Kovy injured
||ES TOI Post Kovy||Change|
Kovalchuk was a dominant figure on the Thrashers power play for nearly a decade. Sometimes the team appeared too focused on getting him the puck to the point that other players declined open shooting opportunities. The departure of Ilya has really opened the door for the Thrashers puck moving defenseman to demonstrate their offensive skills. Enstrom's minutes have declined slightly in the last three games while Kubina, Bogosian and Hainsey have all seen a jump in their minutes. Curiously, Maxim Afinogenov and Colby Armstrong have seen a big uptick in minutes. I was VERY surprised to see that Evander Kane and Nicklas Bergfors are getting almost no ice time with the man advantage. Personally, I'd rather see the young talent get a crack at playing with the man advantage.
|Player||PP TOI w Kovy||PP TOI Kovy injured
||PP TOI Post Kovy||Change|
Kovalchuk never played on the PK with any regularity, but just for fun let's take a look at the PK unit post-Kovalchuk. The thing that really jumps out is that a) the Thrashers have been killing a lot lately and b) Oduya and Kubina are effectively killing off 3 penalties by themselves every game! With a sharp increase in PK minutes Rich Peverley, Jim Slater and Todd White are getting more turns in the PK rotation. There is a lot of data that shows Slater is not a very effective PKer so the Thrashers need to cut down on the penalties against before it bites them.
|Player||SH TOI w Kovy||SH TOI Kovy injured
||SH TOI Post Kovy||Change|
After the Kovalchuk/Salmela trade Don Waddell mentioned the potential for the Thrashers to become a different kind of team. Under Coach Anderson they have become a true four line team at Even Strength. The defenseman are much more involved both on the power play and on the PK with a recent rash of short handed situations.