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July 27, 2011
The Blue Line
Role Players

by Matthew Coller

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In hockey, perhaps more than any other sport, role players are overvalued by head coaches and undeservedly celebrated by fans. It's not to say that good role players don't help a team or that bad role players don't hurt a team, but rather that their overall affect on whether a team wins or loses is overstated—this is particularly true of specialists like enforcers or players whose sole skill is winning faceoffs. That said, there are a select few role players in the NHL who deserve not only praise, but more playing time. By the same token, there are some who really belong in the AHL.

You might wonder:

-Which teams got the most out of their role players in 2010-11?

-Which role players deserve more playing time?

-And which role players contributed the least?

To answer those questions, I'll first define my criteria for a "role player":

While star defenseman generally play around 18 minutes per game, role playing defensemen play anywhere from 10-14 minutes, and while the league's best forwards play in the range of 15 minutes each night, role playing forwards log between 8-12 minutes. Finally, to qualify, "role players" must have played in more than 50 games last season.

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Which teams got the most out of their role players in 2010-11?

It shouldn't come as much of a shock that successful teams generally got the most out of their role players. But there were a few surprises. Here are the top and bottom five teams in total role players' GVT:

Calgary: 29.9
Boston: 28.1
Tampa Bay: 21.3
Montreal: 20.9
Detroit: 19.6
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Colorado: -0.1
New Jersey: -0.1
St. Louis: -0.8
Minnesota: -0.8
New York Islanders: -1.7

And here's the detail for all 30 teams' role players:

Calgary
D Anton Babchuk: 8.8
RW David Moss: 8.6
RW Tim Jackman: 4.2
C Mikael Backlund: 3.4
RW Tom Kostopoulos: 2.6
LW Niklas Hagman: 2.3
Total GVT: 29.9

Calgary's production from players who fit the "role player" criteria is astounding. Babchuk and Moss were the fifth- and sixth-best players on the team but received role player minutes.

Boston
C Brad Marchand: 10.0
D Adam McQuaid: 6.0
C Gregory Campbell: 4.9
C Tyler Seguin: 4.0
LW Shawn Thornton: 3.2
Total GVT: 28.1

Especially after his fine postseason, Bruins fans will be seeing more Marchand in 2011-12.

Tampa Bay
RW Teddy Purcell: 7.2
D Randy Jones: 4.9
LW Sean Bergenheim: 5.3
RW Adam Hall: 2.4
C Dana Tyrell: 1.5
Total GVT: 21.3

Purcell received more playing time in the playoffs and performed well. He put up second-line caliber numbers but was on the ice as much as an average role player.

Montreal
C Jeff Halpern: 5.9
LW Benoit Pouliot: 5.2
C David Desharnais: 4.2
LW Mathieu Darche: 3.0
LW Travis Moen: 1.6
C Lars Eller: 0.2
C Tom Pyatt: -0.3
Total GVT: 20.1

While Halpern stuck out the most, it's surprising to see so many players given role player minutes. The Habs needed more Halpern, less Eller and Pyatt.

Detroit
C Jiri Hudler: 5.3
RW Patrick Eaves: 4.9
LW Justin Abdelkader: 3.5
LW Tomas Holmstrom: 3.1
LW Drew Miller: 2.8
Total GVT: 19.6

With three left wingers who are around average, the Wings played them all and received some production. Nobody sticks out, but all put up decent numbers.

Nashville
D Cody Franson: 7.5
C Colin Wilson: 5.9
RW J.P. Dumont: 2.2
RW Jordin Tootoo: 1.8
LW Nick Spaling: 1.3
C Jerred Smithson: 0.4
Total GVT: 19.1

The Predators have defensive depth and Franson demonstrated it with his high GVT. Really, Franson should be a second-pairing defenseman in the NHL.

Pittsburgh
C Maxime Talbot: 4.8
C Mark Letestu: 3.6
RW Craig Adams: 2.3
RW Chris Conner: 1.9
D Deryk Engelland: 1.7
C Michael Rupp: -0.2
Total GVT: 14.1

New York Rangers
LW Brandon Prust: 6.0
LW Sean Avery: 3.0
D Matt Gilroy: 2.8
C Erik Christensen: 1.6
Total GVT: 13.4

Chicago
LW Viktor Stalberg: 5.0
RW Fernando Pisani: 3.9
C Jake Dowell: 3.4
Total GVT: 12.3

Washington
C Matt Hendricks: 5.0
RW Eric Fehr: 2.8
D John Eriskine: 2.2
C Boyd Gordon: 0.7
LW Jason Chimera: 0.6
Total GVT: 11.3

Vancouver
LW Raffi Torres: 5.2
LW Jeff Tambellini: 3.4
D Keith Ballard: 2.6
Total GVT: 11.2

Carolina
LW Sergei Samsonov: 3.4
D Jay Harrison: 3.3
RW Patrick Dwyer: 2.4
C Jiri Tlusty: 1.4
Total GVT: 10.5

Phoenix
LW Lauri Korpikoski: 8.4
C Kyle Turris: 2.9
Total GVT: 10.3

Keep your eye on the 24-year-old left winger. He might not receive role player minutes for long.

Philadelphia
RW Nikolay Zherdev: 5.2
D Sean O'Donnell: 3.1
C Darroll Powe: 2.0
Total GVT: 10.3

Los Angeles
D Alec Martinez: 5.0
LW Alexi Ponikarovsky: 1.9
C Brad Richardson: 1.6
C Trevor Lewis: 0.8
LW Kyle Clifford: -1.1
Total GVT: 8.2

Columbus
C Derek MacKenzie: 5.3
RW Chris Clark: 1.3
RW Derek Dorsett: -0.4
Total GVT: 6.2

Buffalo
C Cody McCormack: 2.7
RW Mike Grier: 2.4
C Rob Niedermayer: 0.4
RW Patrick Kaleta: 0.0
Total GVT: 5.5

Kaleta is a great example of a player's value overblown by big hits and fights. The Sabres' role players this upcoming season will produce far more than this bunch.

Winnipeg
C Alexander Burmistrov: 2.4
RW Chris Thorburn: 2.1
D Mark Stuart: 0.4
LW Eric Boulton: 0.3
Total GVT: 5.2

Ottawa
RW Ryan Shannon: 4.6
C Jesse Winchester: 0.3
C Zack Smith: -0.2
Total GVT: 4.8

Edmonton
LW Ryan Jones: 3.9
D Kurtis Foster: 0.1
Total GVT: 4.0

Toronto
C Tim Brent: 2.8
RW Mike Brown: 1.3
LW Fredrik Sjostrom: -1.4
Total GVT: 3.7

Anaheim
C Brandon McMillan: 3.6
D Andreas Lilja: 0.0
C Todd Marchant: -1.3
Total GVT: 2.3

Florida
C Shawn Matthias: 1.7
RW Jack Skille: 1.6
RW Steve Bernier: -1.3
Total GVT: 2.0

San Jose
D Niclas Wallin: 1.6
C Ben Eager: 0.8
C Scott Nichol: 0.6
LW Jamie McGinn: -1.3
Total GVT: 1.7

Dallas
D Mark Fistric: 0.7
C Tom Wandell: 0.2
C Toby Petersen: -0.7
Total GVT: 0.2

Colorado
C Kevin Porter: 1.1
RW Brandon Yip: 0.1
LW Cody McLeod: -1.3
Total GVT: -0.1

New Jersey
RW Mattias Tedenby: 2.6
C Rod Pelley: 0.3

RW David Clarkson: -0.9
C Adam Mair: -2.1
Total GVT: -0.1

Minnesota
RW Chuck Kobasew: 1.2
D Jared Spurgeon: 0.8
LW Eric Nystrom: -2.8
Total GVT: -0.8

St. Louis
RW B.J. Crombeen: -0.8
Total GVT: -0.8

New York Islanders
LW Matt Martin: -0.4
LW Zenon Konopka: -0.5
D Bruno Gervais: -0.8
Total GVT: -1.7

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Which role players deserve more playing time?

Here are 10 role players who should receive more than role player status:

C Brad Marchand, Boston: 10.0
D Anton Babchuk, Calgary: 8.8
RW David Moss, Calgary: 8.6
LW Lauri Korpikoski, Phoenix: 8.4
D Cody Franson, Nashville: 7.5
RW Teddy Purcell, Tampa Bay: 7.2
C Colin Wilson, Nashville: 5.9
C Jeff Halpern, Montreal: 5.9
LW Sean Bergenheim, Tampa Bay: 5.3
D Alec Martinez, Los Angeles: 5.0

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Which role players contributed the least?

These guys shouldn't have regular jobs in the NHL:

LW Eric Nystrom, Minnesota: -2.8
LW Fredrik Sjostrom, Toronto: -1.4
C Todd Marchant, Anaheim: -1.3
RW Steve Bernier, Florida: -1.3
LW Cody McLeod, Colorado: -1.3
LW Kyle Clifford, Los Angeles: -1.1
D Bruno Gervais, New York Islanders: -0.8
RW B.J. Crombeen, St. Louis: -0.8
C Toby Petersen, Dallas: -0.7
C Tom Pyatt, Montreal: -0.3

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One of the obvious conclusions here is that role players rarely make the difference between a playoff team and one that finishes in the basement. Both Anaheim and San Jose were playoff contenders and got very little out of their role players. That said, we still find that the Stanley Cup winning club was second in role players' GVT. Then again, Calgary was first.

What we can learn from the role players' statistics isn't as much about the overall impact on the team's final standing, but more so about what players should be role players. The average role player scores around a two or three GVT. Players such as Marchand, Babchuk and Korpikoski should NOT be role players; they should be full-time starters. By the same token, players such as Nystrom and Sjostrom should either be in the AHL or receiving far fewer minutes.

Matthew Coller is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Matthew by clicking here or click here to see Matthew's other articles.

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