Anze Kopitar's reaction when I asked him to look at charts. They're fun charts, I swear! (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

One of the issues with advanced statistics in hockey is that the material can sometimes be quite dry or difficult to grasp. They’re frequently presented in lists of names and numbers that can make your vision go blurry. The statistics have odd, counter-intuitive names that frequently act as a barrier to understanding. Sometimes, it feels like we need a new way to present the information.

On Friday, Robert Vollman of HockeyAbstract.com and ESPN Insider released the 2011-12 Player Usage Charts, which are a graphical representation of the Zone Starts, Quality of Competition, and Relative Corsi statistics, with a separate chart for each team. The charts are a visually interesting way to immediately see how a player was used by a particular team and how well they did in that role. They’re not perfect, but they are useful.

The PDF of the charts complete with expert analysis is available for free here. After the jump, I’ll do a brief rundown of how the charts work and take a look at the regular season charts for our Stanley Cup Finalists, the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings.

Rob Vollman initially introduced these charts during the 2011 offseason and they’ve undergone some renovations since. While charts can be made for any situation, these charts focus on the bread-and-butter of hockey: even-strength.

The horizontal axis represents zone starts: the further to the right the player is on the chart, the more the player started in the offensive zone. The vertical axis represents quality of competition: the higher the player is on the chart, the tougher the opponents that player faced.

The PDF provides the following chart as a basic rule of thumb for how a player was used:

(HockeyAbstract.com)

While those are not hard-and-fast descriptions, they’ll do for now. Essentially, if a player is found in the top left corner of the chart, they’re starting the majority of their shifts in the defensive zone and facing the opponent’s best players. If a player is in the bottom right corner, they’re starting mostly in the offensive zone and facing the opponent’s worst players. This is normally where you’ll find a team’s enforcers.

The final element of the charts is the bubbles: these indicate a player’s Relative Corsi, which is a statistic that measures puck possession. A bigger bubble is a bigger number. If the bubble is blue, that’s good; if the bubble is white, that’s bad. Taking into account how they were used (their position on the chart) helps you place that in context.

A player in the top left corner has a tough role and it shouldn’t be surprising to see such players with large white bubbles indicating a negative Relative Corsi. At the same time, a player on the far right of the chart should have a large blue bubble, because they’ve been spotted an advantage in terms of where they are starting in the offensive zone.

Let’s take a look at the charts for the Devils and Kings and see what kind of information we can glean from them.

(HockeyAbstract.com)

Quick note: players with asterisks next to their names did not play for the team for the entire season. Defencemen have their names in purple.

The immediate thing that stands out is how good Anze Kopitar was this year. Without being overly favoured with offensive zone starts and against very tough competition, Kopitar excelled. Mike Richards, on the other hand, was used in a similar role but did not fare as well. Trent Hunter also stands out to me for starting mainly in the defensive zone but still putting up positive possession numbers.

On defence, Drew Doughty and Rob Scuderi faced the toughest assignments, with Doughty handling them far better. Scuderi is actually the only defenceman on the chart with a white bubble, other than Jack Johnson who was traded to the Blue Jackets. That’s definitely an indication of how strong the Kings were defensively during the regular season in front of Jonathan Quick, which carried over to the playoffs.

(HockeyAbstract.com)

Here’s some visual evidence for how Patrik Elias was used: he faced the toughest competition, split his shifts about equally between the defensive zone and offensive zone, and carried puck possession. Petr Sykora, who has been a healthy scratch recently in the playoffs, is not far off, facing slightly easier competition but starting a bit more in the defensive zone. Dainius Zubrus is right there with Sykora.

Ilya Kovalchuk received a large number of offensive zone starts, but he wasn’t entirely sheltered, as he still faced reasonably tough competition. Matt Taormina and Peter Harrold, however, were more sheltered as depth defencemen, but put up positive possession numbers in that role.

Mark Fayne faced the toughest competition among Devils’ defencemen, but Henrik Tallinder had the tougher role, starting more shifts in the defensive zone while still facing the opponent’s top players. As you can see, he still put up positive possession numbers in that role, but, unfortunately, he hasn’t played since January 17th due to a blood clot in his leg. He has been cleared medically to play, but it is unknown whether he will play in Game 2 tonight.