Warning: apc_store(): Potential cache slam averted for key 'w3tc_blogs.thescore.com_object_c8478405b42a12eba8c0dbf6a24e2873' in /opt/blogs/wp-content/plugins/w3-total-cache/lib/W3/Cache/Apc.php on line 41 A new (and valuable) metric for figuring out which NHLers face the highest quality of competition | Backhand Shelf | Blogs | theScore.com

I mention Frans Nielsen in this post, so, y'know, any excuse to run this great picture.

Finally. Finally it exists.

@BSH_EricT (I’d love to use his name, but he doesn’t, so….we’ll stick with the Twitter handle) has unveiled an advanced stat that should work for both the fancy stat crowd, and the “watch the game” crowd. I know, it’s incredible.

I’ll try to explain the easiest way to understand it below, but in sum, the goal is to quantify who plays against the toughest competition, as a way of assessing value.

The best players in the league get the most ice time, with the odd exception of say, guys on the Washington Capitals last season. Everyone, both camps, are nodding their heads. We know this to be true. Coaches know the value of their guys, and try to ice their best team as much as possible. This point in non-negotiable.

Knowing that, the more time you spend on the ice playing against guys who get big minutes, the tougher the competition you’re facing. Pretty A-to-B on that point.

Also, “line matching” has changed since the days of “stick Esa Tikkanen on him” – more often than not, coaches match a d-pairing against a great line of forwards as opposed to another line (though they do still match forward lines occasionally), because really, that’s who defends the forwards more.

So: Eric has taken the time to plot graphs for every team’s forwards to show how difficult the competition that each player faced was in 2011-2012.

The plot shows the average minutes played by the forwards every player played against, and the average minutes played by the defense they saw, and with that, you get a plot point that shows exactly what they were up against.

Also, the charts can show you how a forward was deployed – if a guy played against a lot of forwards that averaged big minutes, but against d-men that average few minutes, he was probably deployed as a shut-down, defensive forward (and will be bottom-right on the graph).

If a guy played against forwards who averaged lower minutes, but against d-men who averaged big minutes, he’s probably an offensive specialist (top left).

The guys in the top right of the graph? Well, they’re probably pretty damn good, because the opposing coach made sure to get his best players out there whenever they hit the ice (top right).

You follow?

Cool.

Eric’s post is here, if you want to see the deployment of every team’s forwards.

For now, let’s just look at the Islanders chart, and use it to see what we can learn.

The first thing you notice is that John Tavares and Matt Moulson face the stiffest competition of anyone on the Isles. They get the other team’s best defenseman, and damn near their best forwards.

The only person who sees better forwards more often than them is Frans Nielsen (the Godfather of Backhand Shelf), who’s often deployed as a shutdown forward. He sees pretty respectable defenseman too, given that his all-around game is pretty impressive. Parenteau and Okposo are both top six guys, so the opposition they face is pretty decent too.

Then there’s your bottom left group, who the opposing coach sees jump on the ice, and says “Grocery Stick, Duster, Ankle Bender, your line is up.”

If you didn’t know how a coach was using players, you could check out the graph halfway through the year and say “Hey, I hadn’t noticed this until now, but he’s using ____ in more of a shut-down role this year.” There’s plenty to be learned here.

Remember: the advanced stat field is still evolving in hockey. There are things that the eye test told many of us – “Duncan Keith is good” – that might have been shot down by someone using his “Corsi Rel” last year. Well, here’s a stat that I believe has value, because I trust NHL coaches to evaluate talent more than I do bloggers (of course, credit where credit is due, it was created by a blogger).

The stat is called “TOI QualComp” (Time on ice quality of competition), and it’s one you could see me using in the future for means of evaluation.