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The Evolving Usage of Anze Kopitar and Jake Muzzin

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Veteran roster turnover has caused Darryl Sutter to change his usage of key players. His preference for experienced players has shook up typical deployments for top players.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

It's no secret that Darryl Sutter loves his veteran players. To succeed as a young player under Sutter, you must survive a gauntlet of repeated assignments to the AHL, healthy scratches, and you're often asked to produce with poor linemates and little ice time. It took two brutal series-opening losses to the San Jose Sharks in the 2013-2014 playoffs for Tanner Pearson to get his shot over Jordan Nolan, after all.

With that in mind, this off season saw through the departures of Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards, Robyn Regehr, and Justin Williams for a whole variety of reasons. While Williams factors into this discussion to a lesser extent, the first three saw the first, fifth and seventh heaviest defensive zone deployment, respectively. The off season acquisitions of Milan Lucic and Christian Ehrhoff were never meant to fill the roles of those three, either. That meant the responsibilities had to come from existing roster players.


Kings Deployment, 2014-2015

Player Name GP TOI CF60 CA60 CF% CF60 RelTM CA60 RelTM CF% RelTM OZFO% DZFO% NZFO%
REGEHR, ROBYN 67 1118:35:00 53.8 51.12 51.3 -7.4 3.78 -5.1 30.1 33.3 36.7
NOLAN, JORDAN 60 590:25:00 47.76 50.81 48.4 -11.27 3.38 -7 36.8 33.2 30
MARTINEZ, ALEC 56 864:18:00 58.17 51.44 53.1 -0.52 4.06 -2.3 32.8 32.9 34.4
SEKERA, ANDREJ 73 1247:32:00 62.14 51.89 54.5 3.28 1.93 0.4 32.3 32.2 35.5
RICHARDS, MIKE 53 580:29:00 55.4 51.99 51.6 -3.49 4.58 -3.8 33.9 31.3 34.8
BROWN, DUSTIN 82 1071:13:00 57.41 47.83 54.5 -1.5 -0.04 -0.6 33.5 29.7 36.8
STOLL, JARRET 73 905:54:00 52.79 50.87 50.9 -8.26 4.55 -5.9 34.9 29.7 35.4
KOPITAR, ANZE 79 1083:55:00 63.49 43.73 59.2 4.36 -5.92 4.9 33 29.6 37.4
KING, DWIGHT 81 1027:34:00 59.5 49.28 54.7 -0.48 0.77 -0.6 33.4 29.5 37.1
PEARSON, TANNER 42 458:25:00 65.97 51.7 56.1 6.34 3.97 0.5 35.1 29.5 35.5
CLIFFORD, KYLE 80 837:47:00 54.64 46.41 54.1 -2.18 -3.24 0.7 36.7 29.5 33.9
DOUGHTY, DREW 82 1748:16:00 61.4 47.16 56.6 3.1 -0.51 1.5 33.4 29 37.7
SHORE, NICK 34 345:23:00 52.29 46.56 52.9 -5.14 -1.98 -1.3 41.5 28.8 29.7
WILLIAMS, JUSTIN 81 1089:46:00 61.22 45.97 57.1 4.02 -2.75 3.1 34.9 28.8 36.3
TOFFOLI, TYLER 76 878:15:00 65.93 48.44 57.6 8.33 -0.43 3.5 34.1 28.5 37.3
ANDREOFF, ANDY 18 151:18:00 48.78 53.93 47.5 -8.02 5.75 -6.6 41.4 28.3 30.3
CARTER, JEFF 82 1048:46:00 64.36 49.09 56.7 5.85 1.46 1.6 36.6 28.2 35.2
GREENE, MATT 82 1095:52:00 58.58 49.66 54.1 -0.98 3 -1.9 38.1 28.1 33.8
GABORIK, MARIAN 69 915:21:00 63.71 43.26 59.6 4.59 -5.62 4.8 34 27.2 38.8
MUZZIN, JAKE 76 1373:59:00 62.62 45.02 58.2 4.6 -4.26 4.1 36 27.1 36.9
SCHULTZ, JEFF 9 130:45:00 51.4 39.47 56.6 -7.79 -9.62 1.9 30 26.4 43.6
MCNABB, BRAYDEN 71 979:09:00 59.62 45.1 56.9 0.97 -4.04 2.5 39.2 26.1 34.7
LEWIS, TREVOR 73 879:18:00 58 44.35 56.7 -0.82 -4.51 2 35.8 25.5 38.6
MCBAIN, JAMIE 26 275:29:00 57.06 49.88 53.4 -1.76 2.71 -2.1 44.1 19.4 36.5

The deployment table above shows just how much those players were asked to start in the defensive zone. Kopitar is one of the premier defensive centers in the league, yet Richards and Stoll started their shifts in the defensive zone slightly more than him.

Another thing that should pop out is how high Alec Martinez is up the list. Martinez is one of the first players to go through Sutter's rigors when it comes to being a regular roster player. He started with very sheltered deployment on the third pair with Matt Greene and posted sparkling possession numbers earlier in his career. Fast forward just three years later and he's being given some of the toughest starts courtesy of his pairing with Robyn Regehr. His shot metrics dove as a result, and were one of the biggest areas of concern for us at JFTC coming into this year. Still, they did seem acceptable given his situation.

The other thing that may be surprising is how little Muzzin started in the defensive zone. He was largely still partnered with Drew Doughty, who Sutter has never been hesitant to use in any zone. The soft usage along with a Doughty pairing gave Muzzin critics ammunition to suggest he's not the great defensive player some claim he is. As the next table shows, his usage this year has gotten a lot more defensive zone oriented this year, and his pairing with Doughty is an occasional occurrence and no longer the norm.


Kings Deployment, 2015-2016

Player Name GP TOI CF60 CA60 CF% CF60 RelTM CA60 RelTM CF% RelTM OZFO% DZFO% NZFO%
MARTINEZ, ALEC 51 818:57:00 61.25 54.8 52.8 -1.32 8.77 -4.8 31.9 35.2 32.8
LECAVALIER, VINCENT 19 193:49:00 48.6 60.06 44.7 -10.62 8.68 -8.8 36.3 34.3 29.4
MERSCH, MICHAEL 15 144:38:00 47.29 67.2 41.3 -14.15 19.8 -15.1 31.2 33.6 35.2
KOPITAR, ANZE 51 763:14:00 63.36 46.38 57.7 1.13 -1.97 1.5 32.8 33.5 33.7
NOLAN, JORDAN 46 395:50:00 52.14 54.42 48.9 -8.78 7.05 -7.3 36.1 32.4 31.5
SCHENN, LUKE 41 614:27:00 53.02 56.54 48.4 -4.58 2.38 -3.1 30.3 32.2 37.5
MUZZIN, JAKE 51 870:38:00 65.06 49.83 56.6 6.11 -0.53 2.7 36.7 31.8 31.5
SHORE, NICK 48 548:08:00 63.49 40.72 60.9 3.9 -10.31 7.1 35.7 31.3 33
GABORIK, MARIAN 51 651:35:00 61.6 45.58 57.5 -0.25 -3.15 1.5 36.6 31.2 32.2
CLIFFORD, KYLE 27 238:10:00 53.16 48.12 52.5 -6.19 -2.43 -1.5 37.1 31 32
ANDREOFF, ANDY 41 365:35:00 50.88 57.11 47.1 -11.04 11.02 -10.2 37.5 30.9 31.6
PEARSON, TANNER 51 611:03:00 61.08 45.85 57.1 -1.27 -2.23 0.7 35.5 30.7 33.8
FORBORT, DEREK 14 143:51:00 72.99 44.21 62.3 12.93 -3.94 6.8 38.3 30 31.7
LEWIS, TREVOR 44 543:11:00 59.87 43.85 57.7 -0.91 -6.06 2.8 37 29.5 33.5
BROWN, DUSTIN 51 654:34:00 66.64 44.27 60.1 8.44 -5.54 6.2 35.4 28.8 35.8
TOFFOLI, TYLER 51 675:54:00 67.64 48.82 58.1 6.32 0.08 2.4 37.1 28.7 34.2
DOUGHTY, DREW 51 1052:26:00 62.2 44.64 58.2 2.64 -10.14 6.1 35.5 28.7 35.8
LUCIC, MILAN 50 714:33:00 68.44 47.27 59.1 7.83 -2.91 4.4 36.5 28.3 35.2
MCNABB, BRAYDEN 50 874:32:00 59.9 45.9 56.6 -3.95 -3.09 0 34.7 28.1 37.3
EHRHOFF, CHRISTIAN 39 498:47:00 57.74 47.64 54.8 -5.05 -1.07 -1.5 41.5 28 30.5
KING, DWIGHT 16 195:22:00 54.67 51.59 51.4 -7.31 3.52 -4.9 36.7 26.6 36.7
CARTER, JEFF 46 602:11:00 65.96 52.11 55.9 4.46 5.34 -0.9 39.9 25.9 34.2
MCBAIN, JAMIE 36 411:59:00 62.19 47.91 56.5 1.25 -0.11 0.6 45.3 24.1 30.7

Now we see the defensive zone deployments of Kopitar and Muzzin increase by three to four percent. Muzzin is now number two on the list, thanks to his pairing with Martinez, who has seen his usage more or less stay the same. Kopitar has now become the number one relied upon center in the defensive zone, or at least he was until the arrival of Vincent Lecavalier.

While the usage of Vinny is a whole other topic, we can see a marked change in how Sutter uses his players. In Kopitar's case, it comes down to the fact that Sutter simply doesn't trust Nick Shore, Andy Andreoff, Trevor Lewis, and formerly Jordan Weal to eat any significant percentage of those starts.

A cursory look at the possession numbers shows us the impact. Muzzin and Kopitar used to be consistent leaders in Corsi numbers relative to their team. Now, they're just middle of the pack. Given Kopitar's big new contract, the immediate concern is that we're already seeing his decline. I can quell that fear by pointing out that Kopitar's numbers have been steadily rising since the start of the season, and his point production the last few months is top 20 in the NHL.

So the logical question is whether or not we're seeing expected numbers decline from these two players, or there's something more going on. There a few angles to approach this, but let's start by comparing the players' previous years to this one.  

Kopitar zone and corsi rel

Pictured above are Anze Kopitar's relative zone starts to his team (x-axis), with his overall corsi for percetage relative to his teammates (x-axis). The shading of the bubbles indicates the average Corsi For per 60 of his teammates. As you can see, there is a tight cluster around the -2 to 0 zone starts mark, with Kopitar mainly being a 5% Corsi Rel player in that area. There are several stray bubbles, but the important one is with nearly -8% zone starts relative. That is Kopitar's 2015-2016 usage.

We can see that Kopitar has never been relied upon this hard for defensive zone usage. His shot metrics are suffering as a result. However, if you were to make a line of best fit through that tight cluster we mentioned, it looks as though this bubble would fall on this line. That's not to say that a linear decline is expected, but we'll get to that later. The takeaway is that Kopitar is seeing a much heavier defensive workload, yet still remains a good asset for the team. Possibly even more positive is the fact that this usage hasn't hurt his point totals. In fact, his current 72 point pace would be the most he's had since 2011-2012.

Muzzin zone and corsi rel

Now we look at Muzzin. As you can probably guess, that white bubble is Muzzin's usage this year. Those two blue bubbles are the previous two seasons. The changes to Muzzin's zone starts and Corsi numbers appear to be mostly in line with Kopitar's. Muzzin is also on pace for a career point total high, and this is after being separated from Drew Doughty in most 5v5 play.

So, the change in numbers for both Kopitar and Muzzin seem more or less reasonable, but it would be great if we could determine if they are statistically expected as well. It just so happens we have one metric that takes usage into account, called dCorsi. You can read all about it here. Please note the numbers below for Kopitar and Muzzin include playoff games for that year.


Anze Kopitar dCorsi

Name Gm teamyear CF60 ECF60 CA60 ECA60 dCFImpact dCAImpact dCorsi60 dCorsiImpact
Anze.Kopitar 108 L.A20132014 66.64 63.73 45.72 48.35 74.8 -67.49 5.53 142.29
Anze.Kopitar 101 L.A20112012 67.39 62.47 49.3 49.93 121.96 -15.72 5.55 137.68
Anze.Kopitar 79 L.A20142015 63.55 60.94 43.77 47.9 47.36 -75.09 6.75 122.45
Anze.Kopitar 87 L.A20092010 59.87 54.42 51.49 50.99 118.37 10.97 4.95 107.4
Anze.Kopitar 65 L.A20122013 63.64 59.36 46.81 47.22 71.04 -6.72 4.69 77.76
Anze.Kopitar 82 L.A20082009 59.28 56.5 50.34 51.48 53.39 -21.84 3.91 75.23
Anze.Kopitar 75 L.A20102011 61.16 58.25 51.78 52.51 54.32 -13.69 3.65 68.01
Anze.Kopitar 72 L.A20062007 57.91 57.67 56.04 56.96 3.5 -13.3 1.17 16.8
Anze.Kopitar 42 L.A20152016 61.67 62.58 47.12 48.54 -9.41 -14.71 0.51 5.3
Anze.Kopitar 82 L.A20072008 52.26 52.94 59.42 58.17 -13.46 24.68 -1.92 -38.14

It looks as though this metric is not very kind to Anze. It suggests that his possession impact is the worst it's been since the 2007-2008 season. The main defficiency seems to be that the metric more or less Kopitar to produce shots as well as he did last year, but he's simply fallen short of that in his current role. It is important to note that this has only been through 42 games versus the current 51 played, and Kopitar has been better recently. Yet, there is certainly a set of valid questions regarding this: Kopitar's potential decline, dCorsi's failings to track usage, or whether there is an optimal deployment for each type of player, and we're departing from Kopitar's optimal usage. Each of these are interesting ideas, and hopefully we have many more years of Kopitar play to test two out of those three metrics.


Jake Muzzin dCorsi

Name Gm teamyear CF60 ECF60 CA60 ECA60 dCFImpact dCAImpact dCorsi60 dCorsiImpact
Jake.Muzzin 62 L.A20122013 62.96 56.58 38.54 45.79 95.35 -108.29 13.63 203.64
Jake.Muzzin 102 L.A20132014 63.81 63.53 44.36 47.87 7.71 -95.78 3.79 103.49
Jake.Muzzin 76 L.A20142015 62.67 61.94 45.16 47.82 16.71 -61.07 3.4 77.79
Jake.Muzzin 42 L.A20152016 63.71 60.9 50.03 48.61 34.14 17.21 1.39 16.92
Jake.Muzzin 11 L.A20102011 47.99 50.92 50.76 51.57 -6.35 -1.76 -2.12 -4.59

Jake Muzzin's table brings the same questions we had for Kopitar. Are we seeing play decline, failures of the metric, or non-optimal player usage? With these uncertainties and a lack of way to concisely answer them (at least this season), I think it makes sense to shift the focus to team performance.

Final Words

Given the shift in usage, and potentially worse play of some of LA's best players, what should be the takeaway? Right now, the Kings are the number one corsi for team in the league, and their numbers are better than last year (when they were also number one). The numbers aren't quite as good as 2013-2014, but the Kings also had a remarkable year when it comes to player health that year. LA also leads the league in scoring chance differential, and despite some frustrating recent play, their point pace could give the Kings their best year ever.

So, it seems that the difference in usage of Anze Kopitar and Jake Muzzin has not affected the Kings' ability to mostly play the same game and achieve the same end results. There will likely always be questions of player usage, but Kopitar and Muzzin remain very positive assets for the Kings. I hope we can look back on these numbers as normal changes and enjoy some very strong contributions from these players for years to come.

Thanks to stats.hockeyanalysis.com and war-on-ice.com for all included stats.