Saturday, March 18, 2006

Should the Oilers worry about Pronger's minutes?

Do NHLers wear down with too many minutes and does this hurt playoff performance in particular?

This is a tough question and perhaps a hockey myth that Chris Pronger has found himself associated with as much as any player in recent memory. He has been closely associated with the question due to his prominent presence with the St. Louis Blues teams of the late '90's and early this decade. While on these teams, Pronger had massive amounts of icetime on very successful regular season clubs that seemed to disappoint in the playoffs. The story that many hockey fans have heard (probably disseminated by St. Louis sports writers desparate for an angle) is that the Blues wore Pronger down with crazy minutes in the regular season and he couldn't get it done in the playoffs.

Some Oiler fans online were begging for a competent NHL defenseman around Christmas time for two reasons: 1) Ulanov and Cross were hopeless and 2) Pronger was getting too many minutes and he wouldn't be effective come playoff time. Well, is it worth worrying about? I don't think so.

Make no mistake, Big #44 and his Orbs of Power are playing heavy minutes. 1857 total minutes and counting including an astonishing 459 minutes on the powerplay. The numbers are definitely getting higher as he plays his 28:08 per night. First of all, one should compare Pronger's minutes to those he had in St. Louis.

This year (projected) in Edmonton:

81 games, 2279 total minutes with a %ES/%PP/%SH breakdown of 56%/25%/19%.

In his last five seasons in St. Louis, Pronger posted a cumulative %ES/%PP/%SH breakdown of 64%/19%/17%. In two of those seasons he played greater than 2279 total minutes. As a result of his minutes breakdown, he obviously played considerably more ES minutes in each of those seasons (including a third season of 2196 total minutes) than he is projected to play this year. While I don't imagine that the extra SH minutes are helping Pronger's vitality that much, I'm quite certain that the trade-off of fewer ES minutes for more PP minutes likely helps him.

So we've got two reasons not to worry at the moment. The first is that Pronger has played more total minutes in two of the past five seasons and he's played roughly equivalent minutes in three of the last five. The second reason not to worry, is that it's a pretty safe assumption that PP minutes are easier on the big man than at ES and he's on pace to play roughly 200 min (or nearly 11 games worth) fewer at ES than he has in recent full seasons.

Next up: Pronger's playoff performance vs. regular season. Does his play even drop off in the playoffs?

Regular season: 1.03 ESP/hr, 4.29 PPP/hr, 28.79 min ATOI and +93 in 292 GP.

Playoffs: 0.98 ESP/hr, 3.60 PPP/hr, 29.80 min ATOI and +19 in 43 GP.

OK, so Pronger's ES production is basically the same and while his PP production seems to drop, he has actually played significantly better in the playoffs in terms of accumulating +/-. (As an aside: is anyone really familiar with St. Louis' recent playoff failings? Any chance that their special teams just failed them? In addition to the usual things related to luck.) Additionally, in his two biggest regular seasons TOI-wise, he posted his best playoff production rates. I have to conclude that Pronger has not really been affected by heavier minutes and that the common belief is just one of many hockey myths.

So, with regard to Chris Pronger - Don't worry be happy Oiler fans. He's not in uncharted territory and regardless, it sure doesn't appear that the workload makes him any less effective in the playoffs.


Blogger Dennis said...

Nice work, RQ. I really can't say I'm overly familar with the Blues playoff failings other than to say when last the last time they had goaltending in the playoffs;)

In any case it's nice to see that your numbers should be a comfort to us and not a concern.

3/18/2006 7:28 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Compelling stuff. Kind of murders the 'burning him out' theories, and personally, it warms my heart to see myths get punched.

And those are actually madass good postseason numbers for Pronger considering that STL could never quite turn the trick.

3/18/2006 11:19 pm  

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