An Unmitigated Disaster opined that he had noticed that Avalanche PK specialist Daniel Winnik seemed to be seeing a lot of ice time in the month of November. So much ice time that he was eclipsing talented players like Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk, and David Jones. I wondered if his numbers were inflated due to the penalty kill time he sees as there would likely be no other justifiable reason for such a discrepancy. I then politely asked AUD to verify his assertions using maths. Which is exactly what he/she did. Sorta. So, in an effort to both keep my word and avoid work associated with my own livelihood, I decided to take a closer look.
Just as Disaster suspected.... Winnick IS leading forwards (20 games minimum) in ES TOI. He's also right behind Jay McClement for Penalty Kill TOI. Taken in a vacuum, that's a tad worrying. But when you look at how bunched up the ES #'s are, it readily apparent that Joe Sacco is rolling two lines heavily: a) Ryan O`Reilly's line with Winnik locked in on one wing and Gabriel Landeskog locked in on the other (for the most part) as the top line and b) a mix of Stastny with Milan Hejduk, Matt Duchene, and David Jones.
Looking at the bottom of that list, you'll see a 4th line that sees 4th line minutes fairly consistently, all anchored by ANOTHER PK specialist in McClement. While the opinion-istas were clamouring for TJ Galiardi to get a shot in the top 6 a while back, that shouting has died down to a murmer, likely coming only from TJ's mom.
What about for the month of November?
Largely the same with a couple of tweeks: Stastny and Jones are seeing fewer shifts at even strength, while Matt Duchene is seeing more. Both Duchene and Stastny have seen an uptick in PP time this month. The venerable Galiardi has seen his TOI remain the same, even with guys like Kevin Porter, Brandon Yip, and Joakim Lindstrom moving in and out of the lineup in the past few weeks.
So what conclusions could be drawn? Taken as a whole, if you subscribe to the theory that Winnik is a 3rd-line PK specialist who's holding back the production of his line, you're both right and wrong. He may be holding back his linemates a tad, but he hasn't been transplanted from a checking line to a scoring line. His whole line is being used as a scoring line. The philosophical discussion should be is O'Reilly's line a scoring line? Sacco seems to think it is.
The real odd-man out here is Jones who should be seeing top 6 minutes, but can't displace Landeskog, Hejduk, or Winnik from those roles. And with Matt Duchene playing both center and wing, it just confuses the matter even more. One issue I have with Jones' treatment is that at the quarter-point of the season the team is in mediocrity mode. That usually spells disaster for this team due to their late-season flounderings. If they keep to the trend of the last couple of years, Jones' (and Stastny's) trade value will be severely curtailed due to Sacco's utilization of them. I'm not saying they should be showcased, but I don't want to hear the bitching when Greg Sherman takes 50 cents on the dollar for one or the both of them at the deadline.
At the end of the day, I think I have crystallized an opinion on this TOI phenomenon: I disagree with Sacco's utilization of his forwards. I love Winnik for what he brings to the team, but what he brings isn't stuff that usually shows up on the scoresheet unless it's the zero the opposition has for PP goals. To that end, I think Sacco needs to start putting his eggs in fewer baskets. Working on the assumption that Ryan O'Reilly is going to be an offense contributor and not a checking-line center means that Stastny, Duchene, O`Reilly, Jones, Hejduk, and Landeskog need to be seeing the bulk of the minutes until this team starts scoring goals. I think a line of Duchene, O'Reilly, and Landeskog should get a tryout, but only if Stastny is anchoring the other scoring line with Hejduk and Jones on his wings.
I don't want to punish Winnik, but unless he turns into a 25-30 goal-scorer in the next couple of weeks, then he isn't being utilized to the betterment of the team. Also, replacing Duchene on wing and letting him play center means you're wasting one of your centers in a third line role that Colorado doesn't have the winger depth to complement. Saddling somebody with Brandon Yip, Porter, etc. and complaining about their production when they see less ice with worse teammates isn't fair.
The next question from the peanut gallery should be how does Sacco's utilization of the forwards compare to how other coaches in similar situations handle their lines?