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The Noon Number: Long Shifts Sink Ships?

A look at which Caps may be overstaying their respective on-ice welcomes and why it matters


9 - Number of Capitals (minimum nine games played) who are averaging more than 50 seconds per shift - including both the defenseman (Mike Green; 59 seconds) and forward (Alex Ovechkin; 58 seconds) with the longest average shift length in the League - most of any team in the NHL.

Here's how the Caps stack up against the rest of the League, sorted by standings position:


Of course it should be noted that these numbers include spikes for players who skate long power-play shifts (imagine what Ovechkin's average shift length would look like if the Caps used the full two minutes on more of their power plays, like back in 2009-10, for example). But here's the list of Caps skaters who are averaging more than 50 seconds per shift - four of them are averaging less than 15 seconds per game on the extra-man unit:

Player Average Shift Length
Mike Green 59
Alex Ovechkin 58
Dmitry Orlov 56
John Carlson 56
Nate Schmidt 54
Nicklas Backstrom 53
Karl Alzner 52
Tyson Strachan 51
Marcus Johansson 50

We've written about shift length in the past (this post and this one are well worth revisiting), and whenever the issue comes up, a few quotes leap to mind. First, from a coach's perspective:

Detroit assistant coach Paul MacLean is never without his stopwatch, clicking it each time the Wings make a line change. "We use our own time," says [Head Coach Mike] Babcock, eschewing the arena stat sheet. For playoffs, he wants short shifts -- 40 seconds, tops -- making sure stars like LW Henrik Zetterberg stay fresh enough to sustain the tempo his two-way game demands. Quick, smart line changes are so crucial that the Wings devoted an entire practice to them during an unexpected layover in St. Louis last season. Bonus benefit: Quick changes prevent positioning breakdowns that result in odd-man rushes. - ESPN The Magazine, April 2009

Then one from the analytics community:

[T]he break-even point is around 40 seconds, which is roughly the average even-strength shift length league-wide, and things fall apart after that.

By 70 seconds, only 40% of total shots are shots for. To put that in perspective, only the absolute worst players in the NHL have shot totals at that level - 40% for, 60% against. Staying on the ice even just a bit beyond a minute usually turns the average NHL player into a defensive catastrophe on the scale of Wade Belak.

Finally, Tyler Dellow sums it up perfectly:

[B]eing on the ice after a minute is sort of like being in a bar after 1:00 a.m. – there’s no guarantee that something bad will happen, it’s possible that something good will happen but the odds are slanted heavily in favour of something bad.

It's easy to cherry-pick examples of long-shifts-gone-bad, and obviously not all do. But it's worth keeping a close eye on shift length, generally - presumably the Caps coaching staff does. At least, they should...