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Red Wings Mythbusters: Nyquist and Tatar are Bad Together

Are the Wings’ two best wingers just bad for each other?

2016 Coors Light Stadium Series - Detroit Red Wings v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are the Red Wings’ two best wingers. If there’s doubt about it, then it’s likely due to a confusion about which position Dylan Larkin plays or some other goofy misunderstanding. However, it seems that if you ask your average Red Wings fan whether these two should ever be on a line together, the answer is apparently that they mix like oil & water or like Maple Leafs fans & deodorant.

Even among the no votes here, we have two different considerations that I want to deal with. In the process, I want to make it clear up front that I feel these two should be the wingers for the beginning of the Dylan Larkin’s ascent to the team’s #1 center (provided that one of them isn’t traded for a defenseman, that is).

We’ll start with the easy one

They Have no Chemistry - They’re -BAD- Together

This one is almost so easy to dismiss that it feels like a strawman, but I assure you there are plenty of people who feel this way. Not only are these two players together not ideal, but they’re actually detrimental.

For a pair that some claim are bad together though, Nyquist and Tatar have never shown up together in a negative capacity. The worst you’ll see is from this past season where the two of them shared more than 476 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together and came out with a flat even goal differential (20 for, 20 against). This is because despite them taking almost 57% of all shot attempts, they were let down by sub-.900 goaltending.

Obviously, this might be caused by a narrative that these two aren’t defensively sound - one that you’ll see in plenty of places - but the evidence doesn’t support that either. Nyquist and Tatar controlled 55% of scoring chances (something of a proxy for "quality shots") and only allowed 7.16 scoring chances against per 60 minutes. Putting that into context, of the 49 forward lines who shared at least 250 minutes played, the one with Tatar & Nyquist centered by Riley Sheahan had a lower scoring chance against rate than all but 11. Of those 11, only five of those lines also had a higher rate of scoring chances created.

Going back to 2012-13 through the present, there are 66 forward line combinations that have at least 500 minutes of even strength played together. Of those, 55 have positive Corsi differentials (because linemates don’t get kept together for long periods if they’re not good together). Nyquist and Tatar’s line with Sheahan ranks 18th for puck possession. The lines above them? There’s a whole lot of talent up there.

Corsica Hockey

Put simply, linemates without chemistry don’t accomplish things like this. Nyquist and Tatar create chances when they’re together, prevent chances against, and consistently move the puck the right direction.

They’re Good Together, but Better Apart

Here’s where we get to the tricky part, because this stuff is jumbled together with lot of cause/effect issues and is what really feeds the narrative. The fact of the matter is that the most-recent evidence does suggest there’s merit to this.

Together Before January 1st 28 58.16 52.83 51.43
Separate Before January 1st 10 48.27 41.76 41
Together After January 1st 24 52.63 55.6 54.92
Separate After January 1st 19.5 58.6 55.99 59

I separated the two time periods with uneven game samples (38 to 44) because narratively, the 2015 part of the season had a very promising feel to it while the new year brought about the team’s loss of identity and I feel that the Nyquist/Tatar narrative is very much driven by what happened here. The weighting is done by TOI for each player in games they played together. There is some noise created by treating ice time as all-or-none here, but it’s not severe.

What you see is that Nyquist and Tatar played exceptionally well together in the promising part of the season and very well separately during the downturn, but splitting the two of them up created the biggest overall advantage for the Red Wings most-recent to our memories.

However, the idea that the improvement was caused by the separation leaves out the context of what happened when they were separated. Tomas Tatar played a majority of the games he was separated with Pavel Datsyuk. The majority of the games for Tatar away from Datsyuk were played with Dylan Larkin. Nyquist got decent time with Zetterberg and Abdelkader, but also saw a lot more use with Athanasiou and Jurco and pretty limited Larkin time. While both were positive possession players away from each other, Tatar was driving the overall weighted average by a lot.

Nyquist Apart Post-December 54.35 52.29 56.94
Tatar Apart Post-December 62.74 59.55 61.19

Now I personally believe that Tomas Tatar drives possession better than is indicated because of the Datsyuk effect, but we can’t ignore it either. The one forward on the Red Wings who didn’t enjoy a positive corsi differential on the ice with Pavel Datsyuk was none other than Luke Glendening (which in fairness was only about 46 minutes of mixed time and the kind of immediate post-penalty-kill stuff where it’s hard to get moving the right direction).

In essence, we do have recent evidence in a 44-game span that indicates Nyquist and Tatar played better when separated, but I think that does a better job explaining WHY people remember those two not being good enough together than it does definitively showing that they don’t belong together.

Going Forward

The thing about not being able to separate out the Datsyuk effect is that going forward, we’re not going to have a choice. Wiping our hands of a disappointing season by pretty much everybody, the Red Wings are going to be without the premier possession-driving center they had last year and are already putting themselves into a position to try and grow Dylan Larkin into the next one.

GM Ken Holland told the world recently that the plan is to get Larkin the reps while handing Frans Nielsen over to Henrik Zetterberg. We don’t currently know any other plans in the work for usage, but I feel that based on what experience and sense tells me, we can expect that Zetterberg and Nielsen will be Jeff Blashill’s go-to first line while Larkin gets a bit sheltered (at least at home where Blashill gets to make the decision about which line is the Red Wings’ top line).

If we’re looking for a second line to provide a whole ton of jump and the capability to handle minutes against tougher lines on the road, then we already know that’s what Tatar and Nyquist together bring because that's what they've already done together in their deployment. When you factor in that Dylan Larkin should be a more-dynamic option than Riley Sheahan at center, these three players should be able to create havoc in the offensive zone.

Special Thanks

The data used in this post was pulled from, Puckalytics, and Specific tools used were

Thanks to these sites for having the information needed.