May 302011

The general consensus among advanced hockey statistic analyzers and is that corsi/fenwick stats are the best statistic for measuring player and team talent levels.  For those of you who are not aware of corsi and fenwick let me give you a quick definition.  Corsi numbers are the number of shots directed at the goal and include shots, missed shots and blocked shots.  Fenwick numbers are the same except it does not included blocked shots (just shots and missed shots).  I generally look at fenwick and will do that here but fenwick and corsi are very highly correlated to the results would be similar if I used corsi.

The belief by many that support corsi and fenwick is that by looking at fenwick +/- or fenwick ratio (i.e. fenwick for /(fenwick for + fenwick against)) is an indication of which team is controlling the play and the team that controls the play more will, over time, score the most goals and thus win the most games.  There is some good evidence to support this, and controlling the play does go a long way to controlling the score board.  The problem I have with many corsi/fenwick enthusiasts is that they often dismiss the influence that ability to drive or suppress shooting percentage plays in the equation.  Many dismiss it outright, others feel it has so little impact it isn’t worth considering except when considering outliers or special cases.  In this article I am going to take an in depth look at the two and their influence on scoring goals on an individual level.

I have taken that last 4 seasons of 5v5 even strength data and pulled out all the forwards that have played at minimum 2000 minutes of 5v5 ice time over the past 4 seasons.  There were a total 310 forwards matching that criteria and for those players I calculated the fenwick shooting percentage (goals / fenwick for), fenwick for rate (FenF20 – fenwick for per 20 minutes of ice time) and goal scoring rate (gf20 – goal for per 20 minutes ice time) while the player was on the ice. What we find is shooting percentage is more correlated with goal production than fenwick rate.

Shooting % vs GF20 R^2 = 0.8272
FenF20 vs GF20 R^2 = 0.4657
Shooting % vs FenF20 R^2 = 0.1049

As you can see, shooting percentage is much more highly correlated with goal scoring rate than fenwick rate is which would seem to indicate that being able to drive shooting percentage is more important for scoring goals than taking a lot of shots.

Here is a list of the top 20 and bottom 10 players in fenwick shooting percentage and fenwick rate.

Rank Player FenSh% Player FenF20

For both lists, the players are the top of the list are for the most part considered top offensive players and the players at the bottom of the list are not even close to being considered quality offensive players.  So, it seems that both shooting percentage and fenwick do a reasonable job at identifying offensively talented players.  That said, the FenF20 list includes 7 players (Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Franzen, Hudler, Cleary and Samuelsson) who have played mostly or fully with the Detroit Red Wings and it seems unlikely to me that 7 of the top 20 offensive players are Red Wing players.  Furthermore, the fenwick list also includes guys like Ponikarovsky, Samuelsson, Hudler, Cleary, Williams, etc. who would probably be considered secondary offensive players at best.  From just this cursory overview it seems to confirm what we saw with the correlations – Shooting Percentage is a better indicator of offensive talent than Fenwick For rates.

It is actually no surprise that the Red Wings dominate the fenwick rate leader board because the Red Wings organizational philosophy is all about puck control.

“It’s funny because our game looks at numbers just like other games,” says Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, “but as much value as we assign to puck possession and how essential it is to winning, we really don’t have a numerical value for it that everyone can agree on. Remember when [A's general manager] Billy Beane started emphasizing on-base percentage in baseball? It wasn’t just a curious number; it changed the game. It redefined the type of player you wanted on your team. It’s coming in hockey; we just have to figure out how.”

This got the pro-corsi crowd riled up a bit as they said “Umm, yeah, we have that stat and it is called corsi” and were a bit bewildered at why NHL GMs didn’t make that recognition.  But anyway, what the above shows is that an organization that focuses on puck control dominates the corsi for statistic so I guess what that shows is that corsi/fenwick probably is a good measure of puck control.  But, as we have seen, fenwick (i.e. puck control) doesn’t automatically translate into goals scored.  There are no Red Wing players among the top 20 in fenwick shooting percentage and Datsyuk is the only Red Wing player in the top 20 in goals for per 20 minutes so while they take a lot of shots (or at least shot attempts), they aren’t the best at converting them into goals.

For me, and I am sure many others, the above is enough to conclude that shooting percentage matters a lot in scoring goals, but for the staunch corsi supporters they will argue that corsi is more persistent from season to season and thus is a better predictor of future performance.  So which is the better predictor of future performance?  The following table shows the correlation between shooting percentage and fenwick rate with the following seasons goal scoring rate.

Year(s) vs Year(s) FenSh% to GF20 FenF20 to GF20
200708 vs 200809 0.253 0.396
200809 vs 200910 0.327 0.434
200910 vs 201011 0.317 0.516
Average 0.299 0.449
200709 vs 200911 (2yr) 0.479 0.498
200709 vs 200910 (2yr vs 1yr) 0.375 0.479

Note:  For the above season(s) vs season(s) correlation calculations, only players with at least 500 5v5 even strength minutes in each of the four seasons are included.  This way the same players are included in all season(s) vs season(s) correlation calculations.

As you can see, when dealing with a single season of data the correlation with GF20 is much better for fenwick rate than for fenwick shooting percentage.  The gap closes when using 2 seasons as the predictor of a single season and is almost gone when using 2 seasons to predict the following 2 seasons.  It seems that the benefit of using corsi over shooting percentage diminishes to near zero when we have multiple seasons of data and though I haven’t tested it shooting percentage probably has an edge in player evaluation with 3 years of data.

Of course, you would never want to use shooting percentage as a predictor of future goal scoring rate when you could simply use past goal scoring rate as the predictor.  Past goal scoring rate has the same ‘small sample size’ limitations as shooting percentage (both use goals scored as it sample size limitation) but scoring rate combines the prediction benefits of shooting percentage and fenwick rate.  The table below is the same as above but I have added in GF20 as a predictor.

Year(s) vs Year(s) FenSh% to GF20 FenF20 to GF20 GF20 to GF20
200708 vs 200809 0.253 0.396 0.386
200809 vs 200910 0.327 0.434 0.468
200910 vs 201011 0.317 0.516 0.491
Average 0.299 0.449 0.448
200709 vs 200911 (2yr) 0.479 0.498 0.619
200709 vs 200910 (2yr vs 1yr) 0.375 0.479 0.527

The above table tells you everything you need to know.  When looking at single seasons both GF20 and FenF20 perform similarly at predicting next seasons GF20 with fenwick shooting percentage well behind but when we have 2 years of data as the starting point, GF20 is the clear leader.  This means, when we have at least a full seasons worth of data (or approximately 500 minutes ice time), goal scoring rates are as good or better than corsi rates as a predictor of future performance and beyond a years worth of data the benefits increase.  When dealing with less than a full season of data, corsi/fenwick may still be the preferred stat when evaluating offensive performance.

So what about the defensive side of things?

Year(s) vs Year(s) FenA20 to GA20 GA20 to GA20
200708 vs 200809 0.265 0.557
200809 vs 200910 0.030 0.360
200910 vs 201011 0.120 0.470
Average 0.138 0.462
200709 vs 200911 (2yr) -0.037 0.371
200709 vs 200910 (2yr vs 1yr) 0.000 0.316

Defensively, fenwick against rate is very poorly correlated with future goals against rate and it gets worse, to the point of complete uselessness, when we consider more seasons.  Past goals against rate is a far better predictor of future goals against rate.

Where it gets interest is unlike offense correlation drops when you consider more seasons which seems a bit strange.  My guess is the reason we are seeing this is because I am just looking at forwards and defense is more driven by goaltending and defensemen and as more time passes the greater the difference are in goalie and defensemen teammates.  Furthermore, forward ice time is largely driven by offensive ability (and not defensive ability) so many of the quality defensive forwards may be removed from the study because of the 500 minute per season minimum I am using (i.e. the group of players used in this study are biased towards those that aren’t focusing on defense).  Further analysis is necessary to show either of these as true though but the conclusion to draw from the above table that, for forwards at least, goals against rates are by far the better indicator of defensive ability.

In summary, it should be clear that we cannot simply ignore the impact of a players ability to drive or suppress shooting percentage in the individual player performance evaluation and so long as you have a full year of data (or > 500 or more minutes ice time) the preferred stat for individual player performance evaluation should be goal scoring rate.  Corsi/fenwick likely only provide a benefit to individual performance evaluation when dealing with less than a full year of data.

May 262011

The biggest hole in the Leafs lineup that GM Brian Burke has been trying to fill for a couple of summers now is the first line center role and that hole in the lineup still exists and needs to be addressed before the Leafs can be serious playoff contenders.  Tyler Bozak was given a chance and failed (though it was probably overly optimistic to expect him to be that level of player) and the hopes of getting a top center in a Kaberle trade also did not pan out (though Colborne is a fine center prospect and may be a quality center a few years from now).  High first round draft pick Nazem Kadri is another option but as of yet hasn’t developed into that level of player.  That said, if nothing changes Kadri is the guy penciled into that role but that wouldn’t be an ideal situation entering the 2011-12 season.  Not only is that putting a lot of pressure on Kadri (who has enough on his shoulders already)  but some within the organization have suggested Kadri might be better suited as a winger than a center.  Regardless of the reason, Burke is desperately in search of a true, established first line center.  Let me take a look at a few of the options.

The only real first line center option in the unrestricted free agent market is Brad Richards.  At 31 years of age he probably has at least 4 or 5 really good seasons left in him and he is a very good playmaker and overall offensive player and likely be a significant boost to the woeful Leafs power play but he is a liability defensively which is a concern for me.  The question is, what are you willing to pay for him as there will be ample competition for his services from Dallas, the NY Rangers and probably others.  Since Burke is against handing out long term deals more than 5 years it may cost Burke 5 years at $8-8.5M per season to get Richards signed.  The Leafs have the cap space to do it, but should they commit that much to Richards?  Would you? Personally, I think if you can get him for $8M or less you do it.  Anything more is getting a bit rich.

The other option for filling the first line center hole is through trade.  Two teams that I can think of that are deep at center and may be (or need to be) looking to make changes are the Flyers and the Sharks.  The Flyers have depth at center, very little cap space, would like to re-sign Ville Leino (but would be at a significant increase in salary) and need to spend some money improving their goalie situation as well (Vokoun?).  They have Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux who have or can play center.  I’d love to see a Jeff Carter or James van Riemsdyk in a Leaf uniform but van Riemsdyk is still on a cheap rookie contract so doesn’t really solve the Flyers money issues and Carter has one of those long term deals that Burke doesn’t like to hand out.  Briere would probably be available and not cost much but his cap hit is $6.5M for four more seasons and he’ll be turning 34 around the time the 2011-12 season starts so he isn’t really someone I see Burke being interested in.

San Jose just suffered another playoff disappointment at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks so one has to wonder if they finally bite the bullet and make a significant change to their core group of forwards.  They have Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and my rookie of the year pick Logan Couture as players able to play the center position and all are capable of being first or second line centers.  Of the four, Pavelski might be the most ‘available’ but he is also probably the least suitable as a first line center so I am not sure the Sharks are an ideal trading partner for a center.

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May 242011

This is the first of several posts I will dedicate to what I expect the Leafs will do this upcoming off season.  In this post I outline where the Leafs are at now and what holes need to be addressed over the summer months.

The Leafs ended the 2010-11 season on a high note being backstopped by solid goaltending from James Reimer and an improved offense including significant offensive contributions from Dion Phaneuf for the first time in a Leaf uniform and Nazem Kadri among others.  This late season surge has given Leaf fans renewed optimism entering the 2011-12 season but before we get to the 2011-12 season we need to take a look at what the Leafs might do during the summer and before we get to that lets take a look at the team that finished the season.  After all the trades made at the trade deadline, this is the lineup that finished the 2010-11 season.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Joffrey Lupul Nazem Kadri Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur* Mikhail Grabovski Nikolai Kulemin
Fredrik Sjostrom** Tyler Bozak* Colby Armstrong
Colton Orr Tim Brent** Mike Brown
Jay Rosehill** Darryl Boyce** Joey Crabb**
Defense Defense
Dion Phaneuf Luke Schenn*
Keith Aulie Carl Gunnarsson*
Mike Komisarek Matt Lashoff*
Brett Lebda
James Reimer*
JS Giguere**
Jonas Gustavsson

*Restricted Free Agent

**Unrestricted Free Agent

There are essentially 6 restricted free agents that need to be re-signed and an additional 5 unrestricted free agents that decisions need to be made on.

Restricted Free Agents

James Reimer – Maybe the most important RFA to be re-signed is James Reimer.  In Reimer the Leafs hope to have finally found a true #1 goalie but as of yet Reimer can’t claim to be that having only started 35 NHL games.  I expect Reimer to get a similar deal to the one Gustavsson signed (2 years at 1.35M/year) after his first season in the NHL in which he started 39 games.  Now Reimer performed better so might deserve a little more but I think 2 years at $1.5M/year is reasonable.

Luke Schenn –  If Reimer isn’t the most important RFA to be re-signed, Luke Schenn is.  The question is, what is he worth?  The New York Rangers re-signed Marc Staal to a 5 year deal at an average salary of $3.975M per season last summer.  It could be argued that Staal is a better defenseman than Schenn but the difference would not be great so I’ll suggest that $4M/year is an upper limit on Schenn at this point in time.  I think Schenn’s contract will probably come in around $3.5M/year on a three year deal or a more Staal-like $4M/year deal if the contract length was 5 years.

Carl Gunnarsson – I like Gunnarsson as a defenseman and he has done some really good things in his brief NHL career.  He has good long term upside but as of right now is still not yet proven.  I think a fair price for him is a 2 year deal at $1.25M/year and lets see what he can do in a full time, possibly top four, role.

Clarke MacArthur – I wrote an article a month or so ago on the progression of the Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line in which I suggested that MacArthur might not have as much value as we think.  Brian burke was listening to trade offers on MacArthur at the trade deadline and I think he will continue to do the same, especially if MacArthur is asking for $3M/year type money.  I personally don’t think he is worth that.  He isn’t that great defensively and while he was important as a playmaker for Grabovski and Kulemin, I don’t consider him someone that isn’t easily replaced and I think Kadri might be good replacing MacArthur on the wing if the Leafs manage to find a proven #1 center.  If he is asking for much more than $2.0M/year I’d seriously consider trading him.

Tyler Bozak – I am not quite sure what to make of Bozak yet.  He has some offensive skill, but not good enough to be a first line center.  He has shown some ability defensively and on the PK but his defensive ratings are still quite poor (HARD+ of 0.816 over past 2 seasons is actually pretty bad) but he is the Leafs best faceoff guy (54.6%) and I think the potential is there that he can be a solid 2-way third line center.  As such I would like to see him re-signed and see if he can excel in that role.  A fair value might be a 2 year deal at somewhere around $1-1.25M/yr, certainly no more.

Matt Lashoff – I liked what I saw from Lashoff in his short time with the Leafs at the end of last season.  In limited ice time over the past 4 seasons he has a weak 0.611 HARO+ rating but a very solid 1.288 HARD+ rating.  I’d like to see him as the #6/7 defenseman and see what he can do.   He has good size and skates well and as a former first round pick was once highly thought of.  He might be one of those guys that just needs to be given a chance and he’ll be cheap so why not.

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May 172011

I wrote an article a few weeks ago about the offensive and defensive contribution (i.e. their HARO+ or HARD+ rating multiplied by ice time) of each position (C, LW, RW, D and G) but I have come to realize that my methodology is incorrect and thus the conclusions are incorrect (at least when looking at league-wide results).  The reason is, in my rating system contribution is evenly distributed among the 5 players on the ice so if I sum up all contributions of all players playing at a particular position I should see each position be given an equal share, and for the most part that is what I saw.  The exception being centers being given more influence and wingers less, this is because players that are listed as being centers often play the wing where as wingers are less often on the ice playing as centers.

The proper method for identifying the contribution a position has on offense and defense is not to sum up their contribution but to look at the variation observed in the players ratings for that position.  Recall that with my ratings a 1.00 is a neutral rating or an indication that the player has no positive or negative effect for that aspect of the game (offense or defense) compared to the expected level of performance when quality of competition and quality of teammates are considered.  Anything less than 1.0 implies a negative impact and anything above 1.0 implies a positive impact.  So, if a position can significantly influence offensive production then we should see a larger variance among centers HARO+ ratings.  The good players at that position will have ratings well above 1.00 and the weaker players well below 1.00.  For positions that do not have a significant impact we should see players at that position have ratings much closer to 1.00 and less variation between the best and worst players.   So, here is what we find.

Position Average StdDev Average StdDev Average StdDev
C 0.918 0.171 0.994 0.116 0.956 0.091
RW 0.927 0.162 1.001 0.096 0.965 0.084
LW 0.939 0.167 0.993 0.099 0.966 0.086
D 0.894 0.095 0.990 0.101 0.942 0.068
G 0.984 0.080 0.992 0.040

The above uses four year ratings (2007-11) and only forwards and defensemen with at least 2000 minutes of 5v5 even strength ice time and goalies with 3000 minutes were considered.  The resulting group included 122 centers, 85 LW, 103 RW, 194 defensemen and 53 goalies.

On offense, the three forward positions have significantly higher standard deviations (0.162-0.171) than defensemen (0.095) which intuitively makes sense.  It means that forwards have a greater ability to influence offensive production than defensemen which is no surprise.  Defensively the greatest variation in HARD+ occurs for centers with defensemen and wingers more or less the same a step below centers and goalies another step back again.  It is possible centers rank ahead of wingers and defensemen in part because they are the ones who take face offs and thus are a major factor in the team gaining control of the puck.

The other thing that you’ll notice is that for HARO+ the average rating is well below 1.00 for both the forwards and the defense.  This probably indicates that the big minute players are the offensive players which makes the average rating (which is ice-time neutral) well below the ice time weighted average (which in theory should be very close to 1.00).  Lets take a look at how the players rate according to total ice time.


Ice time HARO+ HARD+ HART+
>4000 min. 1.042 0.968 1.005
3000-3999 0.906 0.988 0.947
2000-2999 0.864 1.015 0.940
1000-1999 0.784 1.025 0.905

Left Wing

Ice time HARO+ HARD+ HART+
>4000 min. 1.089 0.939 1.014
3000-3999 0.987 0.990 0.989
2000-2999 0.824 1.015 0.920
1000-1999 0.760 1.036 0.899

Right Wing

Ice time HARO+ HARD+ HART+
>4000 min. 1.071 0.963 1.018
3000-3999 0.953 1.003 0.979
2000-2999 0.871 1.008 0.940
1000-1999 0.775 1.047 0.911

For the three forward positions it is clear that the top offensive players get the most playing time while players who get less playing time are slightly better defensive players.  This isn’t really a big surprise as the majority of a team’s offense comes from their top line(s).  The question is, how much does coaching/playing style influence the results.  By that I mean, would first line forwards be better defensively if they were on the third line and asked to play a defensive role as opposed to being on the first line and being asked to and expected to produce offense?  I suspect for most players the answer would be yes.  I suspect the reverse (third/fourth line guys having better offensive ratings if given first line roles) is also true, but probably to a lesser extent.


Ice time HARO+ HARD+ HART+
>5000 min. 0.923 0.988 0.955
4000-4999 0.919 0.997 0.958
3000-3999 0.871 0.998 0.934
2000-2999 0.874 0.974 0.923
1000-1999 0.864 1.025 0.944

For defensemen the best offensive defensemen still get the most ice time, though the variation is much less than seen with the forwards.  Defensive ability seems to have very little variation across ice times until you get to the lower minute players who appear to be more defensive specialists.


Ice time HARD+
>10000 min. 1.040
>8000 min. 1.028
>6000 min. 1.012
>4000 min. 0.992
>2000 min. 0.984

As one would expect, the best goalies are given the most time in goal.  There were 9 goalies with greater than 10,000 minutes of 5v5 ice time and all had ratings over 1.00 except Tomas Vokoun whose rating was 0.978.  According to my rating system, Vokoun is a pretty ordinary goalie which means he is likely one of the more over rated goalies in the NHL because some (or most) consider him elite.  It’ll be interesting to see where he ends up this summer as a UFA and how that team performs next year.  Could Vokoun be another goalie failure in Philadelphia?  Could happen.

May 042011

I am going to combine the Vezina and Hart trophy discussion into one post because the Vezina discussion is going to be fairly short because I actually agree with the nominees.

The three nominees for the Vezina trophy are Roberto Luongo, Tim Thomas and Pekka Rinne.  These are the top 3 goalies in terms of overall save percentage (Thomas first, Rinne second, Luongo third), goals against average (Thomas first, Luongo second and Rinne third) and rank 1, 3 and 4 in my HARD+ 5v5 even strength ratings for goalies with over 2500 5v5 minutes (Thomas first, Rinne third, Luongo fourth).  Incidently, over the past 4 seasons these are the three highest rated goalies for HARD+ for goalies with over 7500 minutes of 5v5 ice time (Thomas first, Luongo second, Rinne third).  These three goalies are probably the top 3 goalies in the NHL today with Thomas leading the pack  Thomas is most deserving of the Vezina trophy this season.

The HART trophy is a little more interesting.  The three nominees are Daniel Sedin, Martin St. Louis and Corey Perry.  Let me address each of these three individually.

Corey Perry – A couple weeks ago I write an article explaining why I didn’t think Corey Perry was as valuable to the Ducks this season as in past seasons.  In short, while Perry put up some great individual numbers and anyone who scores 50 goals in the NHL is doing something right, he accomplished this at the expense of his line mates and his overall team performance.  Of the 116 players with greater than 1000 even strength 5v5 minutes Corey Perry ranked 46th in HARO+ (1.164), 90th in HARD+ (0.852) and just 69th in HART+ (1.008).  Great individual numbers but his teammates performed better when not with him.  Is that indicative of someone deserving the title of “Most Valuable Player”?  I don’t believe so, though I believe there is a great chance he’ll win because he scored 50 goals and put up big numbers down the stretch to help the Ducks make the playoffs.

Martin St. Louis – St. Louis had another great season and I do believe that St. Louis is the most important player for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and has been for many years now.  Overall he ranked 16th in HARO+ (1.335), 36th in HARD+ (1.022) and 14th in HART+ (1.179).  I would not suggest that he is a bad nominee, but there might be better ones.

Daniel Sedin – Of the three nominees, Daniel Sedin is the only one I would consider listing as a top three candidate.  He ranked  a close second (to Nathan Horton) in HARO+ (1.474), ranked 13th in HARD+ (1.135) and ranked fourth in HART+ (1.305).  The only negative against Sedin is that there are many other players who play against better competition.  Sedin’s opposition goals for ratio is just .501 which is well below some others worthy of HART trophy consideration.

Here are a handful of others I would consider worthy of HART trophy consideration:

Jonathan Toews – Toews has the third best HARO+ (1.465), the 17th best HARD+ (1.117) and ranked 5th in HART+ (1.291).  Toews numbers are very close to Daniel Sedin’s but it can be easily argued that Toews played against tougher competition (.509 opposition goals for percentage vs Sedin’s .501) and unlike Sedin, Toews kills penalties too.

David Backes – Backes scored 31 goals and 62 points and led all NHL forwards with a +32 rating (one behidn league leader Chara) and he did this on a weak St. Louis Blues team and like Toews, he also plays when the team is short handed.  If he played with better players his individual stats would likely be much better but because he plays on a weak team his performance largely gets unnoticed.  What is impressive is he accomplished this while having the highest opposition goals for per 20 minutes and goals for percentage.  Backes’ performance puts him 4th in HARO+ (1.449), 9th in HARD+ (1.199) and  second overall in HART+ (1.322).  By all acounts Backes had a great season, even if the goal and point totals don’t quite match the league leaders.

Anze Kopitar – I am not sure if everyone realizes how good of a 2-way player Kopitar is.  He puts up good offensive numbers but he  has also defensively sound and kills penalties.  This past season he ranked 10th in opposition goals for per 20 minutes and ranked 15th in opposition goals for percentage so he is trusted to play against the leagues best players and the results are there to back that up.  This past season Kopitar ranked 5th in HARO+ (1.427), 4th in HARD+ (1.239) and first in HART+ (1.333).

The problem with HART trophy voting is they largely choose players who put up the best individual offensive numbers but in general they neglect to take into account defensive ability and responsibility.  In Toews, Backes and Kopitar we have three quality offensive players who also play solid defensive games against top players in the NHL and are given the responsibility to kill penalties.  The other player I would suggest is worthy of consideration for the HART trophy is Zdeno Chara who was clearly the best defenseman in the NHL this past season as I discussed in yesterdays Norris Trophy post.

So with all that said, I expect that Sedin or Perry will win but my top five HART trophy candidates would be: Daniel Sedin, Jonathan Toews, Zdeno Chara, Anze Kopitar and David Backes and if pushed to make a pick I’d probably choose Sedin ever so slightly over Toews and Chara.

May 032011

Over the next little while I am going to take a look at the major NHL award nominations and toss in my thoughts on who is deserving and who is not.  Let’s start with the Norris Trophy.

The NHL has announced that the three finalists for the Norris Trophy are Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom and Shea Weber.  While all are good defensemen and all had good season, it is my opinion that of the three, only Zdeno Chara is deserving of a nomination.  Before I get into who I think should have been nominated let me discuss why I don’t believe Lidstrom or Weber should have been.

Nicklas Lidstrom – On the positive side, of all defensemen who played 1250 even strength 5v5 minutes Lidstrom had by far the toughest quality of competition.  On average Lidstrom’s opponents had the highest goals for per 20 minutes and the best goals for percentage.  Lidstrom was call on to play big minutes against the oppositions best forwards.  On the down side, he didn’t perform well as he ended up 52nd of 62 in goals against per 20 minutes which resulted in a HARD+ defensive rating that was 46th of 62. In real stats, he had a -2 rating, the first time in his career he has been a minus player (previous low as +7 in 1992-93).  So while Lidstrom produced offensively, his defensive game took a step back this season and as a result I cannot support him as a candidate for the Norris Trophy.

Shea Weber – Like Lidstrom, Weber played some tough minutes against quality competition (8th highest opposition goals for per 20 minutes and 13th highest opposition goals for percentage) but like Lidstrom, he didn’t perform as well in those minutes as I would want from an Norris Trophy nominee as he was 26th in goals against per 20 minutes on a team with a stellar goalie.  The result is a HARD+ rating of 0.955 and an overall HART+ rating of just 0.978 which really is a little lackluster and puts him well behind defense partner Ryan Suter.  Weber’s 4 year HARD+ rating is just .982 and his 4 year HART+ rating is just 0.957 so Weber might actually be one of the more over rated defensemen in the NHL.

I’ll get to Chara in a bit but if I don’t believe Lidstrom and Weber are deserving of being Norris Trophy finalists, who are the two others that I believe should be?  The answer may surprise you.

Drew Doughty – Last season Drew Doughty was a Norris Trophy nominee but lost out to Duncan Keith but I believe he again should be a nominee.  Doughty played against some of the toughest opposition of any NHL defenseman (10th in opposition goals for per 20 minutes and 6th in opposition goals for percentage) but he finished with a HARD+ rating of 1.005 (which is mediocre) but due to his stellar HARO+ rating of 1.265 finished the season with a HART+ rating of 1.135, well above that of Lidstrom and Weber.  Even though Doughty’s defensive ratings are middle of the pack his offensive production was good enough and his quality of competition tough enough that I think he is deserving of Norris trophy consideration, but I don’t believe he should win.

Toni Lydman – I am sure many of you are asking yourselves what kind of drugs I am on to suggest that Lydman is deserving of Norris trophy consideration but hear me out before you jump to any conclusions.  Next to Lidstrom he faced second toughest quality of competition as his opponents ranked second in goals for per 20 minutes and second in goals for percentage.  When Lydman was on the ice his team produced goals at a rate of 1.028 goals per 20 minutes (good for 5th among defensemen with >1250 minutes) and had a goals against per 20 minutes of 0.675 which puts him 13th best and combined he had the 4th best goals for percentage by a defenseman.  The end result is Lydman had the 5th best HARO+, 10th best HARD+ and 4th best HART+ among defensemen.  He also led all NHL defensemen in short handed time on ice.  In my opinion Lydman is a very deserving candidate for the Norris trophy this season.

What is interesting is this isn’t new to Lydman.  He has been a very good defenseman for quite a while now.  Over the past 3 seasons of 59 defensemen with 3500 minutes of 5v5 even strength ice time, Lydman ranks 15th in HARO+, 10th in HARD+, and 8th in HART+.  Lydman was probably one of the best free agent signings from last summer as the Ducks signed him to a very reasonable 3 year, $9M deal.  He is definitely an under rated defenseman.

Zdeno Chara – In my opinion, Chara is most deserving of winning the Norris Trophy this past season.  His opponents had the 9th highest goals for per 20 minutes and the 11th highest goals for percentage so he lined up against some pretty stiff competition.  He ended the season with the lowest goals against while on the ice and the sixth highest goals for while on the ice resulting in by far the best goals for percentage by any defenseman.  When Chara was on the ice in 5v5 even strength situations the Bruins scored a whopping 64.3% of the goals scored.  The result is Chara had a HARO+ rating of 1.232, good for 9th among defensemen, and a HARD+ rating of 1.248, good for second among defensemen which gave him the best HART+ rating at 1.240.

To summarize, my vote for the best defensemen in the NHL this past season goes to Zdeno Chara with Toni Lydman in second and Drew Doughty in third and I’ll toss out a trio of honorable mentions to Christian Ehrhoff who performed very well albeit against weaker competition, John Carlsson who had a stellar rookie season (I’ll discuss him more when I discuss the Calder trophy candidates) and Alex Pietrangelo who is probably a defensemen to watch for as a Norris candidate in future seasons.