Is Luke Schenn really a top shutdown defenseman?
So I woke up this morning and started reading the usual morning news and blogs and one of the first ones I happened to read was an article at Maple Leafs Hot Stove on the Luke Schenn contract negotiations. One comment early in the post really caught my attention.
While he may not be an offensive machine (I believe there is still some upside there), at 23, he has blossomed into one of the leagues best shutdown defensemen.
First off, Schenn is 21 not 23 but what really caught my attention is the assertion that he is one of the leagues best shutdown defensemen. This isn’t an uncommon sentiment regarding Schenn, especially among Leaf fans. There are a lot of people who believe Schenn has developed into a superior shut down defenseman, or at the very minimum is on track to becoming one. The thing is, the stats don’t back that up.
The above table shows the most used defensemen for the Leafs last season. Numbers are for 5v5 ice time. GA20 is the players on ice goals against per 20 minutes. TMGA20 is a defensive quality of teammates measure in goals against per 20 minutes. OppGF20 is an offenwive quality of opponent measure in goals for per 20 minutes. ExpGA20 is an expected goals against average based on quality of teammates and quality of opponents and is simply an average of TMGA20 and OppGF20. The final column is GA20-ExpGA20 which tells us whether fewer or more goals were scored against than expected when the player was on the ice so negative values are better than positive values. Note: Kaberle and Beauchemin’s stats include their time with Boston and Anaheim respectively.
What it all means is Schenn was far from a good shutdown defenseman last year. His defensive numbers are actually quite poor. He didn’t play against especially tough opposition (especially compared to Phaneuf and Aulie) and had a very poor GA20. Overall one could say he was a weak defensive defenseman. Based on the numbers above, only Beauchemin and Komisarek were worse. So how does he stack up against the rest of the leagues defensemen? Lets take a look.
The above table shows how Schenn compares to the rest of the defensemen in the league at 5v5 even strength ice time. GA20 and OppGF20 are the same as above. HARD+ is a composite defensive ranking that takes into account the players GF20 as well as defensive quality of teammates (TMGA20) and offensive quality of opponents (OppGA20). CorHARD+ is similar to HARD+ but instead of using goal data to calculate it uses corsi data. Personally I think this is somewhat meaningless but this is for those out there who put stock in corsi based stats.
As you can see, his 5v5 even strength defensive numbers range from bad to horrible, his quality of opponent is mediocre at best, his HARD+ rankings are quite poor, and his CorHARD+ rankings are even worse. IT is really tough to find a compelling argument that Schenn is even an average defensive defenseman let alone one of the best shut down defensemen in the NHL.
His 4v5 PK numbers are even worse. Of the 87 defensemen with 400 4v5 PK minutes over the past 3 seasons, Schenn has the highest (by a decent margin too) goals against per 20 minutes on the PK. His 4v5 PK HARD+ rating is also the worst at 0.652 which is pretty atrocious. His PK corsi numbers aren’t quite as bad, but are still below average (67th of 87 in corsi against per 20 minutes).
All in all it is really difficult to suggest that Schenn is even an average defensive defenseman. He is certainly not among the leagues best shut down defenseman.
Now, with all that said, I am all for signing Schenn to a new 3 or 4 year contract in the $3-3.5M range. He is a physical defenseman who blocks shots (as noted by the Maple Leaf Hot Stove article) and gives a good effort all the time. It could be that he is just a little over zealous with the hits and blocked shots that he gets out of position a bit too often and just needs to learn when to take chances going for the hit or blocked shot.
Part of the problem is also that he was rushed to the NHL and put in a high pressure situation with a lot of expectations placed on him so we was never really given an opportunity to really learn the craft. I really hope that with the addition of Liles and Franson and the further development of Aulie and Gunnarsson that some of the pressure comes off Schenn and he can take a bit of a step back and really learn the details of playing defense (maybe some new assistant coaches will help too). Some good goaltending and team success will take some pressure off him as well.
Finally, as fans, I really hope we stop putting pressure on him to be one of the best shutdown defensemen today and one of the faces of the franchise and we begin to view him for what he really is: a young 21 year old defenseman with lots of ability and drive but with lots still to learn. There really haven’t ever been many elite shut down defensemen at 21 years of age so we should stop expecting him to be that now and instead hope he can be that a year or three from now.
(Final note: Strangely enough, Schenn’s on ice offensive numbers are actually reasonably good. His 3 year on ice GF20 is 0.833 which ranks 44th of 169 defensemen and his HARO+ is 1.030 which is good for 42nd. His 2 year numbers are even better.)