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.

2010-11 GA20 TMGA20 OppGF20 ExpGA20 GA20-ExpGA20
Tomas Kaberle 0.638 0.843 0.756 0.800 -0.162
Keith Aulie 0.745 0.845 0.780 0.813 -0.068
Dion Phaneuf 0.783 0.846 0.786 0.816 -0.033
Carl Gunnarsson 0.838 0.831 0.741 0.786 0.052
Luke Schenn 0.838 0.785 0.753 0.769 0.069
Francois Beauchemin 0.884 0.792 0.759 0.776 0.109
Mike Komisarek 0.994 0.782 0.740 0.761 0.233

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.

Season(s) GA20 Rank OppGF20 Rank HARD+ Rank CorHARD+ Rank
2010-11 0.838 122/163 0.753 94/163 0.888 121/163 0.922 142/163
2009-10 0.930 145/169 0.744 152/169 0.846 140/169 0.929 142/169
2008-09 0.971 152/159 0.774 44/159 0.818 143/159 0.870 156/159
2009-11 (2yr) 0.876 138/157 0.753 128/157 0.880 138/157 0.922 146/157
2008-11 (3yr) 0.907 161/169 0.762 123/169 0.868 154/169 0.930 160/169

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.)

This article has 22 Comments

  1. I find this odd… you’re actually arguing that Beauchemin and Komisarek were the worst “shut down” D Men on the Leafs last year?

    This despite the fact that you’re ignoring goaltending effects? Obviously they didn’t all play equal time in front of the same goalie. Also, using expected goals for from the opposition sort of ignores goaltending also.

    What I get from your stats is that the D men are horribly dependent on goaltending. Phaneuf played fewer games in front of Gustavsson and Giguere due to injury, but played every game Reimer was in goal for. Aulie was on the Marlies for most of the first half of the year, then he went and got called up to play in front of Reimer. Kaberle was traded to Boston who had the best goalie in the NHL. Beauchemin went to Anaheim who lost Hiller to Vertigo. Schenn, Komisarek, Gunnarsson, and Lebda were the only guys to be there for most of the year, and of that group Schenn was the only one to play regularly.

    In the end I think this all skews your data set horribly.

    1. For instance, at 5v5 here are the D men above’s SV% values:

      Aulie: .938
      Phaneuf: .921
      Gunnarsson: .917
      Schenn: .915
      Komisarek: .912

      Beauchemin: .902
      Kaberle: .931

      If that doesn’t show up in your stats I’m not sure what does. Also I understand that the argument can be raised that defensemen influence SV%, but there isn’t a lot of data that I’m aware of to indicate they do particularly.

      1. That’s where we differ. I believe players can influence save percentage. Just compare Tyler Kennedy’s on ice opposition shooting percentage (6.60%) or Jordan Staal’s (7.43%) to Malkin’s (9.54%) or even Crosby’s (8.87%) over the past 3 seasons. I think you’d be hard pressed to blame all that on the goalie. Or Lidstrom’s (7.94%) to Ericsson’s (9.73%) over the past 2 seasons and I am pretty sure Lidstrom played against far better competition.

        1. You’re inferring based on an observed result that they impact the stat.

          Schenn’s TMSV% was .910 in 2009-10, and .907 in 2008-09. So it’s improving “slowly” to say the least.

          Kulemin’s TMSV% was .881 in 2008-09, .909 in 2009-10, and .917 in 2010-11… I think that has a lot more to do with Reimer than anyone else on the ice.

          Saying Kulemin somehow makes the SV% 3.6% better from one year to the next is a pretty huge jump isn’t it?

          1. Oh and, if the goaltending isn’t the issue… then how does one explain the huge increase in SV% when Reimer went in versus what they were getting from Gustavsson? Obviously the goalie is the most important piece of the equation.

          2. Remember, with just one season of data there will be significant luck-induced variation due to small sample size, but even with those luck related issues goal based analysis is as good at predicting future goal production as corsi because, well, corsi just isn’t very good. With one year, neither are all that good. Multiple seasons are definitely better.

            “Oh and, if the goaltending isn’t the issue… then how does one explain the huge increase in SV% when Reimer went in versus what they were getting from Gustavsson? Obviously the goalie is the most important piece of the equation.”

            Could be a lot of things, but with under half a season, luck might be a significant factor. That is why I still have serious worries about the Leafs goaltending entering 2011-12. The sample size is just too small to really know how good Reimer is.

        2. No one is arguing that players don’t have an influence on save percentage. The real problem with your analysis is that the players did not play in front of the same goalies for the same number of games. For example, pretend Gustavsson is a 10-year old peewee goalie who lets in 50 goals each game he plays. Is it really fair to say Schenn is a worse defender just because he played 30 games in front of a 10-year old goalie and had more goals against, compared to Phaneuf who may have played only 10 games in front of this 10-year old goalie?

          You need to take that into account if you are going to rely on stats like goals against or +/-. (compared that to corsi which is only based on shots and less prone to skewing by differential goaltending)

      1. no I suppose you aren’t “ignoring” them by “including” them in the stat. My point is you have no way of normalizing to isolate the D man independent of the goalkeeping.

        I’m not sure it makes sense that Schenn’s team mate’s GA/20 would be lower than that of Phaneuf or Kaberle…

        They didn’t all play in front of the same goalies for the same amount of time. I fail to see how “averaging” TMGA20 and OppGF20 would give you an expected level of production. Like if you combine the two you’ll suddenly arrive at what they SHOULD produce? That’s a stretch to me.

        1. no I suppose you aren’t “ignoring” them by “including” them in the stat. My point is you have no way of normalizing to isolate the D man independent of the goalkeeping.

          It isn’t easy. In fact, that might be the toughest question in hockey statistical analysis. But, I think my method works reasonable well. I look at every single pair of players and see how they perform with and without each other. I look at how Reimer plays with Schenn and when not with Schenn. I look at how Reimer plays with and without each of the other defensemen and forwards. I then look at how Schenn plays with and without each and every one of his teammates including the goalies. I also look at competition so I look at how Schenn performs when he is on the ice with a player on another team and vice versa. Every player gets their play analyzed every teammate and their stats are compared when they are on the ice together and when they are not on the ice together. Every player and every one of his opponents get their stats compared when they are playing against each other and when they are not playing against each other. There are literally hundreds of thousands of points of comparison, if not a million+ across the league. From that I calculate the TMGF20, TMGA20, OPPGF20 and OPPGA20 stats. I then plug everything into an iterative process and let it all settle out to a point of equilibrium. The end results are HARO+, HARD+ and HART+. In all honesty, I think it works out well.

          “I’m not sure it makes sense that Schenn’s team mate’s GA/20 would be lower than that of Phaneuf or Kaberle…”

          When I calculate Schenn’s teammates stats I calculate them using his teammates stats when he isn’t playing with Schenn. I do this so a players good or bad play won’t influence his quality of teammate rating. By that I mean if a player is really bad he’ll drag down his teammates stats which would then lower his teammate stats. This isn’t right so I only consider teammate performance when not playing together.

          This means Phaneuf’s ratings used in calculating Kaberle’s TMGA20 will be different than Phaneuf’s ratings used in calculating Schenn’s TMGA20 ratings.

          So, what you are seeing is Schenn’s normal on-ice partners (including forwards and goalies) performed much better without Schenn than with Schenn.

          1. David, earlier yesterday you were referencing a Tom Awad article to account for Shooter Skill as a large component of offensive production.

            In that same article he points out that Forwards have virtually no impact on TM SV%, and if you look at his charts that’s obvious. He then also states that Vic Ferrari has done work that comes to a very similar conclusion for Defensemen.

            If the same people who are arguing that players can influence offense heavily are saying that they can’t prevent goals significantly, what about their analysis changes for you?

          2. If you’re looking for specific discussion of the point, it comes up in the discussion of PDO. Offensive numbers tend to coalesce around “player skill” so shooting percentages are higher for skilled players. Defensively though (SH% against) the players don’t vary in the same fashion… they all fall around 8.1% on average… that doesn’t indicate some players can control play defensively while others can’t.

            Here’s a link to Vic’s piece on the matter:


            It just doesn’t look like D men influence Save Percentage in a significant enough fashion based on that work to argue that Luke Schenn is a particularly bad D man because of the goals scored against him.

            His results are mainly driven by poor goaltending.

          3. ok well, here’s the statement that to me sums up Schenn’s results:

            The ability of defensemen to affect shot quality against does exist in the population, but it is so small that we will never be able to sensibly apply it to any player in particular. And a paradox is created, the type of defensemen who are helping the goalie save percentage a bit (presumably because they make fewer mistakes of the spectacularly bad variety) are, as a group, seeing slightly worse save percentages behind them, because they are the guys the coaches are leaning on to play tougher opposition. And the guys who have talent but are guilty of the occasional egregious error … as a group, they do a whisker better than average by 5v5 save percentage score. This is presumably because their coaches have the good sense not to play them much against Malkin, Kovalchuk and Heatley types.”

            So Schenn’s lower SV% probably has more to do with a combination of his competition and the shitty goaltending he was playing in front of.

          4. Ok well I think you’re contradicting your own statements with this posting then because here’s what you had to say on the subject of D men:

            “Furthermore, generally speaking, individual players can’t influence team defense. Now this isn’t to say that some defensemen can’t influence offense or some players can’t influence team defense, but the majority of them can’t. The majority of them are are mostly indistinguishable from each other and have stats that are more a circumstance of who they play with and against.”

            “Team Defense: Generally speaking, defense is more of a team thing than an individual thing. Few individual players have a significant impact, positively or negatively, on the defensive side of the game.”

            You say they CAN impact, but your own numbers don’t show it in a significant fashion, which begs the question of what leads you to the assertion you’re now making about Schenn.

            If you can’t use previous years as a predictor of future years, and you can’t assume his numbers are a result of his play, then what are you left with to stand on?

          5. One thing you have to be careful about, and I am not sure if the studies you referenced took into account, but good defensemen play well against good forwards so an 8.1 shooting percentage against for a defensive player is really not the same as an 8.1 shooting percentage for an offensive player who play against defensive specialists who have bad shooting percentages.

          6. You are parsing words incorrectly. Look at the chart. Clearly there are players with lower save percentages and others with higher save percentages. It isn’t that there aren’t players that can drive save percentage, there just aren’t as many of them that can do it in a significant way or to the same degree as a forward can drive offense.

            But again, that conclusion was drawn without considering quality of opposition so the effects are probably greater than we are seeing.

  2. Stats can only be used to a certain extent and I’d say the line ends far before judging defensive defencemen. You’re on chart has Tomas Kaberle of all people being the best defensive defenceman on the team… really? Watching the game, understanding the game and knowing the players is how to judge them, not finding skewed stats which you can manipulate to fit whatever argument you want to make and trying to call it fact.

    1. So we shouldn’t judge defensive defensemen by how many goals are scored against while he is on the ice? Isn’t that like not judging goalies by how many goals they allow?

      1. To a certain extent sure. But that’s also like judging a first place team with a last place team and claiming the first place team’s goalie is better because he had a lower GAA. It’s all relative

  3. I would say that Schenn is shaping into a shut down d-man but true that he is not there yet..sure he was among the top in hits and blocked shots but the giveaways the first 30+ games did not help either. Another thing to take into consideration is who was in nets..people complained about Riemer leaving rebounds at first, until they realized where those rebounds were going..right on the TO d-mens sticks most of the time and if not he pounced on it..Giggy didn’t seem to have that and for schenn to be on the ice the most during that time phaneuf was out hurt his stats because our goaltending was not that great..

  4. Finally a REALISTIC analysis of Schenn. Well done. I’m so tired of reading all the praising from the Hotstove rose colored contingent. And i’m a huge Leaf fan at that. But i don’t have blind faith either. Scheen is a great checker, good shot blocker…and so far, that’s it. He is only 21, and i cut him some slack of course. BUT, where he should have developed basic fundamentals as a D, he is lacking. His pinch and pivot at the Off blueline is atrocious. Who doesn’t see that every game seriously? And on numerous occasions i’ve seen him have a step in his own end on the checking forward, then lose the battle to the puck…then not only fail to tie him up against the boards, but have him slide off and step into the slot. That’s simple fundamental hockey stuff there many of us learned from our minor hockey coaches for anyone who’s played somewhat competitive hockey. Everyone here will hate this of course and defend Schenn to their death, but common, look at what goes on in a game, and you’ll see. Why do you think Schenn is never paired with Phaneuf? Cause they’re similar type players who aren’t as responsible in their own end…therefore, they’re paired with responsible guys. Like Aulie and Gunner. All that said, i really hope to see him develop properly and not have too much mentioned in the article

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