Over on Pension Plan Puppets there was a brief discussion of some of the top defensive defensemen and I suggested that Mike Weaver has to be considered among the top few defenders in the NHL. The response was generally along the lines of ‘Mike who?’ and then followed with “he only looks good because he plays in front of Vokoun who may be the best goalie in the NHL.” My thoughts on Vokoun being over rated aside, the numbers really do support Weaver as being a premiere level defensive defenseman. Let’s look at some Mike Weaver numbers.
Over the past 4 seasons Mike Weaver played one season in Vancouver, 2 seasons in St. Louis and last season he was in Florida. During that time there have been 173 defensemen who have played >1500 5v5 close (within 1 goal in first or second period or tied in third period) minutes and of those 173 defensemen Weaver ranks fourth in on ice goals against per 20 minutes of ice time. He only trails Bryce Salvador, Sean O’Donnell and Paul Martin (3 other under rated defenders IMO). Ranking 4th is a pretty good argument for why he is a great defender. So what about the typical excuses for why he might rank so highly?
1. Goalies make him look good. Not really. In the past 4 years he has played 2455:08 minutes of 5v5close ice time, 798:24 (32.5%) in front of Chris Mason, 587:45 (23.9%) in front of Vokoun, 390:58 (15.9%) in front of Luongo, 297:47 (12.1%) in front of Clemmensen, 185:04 (7.5%) in front of Conklin and some time in front of a few other lesser goalies. At best you can argue he has played 45% of his time behind premiere level goalies (Vokoun and Luongo) with the remaining 55% behind second tier starters (Mason) or third tier starters and backups (Conklin, Clemmensen, etc). In his year in Vancouver, the Canucks ranked a solid 7th in team goals against average but his 2 years in St. Louis the Blues ranked 12th and 11th and last year the Panthers ranked 14th so while he hasn’t played on any bad defensive teams he hasn’t played on any elite defensive teams either. It’s difficult to make the case he has had an unusually significant benefit from playing in front of elite goalies or on elite defensive teams.
2. He Plays Easy Minutes. Not really. Over the past 4 seasons he ranks 45th of 173 defensemen with 34.1% of his face offs in the defensive zone and last season he started 36.9% of the time in the defensive zone or 21st highest of 157 defensemen with 500 5v5close minutes. Over the past 4 seasons his opposition goals for per 20 minutes ranks 31st of 173 defensemen so he is seemingly playing against quality offensive forwards. Last season the forwards he played most against were Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble, St. Louis, and Stamkos so yeah, that’s pretty good competition. Over the past 2 seasons only Chris Phillips and Jay Bouwmeester have played more time on the 4v5 penalty kill than Weaver. He is trusted playing tough minutes against top competition so the easy minutes argument is not valid.
While we are at it, Mike Weaver is another example why I do not like corsi/fenwick stats. While Weaver has the 4th best on-ice 5v5close goals against per 20 minutes, he ranks a far less impressive (though still a little above average) 47th in fenwick against per 20 minutes. The main reason why Weaver is so good defensively is he suppresses shot quality really well. He ranks 3rd in shooting percentage against (or save percentage) while he is on the ice and he has been consistently above average over the past 4 seasons (6th of 176 in 2007-08, 63rd of 147 in 2008-09, 13th of 154 in 2009-10 and 22nd of 157 in 2010-11). Three of the past 4 seasons he has been a top 25 defenseman in terms of shooting percentage against and the fourth and worst season he was still in the top half. Sorry, but there is no ‘regressing to the mean’ there.
Mike Weaver is a premiere, and vastly under rated and under paid ($900,000), defensive defenseman.