Identifying the top defensive centers in the NHL
Offensive players generally get all of the attention but defensive players are often just as valuable to a team. Ask any NHL fan who the top offensive centers in the league are and they will quickly ramble off a few names from Crosby to Stamkos to Getzlaf to Malkin, etc. Ask a fan to list the top defensive centers and the task becomes a little more difficult. So, I decided to look into defensive centers a little further.
What makes a valuable defensive center? Well, they should play against tough competition, they should give up fewer goals than expected, and they should be trusted to play a lot on the penalty kill. So, with that in mind, I decided to set the following parameters in my defensive center search.
1. I limited myself to players who have played >2000 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past three seasons.
2. I only considered players who had an average opposition goals for per 20 minutes of ice time above 0.800 (i.e. only consider players who played against tough offensive opponents, must have OppGF20>0.800).
3. I then eliminated all forwards with a goals against per 20 minutes of ice time >0.800 (i.e. eliminate players who didn’t get good defensive results, must have GA20<0.800).
4. I then took each players on ice goals against rate and divided it by his line mates goals against rate to ensure that they are performing better than their line mates and make their line mates better defensively (GA20/TMGA20 < 1.00).
5. I then eliminated any players who didn’t have >300 minutes of 4v5 PK ice time over the past 3 seasons.
After doing this I got the following list of players sorted by GA20/TMGA20, or in English sorted by how much better defensively they were than their line mates.
- Brandon Sutter
- Samuel Pahlsson
- Mikko Koivu
- Frans Nielsen
- Travis Zajac
- Martin Hanzal
- Mike Richards
- Brooks Laich
- Jordan Staal
- Joe Pavelski
Honorable Mentions: Logan Couture, Pavel Datsyuk, Mikhail Grabovski and Alexander Steen missed the cut due to not having enough PK minutes. Couture would have been slotted second behind Sutter, Datsyuk between Pahlsson and Koivu, and Grabovski and Steen immediately after Hanzal. Plekanec, Kopitar, Bergeron and Legwand met the PK ice time criteria and would come in after Pavelski except that their line mates had a better GA20 when not playing with them so they were cut from the list.
All in all I am pretty happy with the defensive forward list above. They all make sense and the only real surprise on the list might be Frans Nielsen but that is mostly because I don’t pay attention to he Islanders (who does really?) and this haven’t really paid much attention to him. For a player on the lowly Islanders to meet these criteria it probably means he is a pretty good defensive player.
It is interesting to see Sutter and Jordan Staal both make this list as they were traded for each other this past summer. When I compared these two players after the trade when down I suggested that Sutter is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL and this certainly backs that up.
What do you think? Am I missing someone from this list of elite defensive centers?