Oct 302012
 

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.

  1. Brandon Sutter
  2. Samuel Pahlsson
  3. Mikko Koivu
  4. Frans Nielsen
  5. Travis Zajac
  6. Martin Hanzal
  7. Mike Richards
  8. Brooks Laich
  9. Jordan Staal
  10. 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?

 

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.