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?


Dec 152011

Yesterday I took a look at the Leafs players on the PK to see who has seen good result and who has seen bad results when they have been on the ice.  Today I do the same thing but look at 5v5 situations from the defensive side of things to see if there is any consistency between 5v5 and the PK.

The Goalies

Player Name GAA SV%
JAMES REIMER 1.41 94.6%
BEN SCRIVENS 2.82 90.6%

Interestingly, this is the exact opposite as we saw on the PK where Reimer had the worst save percentage and Scrivens had the highest.  We should have more confidence in these numbers so it is quite possible that Reimer’s poor results are primarily luck driven.  The question is, how much can he improve it?  Last year on the PK Reimer had an 85.6% save percentage which while is much better than this seasons 77.3% still is not good.  He ranked 34th of 40 goalies last season on the PK while he was 6th of 48 at 5v5.  Last year Reimer had a 93.3% 5v5 save percentage so he is actually better this season at 5v5.  Is it sustainable?  Time will tell.

The Defensemen

Player Name GAA FenA20
DION PHANEUF 2.40 12.11
CODY FRANSON 2.37 12.51
KEITH AULIE 4.50 12.74
JAKE GARDINER 1.86 14.82
LUKE SCHENN 2.19 16.63

For those regular readers, I believe players can drive shooting percentages (especially) and suppress oppositions shooting percentages (less so) but we are below the threshold of where small sample size issues outweigh the benefits of doing a goal analysis over a fenwick/corsi analysis.  So, when ranking players defensively we should focus on fenwick (for now).

Ughhh.  While Schenn’s GAA isn’t the worst (it’s actually pretty good relative to his teammates) his fenwick against is awful.  Significantly worse than his teammates.  While Schenn has had a slight bias towards defensive zone faceoffs it isn’t enough so to justify this difference in fenwick against.  Liles, Franson and Komisarek had a higher percentage of defensive zone faceoffs and had better results.  Taking it to a league level, of the 166 defensemen with 250 minutes of 5v5 ice time this season Schenn ranks second last in fenwick against per 20 minutes.  Only Derek Morris of Phoenix is worse.  In the summer I wrote an article about how poor Schenn is defensively and there isn’t a lot in the numbers above to change my opinion any.

Phaneuf, Gunnarsson and Gardiner were the primary offensive zone players which explains in part why Phaneuf and Gunnarsson lead the list but also show that Gardiner still struggles defensively as is often the case with a rookie.  Hopefully, unlike Schenn, he’ll improve with experience.

The Forwards

Player Name GA20 FenA20
MIKE BROWN 1.62 10.36
DAVID STECKEL 2.13 11.02
NAZEM KADRI 3.54 11.78
JAY ROSEHILL 1.41 12.02
JOEY CRABB 2.64 13.32
TIM CONNOLLY 1.62 13.53
JOE COLBORNE 2.79 14.43
PHIL KESSEL 2.46 15.47
JOFFREY LUPUL 2.82 16.47
TYLER BOZAK 2.82 16.57
COLTON ORR 0 20.38

Kessel, Lupul, Bozak – score a lot of goals, give up a lot of goals.  The three of them have very high fenwick against relative to their teammates.  This isn’t unsual for offensive players (high risk, high reward), but the best players in the league find a way to accomplish both offense and defense (i.e. Datsyuk).  The second line of Grabovski, MacArthur and Kulemin seem much more defensively responsible, but surprisingly they have a higher percentage of offensive zone starts than the Kessel line so they should have better numbers, but maybe not to the extent they do.  Brown, Steckel and Dupuis do seem like pretty solid defensive players 5v5.  Those fenwick against numbers for those three are quite good relative to the rest of the team, and the rest of the league.

Overall the Leafs are a decent enough defensive team at 5v5.  Especially once you look past the Kessel-Lupul-Bozak line up front and Schenn (and to a lesser extent Gardiner) on defense.  For some strange reason though, that hasn’t translated very well to the PK.  Why they suck so bad on the PK is pretty dumbfounding.