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?

 

Jun 232012
 

The Pittsburgh Penguins made the biggest noise at the NHL entry draft yesterday trading Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for Brandon Sutter, the 8th overall pick which they used to draft defenseman Derrick Pouliot and defense prospect Brian Dumoulin.

Essentially this trade comes down to the Penguins trading their 3rd line center Jordan Staal, who wants to be a first or second line center and would leave as a UFA next summer to do so, for Carolina’s 3rd line center Brandon Sutter and a pair of promising defense prospects.  So, how do Jordan Staal and Brandon Sutter compare as 3rd line centers?

Offense

Sutter Staal
GF20 0.703 0.900
TMGF20 0.772 0.857
OPPGA20 0.799 0.802
HARO+ 0.876 1.081

In the above table GF20 stands for goals for per 20 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past 3 seasons, TMGF20 is the GF20 of the players team/line mates, OPPGA20 is the oppositions goals against per 20 minutes of ice time and HARO+ is my offensive rating which takes into account GF20, TMGF20 and OPPGA20.

So, even though Staal plays with better offensive teammates than Sutter does, he still manages to make them even better offensive players when they are playing with him.  Brandon Sutter on the other hand plays with significantly weaker offensive players and they become even weaker when playing with Sutter.  The end result is Staal comes out looking like a good, above average offensive player while Brandon Sutter is a fairly weak offensive player.

Defense

Sutter Staal
GA20 0.644 0.692
TMGA20 0.898 0.803
OPPGF20 0.814 0.802
HARD+ 1.223 1.120

The above table is similar to the one in under offense except it measures defensive ability by looking at the players GA20, the players teammates GA20 and the opposition players GF20 and HARD+ is my all inclusive defensive rating.

Both players come out looking like good defensive players, but the edge clearly goes to Sutter.  He plays with weaker defensive teammates, against stronger offensive competition and despite that produces a lower GA20.  In fact, evidence suggest that Brandon Sutter is one of the best defensvie forwards in the NHL.  Over the past 3 seasons he ranks 7th in GA20 and 6th in HARD+ among the 221 forwards with with 2000 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time. This compares to Staal who ranks 91st and 86th in GA20 and HARD+.

Overall

Sutter Staal
GF% 52.2% 55.2%
TMGF% 46.2% 52.0%
OPPGF% 50.5% 50.3%
HART+ 1.050 1.074

The above table is similar to the previous two but is an overall look at the players performance.  This is done by looking at the goals for percentage (GF% = GF / [GF + GA]) for the player, his teammates, and his opponents.  Overall, Sutter has moderately worse results, but plays with significant weaker teammates and against marginally superior opponents.  In the end Jordan Staal is the better player due to his offensive abilities but Brandon Sutter might be the better fit for the Penguins since with Crosby and Malkin already centering the top 2 lines the Penguins couldn’t fully utilize Staal’s offensive abilities.  Pittsburgh’s projected line of Brandon Sutter, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke may well be the best defensive line in the NHL and the 3 of them will have a combined cap hit about the same as the $6M/yr that the Penguins were prepared to give to Staal on a long term 10 year contract.  The money they save with Staal (and the trade of Zbynek Michalek) will allow them to address other more important needs such as improving on the wing (Parise?) or adding another top flight defensvie defenseman (Suter?).

From the Hurricanes point of view, the combination of Eric Staal and Jordan Staal now give them a very strong #1/#2 tandem down the middle which is one of the keys to being a successful team.  They will need to find themselves a defensive third line center now, but those guys are far easier to find than 2-way second line centers.  This is one of those deals that worked out really well for both sides, but on the whole, I think Pittsburgh did really resolving a difficult situation in a quick and efficient way.