Jun 112012
 

Last week I took a look at the crop of 1012 NHL free agent forwards and today I will take a look at the group of free agent defensemen.  As I did with forwards, I will use my HARO+ (offensive), HARD+ (defensive) and HART+ (total/overall) rating system which takes into account on-ice performance, quality of teammates, and quality of opposition.  Generally speaking, a rating over 1.00 is an above average rating and a rating below 1.00 is a below average rating.  By that I mean, if a player had a HARO+ rating of 1.10 it would mean if he played with and against perfectly average players his team would score 10% more goals than the average team.  In this example the player would drive goal scoring to a level 10% above average.  A HARO+ rating of 0.90 would mean the player would drive (or hinder) goal scoring to a level 10% below average.  As usual, my preference is to use 3 year 5v5 zone start adjusted ratings and that is what I will do here.  Let’s first look at the group of defensemen under age 30.

HARO+, or offensive rating, is along horizontal axis and the vertical axis is HARD+, or defensive rating.  Players to the right are good offensive players and players towards the top are good defensive players.  The size of the circle is indicative of the players 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past 3 teams relative to the other players in this table.  Matt Carle is the top offensive player available and is a solid defensive player as well and is quite likely the best defenseman available, though everyone believes he will re-sign in Philadelphia and may already have a deal agreed upon but can’t sign it until July 1st due to salary cap issues.  Ryan Suter doesn’t have the offense of Carle but is a better defensive player and can also play big minutes.  After those two top end big minute defensemen you get a group of lesser minute guys who seem to be quite capable defensively.  These include Lepisto, Garrison, Woywitka, Colaiacovo, O’Brien, and Gilroy.  If Garrison can repeat his offensive season of 2011-12 then he is probably the top defenseman after Suter and Carle and Colaiacovo would be right there as well.  Guys to avoid include Bruno Gervais,  Milan Jurcina, Aaron Johnson, Dylan Reese, and Dennis Wideman.  If you are looking for a guy who can play secondary offensive minutes maybe Shaone Morrisonn is your guy, but don’t expect him to contribute defensively.

Now, let’s take a look at the age 30-34 crowd.

There aren’t really any elite level offensive defensemen in this group but there are a few solid defensive and second tier defensemen.  The guy hidden at the far top right is Kent Huskins who always seems to have good offensive and excellent defensive ratings but never gets the recognition I feel he deserves.  He might be the best ‘unknown’ defenseman in the NHL.  Michal Roszival is a pretty solid 2-way defenseman as well and Sarich, Jackman, White and Zanon are solid defensive contributors.  Brad Stuart would be a decent addition as a 4-5-6 guy but I would probably avoid Hannan, Allen, Foster and Mottau.

Now for the older 35+ crowd.

There are some pretty decent veteran players here.  I have included Lidstrom for reference but as you know he has retired.  Kuba is a solid offensive defenseman but has a lot of holes in his game defensively.  Spacek is probably nearing the end of his career but may still be a useful depth defenseman at the right price.  Kubina isn’t as good defensively but probably has a little more left in the tank.  Bryce Salvador, Willie Mitchell (both still playing in the Stanley Cup finals) and Adrian Aucoin are quality defensive defensemen who can still play a solid shut down role on any team.  Staios, Eaton, Commodore, Gill are definitely in the can no longer contribute category and probably should retire while everyone else might be able to contribute as depth defensemen on a team looking to add some veteran experience.

In the interest of comparing the age groups above, here is the somewhat cluttered chart showing all defensemen colored according to age group.

When all factors are considered, the top unrestricted free agent defensemen are Matt Carle, Ryan Suter, Michal Rozsival, Carlo Colaiacovo and Barrett Jackman while older players such as Willie Mitchell, Adrian Aucoin, Cory Sarich and Bryce Salvador can contribute in defensive roles while Filip Kuba is a solid offensive defenseman but a defensive liability.

May 312012
 

Lidstrom has officially announced his retirement from the NHL ending what was one of the best, if not the best, NHL career by an NHL defenseman, and for that matter one of the best careers of any NHL player.  Bobby Orr may have been a better and more dynamic defenseman in his prime but Lidstrom was the dominant defenseman during his time in the NHL and had the longevity that Bobby Orr never had.  In fact, Lidstrom was still a dominant defenseman in the NHL into his 40’s.  Since I have the data readily available, let’s take a look at Lidstrom’s impact on the Red Wings the past 5 seasons, or ages 37-41.

I believe the best way to evaluate a player is that players impact on his teammates, often called WOWY (with or without you).  Here are Lidstroms teammates WOWY goals for percentage for each player who played 300 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time with Lidstrom over the past 5 seasons.

2011-12

Player Season w/ Lidstrom wo/ Lidstrom w/ – wo/
White 2011-12 62.9% 52.5% 10.4%
Howard 2011-12 60.6% 61.1% -0.5%
Datsyuk 2011-12 67.6% 61.3% 6.3%
Franzen 2011-12 78.8% 55.8% 23.0%
Bertuzzi 2011-12 68.8% 61.1% 7.7%
Zetterberg 2011-12 58.8% 57.5% 1.3%
Filppula 2011-12 54.5% 61.0% -6.5%
Average 2011-12 64.6% 58.6% 6.0%

2010-11

Player Season w/ Lidstrom wo/ Lidstrom w/ – wo/
Howard 2010-11 56.4% 48.4% 8.0%
Stuart 2010-11 53.2% 50.0% 3.2%
Zetterberg 2010-11 50.0% 48.2% 1.8%
Franzen 2010-11 56.7% 54.7% 2.0%
Bertuzzi 2010-11 50.0% 51.5% -1.5%
Datsyuk 2010-11 55.8% 58.1% -2.3%
Holmstrom 2010-11 52.0% 45.7% 6.3%
Average 2010-11 53.4% 50.9% 2.5%

2009-10

Player Season w/ Lidstrom wo/ Lidstrom w/ – wo/
Howard 2009-10 58.3% 47.2% 11.1%
Rafalski 2009-10 57.9% 53.6% 4.3%
Datsyuk 2009-10 63.8% 52.5% 11.3%
Zetterberg 2009-10 55.1% 50.0% 5.1%
Bertuzzi 2009-10 59.0% 39.6% 19.4%
Holmstrom 2009-10 63.3% 50.0% 13.3%
Osgood 2009-10 45.8% 32.5% 13.3%
Cleary 2009-10 51.6% 45.2% 6.4%
Average 2009-10 56.9% 46.3% 10.5%

2008-09

Player Season w/ Lidstrom wo/ Lidstrom w/ – wo/
Rafalski 2008-09 63.5% 50.0% 13.5%
Osgood 2008-09 62.0% 46.4% 15.6%
Datsyuk 2008-09 58.8% 73.3% -14.5%
Conklin 2008-09 61.5% 57.6% 3.9%
Zetterberg 2008-09 55.6% 48.8% 6.8%
Hossa 2008-09 68.4% 66.7% 1.7%
Cleary 2008-09 48.4% 45.0% 3.4%
Franzen 2008-09 73.7% 60.4% 13.3%
Average 2008-09 61.5% 56.0% 5.5%

2007-08

Player Season w/ Lidstrom wo/ Lidstrom w/ – wo/
Rafalski 2007-08 69.6% 50.0% 19.6%
Datsyuk 2007-08 77.6% 58.5% 19.1%
Osgood 2007-08 72.2% 48.6% 23.6%
Zetterberg 2007-08 69.8% 58.3% 11.5%
Hasek 2007-08 73.0% 58.3% 14.7%
Holmstrom 2007-08 78.1% 48.3% 29.8%
Average 2007-08 73.4% 53.7% 19.7%

As you can see, almost every player Lidstrom has played significant minutes with over the past 5 seasons had better results when Lidstrom was on the ice with them than when he wasn’t.  Of the 36 player seasons listed above, only 5 times did a player peform better without Lidstrom than with and only twice could you call the difference substantial (Filppula’s 6.5% in 2011-12 and Datsyuk’s 14.5% in 2008-09).  To me that is a sign of greatness, especially considering a lot of the players Lidstrom plays with are great players in their own right.

Regular readers of HockeyAnalysis.com are probably aware of my rating system that takes into account on-ice results, quality of teammates and quality of competition and takes into account all of the information shown in the tables above.  My ratings are HARO+ for offensive rating, HARD+ for defensive rating and HART+ for total overall rating.  Here are Lidstrom’s ratings over the past 5 seasons.

Season HARO+ HARD+ HART+
2011-12 1.060 1.097 1.079
2010-11 1.198 0.896 1.047
2009-10 1.157 1.014 1.086
2008-09 1.145 1.205 1.175
2007-08 1.397 1.474 1.435

Lidstrom’s 2007-08 season was truly a remarkable season.  Anything better than 1.00 is very good and above average but to have both offensive and defensive ratings in the 1.400 range or higher is truly remarkable and he deservedly earned the Norris Trophy for top defenseman in the NHL that year.  He hasn’t matched his 2007-08 season since but his numbers have still been quite good and remarkably consistent for an aging NHL player, save for his defensive rating in 2010-11.  Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy in 2010-11 but I did not believe he deserved it as there were more deserving defensemen (specifically, Zdeno Chara).  But regardless, Lidstrom has been and still is a top tier defenseman.

Over the past 4 seasons there have been 68 defensemen to play 4000+ minutes of zone start adjusted 5v5 ice time.  Of those defensemen Lidstrom ranks 9th in HARO+13th in HARD+ and 4th in HART+.  The only defensemen more valuable overall over the past 4 seasons are Chara (excellent offensive and defensive play), Willie Mitchell (excellent defensive play which we are clearly seeing these playoffs) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (excellent defensive ability, good offensive play).  Of the 68 defensemen there are only 6 defensemen who have both a HARO+ and a HARD+ rating above 1.00 and Lidstrom is one of them (Chara, Matt Carle, Christian Ehrhoff, Toni Lydman, and Keith Yandle are the others).  Having both top end offensive ability and top end defensive ability is what makes Lidstrom so great, and this is just looking at his years at the end of his career.  Statistics from his prime years are probably ridiculously good.

The big question is how will the Red Wings possibly replace Lidstrom.  Everyone is pointing to Ryan Suter who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and there is little doubt that the Red Wings will show some serious interest.  So how does Suter stack up against Lidstrom?  Let’s look at his ratings over the past 5 seasons.

Season HARO+ HARD+ HART+
2011-12 1.012 1.080 1.046
2010-11 1.004 1.271 1.137
2009-10 1.084 0.955 1.020
2008-09 0.860 0.914 0.887
2007-08 1.041 0.991 1.016

Suter had a poor 2008-09 season but otherwise has been very good as well with ratings quite close to Lidstrom’s but probably a small step back.  Of the 68 defensemen discussed above, Suter ranks 30th in HART+ over the past 4 seasons but that was dragged down by his poor 2008-09.  Over the past 3 seasons he ranks 20th (to Lidstrom’s 16th) in HART+ among defensemen with 3000 minutes of zone start adjusted 5v5 ice time with Lidstrom being the better offensive defenseman and Suter being the better defensive defenseman.  All said, Suter would be a quality replacement for Lidstrom but I would expect the Red Wings offense to take a bit of a hit with Lidstrom not being in the line up.