Saturday, December 16, 2006

Defender on the rise

Heading into today's games, three defencemen led their teams in scoring. Bryan McCabe and Nicklas Lidstrom are the first two, but the third might surprise you.


At 1:47 AM, December 17, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I posted my comment over at the Globe & Mail site, since I know you've been wanting things to pick up over there. It just needs to be approved. The short version is that I'm still skeptical of the idea that defensemen as a group, rather than a few individuals, peak in their thirties.

At 4:24 PM, December 17, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I'm not even really saying I subscribe to that belief because, honestly, I don't know if there's any truth to that old standby. Which is why I phrased it by saying, in effect, "you know how we always hear defencemen peak later in their careers? Well, if that's true, here's a good example of a guy who would fit that mould."

At least that's the way I would have liked to have said it. I'm really not trying to prove an old adage by pointing to one player having a good 30-game stretch. That'd be silly.

At 6:30 PM, December 17, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I realize that you weren't saying that you believe it. Sorry if I implied that I did. I just figured that it was the place that I was interested in seeing the conversation go.

At 6:35 PM, December 17, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Yea — you're right: It would be worthwhile to see if that's the case or not. Perhaps you could even just look at Norris Trophy winners and determine if age plays a factor?

At 11:41 PM, December 17, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

The problem is that I don't trust Norris Trophy awards. Some of this stems from being plugged in to baseball research, where the post-season awards are a pretty weak joke; Justin Morneau was the third most valuable player on his team (behind Mauer and Santana), not the first most valuable player in the AL.

I think that this would be particularly true of the Norris. My position isn't that they are necessarily wrong. My position is that no one has any idea whether the right player is chosen every year. As far as I know, work on trying to assess the overall value of hockey players is almost non-existent. The folks at have been giving it their best effort, but it's a fiendishly difficult problem to solve.

All we have to go on right now is gut instinct and a bunch of statistics that are badly flawed. Unless you are willing to just accept the subjective judgement of people who watch a lot of hockey, then we don't have any answers. Maybe the Norris, and Hart, and so on voters are dead on; maybe they're not.

Maybe defensemen really do peak in value in their thirties, and my skepticism can be overcome. Right now, we not only don't know the answer to that, we don't even know what the tools to answer that question look like.

There is some interesting work being done with regards to basketball, and I suspect that some of the techniques used there might have application to hockey. However, basketball research today is roughly as advanced as baseball research was during the early 1980s. The guys doing it are plenty smart, but baseball is inherently a much easier game to break down into its component pieces.


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