Monday, October 08, 2007

A coach's worst nightmare?
Searching for the NHL's worst defence (Part 1)

I did a little bit of work last season trying to figure out things like 'who is the league's best defensive defenceman?' and 'who is the league's best penalty killer?', posts that, if nothing else, made for interesting blog copy.

But the question of 'who are the biggest liabilities?' is another tough one, and something that you hear fans debate all the time. It's pointed to, for instance, as the reason Sheldon Souray wasn't a good signing in Edmonton, or, in this city, whenever a goal goes in and Bryan McCabe is on the ice.

But how do you measure who the worst of the worst are, and can you eliminate factors such as bad goaltending and poor linemates?

Behind The Net has some pretty interesting statistics available that help with this very sort of question. Even strength goals against averages for every single NHL player, both when they are on the ice and off, as well as barometers of quality of competition and quality of teammates.

Here's the list based simply on how much worse off players' teams were with them on the ice:

Lowest-ranked defencemen
(40+ games played w/ one team)


NAME TM GP Qual. On ice GA/60 Off ice GA/60


Comp.
GAA dif
NHL Rank
1 EMINGER WSH 68 -0.04 3.93 2.61
1.320
561
2 MESZAROS OTT 82 -0.03 3.14 1.85
1.290
559
3 PHANEUF CGY 79 0.006 3.01 1.76
1.250
558
4 NUMMELIN MIN 51 -0.07 3.1 1.87
1.230
557
5 STUART BOS 68 0.007 4.0 2.78
1.220
556
6 REDDEN OTT 64 -0.06 3.16
1.96
1.200
554
7 AUCOIN CHI 59 -0.02 3.56 2.5
1.060
547
8 HAVELID ATL 77 0.188 3.11 2.1
1.010
545
9 DALLMAN L.A 53 -0.12 3.82 2.87
0.950
541
10 VISHNEVSKI ATL 52 0.028 3.1 2.26
0.840
531
11 JOHNSON CBJ 61 -0.11 3.13 2.31
0.820
529
12 SKRASTINS COL 68 0.124 3.39 2.58
0.810
526
13 SOURAY MTL 81 0.016 3.43 2.62
0.810
526
14 CULLIMORE CHI 65 -0.03 3.36 2.56
0.800
524
15 GAUTHIER PHI 43 0 4.27 3.53
0.740
515
16 LILJA DET 57 -0.01 2.47 1.75
0.720
511
17 RACHUNEK NYR 66 0.007 2.76 2.05
0.710
505
18 KUBA T.B 81 -0.01 3.382.68
0.700
503
19 KWIATKOWSKI FLA 41 -0.06 3.26 2.61
0.650
492
20 BREWER STL 82 0.118 2.87 2.24
0.630
489


Lowest-ranked forwards
(40+ games played w/ one team)


NAME TM GP Qual.
On ice GA/60 Off ice GA/60



Comp.


GAA dif
NHL Rank
1 ZUBRUS WSH 60 0.03
4.27 2.61

1.660
566

2 SCATCHARD PHX 46 -0.03
4.41 2.77

1.640
565
3 KOIVU MTL 81 0.038
3.91 2.51

1.400
564
4 OVECHKIN WSH 82 0.011
3.9 2.51

1.390
563
5 PROSPAL T.B 82 0.007
3.8 2.41

1.390
562
6 CALDER PHI 59 0.022
4.69 3.4

1.290
560
7 BRUNETTE COL 82 0.059
3.67 2.46

1.210
555
8 ZHERDEV CBJ 71 -0.04
3.33 2.2

1.130
553
9 SHARP CHI 80 0.019
3.55 2.44

1.110
552
10 BERGERON BOS 77 0.07
3.93 2.84

1.090
551
11 LECAVALIER T.B 82 0.014
3.61 2.52

1.090
550
12 MORRISON VAN 82 0.016
3.01 1.93


1.080
549
13 TANGUAY CGY 81 0.009
2.99 1.92

1.070
548
14 VERMETTE OTT 77 0.013
3.07 2.03

1.040
546
15 PRUCHA NYR 79 -0.02
2.99 2.01

0.980
544
16 HORCOFF EDM 80 0.057
3.6 2.65

0.950
542
17 HIGGINS MTL 61 0.055
3.64 2.67

0.950
542
18 RYDER MTL 82 0.033
3.58 2.65

0.930
540
19 UMBERGER PHI 81 0.006
4.34 3.41

0.930
539
20 TJARNQVIST DAL 43 -0.01
2.87 1.98

0.890
538


N.B. for Oilers fans: Joffrey Lupul was No. 21 among forwards on this metric last season.

Quite a few of the players above had god-awful seasons last year, and a few aren't coming back as a result (Jassen Cullimore and Dave Scatchard come to mind). Others, like Nicklas Havelid, Eric Brewer and Karlis Skrastins, played against tough opposition all season.

Still, even if you're producing offence, like Alex Ovechkin or Vincent Lecavalier, this isn't a list you want to be on. (And this makes me wonder how Dainius Zubrus will fit in with New Jersey this season.)

Now, these are not lists of the worst defensive players in the league, but merely a jumping off point: I'm still working on a list that will include strength of competition as well as something that can weight the goals against based on a team's goals against average. I'm hoping to put something together based on this season's numbers as soon as those come available.

As for McCabe? The Maple Leafs' goals against actually improved when he was on the ice at even strength, going from 2.72 to 2.63.

Just don't play him on the penalty kill.

UPDATE This post is being picked up far and wide now, and I want to reiterate that I'm not saying these are the worst defensive players in the league. This is the first post in a series that I'm putting together, and I think you'll see players like Phaneuf, etc., will be eliminated from the equation when I factor in quality of competition and other metrics.

What this does show is that more goals are going in when these players are on the ice, which is step one in determining defensive performance.

Also, these are all even-strength totals; special teams play is not a factor.

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9 Comments:

At 9:51 AM, October 08, 2007, Blogger Lowetide said...

I think McCabe gets a bad rap, he always seems to be out there against the bestopp. Plus of course Kaberle is ridiculous.

James, do you have empty net goals out of there? I find Horcoff's inclusion a red flag and that may be it.

 
At 12:16 PM, October 08, 2007, Blogger Nick said...

I can't say I'm surprised to see lilja on that list. I think the wings stick with him because he can get a big physical, but he has a tendency to make mistakes.

 
At 1:27 PM, October 08, 2007, Blogger MikeP said...

LT, I was surprised too, but a) Horc had a craptacular season offensively last year (as did the whole team), and b) they had a worse time defensively. So it's not surprising, actually, to see him on there: he was out against the best, night after night. I'd guess the year before he'd have been nowhere near it.

IMO, Horc's inclusion on the list isn't a red flag that the list is flawed; it's a red flag that the Oilers sucked (as if we needed more).

Although eliminating ENG should be done, both ways, if it hasn't been already.

 
At 1:49 PM, October 08, 2007, Anonymous Frank said...

Come on -- Phaneuf a defensive liability??

The reason Phaneuf has a higher even strength GAA than the rest of Calgary's defence is because he is playing 25 minutes a game or more against the TOP 6 forwards of other teams while the numbers 3 to 6 Dmen on Calgary are playing against the BOTTOM 6 forwards of the opposition. I'm not sure how the quality of opposition adjusts for this.

Anyway, if Keenan believes these stats and wants to get rid of Phaneuf I'm sure Dave Nonis would be willing to entertain a trade again!

 
At 2:44 PM, October 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about forgetting these stupid stats and start looking what players actually do out there.

I could start a decent team with these players. Phaneuf-Visonovsky, Redden-Aucoin shold be ok for TOP 4?

These stats change dramatically when players are traded. Same as plus/minus which is a joke.

 
At 4:27 PM, October 08, 2007, Blogger Lowetide said...

Anonymous: It's just the wind you hear, go back to sleep.

 
At 7:20 PM, October 08, 2007, Anonymous pete said...

How about forgetting these stupid stats and start looking what players actually do out there

Somewhere out there, the hockey-stats-nerd-collective is sobbing.

 
At 12:38 AM, October 09, 2007, Anonymous Keith said...

The problem, of course, is that looking at a player in isolation does not work well when there are twelve bodies on the ice moving at once.

As an example, Phaneuf is a good defenceman individually. He will be a great defenceman when he has a few more years under his belt. But the Flames as a team were, surprisingly, terrible defensively last year, especially in the second half, because the forwards pretty much abandoned the D. We scored a pile more goals, but gave up a pile more as well. As one of the top ice-time guys, he took that hit on your chart.

Ditto Horcoff. The Oilers as a team were so brutal last year that he was going to get drilled no matter what.

Shame the worst defenceman in the game is no longer in North America. As we in Calgary used to say to our Oiler bretheren: "You just can't replace a Cory Cross."

 
At 1:04 AM, October 09, 2007, Blogger mc79hockey said...

The reason Phaneuf has a higher even strength GAA than the rest of Calgary's defence is because he is playing 25 minutes a game or more against the TOP 6 forwards of other teams

I'm sure that this will come as news to Darryl Sutter and anyone else who's paying attention. He played some more against the good guys last year and his numbers seem to have gone in the tank.

The Oilers as a team were so brutal last year that he was going to get drilled no matter what.

He was even until the Smyth trade if you ignore the EN for and against. About 10 of his -23 or whatever was empty netters.

 

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