(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images North America)
I’m tired of people ragging on Francois Beauchemin. From the "mainstream media" to the "average fan," it seems like everyone is quick to point out "he’s terrible," and any dissent is met with "have you watched him play?" or "Don’t tell me that you really think he’s good/a bargain/a defenseman!" or some dismissive line in kind.
But the truth of it is not only that Beauchemin has been a workhorse, eating up TOI like it was nothing, he’s also playing against tough competition, getting paid less than his peers, and still manages to send the puck the right way down the rink. He may also be our only ticket to fill the gaping holes on our "top" line.
Beauchemin, quite frankly, should be appreciated just for the sheer number of tough minutes he eats up. Among all defensemen, he ranks 25th in the league for time on ice per game (ATOI) with 23:57, is 9th in the league if you’re just looking at even strength ATOI (19:24). Of the top 30 defensemen in TOI/gm, Beauchemin is 13th in shorthanded ATOI (2:42), and averages the fewest PP minutes per game (1:50).
Beauchemin’s workload isn’t just about standing around on the ice, though. He’s also playing against opponents’ tough lines. BehindTheNet.ca provides statistics regarding the quality of a player’s opponents, called "Quality of Competition," or QoC (it’s tossed around this blog a lot, but if you would like to see what makes up QoC, Behind The Net has explained it here). By itself, this ranking doesn’t work when comparing individuals from different teams, but it’s my understanding that Corsi rel QoC manages to normalize the issue well enough that defensemen can be compared across team. So just how is the competition Beauch is facing?
Among the top 30 players in ATOI, Beauchemin is 6th in Corsi rel QoC, suggesting that even at even strength, he faces top competition for a long time night in and night out. Here are some of the names he's hanging out with:
Not only does Beauchemin face tough competition and play a lot of minutes, but he does seem to play well. His goals against per sixty minutes of play, when subtracted from his goals against per sixty minutes of being off the ice (GAon/60 – GAoff/60), is .22, 18th among the same 30 defensemen polled earlier. And if you want to step outside these rankings, Beauchemin's corsi rating (how often the puck is shot at the opposition net subtracted by how often the puck is shot at the Leafs' net per 60 minutes of play), is a positive 0.7, meaning that even though Beauchemin is seeing some of the best players in the game, the puck is shot for the Leafs than against when he's on the ice.
And yet, we’re not overpaying Beauchemin. Of those defensemen with top 30 in ATOI, Beauchemin has the 14th highest cap hit - 15th, if you use Jack Johnson’s new extension - and three of the players below him (Doughty, Schenn, and Fowler) are on ELCs. Of the top 10 defensemen in Corsi rel QoC with high ice time, Beauch is 8th. He's got just the 44th highest cap hit among all defenseman, yet, there's easily an argument to be made that he's one of the top 20 defensive defensemen in the league.
So what are all them fancy numbers supposed to be mean?
Quite frankly, they mean that when he does get burned, and someone complains about his play, they're probably forgetting about (or ignoring) the rest of his good, if boring, defensive play. This probably stems from some stigma that in order to be a good defenseman, you either need to lay giant, play-stopping hits, or put up a 50 point season. But the truth is that Beauchemin plays a lot of ice time on a bad team, against the League's toughest competition and doesn't do badly. In fact, he does at least as well (if not better) than players who are taking the same amount of ice time. And he does it for a good price.
Even better, it means that we have a player who is a legitimate talent, who probably won't be the same quality talent when this Toronto Maple Leafs team is looking to contend (2-3 years). We have someone who has a good enough cap hit that all but 12 teams could pick him up at the deadline without even sending salary back. We have a very tradeable asset who could qualify as the lynchpin in a trade for an elite forward. As long as Burke is holding out for a good return on the good defenseman... I'll continue to love Francois Beauchemin.