Shut Down Defensemen - Part 1

How often have we heard the idea that defensive blue liners are a "dime a dozen" in the NHL? Probably far more than we should frankly. As a skill set, the defensive defender's repertoire is difficult to master at a high level, and in some ways it is even more difficult to quantify effectively. Knowing where to be on the ice, when to be there, and actually being physically capable of playing such a role is extremely demanding. The best defenders take the lion's share of a team's tough minutes, and prevent the best of the opposition from doing much damage offensively. This conveniently allows other less capable defensemen on their team to be "sheltered" from the proverbial storm and makes everyone look better in the process.

Daniel Wagner of the Vancouver Sun has recently been applying this very concept - which he terms 'enabling' - in his breakdown of the Vancouver Canucks usage of 4th line centre Manny Malholtra. He is counted upon to do the dirty work on the ice in the defensive zone so the Canucks more offensively gifted players can spend more time on offense doing what they do best - scoring goals and producing points both on the ice and eventually in the standings. This is basically the same concept I am attempting to get at only for defenders.

So how do we describe the guys that face the toughest minutes? Well generally speaking they'll be counted on to play on the Penalty Kill, and they'll be expected to face the best lines the opposition has to throw on the ice at even strength - for the method I plan on using I'm going to focus on the latter. Using behindthenet.ca we can form a pretty detailed picture of what it takes to be considered a defender in the shut down mold, and even more importantly, who the best players are in that role.

Using the past 4 years worth of data plus what has gone so far this year will allow us to have a relatively robust selection to choose from as well, so we know where we're sitting in terms of recent comparables. For the sake of ease of analysis I made one particularly large assumption, which is that the defenders facing the highest Corsi REL QoC on a team over a large span of games will generally be involved in the top 4 D on their team's PK, and examining the names that come up on the list, this is pretty clearly the case.

As a methodology I structured the analysis in a manner quite similar to the Heavy Lifter Index described by Ryan Poplichak at Hockey Prospectus, which has also been discussed or mentioned by Derek Zona at CopperNBlue and Gabe Desgardins at Arctic Ice Hockey. As I was looking at defenders and not forwards though I decided to change the categories slightly so as to get at what I felt was important.

Firstly, I decided to NOT include +/- QoC as I personally am of the opinion that +/- is an anachronistic statistic that is of little actual value in assessing players due to the large quantity of shooting luck involved season to season. While there is some skill in shooting over the long term, I feel that a defender's key role is to limit goal scoring opportunities which closely correlates to Corsi, thus I stuck with Corsi measures largely.

Thus I did include Corsi REL QoC as in the HLI, but I also decided to factor in Corsi REL QoT. A defenders job is immeasurably easier if the players they share the ice with regularly are more capable of driving play up ice, thus it made sense to me to reward players plying their trade while at a disadvantage and penalize those who are playing with superior line mates. In an effort to manage this fact, I combined Corsi REL QoC and Corsi REL QoT into a differential statistic, comparing the Standard Deviation ratio of both statistics in the given year. Therefore a player who plays against very difficult Corsi REL QoC, while toiling with inferior linemates from a Corsi REL QoT perspective is given a higher index rating.

Secondarily, I included the Standard Deviation ratio of the defender's Corsi ON/60. Unlike in the refined version of Ryan Poplichak's HLI, I felt that D men with negative Corsi ratings could still be present in this index. Given the situations they are placed in and their skill set, I didn't see much point in eliminating them from the analysis.

Thirdly, I included the Standard Deviation ratio of the defender's Offensive Zone Start %, in this case a negative score would be considered a positive contribution to the index. The last category I did include was the Standard Deviation ratio of the D man's penalty differential, but I weighted this statistic lower as I felt defensive D men do tend to rack up penalty minutes at a higher rate than forwards.

So in summary SDI Sit (Shutdown Defender Index Situational) will be the sum of values for Corsi REL Differential STD Ratio and OZ% STD Ratio, while SDI Res will be the sum of values for Corsi ON 60 STD Ratio and the 20% weighted value of Penalty Differential STD Ratio.

Here are the top performers from the past few years in the NHL by season (oh and keep an eye out for Jan Hejda)

2007-08

Player

Team

Age

GP

PDO

SDI Sit

SDI Res

SDI

Jan Hejda

CBJ

29

81

1020

4.347

+0.131

4.478

Dan Hamhuis

NSH

25

80

997

4.189

+0.244

4.425

Derek Morris

PHX

29

82

1017

4.962

-0.537

3.873

Adam Foote

COL

36

75

999

3.902

-0.028

3.741

Kurt Sauer

COL

27

54

1049

4.866

-1.125

3.721

Keith Ballard

PHX

25

82

1011

4.533

-0.812

3.561

Anton Volchenkov

OTT

25

67

1019

4.351

-0.790

3.504

Radek Martinek

NYI

31

69

970

3.357

+0.147

3.181

Chris Phillips

OTT

29

81

1019

3.978

-0.796

3.181

Brett Clark

COL

31

57

1012

3.879

-0.702

3.176

2008-09

Player

Team

Age

GP

PDO

SDI Sit

SDI Res

SDI

Jan Hejda

CBJ

30

82

1030

5.531

-0.379

5.152

Kurt Sauer

PHX

28

68

1012

6.412

-2.006

4.406

Mike Commodore

CBJ

29

81

1016

5.016

-0.933

4.083

Zbynek Michalek

PHX

26

82

988

5.477

-1.394

4.083

Nick Schultz

MIN

26

79

1015

5.490

-1.534

3.956

Dan Hamhuis

NSH

26

82

993

4.449

-0.565

3.884

Zdeno Chara

BOS

31

80

1023

3.001

+0.595

3.596

Radek Martinek

NYI

32

51

976

4.661

-1.281

3.379

Kim Johnsson

MIN

32

81

1011

3.943

-0.859

3.084

Greg Zanon

NSH

28

82

1011

4.024

-1.021

3.003

2009-10

Player

Team

Age

GP

PDO

SDI Sit

SDI Res

SDI

Roman Polak

STL

23

78

1011

5.941

-0.253

5.688

Barret Jackman

STL

28

66

1001

5.217

-0.367

4.849

Duncan Keith

CHI

26

82

979

2.379

+2.305

4.684

Anton Volchenkov

OTT

27

64

996

4.362

+0.234

4.596

Ed Jovanovski

PHX

33

66

982

5.197

-0.983

4.215

Jan Hejda

CBJ

31

62

992

5.375

-1.627

3.748

Zbynek Michalek

PHX

27

72

1011

4.489

-0.766

3.723

Chris Phillips

OTT

31

82

998

3.470

+0.169

3.639

Dan Hamhuis

NSH

27

78

993

2.047

+1.048

3.095

Marc Methot

CBJ

24

60

992

3.850

-0.901

2.949

2010-11

Player

Team

Age

GP

PDO

SDI Sit

SDI Res

SDI

Nicklas Lidstrom

DET

40

82

1002

3.960

+0.416

4.376

Mike Weaver

FLA

32

82

997

3.529

+0.344

3.873

Mattias Ohlund

TBL

34

72

987

5.119

-1.334

3.785

Brad Stuart

DET

31

67

1012

3.416

+0.004

3.420

Jay Bouwmeester

CGY

27

82

995

3.263

+0.144

3.408

Mike Lundin

TBL

26

69

1004

3.782

-0.492

3.290

Jason Garrison

FLA

26

73

997

3.175

+0.008

3.183

Josh Gorges

MTL

26

36

996

3.299

-0.166

3.133

Eric Brewer

TBL

31

76

1007

2.872

+0.209

3.081

Marc Staal

NYR

24

77

1005

3.441

-0.365

3.076

2011-12 (So Far)

Player

Team

Age

GP

PDO

SDI Sit

SDI Res

SDI

Victor Hedman

TBL

21

31

960

5.125

-0.400

4.725

Eric Brewer

TBL

32

47

1008

4.806

-1.088

3.717

Ryan O’Byrne

COL

27

49

1000

4.309

-1.074

3.234

Chris Butler

CGY

25

50

1014

3.445

-0.305

3.141

Drew Doughty

LAK

22

44

990

1.486

+1.559

3.046

Jay Bouwmeester

CGY

28

50

1002

3.242

-0.261

2.980

Jan Hejda

COL

33

48

972

3.549

-0.647

2.902

Brent Seabrook

CHI

26

46

1009

1.828

+1.011

2.840

Ryan McDonagh

NYR

22

47

1030

3.700

-0.885

2.815

Tim Gleason

CAR

29

51

1000

3.010

-0.220

2.790

So a couple of thoughts on the lists above: firstly Jan Hejda is easily the most under rated defensive player in the NHL post lockout; secondly while I may need to adjust some of this to prevent the index from penalizing players from good teams, this seems like an excellent tool for identifying potential defensive workhorses on less talented teams. In fact you may notice some UFA targets I have mentioned either on PPP or Twitter for the Leafs to aim for (Jason Garrison and Tim Gleason).

So I'm going to follow up this post tomorrow with a detailed look at how the Leafs D has shaped up over the past 5 years - it paints a picture that goes a long way to explaining their non-playoff results. Luckily though I find some reason for hope, but you'll need to tune in for more on that.

Please discuss your views in the comments and if you have any questions or suggestions I'll get to them when I can.

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