I’ve been meaning to do this for a bit, and now that we’re over a third of the way through the season I guess this is as good of a time as any. Whereas in baseball we’ve seen some of the postseason awards take on a more analytic angle (though Porcello winning over Kluber shows we still have some way to go, but hey, Felix won a Cy with 13 wins), the ones in hockey still haven’t quite reached anything like that level.
The Hart and the Vezina are pretty easy. Hand it to Crosby and Price and move on. It’s the Selke and Norris that always generate the most debate.
So let’s start with the Selke. The best defensive forward. Now, that always ends up being the best two-way center, one that has to put up at least 60 points, wins a lot of draws, kills penalties, and somewhat these days as seen as a great possession player. If this is the only criteria, we can give it to Patrice Bergeron every year until he politely declines it because he’s a very nice boy who wants others to share in the joy.
But if we’re out to find the truly best, “defensive” forward, we can come a lot closer to that than we used to. Let’s take a look at what we have so far this season.
One reason the best possession players show up for this award is pretty easy. They limit the amount of attempts against. They don’t even put their teams under threat of anything. So, the top ten in attempts against per 60 are:
Bergeron, Teuvo (my heart… my so fragile heart), Marchand, Aho, Eller, Barkov, Stajan, Jordan Staal, O’Reilly.
Obviously, Marchand benefits greatly from playing with Bergeron, and Aho and Teuvo help each other out. Let’s try and suss out who is benefitting from great overall team defense and who’s pretty much doing it on their own: Top ten in relative Corsi-against per 60:
Bergeron, Teuvo, Aho, Stajan, Marchand, Neiderreiter, O’Reilly, Panarin, Jarnkrok, Staal.
Didn’t really get us anywhere we weren’t already. Let’s go a bit deeper, because we can go farther than just simple attempts. We can see what kind of attempts players are conceding when on the ice. Going with simply goals-against wouldn’t be all that fair, because that blames them for what might be going on with their goaltenders. So we’ll use xGA per 60, basically taking the goalies out of it and giving everyone an even-playing field. The top 10 there…
Granlund, Koivu, Stajan, Jarnkrok, Nash, Bergeron, Teuvo, Zucker, Moulson, Pominville
And then the relative to their team:
Stajan, Rasmussen (yep, him), Kruger, Teuvo, Saad, Bellemare, Jarnkrok, Cullen, Torrey Mitchell, Reilly Smith.
Well, first off we should note that the Wild are basically the West’s Rangers in that they give up a lot of shots but few chances, and what chances they do give up Dubnyk has been soaking up. So we see that they litter the xGA60 category but when we look at relative numbers we see how the overall team defense is aiding them. This is where you can see Kruger’s true value, because the Hawks have not been a good defensive team this year, yet he remains a defensive standout.
If you want to go one more we can go with scoring chances against per 60, a little easier to understand than expected goals. Top ten here:
Granlund, Koivu, Stajan, Zucker, Moulson, Jarnkrok, Aho, Stastny, Pominville, Saad (man, this is getting to be painful reading for Hawks fans).
And Relative SCA60:
Stajan, Teuvo, Smith, Trocheck, Aho, Staal, Chiasson, Granlund, Bellemare, Danault.
Again, the way the Wild really limit prime scoring chances kind of skews this, which really makes me want to hand the thing to Matt Stajan for just total randomness. Also, if the Hawks had found a way to hold onto Teuvo and Saad they’d probably be undefeated now. Throw in Danault for good measure.
I suppose you can’t ignore that penalty killing should be a part of this. So, your leaders in xGA per 60 while shorthanded, which essentially weighs the goals your team would give up with even goaltending based on the chances you’re giving up:
Jeff Carter, Toffoli, Dwight King, Reilly Smith, Trochek, Stastny, Stepan, Steen, Faksa, Comeau.
And Relative to see who’s not benefitting from just a great team and system:
MacKinnon, Jarnkrok, Kruger, Zajac, Henrique, Faksa, King, Grabner, Korpikoski, and Rasmussen.
So basically… Teuvo has a really strong, analytic case and this entire blog is going to light itself on fire outside Gate 3 for symmetry. Fuck our lives.
For the Norris, that gets harder to define. James Mirtle, back in the nascent days of hockey blogging, used to do something called “The Rod Langway Award,” which tried to identify the best defensive defenseman. But I’m not sure the Norris should be that, and it hasn’t been probably ever. If you’re trying to evaluate who is the best d-man overall, their offensive talents must come into it. While Karlsson may not be the best defender, when he’s putting up 80 points in a scoring-allergic league it’s hard to ignore he’s having the most impact. Sadly, most voters simply filter out forwards, see who the highest scoring d-man is and give him their vote. That would leave you with Burns, Karlsson, or Hedman so far this year. Or it would leave you with Weber because you want to bend over backwards to justify that trade and try and prove that you’re not a racist. But we can do better.
Karlsson has actually had a piss poor year possession-wise, though he’s still scoring because he’s pretty much that awesome. Your Corsi-percentage leaders are:
Krug, Muzzin, Petry, Martinez, Pesce, Niskanen, Ekholm, McQuaid, Coburn, Savard.
Gross. Most of these guys just benefit from being on really good possession teams overall, though what Braydon Coburn is doing here is anyone’s guess. Let’s clean this out with relative numbers:
Coburn, Hamilton, Pesce, Brodin, Savard, Muzzin, Krug, Manson, Petry.
What? We can’t get rid of Coburn? Well, he’s beating up on easier competition but we’ll get to that. Let’s go farther than just simple possession and see who’s really pushing good chances and not giving them up:
Your xGF% leaders:
Cole, Schultz, Krug, Vlasic, Pesce, Petry, Subban, Gardiner, Markov, Emelin.
On this list, really only Vlasic, Subban, Markov and Emelin take what you’d call top-pairing roles. On the relative scale:
Methot, Pesce, Hjalmarsson, Giordano, Matheson, Cole, Krug, Subban, Hamilton, McCabe.
Man, this is confusing. No wonder voters just go with the most points guy. Fuck it, hand it to PK and watch Canada basically fold in on itself. That would be good. Let’s go with that.