I like to do this every so often. I’m not sure it makes total sense, and it certainly would make more sense to do it in a couple weeks when the season is half over. But I’m here now and it’s rattling around in my head so let’s do it and circle back in a month or so.
Some of the NHL awards, or more to the point the criteria that are used to pick the winners, are borked. There’s no other way to put it. MVP… that’s usually easy to figure out as long as you don’t get too mired into what “valuable” means and really just pick player of the year. I suppose this year, at least so far, we could get a real dumb debate about how Kucherov and Stamkos are actually vaulting each other and hence aren’t as valuable as say, John Tavares who’s doing more with less. Fine, whatever. Pick any of the three and I don’t think you’re wrong.
Vezina is usually pretty easy, though can get muddied by win totals much like pitcher-wins used to be the defining characteristic for Cy Young winners in the past (like last year. Fucking Rick Porcello?). Still, with save-percentage and GAA are the best we have, and this year it’s Corey Crawford and if he keeps it up and doesn’t even make the finalist list I’m going to go kick several people in the shins and not explain why to leave them in the same fog of confusion I will be in. By any measure it’s Crow, as he’s got the best GAA among starters, the best save-percentage among starters, and the best difference between his save-percentage and his expected save-percentage, given what the team in front of him is surrendering. Good god, he’s been so good.
It’s the Norris and the Selke that always have the cloudiest parameters. The Selke has basically become “What center do we all know who scores a lot, wins faceoffs, and we’re pretty sure has good metrics but don’t check?” And that answer is always Patrice Bergeron. And you could hand this award to Bergeron from here until he retires, take Nick Lidstrom’s last Norris away because that was just stupid, melt it down, turn it into another Selke, and give that to Bergeron, and you wouldn’t really be wrong. But I think we can do better. Let’s see:
So if we’re looking for best defensive forwards, one place we can start is the best forwards at restricting attempts against so far this year. We won’t use goals, because that’s too dependent on the goalies behind these forwards which is out of their control. So you’re best forwards for corsi-against per 60:
- Adam Lowry – WPG
- Taylor Leier – PHI
- Brandon Tanev – WPG
- Mikko Salomaki
- Pierre-Luc Dubois – CBJ
I can assure you that none of these players will get a Selke vote. But when they’re out there, their teams surrender the least attempts, which has to account for something.
If we go a bit deeper, we can use xGA/60, to not only use pure attempts but the types of chances against that these forwards are on the ice for.
- Jason Zucker – MN
- Oskar Sundqvist – STL
- Mikko Koivu – MN
Again, we see Lowry and Tanev at the top of the list, and as they play on the same line together, that makes sense.
But it isn’t so simple, is it? Because you’d want to suss out who are doing really dynamo defensive work and who is just benefitting from playing on a great defensive team. So, you’re relative CA/60 leaders are:
- H. Sedin – Van
- Evgeny Dadonov – FLA
- Marcus Kruger – CAR
And Relative xGA/60 leaders:
- Ondrej Kase – ANA
- Mitch Marner – TOR (ain’t that some shit?)
- Zac Rinaldo – AZ (what?)
- Carl Hagelin – PIT
So if anyone actually used these numbers, you’d have a pretty convincing case for Adam Lowry this year, yes? The problem of course is that Lowry is skating third line shifts, with Scheifele and Little taking on the harder competition. Yes, Lowry is kicking aside everything he’s seeing, and that shouldn’t be discounted, and he’s also starting the most shifts of anyone in his own zone. So even though he has to start in his own zone the most, he’s making sure the least happens there. So yeah, right now, if the world made sense, Adam Lowry is your Selke front-runner. Don’t sit on a hot stove waiting for any voter to actually say this, though.
The Norris is a bit harder. Or it’s easier, because you could just hand the thing to Erik Karlsson, along with the three others he should have gotten but didn’t because voters were either MJ’d/LeBron’d out or they’re fucking xenophobes or both. But unlike the Selke, you do have to consider the whole package. Karlsson hasn’t won as many as he should because every so often voters decide merely scoring from the back end isn’t enough, and conveniently forget that Karlsson just pushed everything to the other end of the ice all the time and made life easier for everyone.
If this went how this normally went, John Klingberg or Tyson Barrie would get it because they’re the highest scoring d-men. But again, we know better now. We don’t get to vote, but we know better.
So if we wanted to find the overall best d-man, Corsi-percentage would be a good place to start. Who’s preventing attempts and generating more at the same time? Don’t worry, you’ll like this. Your top five d-men in CF%:
- Connor Murphy – CHI (funny, don’t hear Mark Potash complaining about the Hjalmarsson trade at the moment)
- Noah Hanifin – CAR
- Mark Giordano – CGY
- Zach Werenski – CBJ
- Dougie Hamilton – CGY
Man, that feels good. But like we did with the forwards, let’s go with xGF% too to see the types of chances that are being surrendered and generated as well:
- Brandon Davidson – MTL/EDM
- Tim Heed – SJ
- Roman Polak – TOR (No, I’m serious)
- Jared Spurgeon
- Yohann Auvitu – EDM
So this is no help. Aside from Spurgeon, these are four d-men who are skating third pairing minutes and are heavily sheltered. And they play on possession-dominant teams for the most part. So let’s do the relative thing again. First relative Corsi-percentage:
- Hampus! Hampus! – ANA
- Josh Manson – ANA (He’s mad… he’s glad…)
And relative xGF%
- Hampus! Hampus!
- Christian Djoos – WSH
- Drew Doughty – LA
Basically I want to hand the Norris to Murphy because… well, because. And if we’re going strictly but non-points and non-goals, there’s a case. There’s probably a stronger one for Spurgeon or Hampus, and you can throw Giordano and Werenski on the list, but you see what we’re doing here. Both Hampus! Hampus! and Murphy have the best relative corsi-against as well, if we’re going by straight defensive metrics as that’s in the job title. I’ve never thought that was fair, because d-men shouldn’t be punished for contributing offensively, but it’s fun to mention. Murphy also has the best relative xGA/60, and Hampus! Hampus! is 3rd.
Basically, Connor Murphy has been fucking excellent, and if hockey had a Fangraphs-like site that people paid attention to, I would spend all my time making his Norris case and dealing with the laughter. And Hampus! Hampus!’s, because I like saying, “Hampus! Hampus!”
Also, you should be pronouncing “Connor Murphy” just like Chappele’s Rick James said, “Charlie Murphy!” right before he punched him.