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Trying to rank defensemen

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  • Trying to rank defensemen

    OK so after Josh and I had a disagreement on ranking some of the top defensemen in the league, I decided to try to find some reliable stats to objectively evaluate and rank defensemen. I've already talked about the Vollman numbers, and I've talked ad nauseum about the value I assign to TOI. And then obviously there's points. But not much beyond that readily available to the public.

    So I came up with a few stats of my own.

    RelPPGF/60 – This stat measures how many more or less goals a team scores on the powerplay when a given player is on the ice, per 60 minutes of powerplay time. I actually set it only for 5-4 PP, to keep things consistent. When inventing a new stat (I’m certain I’m not the first person to invent it, but I haven’t seen it in common use, and it wasn’t a stat that some site had ready-made, I had to put together some filters and such to get to it), you always want to check and make sure it passes the common sense, and indeed, the top guys (minimum 50 PP mins) are basically the guys you’d expect to help a powerplay – Draisaitl, Marchand, Point, McDavid, Pastrnak are the top five. As a funny aside, I remember one article on advanced stats years ago talked about the “Pavel Datsyuk test”, as in if Pavel Datsyuk doesn’t rank well in it then you know it’s not a good stat.

    The first surprise comes with Alex Chiasson at number ten, but this can largely be explained by him mostly playing with McDavid and Draisaitl on the PP; clearly McDavid and Draisaitl themselves are so high because the rest of the powerplay without them is utter garbage. So yeah, it is partly team dependent in a variety of ways, but overall I’m pretty happy with this stat. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some surprises. Common sense test is satisfied to see guys like Lars Eller, Sven Andrighetto, Mikael Backlund and Dmitry Orlov in the bottom ten. But there were also some surprises in Charlie McAvoy, Kevin Shattenkirk and Tyler Johnson.

    RelSHGA/60 – Same idea as above. This stat measures how many more or less goals a team give up on the penalty kill when a given player is on the ice, per 60 minutes of PK time. Specific to 4-5 PK. This one is a little fuzzier on the common sense test. Penalty killing is a very specific skill, that we don’t really have any mainstream stats for besides plain SHTOI, and as much as I glorify TOI, of course coaches can get it wrong sometimes, and interestingly, the teams who got this wrong and kept playing guys who struggle in this stat, were almost universally non-playoff teams. I would like to think that this could become the first mainstream stat for evaluating individual performance on the penalty kill.

    First looking at some of the worst ranked players (min 50 mins SH): Brian Gibbon ranked the worst; a career AHLer got stuck killing penalties on an awful team because most of the forwards are under 23. Darren Helm and Trocheck ranked 2nd and 9th worst. Maybe the coaches can be excused somewhat here because both guys are there for faceoff abilities and maybe to try to back off opponents with their speed or skill. Kesler ranked 3rd worst, he is there for faceoffs but is old and broken and the coach refused to make a change. As for the top players in this stat, Charlie McAvoy redeems himself for his powerplay woes, ranking 1st in the league here. Next we have Ryan Johansen, Erik Cernak, Leo Komarov, Brandon Sutter, Valteri Filppula and Evander Kane. Again, penalty killing is a very specific skill, and until now we haven’t really had any stats to assess individual’s PK performance, so it is hard to know what to expect, but that all sounds reasonable to me.

    Note that this stat is goals against, so a more negative number is better, meaning the player allowed less goals against compared to team average.

    RelGF% - This stat measures what percent more or less of the goals a team scores at 5 on 5 when a given player is on the ice. So basically it is adjusted +/-. If a team, on average, scores 48% of the goals at even strength (and their opponents score 52%) and when a given player is on the ice, the team scores 50% of the goals, then that player is +2%. While this is a hell of a lot more useful than +/-, it still isn’t the greatest. Corsi is much more valuable, as luck plays more of a role in being on the ice for a goal scored for or against, as well as the quality of teammates and opponents; whereas an individual player can have more of an effect on driving possession.

    How does RelGF% do on the common sense test? Radulov ranks 1st, Tyler Seguin 4th, and Jamie Benn 14th in the league. When you have such a top heavy team that relies so much on one elite line, and the rest of the team struggled through injuries and lack of depth, that top line is going to have to come through, and I think the fact that this team managed to make the playoffs is evidence enough that they did indeed come through. Also Teravainen and Aho are 5th and 12th – again, a hard-working, well-structured team that relies heavily on a couple of high-end skilled players. Demers and Copp ranked 2nd and 3rd, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of that. Call them underrated? Again, this is my least favorite of these stats I’m considering, but I think it does have some value. Sidney Crosby ranks 7th, so that’s always a good sign.

    Then if we look at the bottom ranking players (min 500 mins), everything looks in order. Dubinsky and Riley Nash rank 1st and 4th worst. The other side of the spectrum from Dallas - when you have such a stacked team as Columbus, and you have a couple players having some struggles, of course they’re going to rank poorly here, and Torts rightly played them on the 4th line, 12 and 10 mins a game. Chandler Stephenson ranked 2nd worst, again a mediocre player on a top team. Jack Johnson ranked 11th worst, and any stat that makes Jack Johnson look bad gets bonus points in my book.

    OK, now using these stats to try to rate defensemen:

    1. Mark Giordano – 74 points in 78 games = .95 p/g… 3:06 SHTOI, 3:08 PPTOI, 24:47 TOI… 9.16% RelGF%, 5.2 RelPPGF/60, -1.04 RelSHGA/60
    2. Kris Letang – 56 points in 65 games = .86 p/g… 2:35 SHTOI, 3:06 PPTOI, 25:20 TOI… 11.48% RelGF%, 0.49 RelPPGF/60, 0.14 RelSHGA/60
    3. Brent Burns – 83 points in 82 games = 1.01 p/g… 1:31 SHTOI, 3:41 PPTOI, 25:15 TOI … 3.88% RelGF%, -1.12 RelPPGF/60, 1.88 RelSHGA/60
    4. John Carlson – 70 points in 80 games = .88 p/g… 2:35 SHTOI, 4:05 PPTOI, 25:04 TOI … 7.76% RelGF%, 5.84 RelPPGF/60, -1.41 RelSHGA/60
    5. Morgan Rielly – 72 points in 82 games = .88 p/g…1:05 SHTOI, 2:36 PPTOI, 23:07 TOI… 8.09% RelGF%, 3.18 RelPPGF/60, -3.27 RelSHGA/60

    I'm pretty comfortable with that top five, but from there it gets trickier. Guys like Yandle, Chabot, Klingberg have outstanding offensive numbers, but don't kill penalties and/or struggle in some other area. Spurgeon, Pietrangelo, Ekholm have some other really good numbers, but not as much offensive output. Byfuglien, Weber and Edler have outstanding numbers all around and should be top ten if not for injuries.

    Beyond that, I marked down a bunch of players for my made-up stats - some noteable defensemen:

    Alex Pietrangelo – -.04% RelGF%, 1.12 RelPPGF/60, 3.48 RelSHGA/60
    Drew Doughty – -6.22% RelGF%, 2.37 RelPPGF/60, 3.97 RelSHGA/60
    Ryan Suter – 4.00% RelGF%, -1.68 RelPPGF/60, 3.82 RelSHGA/60
    Erik Karlsson – 4.13% RelGF%, -0.02 RelPPGF/60, 1.53 RelSHGA/60
    Jeff Petry – -6.71% RelGF%, -0.25 RelPPGF/60, 0.21 RelSHGA/60
    Jake Muzzin – 14.86% RelGF%, -1.37 RelPPGF/60, -3.16 RelSHGA/60
    Ryan McDonagh – 5.18% RelGF%, -2.02 RelPPGF/60, -1.60 RelSHGA/60
    Duncan Keith – 11.01% RelGF%, -4.15 RelPPGF/60, 1.03 RelSHGA/60
    Roman Josi – -2.37% RelGF%, -1.83 RelPPGF/60, -0.41 RelSHGA/60
    Victor Hedman – 0.36% RelGF%, 3.65 RelPPGF/60, 0.9 RelSHGA/60
    Mattias Ekholm – 5.39% RelGF%, 0.30 RelPPGF/60, 0.09 RelSHGA/60
    Matt Dumba – -4.63% RelGF%, 3.04 RelPPGF/60, 3.87 RelSHGA/60
    Oliver Ekman-Larsson – -2.74% RelGF%, -1.03 RelPPGF/60, 1.72 RelSHGA/60
    Cody Ceci – -2.44% RelGF%, 0.88 RelSHGA/60
    Nate Schmidt – 1.28% RelGF%, 1.57 RelPPGF/60, -1.17 RelSHGA/60
    PK Subban – -7.57% RelGF%, 2.57 RelPPGF/60, 2.42 RelPKGA/60
    Erik Johnson – -7.50% RelGF%, -2.38 RelSHGA/60
    Oscar Klefbom – -9.03% RelGF%, 1.18 RelPPGF/60, 0.85 RelSHGA/60
    Ryan Ellis – 0.44% RelGF%, 0.17 RelPPGF/60, -0.75 RelSHGA/60
    TJ Brodie – 4.13% RelGF%, -3.17 RelPPGF/60, 2.2 RelSHGA/60
    John Klingberg – 8.93% RelGF%, 1.91 RelPPGF/60
    Keith Yandle – 3.24% RelGF%, 1.02 RelPPGF/60, -1.95 RelSHGA/60
    Tyson Barrie – 4.73% RelGF%, 1.54 RelPPGF/60, -6.51 RelSHGA/60
    Ryan McDonagh – 5.18% RelGF%, -2.02 RelPPGF/60, -1.60 RelSHGA/60
    Jared Spurgeon – 6.41% RelGF%, 1.28 RelPPGF/60, 2.31 RelSHGA/60
    Cam Fowler – 2.92% RelGF%, 2.99 RelPPGF/60, -2.62 RelSHGA/60
    Justin Faulk – 5.77% RelGF%, 2.95 RelPPGF/60, -1.10 RelSHGA/60
    Shea Weber – 2.64% RelGF%, 2.59 RelPPGF/60, -1.87 RelSHGA/60
    Tory Krug – 7.01% RelGF%, 2.19 RelPPGF/60
    Jake Gardiner – 6.96% RelGF%, -3.55 RelPPGF/60
    Colton Parayko – 6.94% RelGF%, -0.35 RelPPGF/60, -4.30 RelSHGA/60
    Alex Edler – -0.61% RelGF%, 3.7 RelPPGF/60, -0.20 RelSHGA/60
    Dustin Byfuglien – 6.93% RelGF%, 3.39 RelPPGF/60, -1.68 RelSHGA/60
    Erik Gustafsson – 4.01% RelGF%, 2.86 RelPPGF/60
    Nick Leddy – -6.72% RelGF%, 1.46 RelPPGF/60
    Marc-Edouard Vlasic – -8.22% RelGF%, -0.38 RelPPGF/60, 2.08 RelSHGA/60

    And some under-25 defensemen:

    Thomas Chabot – 10.52% RelGF%, -1.28 RelPPGF/60, -2.33 RelSHGA/60
    Esa Lindell – -0.10% RelGF%, -1.37 RelPPGF/60, 1.68 RelSHGA/60
    Hampus Lindholm – 5.80% RelGF%, -1.37 RelPPGF/60, 1.70 RelSHGA/60
    Seth Jones – -6.10 RelGF%, -2.13 RelPPGF/60, 1.9 RelSHGA/60
    Jacob Trouba – -1.03% RelGF%, -0.23 RelPPGF/60, -0.58 RelSHGA/60
    Brandon Montour – 8.29% RelGF%, -5.16 RelPPGF/60, -1.35 RelSHGA/60
    Miro Heiskanen – -1.74% RelGF%, -2.21 RelPPGF/60, -1.80 RelSHGA/60
    Charlie McAvoy – -2.11% RelGF%, -7.99 RelPPGF/60, -7.22 RelSHGA/60
    Rasmus Ristolainen – -10.22% RelGF%, 1.51 RelPPGF/60, 1.06 RelSHGA/60
    Brett Pesce – 10.06% RelGF%, -2.14 RelSHGA/60
    Brandon Carlo – 5.86% RelGF%, 2.12 RelSHGA/60
    Neal Pionk – -6.63% RelGF% 4.73 RelPPGF/60, 2.6 RelSHGA/60
    Jaccob Slavin – -5.86% RelGF%, -1.52 RelPPGF/60, -0.58 RelSHGA/60
    Shayne Gostisbehere – -5.37% RelGF%, 1.12 RelPPGF/60
    Zach Werenski – -5.67% RelGF%, 1.28 RelPPGF/60, 3.4 RelSHGA/60
    Jakob Chychrun – -1.52% RelGF%, 4.00 RelPPGF/60
    Brady Skjei – 5.87% RelGF%, -2.41 RelSHGA/60
    Dougie Hamilton – 0.36% RelGF%, -1.86 RelPPGF/60
    Damon Severson – -0.36% RelGF%, -1.1 RelPPGF/60, 1.99 RelSHGA/60
    Mikhail Sergachev – -0.07% RelGF%, -6.0 RelPPGF/60
    Ivan Provorov – -2.07% RelGF%, -3.36 RelPPGF/60, -0.33 RelSHGA/60
    Aaron Ekblad – 5.38% RelGF%, -2.72 RelPPGF/60, 0.82 RelSHGA/60
    Ryan Pulock – 6.43% RelGF%, -2.94 RelPPGF/60, 0.9 RelSHGA/60
    Darnell Nurse – 2.17% RelGF%, 1.87 RelPPGF/60, -0.20 RelSHGA/60
    Josh Morrissey – 2.64% RelGF%, -1.37 RelPPGF/60, 2.18 RelSHGA/60
    Rasmus Dahlin – 7.58% RelGF%, 0.43 RelPPGF/60
    Travis Sanheim – 5.66% RelGF%, -2.46 RelPPGF/60
    Shea Theodore – -6.02% RelGF%, -0.41 RelPPGF/60
    Samuel Girard – 7.12% RelGF%, -0.88 RelPPGF/60
    Vince Dunn – 7.05% RelGF%, -0.63 RelPPGF/60
    Anthony DeAngelo – 3.24% RelGF%, -0.20 RelPPGF/60
    Mike Matheson – -5.23% RelGF%, 1.87 RelPPGF/60, 2.39 RelSHGA/60
    Noah Hanifin – -4.53% RelGF%, -4.01 RelPPGF/60, 0.49 RelSHGA/60
    Last edited by matchesmalone; 06-20-2019, 08:42 AM.

  • #2
    Very interesting stuff. I like your three measures. So how to aggregate them? Maybe it isn’t possible, so instead the three values need to be observed in tandem. I’m curious to see whether or not it settles our disagreement.

    To be fair, I didn’t argue that Jones was anything short of stellar. I think he can easily be top-ten next season. But this past season, I had these defensemen ranked ahead of him:



    • #3
      Yeah these new metrics do Jones no favors. I'd probably hold back on calling him top 15 in the league at this point, but I'd still have him ahead of Ristolainen, Hamilton, Gustafsson, Doughty, Petry for sure. Not so sure about Trouba, Josi and Hedman.

      And I'd agree on having Barrie, Burns, Yandle, Rielly, Letang, Giordano, Chabot, Carlson in the top 10-15. But then ahead of Jones and the rest of your list, I would instead have Pietrangelo, Ekholm, Klingberg, Edler, Byfuglien, Weber, Spurgeon.

      The major thing that stands out for me looking over these new metrics, is how drastically they justify veterans over the U25s. The great majority of player on the U25 list have negative RelPPGF/60, and positive RelSHGA/60, while most of the top veterans are in the green for at least one if not both.

      ​​​​​​​A lot of interesting things to note, but one that stood out to me is in Nashville it looks like Ellis and Ekholm have developed into at least as good, if not better defensemen than Subban and Josi. Of course Josi and Subban are still scoring more, but they're also seeing more powerplay time. Will be interesting to see if Nashville trades Subban this summer, and what Ellis and Ekholm can do next year. How does that team keep doing it? Weber, Suter, Jones...

      Another general thing standing out is how many good defensemen are actually negative influences on the powerplay. I've thought of two possible explanations for this. One is that perhaps teams score more on the PP with more forwards on the ice. Most of the true elite defensemen are positive influences to their powerplays, so likely those are the guys who are usually the one forward out, but on the occasions where the coach uses two defensemen on the powerplay, it will be safer but less effective, and so that second defenseman brings down the average? The other possible explanation is that some of the defensemen are facing tougher quality of competition against teams' top PK units, and so compared to their team's other PP unit their numbers suffer. I'm currently trying to figure out a good way to account for quality of competition on special teams, but it is not easy.

      Just for fun, I threw together a top 10 and bottom 5 for each category, just amongst the defensemen I have listed in the original post. Like you alluded to, right now it is just a mass of numbers, so I want to try to sort it and get as much out of it as I can. Perhaps down the road I'll try to aggregate everything into some kind of defenseman-rating, but the first step to that will be to try and solve the special teams QoC problem.

      Top 10 RelGF% (vets)
      - Jake Muzzin: 14.86%
      - Kris Letang: 11.48%
      - Duncan Keith: 11.01%
      - Mark Giordano: 9.16%
      - John Klingberg: 8.93%
      - Brandon Montour: 8.29%
      - Morgan Rielly: 8.09%
      - John Carlson: 7.76%
      - Torey Krug: 7.01%
      - Jake Gardiner: 6.96%
      - Colton Parayko: 6.94%

      Top 5 RelGF% (U25)
      - Thomas Chabot: 10.52%
      - Brett Pesce: 10.06% (25 this November)
      - Rasmus Dahlin: 7.58%
      - Samuel Girard: 7.12%
      - Vince Dunn: 7.05%

      Bottom 10 RelGF% (all ages)
      - Rasmus Ristolainen: -10.22%
      - Oscar Klefbom: -9.03%
      - ME Vlasic: -8.22%
      - PK Subban: -7.57%
      - Erik Johnson: -7.50%
      - Nick Leddy: -6.72%
      - Jeff Petry: -6.71%
      - Neal Pionk: -6.63%
      - Drew Doughty: -6.22%
      - Seth Jones: -6.10%

      Top 10 RelPPGF/60 (vets)
      - John Carlson: +5.84
      - Mark Giordano: +5.20
      - Alex Edler: +3.70
      - Victor Hedman: +3.65
      - Dustin Byfuglien: +3.39
      - Morgan Rielly: +3.18
      - Matt Dumba: +3.04
      - Cam Fowler: +2.99
      - Justin Faulk: +2.95
      - Erik Gustafsson: +2.86

      Top 5 RelPPGF/60 (U25)
      - Neal Pionk: +4.73
      - Jakob Chychrun: +4.00
      - Darnell Nurse: +1.87
      - Rasmus Ristolainen: +1.51 (25 this October)
      - Zach Werenski: +1.28

      Bottom 5 RelPPGF/60 (all)
      - Charlie McAvoy: -7.99
      - Mikhail Sergachev: -6.00
      - Brandon Montour: -5.16
      - Duncan Keith: -4.15
      - Noah Hanifin: -4.01

      Top 5 RelSHGA/60 (vets) -
      - Colton Parayko: -4.30
      - Morgan Rielly: -3.27
      - Jake Muzzin: -3.16
      - Cam Fowler: -2.62
      - Brady Skjei: -2.41
      - Brent Burns: -1.88
      - Shea Weber: -1.87
      - Dustin Byfuglien -1.68
      - Ryan McDonagh: -1.60

      Top 5 RelSHGA/60 (U25)
      - Charlie McAvoy: -7.22
      - Brett Pesce: -2.14
      - Miro Heiskanen: -1.80
      - Ivan Provorov: -0.33
      - Darnell Nurse: -0.20

      Bottom 5 RelSHGA/60 (all)
      - Drew Doughty: +3.97
      - Ryan Suter: +3.82
      - Alex Pietrangelo: +3.48
      - Zach Werenski: +3.4
      - Neal Pionk: +2.6

      Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, most of the top statistical penalty killers are not these top defensemen, but relatively no-name stay-at-home defenders. The top of the powerplay list, conversely, is dominated by the big names. The living anomaly Charlie McAvoy notwithstanding, one thing that stands out, and aligns with common sense, is that veterans seem to be generally much better penalty killers than young defensemen. I noticed a few players like Chabot and Barrie, who had very strong PK numbers, but played under the 50 min limit.

      And finally, the players who rank well in all three stats: Mark Giordano, John Carlson, Morgan Rielly, Dustin Byfuglien, Shea Weber, Nate Schmidt, Cam Fowler, Justin Faulk, Darnell Nurse.
      Last edited by matchesmalone; 06-21-2019, 04:07 AM.


      • #4
        Originally posted by matchesmalone View Post
        I started to realize/remember how flawed GA/TA are, which threw a wrench in my argument, because they make guys like Yandle (110-27) and Petry (129-39) look really bad. These are guys who in my opinion are not nearly as good as their offensive numbers suggest. The Vollman numbers do indeed do some work to discredit them, but I realized that I need more numbers. But of course, while I want to be right, I'm more interested in getting to some kind of truth. If there are numbers out there to convince me Yandle is an elite defenseman, I want to find them.
        And I'm convinced.