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Rating The Oilers' Defense: Brian Burke Style

Bob McCown put together a great article about Brian Burke today.  Burke's a guy I haven't liked for a long time, for a lot of good reasons, but he does bring two things to the table that make him a goldmine for hockey fans:

  1. He's an excellent general manager
  2. He isn't afraid to tell people why he's an excellent general manager

In any case, he opened up to McCown, and gave one of the more interesting quotes that I've seen in the last year:

"I have a system of rating players, "he said, "particularly defensemen. I rate them from one to six?six being the elite defenseman." He went on to explain that his objective is that of the six primary defensive positions on his team, he wants one from each point category. He claims that if you have one "six," one "five," one "four," etc., you'll have a team capable of competing at the highest level. If you add the numbers together (6+5+4+3+2+1) you wind up with 21 and that is your objective.

"Now understand," Burke continued, "there aren't enough sixes' to go around, but that's okay. If I have two fives' and two twos' I still get where I want to be (21)."

He went on to explain that, the way he had it figured, he couldn't have too many defensemen, since he could almost always trade the excess for a forward and usually one with tangible skill. And generally speaking, history has shown he's right. Having an excess on the blue line is approximately the same as having an excess of pitchers in baseball. It doesn't happen often, but if you achieve it, you can always fill any other hole that might materialize.

McCown admits that since a lot of the conversation was off the record, he's excluded it from the piece he wrote today.  That said, what he included is fascinating, and consistent with his track record.  In Vancouver, Burke had Jovanovski, Ohlund, Salo, Allen, Malik and Sopel as his top-six.  In Anaheim, he had Niedermayer, Pronger, Beauchemin, O'Donnell, Huskins, and DiPenta.  Toronto isn't looking to shabby right now either.

Ever since the 2006-07 debacle which saw the Oilers ice a top-six of Smith, Staios, Tjarnqvist, Greene, Smid and Bergeron (with prospect Tom Gilbert and an under-used Jan Hejda rounding out the group), the Oilers have seemingly been hell-bent on icing a group of defenseman who can move the puck.  That group's getting expensive, but there's no questioning their effectiveness.  Using Burke's method here's how I see the current top-six:

  • Lubomir Visnovsky: 5
  • Sheldon Souray: 5
  • Tom Gilbert: 4
  • Denis Grebeshkov: 3
  • Ladislav Smid: 2
  • Steve Staios: 2

Souray's ranking is based on this past season; and that's something to be a little worried about going forward, although it's certainly possible that the young players could improve and Steve Staios could find his way back to his form of two seasons ago.  I'm also a little surprised at how low the total is.  How about it?  Is my pro-Oilers bias shining through, or is my familiarity with the players in question causing me to underrate them?

More importantly, is this a useful system?  I'm sure Burke doesn't use this exclusively, but every once in a while, I think standing back and simply assessing the overall talent level of a team can be helpful.