Yesterday, I began looking at individual point percentage for defensemen, and to no one's surprise, the numbers tend to be lower for defensemen than forwards. Whereas the average forward earned a point on about 69.5% of the goals scored while he was on the ice, the average defenseman only got a point on about 28.5%. That lower number comes as no surprise; forwards, after all, have a lot more to do with goals being scored than do defensemen. But it also means that we're more likely to see a defenseman put up a very good number based on luck since each point is worth relatively more compared to the average. That's important to keep in mind as we now turn to look at the results for each team in the Western Conference.
In case you need a refresher, the results here are supposed to give us a better idea of which guys are handling the puck a lot in the offensive zone and helping to create goals. In the case of defensemen, that most likely takes the form of being willing to jump into the rush or pinch down from the point when the opportunity arises. When we look at the results over a long period of time, the results generally make sense, but in any one year, an unlikely candidate might put up a particularly good or bad season before regressing to their personal average. The raw data here all comes from Gabriel Desjardins' behindthenet.ca. Now on to the teams (in alphabetical order by city including every player who was on the ice for at least ten goals-for):
Cam Fowler has a promising rookie season here, and I expect that he'll end up being a very good offensive defenseman based on the tremendous success he had in the OHL in addition to his NHL debut. But his teammate, Lubomir Visnovsky, is one of the best offensive defenders in the game right now. His 35 five-on-five points is the highest total in the league, and he did it while playing against tough opposition night-in and night-out. I think he probably deserved the Norris Trophy last season, but I'm not at all surprised that he didn't get it. Andreas Lilja and Andy Sutton, meanwhile, show you what can happen when a small sample and luck come together.
Jay Bouwmeester isn't bad exactly, but he isn't good either, and when you're paying the guy $6.68M per season, you kind of need him to be more than "just" an elite shut-down defenseman. If this was just a one-off, it wouldn't be a big deal, but Bouwmeester has been at about this level in at least each of the last four seasons. He's still a very good player, and the Flames only spent money (and a third-round pick) to acquire him, but I can't help but think that the team was expecting him to be a lot better offensively.
With Chris Campoli and Brian Campbell moving to other organizations, the Blackhawks will be relying heavily on their top two defensemen (and new addition Steve Montador) to provide offense at even strength. The numbers from this year suggest that there's a gap between Keith and Seabrook, but those are probably misleading. If you look at the longer track record for each player, Keith actually does quite a bit better than his partner.
Kyle Cumiskey didn't get a lot of reps this year, and really hasn't had a lot of reps in the NHL, but he's a guy I really like to watch. He's probably one of the fastest skaters I've seen, and in 2010-11, he showed some flashes of offensive ability. Avalanche fans have discussed the possibility of him going on waivers. So should the Oilers put in a claim? Probably not. He's not a very big guy, he's had to deal with some injuries, and prior to 2010-11 he was just average offensively (an IPP of 27.8% on 54 goals-for from 2007-08 to 2009-10). Still, I just like to watch the guy play, so I'd probably be excited to have him around.
Kris Russell looks good here and that number is very close to his four-year total of 34.1% (on 126 goals-for). But that number may actually be underselling Russell's offensive ability. Russell was a very good offensive defensemen in the WHL, but had a difficult transition to the NHL. In his first season, Russell only got about ten minutes per night at even strength, and scored just three points five-on-five. Over the last three years, he's earned 40 points on 107 goals-for five-on-five for a very impressive IPP of 37.4% even as his ice time (and responsibility) has increased since his time as a rookie.
Trevor Daley is one of those guys who seems to have snuck into the league without anybody (or at least me) noticing. He's been quietly excellent in Dallas for a few years now, posting excellent even strength offense in a top four role. The Stars recently locked him in with a six-year deal with a $3.3M cap hit, a deal that I think they'll be very happy with.
I know that he doesn't need the money, but it's hard to believe that Brian Rafalski retired after playing so well in 2010-11. The big surprise for me on this list is the guy who will probably takes some of his minutes, Niklas Kronwall. Not only was he good in 2010-11, he's been good for a long time now. Kronwall is actually one of the league leaders in IPP for defensemen over the last four years at 41.4% on 198 goals-for. With Rafalski moving on, I think there's a good chance that Kronwall will get a spot on the first unit power play for the first time and have an absolutely huge offensive season with the Red Wings.
Theo Peckham's presence near the top of this list comes as something of a surprise even though I watched him all year. His partner, Tom Gilbert, had a very poor year offensively by his standards, and it seems like some of that was probably bad luck, with a whole lot of "too much responsibility" mixed in. Ryan Whitney is unsurprisingly leading the pack with (yet another) percentage that looks like it'll be coming back down this season. I wonder how much of this natural regression will get blamed on that injury of his?
Matt Greene? Really? No. Not really. In his previous three seasons, he has a combined IPP of 23.5% on 98 goals-for, which is a lot more like the Matt Greene I remember. He's definitely been better in Los Angeles than he was in Edmonton, and may even be league average offensively at this point (which is astonishing), but this is probably the last year he leads the Kings in this category.
Brent Burns is a pretty impressive player, and his departure really hurts the Wild. On the other hand, his arrival in San Jose makes the Sharks a whole lot better, and they're one of the teams I'm counting on to beat Vancouver, so I think that trade worked out great! As for Cam Barker... his departure doesn't hurt the Wild quite as much. It's just one season, but that's pretty sad stuff for an offensive defenseman. Thankfully, his total over the last four years - 30.4% on 115 goals-for - is much better.
I know he's only got a couple of years in the league, and that the club needs to save money where they can, but the Predators might really regret giving Cody Franson to Toronto just to have them take on a bad contract, especially if they end up moving one of Shea Weber or Ryan Suter in the next year or two. Franson will regress substantially and may end up regressing all the way back to average, but his strong offensive seasons in the AHL suggest that he may just be coming into his own as an NHL defenseman. What a great trade by Brian Burke.
None of the team's forwards were very far above average, so it comes as no surprise that a bunch of defensemen do well, and that Keith Yandle in particular has a pretty dominant performance. I haven't watched a lot of the Coyotes, but it makes me wonder how much of Yandle's numbers relate to the team's system, which (in the little bit I've seen) seems to emphasize a defensive shell and a strong counter-attack that includes defensemen jumping up into the play to create odd-man situations when the opposition is less organized. Any Coyotes fans (or observers) care to chime in?
Well... at least everyone that managed a minimum of thirty events is where they should be. Dan Boyle is consistently among the league's top men by this measure with an IPP of 36.3% over the last four season (212 events). The big loss is Ian White, but he was replaced by the much better Brent Burns. Put Boyle and Burns alongside Vlasic and Murray, and the Sharks now boast one of the very best top four groups in the league for just $15.82M in cap space. That number will be heading upward next season, but they'll be getting tremendous value in 2010-11.
The Blues sure did buy high when they traded for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, and Erik Johnson is a high, high price, especially if Alex Pietrangelo regresses toward league average too. The club is putting a lot of faith in percentages here, which is always a little bit scary, but at least the guys they've chosen are all very young, so the possession metrics might improve even as the percentages decline.
Vancouver's best defenseman is Andrew Alberts, and they were one of just two teams to have a regular player register zero points five-on-five (the other was the Flames). What a terrible team.