Earlier this week, I looked at the individual point percentage for defensemen in the NHL during five-on-five play for the 2011-12 season. Today, we’ll look at how defensemen performed over the last five season (2007-08 to 2011-12). But first, a quick refresher on the concept:
Individual point percentage is a calculation of the number of times an individual player gets a point (either a goal or an assist) relative to the number of total goals scored while he’s on the ice. So, for example, if a player is on the ice for fifty goals-for during five-on-five play over the course of the season and he gets a point on twenty of them, his individual point percentage would be 40%.
The purpose here is to get a sense of which players were driving play in the offensive zone, but as with any statistic that relies on goals for its data, one season doesn’t provide a sufficient sample to get a good sense of an individual player’s talents. As such, it makes sense to look at how players have done over several seasons, which should give a much better sense of who the best players are and what kind of IPP they can sustain over the long haul.
In the last five seasons, there were 512 defensemen who played in at least one game, but we’ll be looking at the 199 who were on the ice for at least 100 goals-for. The average individual point percentage for the group is 30.2%, the median is 29.9%, and the standard deviation is 5.8%. The first two numbers are much smaller than what we see with forwards, and yet despite this, the standard deviation is actually larger, but this probably isn’t reflecting anything other than the difference in the number of players in each group (there were 283 qualifying forwards).
Before I make any further comments, let’s take a look at the top part of our chart (the raw data comes from Gabriel Desjardins’ behindthenet.ca):
As I mentioned earlier, the purpose here is to get a sense of which players were driving play in the offensive zone. Generally speaking, that isn’t going to be defensemen. When I looked at the five-year totals for forwards, I saw that the average individual point percentage was 70.0%. The best defensemen are well back of that total. In fact, Erik Karlsson beats just one forward by this measure (way to go Jerred Smithson!). That points to one of two possible conclusions: either the best offensive defensemen in the NHL are contributing less to scoring goals than the worst regular NHL forwards, or the way that points are awarded systematically undervalues the offensive contribution of defensemen during five-on-five play. My guess would be the latter, and I look forward to exploring that idea in the future.
As for the players in this top part of the chart, it’s an interesting group. Some of the players listed here are clearly some of the better all-around defensemen in the NHL (Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo). Others know their way around the offensive zone, but have clear defensive deficiencies (Cody Franson, Anton Babchuk). Mike Green’s presence here is particularly impressive given his bottom-five finish in 2011-12. If we throw that season out, Green would jump to 10th overall.
The first half of this middle group is where most of the really good all-around defensemen reside, which is pretty much in line with my expectations. They get bested offensively by the players cheating for offense, but among the players who take the defensive aspects of the game seriously, players like Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, and Zdeno Chara are among the best.
One player who stands out in this group is Ryan Suter, who has just a little bit less offense than his regular partner, Shea Weber. The number is still very good, and certainly nothing to be concerned about if you’re a Wild fan, but it does jive with what we know of the differences between the two players (i.e. Weber being used as a shooting option much more frequently).
The more defensively-minded all-arounders and plain old defensive defensemen start to come out on this list. The biggest question mark around Jay Bouwmeester has always been his offense, and it’s clear that he’s a step down from most of the players in his pay scale by this measure. We also see Brent Seabrook well below his regular partner, Duncan Keith, which again fits with my own subjective take (Keith does more of the puck-moving).
But not all of these players are pure defense. Jack Johnson, for instance, is more pure chaos. When the offensive reward isn’t even there for a player like this, it’s hard to understand how he gets so much ice time.
If you’re on this list and defense isn’t your calling card, you probably shouldn’t be playing in the NHL. For those who do belong, it would be fair to use the term one-dimensional, but many of them provide tremendous value by playing tough minutes: effective defensive payers like Vlasic, Smid, Alzner, and Gorges will likely be at the bottom of this list for years to come.