Time On-Ice Studs: Finding Some Real MVP Seasons, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Updated: January 7, 2013 at 8:56 am by Ben Wendorf



In previous posts, I have stressed the value of understanding NHLers’ time on-ice as a percentage of available time (Time On-Ice%, or TOI%) rather than as a lump sum. I then found that TOI% at 5v5, 5v4, and 4v5 provide data points for a pretty nifty radar plot, what I’ve called a “Total Player Chart,” and used those TPCs to depict player value.

Since then, I’ve also expanded Total Player Charts to include “Team Total Player Charts,” or TTPCs, which demonstrate some other nifty stuff for looking at individual season depth charts for teams (such as the Vancouver Canucks in 2011-12), and looking at the evolution of player depth over time for teams (such as Vancouver from 2007-08 through 2011-12).*

I promised to come back and include some analysis of 5v4% and 4v5%, and for now there was one stone I felt was still left unturned: TOI% including all of 5v5, 5v4, and 4v5. By looking at individual TOI% performances over the last five seasons, and in particular those that are leading by this metric, you are undoubtedly looking at real MVPs, the players with the largest amount of their team’s minutes.

An overwhelming majority of the time, they are also logging the most crucial minutes. Now, I’ve heard some whispers of apprehension about trusting that coaches will always put the best player out there. They won’t always, but it won’t be for lack of trying. Traditionalists who refute statheads by saying we should defer to someone who “watches” or “plays” the game (I’ve done both, probably more than them, but I digress) should have no problem with deferring to a coaching assessment. And if they don’t, well who the hell are they, anyway? Stats folks have a right to be more skeptical, but are also beholden to the fact that coaches making the wrong decision will be a small part of the sample.

Suffice to say, it’s no sure measure, but it’s one of the best. 

*Incidentally, I draw attention to a critical distinction between the TTPCs in individual seasons versus multiple seasons as I present them. Explanation here.

Temporal Metrics and Players Values

Keeping that in mind, this analysis has brought one aching reality to me, something that I previously did not buy: defensemen are as crucial as forwards to a team’s success. This isn’t a talent argument, it’s not a leadership argument, and it’s not an offensive argument…it’s an issue of time. A temporal argument.

Now, raw TOI data has long held that defensemen were playing more minutes than forwards, but TOI% takes away the muddiness of that picture by controlling for effects of team penalties and era. With that clearer image, individual defensemen averaged about 7.5 TOI percentage points more at 5v5 (in other words, nearly 5 full 60 minute games) and 15 TOI percentage points more at 4v5 (reduced some by a 1.7 point advantage for forwards at 5v4; still leaves open about an additional game gap of ice time). So the TOI% difference between forwards and defensemen, over a season, pans out to a difference of about 6 full games.

Another way of looking at it for me is that, simply, defensemen play a greater role in team possession by sheer volume of minutes. Possession leads to shots, and shots lead to goals. That defensemen lack the kinds of touches to generate equivalent goal-scoring totals to forwards should mean very little.

True Hart


In regards to looking at top TOI% seasons, and MVP seasons, I think it’s clear that defensemen will always get slighted by the lack of flash and boxcars in their game (and no, I don’t think the Norris Trophy is enough; it should function like the Selke Trophy and more complete defensemen should be considered for the Hart). An important caveat, of course, is that if the team isn’t sound in possession metrics when the defenseman is on the ice, we’ll have to reconsider their value to their team.

Moving over to looking at these MVP seasons, I should say that I don’t consider any seasons less than about 75 games, for the simple fact that using TOI% should mean looking at people that had a stake in a majority of their team’s time. Thus, Dan Boyle’s extraordinary 45.2% of Tampa Bay’s minutes in 2007-08 don’t cut the mustard because it was done in only 37 of their games. Okay, first, the top ten TOI% seasons for defensemen and forwards, followed by Corsi On and Corsi Rel:

  1. Jay Bouwmeester, FLA, 2007-08 … 45.0% … -2.77 … +0.30
  2. Jay Bouwmeester, FLA, 2008-09 … 44.0% … -10.83 … -5.50
  3. Scott Niedermayer, ANA, 2008-09 … 43.83% … +1.77 … -1.30
  4. Chris Pronger, ANA, 2008-09 … 43.8% … +3.01 … +0.80
  5. Duncan Keith, CHI, 2010-11 … 43.701% … +10.93 … +8.40
  6. Dion Phaneuf, CGY, 2008-09 … 43.7% … +10.45 … -1.60 
  7. Zdeno Chara, BOS, 2007-08 … 43.66% … +7.76 … +9.20
  8. Brian Campbell, FLA, 2011-12 … 43.4% … +4.43 … +9.90
  9. Nicklas Lidstrom, DET, 2007-08 … 43.3% … +19.99 … +4.40
  10. Ryan Suter, NSH, 2011-12 … 43.29% … -2.98 … +7.30


  1. Martin St. Louis, TBL, 2007-08 … 39.9% … -1.37 … -0.70
  2. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJD, 2011-12 … 39.7% … +3.02 … +4.10
  3. Alex Ovechkin, WSH, 2008-09 … 37.8% … +18.97 … +12.30
  4. Alex Ovechkin, WSH, 2007-08 … 37.7% … +18.78 … +11.70
  5. Vincent Lecavalier, TBL, 2007-08 … 37.766% … -2.19 … -1.60
  6. Martin St. Louis, TBL, 2011-12 … 37.0% … -5.87 … +0.90
  7. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJD, 2010-11 … 36.9% … +2.56 … -2.40
  8. Corey Perry, ANA, 2010-11 … 36.6% … -6.83 … +7.90
  9. Evgeni Malkin, PIT, 2008-09 … 36.4% … -7.64 … -5.20
  10. Steven Stamkos, TBL, 2011-12 … 36.0% … -0.99 … +7.60

When looking at these two lists, the question is what makes up for the difference of about 5-6 games’ worth between the defenders in the top list versus the forwards in the bottom. Are those monumental +12’s in Corsi Rel from Ovechkin enough? I’d say it’s enough to pull him above those in the top list that are barely breaking even. But beyond that, it’s hard to see many of the below forwards matching the contributions of the best in the top list. So, using these two top 10 lists, what could be an alternative list of Hart Trophy recipients?

  • 2007-08 … Zdeno Chara
  • 2008-09 … Alex Ovechkin
  • 2009-10 … Dan Boyle (42.6% … +9.78 … +11.10)
  • 2010-11 … Duncan Keith
  • 2011-12 … Brian Campbell

Ovechkin being the exception, the other four Harts could definitely have gone to defensemen who logged well over 40% of the ice time for teams that a.) truly needed them to, and b.) truly benefited from it.

From this perspective, only Ovie’s extraordinary 2008-09 can measure up, though Sidney Crosby’s 2009-10 would have been close to Boyle. I think a huge part of what clouds our judgment on this is how the boxcars end up. I mean, how can we give the Hart to a guy who scored 45 points (Keith)? Well, believe it or not, there was a time when the NHL believed in the value of such players. Take these Hart Trophy winners in the 1930s, for example:

  • 1932-33 … Eddie Shore, D, BOS … 48 GP, 8 G, 27 A
  • 1934-35 … Eddie Shore, D, BOS … 48 GP, 7 G, 26 A
  • 1935-36 … Eddie Shore, D, BOS … 46 GP, 3 G, 16 A
  • 1936-37 … Babe Siebert, D, MTL … 44 GP, 8 G, 20 A
  • 1937-38 … Eddie Shore, D, BOS … 47 GP, 3 G, 14 A
  • 1939-40 … Ebbie Goodfellow, D, DET … 43 GP, 11 G, 17 A 

Of course, these guys were logging a much higher percentage of the minutes than today’s studs, but that also keeps the scoring comparison to a Duncan Keith ’10-11 in perspective. You’ll rightly point out that the 1930s were among the decades when defensemen didn’t have the Norris Trophy…but maybe that’s also made us forget about what a “valuable player” is for a team. Those guys above were recognized not just for points on the board in a low-scoring era (like today), but also for all those minutes they logged as the backbone of their team.

And if even then you don’t get my argument, go talk to your great-grandpa or something.