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08-11-2012, 04:35 PM
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A little perspective on the current star defenseman

Most of us know that there is a fairly consistent consensus as to who are the best defenseman in the NHL, but there are large varieties of opinions when it comes to ranking those stud defenseman.

So what I wanted to do was to look at the top 10 defenseman as voted by HFboards ( and to look at them a little closer in terms of what they contribute to their respective teams in terms of winning games.

I excluded Lidstrom because he's retired, and Yandle because he was so low in Corsi Rel QoC and thus wasn't really easily comparable to the other defenseman in my opinion. I replaced him with OEL for personal interest.

Another thing to note with regards to QoC as I am quite sure this will come up in the posts in this thread, is that QoC plays almost no role in terms of a defenseman's advanced statistics over an 82 game period because they all face top competition, and even if one defenseman faces top competition more than the other, the difference in advanced statistics (ie. goals against, goals for, etc.) is so negligible that it isn't worth analysing (You can read about that here:

As such, because these are all first pairing defenseman who face top competition on a regular basis, we can compare apples to apples here and no one should take issue with that and claim the "tougher competition" card. Please read the article if you are going to make such a post before posting to keep this thread clean.

So the first thing I looked at was overall +/- per 60 minutes of hockey. Naturally this indicates which defenseman was "best" when on the ice though it does not consider the strength of his teammates, or the strength of their team as a whole.

This picture suggests Kris Letang was outstanding when on the ice and is by far the best of the defenseman. Chara is second which should come as no surprise as both Pittsburgh and Boston were great teams finishing #4 and #7 in league standings respectively.

Next is Erik Karlsson, which is quite surprising because his team was #16 in league standings, the lowest standing of all the players' teams in this study.

Of particular note is that Alex Pietrangelo finished 6 of 9 in this metric despite being on the #3 league wide St. Louis Blues. This is potentially attributable to the fact that St. Louis is one of the most balanced teams in the NHL and has a scoring-by-committee type of play and thus are boosted in the standings not from one dominant line, but by multiple strong lines (which would explain why his +/- per 60 may not be as high due to potentially not that strong of teammates relative to some of the other guys in this study).

Next I looked at +/- per 60 relative to their teams. This essentially showed how much better the team did when the defenseman in question was on the ice in terms of +/-. Effectively this illustrates how much this player "boosted" their team over their standard play when he was on the ice. It should be noted that this metric is biased towards players on bad teams because if that team has only one good line (but it is a great line) and that defenseman plays with that line, that will obviously make them look better than they are:

This metric suggests again that Kris Letang is the most dominant defenseman - especially impressive considering his dominance in the previous metric. However, it should be noted that Kris Letang did not play nearly a full year this year, and it's possible that the games he played the team played better than they did on average (possibly as a result of the fact that he was playing in the first place?). Further analysis would be needed to properly account for this, but I will instead say that this is interesting for another study, but not in itself a clear indication that Letang is in fact as dominant as this indicates (though it potentially is).

In 2nd place is Erik Karlsson. As mentioned this is not overly surprising since Ottawa is very much a one-line team where lines #3,4 and to a lesser extent #2, are not nearly as good as line one where Erik Karlsson plays mostly.

Weber is 3rd, which shouldn't be much of a surprise given the fact that he is one of the best defenseman in the game and is also paired with an excellent partner in Ryan Suter who places 5th.

Next is Chara, again no surprise since he is one of the best defenseman in the game.

Of particular interest is that Pietrangelo is #7 of 8 in this metric, which can likely be partially attributed to the fact that St. Louis is such a good team that is widely a scoring by committee affair as discussed earlier.

Lastly, and what I think is the best and is my personal contribution, is a new metric I made which looks at the defenseman's most frequent linemates (top 10) excluding their main defensive partner (so 9). That is, this doesn't merely look at the Team +/-, but rather looks as the players +/- with which the defenseman in question plays with the most.

This effectively allows us to gauge exactly how much better the team performs when he is on the ice relative to his most frequent teammates. This seeks to isolate how good each defenseman really is and is in my opinion the best of the three metrics posted in this thread. I consider this to be the best representation of how good a defenseman is.

It is a weighted average based on % of ice time and the corresponding linemate's +/- ON.

The results are as follows:

Again Letang wins this metric, but again, it should be noted that the +/- ON of his teammates used in the equation is for 82 games, and he didn't play all those games so it's kind of comparing apples to oranges. You'd need to do more work to paint a clearer picture.

Karlsson is second and given my avatar, of course I'm going to talk about this. What this means is that Ottawa performed relatively better than every other team in the study when Karlsson was on the ice after controlling for the fact that he gets to play with Spezza, Michalek, and Greening so much.

In my opinion, this is a pretty huge conclusion given the fact that he won the Norris this year even though many don't think he should have and thought it should have gone to...

Shea Weber. The guy who just so happens to be pretty much neck-and-neck with Karlsson in this metric (in fact, it's basically a tie, I just posted Karlsson first to rattle some peoples' cages ). Again, I believe this metric is a very good measure of how good a defenseman is at causing their team to win games.

Next is Suter, again, not surprising since he's paired with Weber almost all the time so it's hard to conclude from strictly statistics which one is better but it's generally considered to be Weber. Again, it should be noted that Weber probably is being helped a fair bit by Suter in all 3 of the metrics whereas Karlsson is working only with Kuba.

Then of course is our next Norris nominee Mr. Chara who is of course an excellent defenseman and widely considered to be one of the best in the league.

Pretty interesting results in my opinion, feel free to discuss the three and speak your mind as to which (if any) you like.

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