Best Defensive Forward Ever
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11-02-2012, 08:47 AM
Join Date: Jun 2007
After developing an adjusted plus-minus system, Craig Ramsay stood out as someone who performed very well by that metric. And in the years since then as I have looked at the data, Ramsay stands out as a real anomaly. Players who kill penalties, don't play on the power play, and play tough match ups at even strength are virtually always minus players relative to their teammates over the long run. It's just the nature of the role. The two exceptions? Craig Ramsay and Don Luce, who played together and outperformed the other forward lines on their team by quite a bit.
So I've put some thought into this topic over the years, as you can see from 70s digging up my old posts.
Possible explanations for Ramsay and Luce's anomalous performance:
1. The linemate effect. They played together for several years, and had Danny Gare as a regular linemate. It isn't common for checking lines to have three very good players over several years, and it's possible that three plus players are just that much more effective than one or two plus players with plugs. And Gare was a skilled player who could fill up the net, not a typical third wheel on a checking line.
This should be a major advantage for Ramsay over Gainey with regard to plus-minus. It doesn't explain why Ramsay's line outperformed their own teammates, the famous French Connection, at ES. Again, this is basically a unique situation since expansion where a checking line has a better +/- than a scoring line over several seasons. And all the advantages of continuity with three very good players on a line should apply equally to Martin-Perreault-Robert as to Ramsay-Luce-Gare.
Canadiens1958 made the suggestion in a Perreault thread some years ago that the small ice surface in Buffalo was responsible. I ran home/road scoring for four seasons in the late 70s and found that Ramsay/Luce/Gare scored 30-40% more ES points at home, and Martin/Perreault/Robert score about the same # of ES points at home as on the road. Most players scored 10-20% more ES points at home. The data supports this idea and I think it makes sense as well. MPR were a creative line that would benefit from more space, and RLG were a destructive counter attacking line that would benefit from less space. The data only addresses offensive results, but that's a major component of plus-minus, so I think the home rink issue is another cause of the plus-minus anomaly. ( I still think Martin-Perreault-Robert were overrated and Ramsay-Luce-Gare were underrated.)
I wouldn't go as far as 70s in using ESGA to directly estimate defensive play. After all, Craig Berube had very low ESGA - because he played low minutes with no matchup responsibility. One could say that Ramsay and Gainey played in similar roles but I think that assumes too much. Gainey was shuffled around the lineup in a way that Ramsay wasn't and it seems likely that Scotty Bowman was able to put him in tougher situations as a result.
I would agree that Gainey probably received a lot of hype from playing in Montreal for a dynasty, and Ramsay was a bit underrated in comparison. There's also good reason beyond the ES stats to see Ramsay as an excellent defensive player. Consistently high finishes in Selke voting, a key player (maybe the key player?) on the best penalty kill in the league, etc. But I can't say confidently that Ramsay was better defensively than Gainey. Too much uncertainty in the information I have.
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