Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Homer" isn't just a Simpson

Over at Japers’ Rink, there is a link to an article penned on the subject of Mike Green and his suitability as a Norris Trophy candidate. The author – Anthony J. SanFilippo – titled his article, “Embarrassed to be a Hockey Writer.”

As you can probably tell, this is not going to go well for Mike Green.

SanFilippo leads off with the measured praise, “look, this guy is very talented.” Then he goes on to write about how…

-- his “fellow scribes” probably failed to read the citation of the Trophy (“"given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position" – emphasis his)

-- “Any person who chooses to put the word greatest with Green's defensive resume should turn in their Professional Hockey Writers' Card post haste.”

-- “There's a reason Green was left off the Canadian Olympic Team. As good as he is at one end of the ice he's certifiably scary at the other end.”

-- “it's becoming painfully obvious that many of my colleagues have grown lazy and decide to vote just for the numbers they see on the leader board and take no consideration into the actual definition of the award.”

Then he hints at a dark conspiracy against Philadelphia writers (one supposes an effort to diminish the chances for the Flyers’ Chris Pronger)…

“Part of the problem may be that not all of the writers, who before today I thought were a lot more clued in, were able to vote. I've begun an inquiry into this belief, because I know not all of the beat writers in Philadelphia were afforded the chance to vote this season, whereas in previous seasons they were.”

SanFilippo then shares with his reader his ballots for league-wide awards, including the Norris…

1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
4. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
5. Christian Ehrhoff, Vancouver Canucks

One could build an argument for Doughty or Keith being more deserving candidates than Green for the Norris, but Lidstrom has had (for him) a somewhat uneven year. Pronger? That’s a hometown vote. His post Olympic performance (2-11-13, even, in 22 games) was hardly the stuff of Norris Trophies. But Christian Ehrhoff? That’s beyond a headscratcher.

Look (to borrow a phrase from SanFilippo), Ehrhoff had a fine season. At the risk of letting numbers dictate the perspective, Ehrhoff and Green compare in the raw numbers like this…

Those plus-minus numbers got us to thinking. Not much difference there, but apparently Ehrhoff’s plus-36 means more than Green’s plus-39 in SanFilippo's calculus. Perhaps Green’s plus-39 was padded in the weak “Southleast” Division. Not so. Green was a plus-4 in 22 games against Southeast Division opponents, but he was a plus-17 against teams in the Northeast and a plus-16 against teams in the Atlantic Division (Flyer-centric writers, take note that he was plus-7 against the orange and black). And if you’re thinking that being plus-4 in 22 games against a weak division is a problem for Green, Ehrhoff was plus-1 against the Southeast in five games.

But digging past that (with the help of the fine folks at who compile such detailed statistics), it becomes clearer that Green comes by his place among the finalists honestly (at the expense of Ehrhoff). At 5-on-5 (according to, the delta of plus-minus, on ice vs. off ice, are almost equal (+1.40 for Green to +1.33 for Ehrhoff). Green played against a generally higher quality of competition and had a higher Corsi rating relative to quality of competition.  He is ranked second among defensemen in "goals-versus-threshold" (a measure of the value of a player -- in goals, above what a replacement player would have contributed -- created by Tom Awad at Puck Prospectus).

If the award is, as SanFilippo points out, a reflection of the greatest all around ability at the position, then offense cannot be discounted any more than it can be a safe way to rank Norris candidates. Green is the best offensive defenseman of this era, and his offensive statistics compare favorably to last year’s in an important respect. Last year’s results were influenced by Green’s record-setting performance over an eight-game streak in which he had 10 goals and seven assists, setting an NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman. If that streak is taken out of the mix, Green’s numbers for the 2008-2009 season project out to a 29-48-77, +18 season. Compare that to this year’s results that project out to 21-62-83, +43 over a full 82-game season.

None of the finalists can be said to hold as lofty a position as a “defensive” defenseman as Mike Green holds on the offensive side of the ledger. The citation is for the top “all-around” defenseman, which is not to say “most balanced” between offense and defense. It is nice to see that voting in recent years (ok, for Nicklas Lidstrom) has struck a balance between offense and defense, as opposed to the “Paul Coffey” years that represented a drastic swing of the pendulum after defensive specialist Rod Langway won consecutive Norris trophies. But Green is not (or was not) entirely a slug in his own end this season. That plus-39 didn’t come entirely from the prolific offense with which Green played. In fact, Green was especially productive on the power play (he was 10-25-35 on the power play, which does not factor into his plus-minus numbers). The Caps were the best 5-on-5 team in the league by a wide margin. Green was a part of that, an important part, in fact.

Sometimes, uncovering a gem in the rough in voting like this is a product of a keen eye for what one sees on the ice and a diligent approach to reviewing the numbers. Sometimes, it is just a silly attempt to make one's self look smarter than everyone else, or to use a false comparison to puff up the value of another player who is really the object of the exercise. SanFilippo appears guilty of the latter, including Christian Ehrhoff on his ballot, less as a reflection of Ehrhoff’s superiority as a defenseman in 2009-2010 than to point out that Chris Pronger should be the one taking Green’s place on the ballot.

Frankly, we think he should be embarrassed to be a hockey writer, just not in quite the way he might have intended.

* Oh, and not to scoop ourselves (since we’ll have our own trophy handicapping later), but Green isn’t our choice for the Norris.

1 comment:

Randy said...

Nice job analysing the numbers and the argument. He damns with faint praise, then indirectly insults Green. I find it odd that SanFilippo claims that you can't just look at numbers, and then cites them anyway to try to make a point for Ehrhoff. But to call out other writers simply because they don't agree with him is silly. If Green is a "very talented guy", then no one should be faulted for voting for him. Plus he complains that the writers that agree with him weren't given a ballot. This reads more like a blogger's rant than a professional writer. Oh wait, check that, he writes for the Delaware County Times.