Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Benchmarks, Part V -- Defensive Balance

The fifth installment in this package looks at the matter of balance in the defensive squad, as opposed to a focus on top pairs. So, what is the benchmark here?


Brian Campbell
Dmitri Kalinin
Teppo Numminen
Nathan Paetsch
Jaroslav Spacek
Toni Lydman
Henrik Talinder

This group was the most balanced group of defensemen in the NHL, or at least the most successful in implementing a balanced approach to their game. Here are examples of the balance expressed by this squad:

Games: All played at least 63 games, with the exception of Tallinder, who was limited to 47 games due to a broken arm and sprained ankle.

Points: While Brian Campbell led the group with 49 points (a product of his 42 assists, tied for second on the club), the rest fell between 19 and 29 points. Tallinder had 14 points in his 47 games, which projects to 24 over a full season.

Plus/Minus: Campbell, again, stands higher than the rest of the pack with a +28 (which tracks with his points), but the rest fall neatly between +10 and +20.

Time-on-ice: If you account for the fact that Paetsch filling in for Tallinder during his injury probably means a bit less time on average for the replacement, this is a very balanced group in this regard. Looking at the top six defensemen in playing time (excluding Paetsch), the lowest average was 19:09 (Spacek), while the highest was Campbell (21:52). The shifts-per-game are similarly distributed among the top-six – 22.6 at the low end, 26.3 at the top.

Responsibility: Here is a revealing set of numbers. Of the five players who registered at least 62 games, each led the defense in at least one noteworthy category:

Hits: Lydman
Blocked Shots: Lydman
Takeaways: Kalinin
Giveaways (fewest): Spacek
Goals: Kalinin
Assists: Campbell
Plus/Minus: Campbell
PIMS: Spacek
Time-on-ice: Campbell
Shifts: Numminen

This is a remarkably balanced squad. Without what appears to be a true #1 defenseman – they seem more to have a bunch of 2-3-4 types – such balance was necessary for the Sabres to realize the success they’ve achieved over the past two years.

Capitals (projected top six):

Brian Pothier
Tom Poti
Shaone Morrisonn
Steve Eminger
Milan Jurcina
Mike Green

First, this group is presented for argument only. It is certainly possible that the Caps will add a blueliner before or during training camp, and there is enough congestion in the group that guys like Josef Boumedienne, John Erskine, Jeff Schultz, or even a Karl Alzner could join the mix. That would only seem to bolster the argument that the Caps are a squad of equals in many respects, that they do not -- as offered in the benchmark on “top pairs” -- yet have a true top pair among their defensemen.

The returning defensemen in the above group (Pothier, Morrisonn, Eminger, Juricna, Green) was somewhat balanced, but that’s not necessarily a positive. For example:

-- The group had a total of 11 goals in 328 man-games (Jurcina had two others with Boston before being traded to Washington). None had more than three (Pothier, Morrisonn). Meanwhile, Buffalo’s top-five in games played had 24 goals in 355 man-games. None had more than seven (Kalinin).

-- The Washington group had 68 assists. The Buffalo group had 124 assists

-- Brian Pothier, who was among the league leaders in ice time early in the year, ended up with 23:59 for the season. After that, Morrisonn and Eminger are close (20:57, 18:56), then there are Jurcina and Green (16:02, 15:29). From top-to-bottom, the range in shifts is 9.2 per game with Pothier at the top (28.8), Green at the bottom (19.6). Buffalo had a range of only 3.7 shifts per game from top to bottom, barely a shift per period.

-- In terms of the spread of responsibility, it breaks down like this:

Hits: Morrisonn
Blocked Shots: Pothier
Takeaways: Morrisonn
Giveaways (fewest): Jurcina
Goals: Jurcina
Assists: Pothier
Plus/Minus: Morrisonn
PIMS: Morrisonn
Time-on-ice: Pothier
Shifts: Morrisonn

Jurcina’s full-year totals figure into the above, so given the split of his time between Boston and Washington, clearly Pothier and Morrisonn dominated the statistical summary. The difficulty is that Pothier and Morrisonn do not (yet) constitute the sort of top-pair that should dominate the numbers on a top-flight team. The Caps have the sort of talent and experience as they enter the season to be more of a balanced squad on the blue line. But to do that, some folks need to step up.

Steve Eminger certainly could take the next step. Although his full-year numbers were not especially noteworthy, he had a better second half than first half. That is encouraging.

Milan Jurcina made a good first impression on the club (note his new contract) and its fans, but this year the task at hand is to show that last year was not merely an impression.

Mike Green (or Jeff Schultz, for that matter) needs to cast off the Bear jersey for good at some point. If they can do so this year, either could be a contributor to a solid back line.

Tom Poti gets added to this mix. His reputation is uneven – while he has talent in the offensive zone and gives the Caps a power-play option they lacked last year, the complaints about him are that he is inconsistent in his own zone and does not use his size as effectively as he could.

No group has more potential on this club, and none is fraught with more uncertainty. The template for performance does not, it seems to me, include trying to emulate the Anaheim Ducks – the Caps just do not have the talent or experience for that. But Buffalo serves as a useful benchmark, the sort of club that does not have a single dominating defenseman or a “top pair” in the conventional sense of the term. The Caps’ strength is in depth, provided guys with potential and talent make the sort of progress to be hoped and expected of them.

Ted's Getting Serious

The Boss has been on a mini-roll the past few days, taking up the matter of whether the brain trust (for lack of a more suitable, less family-friendly term) at WTEM-980AM radio "get it" in their coverage of soccer and, by extension, hockey.

Today, he fires another broadside and adds a twist, suggesting the possibility of a federation of Caps-affiliated bloggers (who, in Ted's terminology, would form a "keiretsu").

There is already a hockey bloggers group on one of the major social networking sites, and now this.

Bloggers of the world, unite!