Cam Charron of Flames Nation recently brought up the issue of how NHL pundits have been improperly using the term “defensive” and “two-way” forwards to describe players, mostly when it came to deciding Selke Award winners. He discusses how he feels that “the best defensive players” should be ones who play tough assignments and prevent shots sufficiently better than others. Meanwhile, two-way players are those who produce at both end of he ice. Some recent Selke winners appear to fit the latter category more than the former, which is understandable when you think about it. A player who scores more goals like Ryan Kesler or Pavel Datsyuk will get more attention than players like Tom Wandell, Paul Gaustad and Joel Ward who are terrific defensive forwards but will probably never win a Selke unless they have a 20-goal season.
He brings up a great point with this but he does bring up a point at the end of the article where he states that he judges defensive players by their adjusted Fenwick ratings and lists who each Canadian team’s best defensive and two-way forwards are. The team’s best players through Fenwick would be ones who gave up the least amount of non-blocked shots at even strength with some adjustments made based on where they started their shifts. Two way players are similar only they put up a considerable amount of production in the offenzive zone, as well. In the case of the Hurricanes last season, Chad LaRose had the strongest Fewncik percentage at even strength and I don’t know if his 15 goals and 31 points last year is enough to consider him a two-way player. The next closest regular player who took more defensive zone starts was Eric Staal and most would consider him a two-way forward.
I decided to do this only I went by a player’s shots allowed per 60 minutes while taking their corsi numbers and zone starts into consideration. Information is available at Behind The Net’s stat site, like always. The players who surrendered the fewest shots per 60 minutes at even strength while taking a lot of tough draws are who I would say are the team’s best defensive players, those who didn’t yield a lot of shots and produced a lot of offense by this are the team’s best two-players. I only used players who played 40 of their respective teams games this year to do this because anything lower would cause some pretty odd result. My original plan was to go through each team and state who their best defensive and two-way forwards are but I made some pretty interesting discoveries while doing this research so I thought I would share some of this information instead.
First, Jiri Tlusty was the team’s best defensive forward last year. Yeah, that shocked me too when I saw it but he gave up the least amount of shots per 60 minutes (25.4) and started only 45% of his draws in the offensive zone. He doesn’t do much to drive the play or carry momentum and ended up on the negative side of the corsi scale because of this but didn’t get killed, so technically he was the team’s best defensive forward when you go by shots yielded. However, he had less than 10 minutes of ice-time at even strength last year with third/fourth line minutes so that makes things a little clearer. The next best player was LaRose with 28 shots yielded per 60 minutes and he had a very solid corsi rating as well so he could be considered the team’s best two-way forward. Eric Staal would have been my original answer if you had asked me yesterday but he gave up the third most shots per 60 minutes out of the Carolina forwards I sampled (31.2) but was able to generate enough offense to off-set some defensive issues he apparently had last year. I found out that a big issue with the Canes last year was that their best “defensive forwards” couldn’t create much offense on their own despite not surrendering a lot of shots with tough zone starts. Dwyer, Tlusty and Sutter in particular. Also highlighted a problem that the Canes gave up way too many shots at even strength last season for me to be comfortable. Here’s some things I found out about other teams by doing this study.
Their top six looks even better when you consider how many tough zone starts they get. Getzlaf, Perry and Selanne all started more than 50% of their draws in the defensive zone and Getzlaf out-played his competition by a mile. He also surrendered the least amount of shots per 60 minutes among their top-six forwards, showing how good of a player he is at both ends of the ice. Perry may have won the Hart last season but if I was building a team, I would take Getzlaf over him because of how dominant he can be in all three zones.. One of my favorite players to watch and this just reinforces it.
It’s impressive how much offense Patrice Bergeron is able to create despite being saddled in his own zone for a lot of the time. Also impressive that he doesn’t give up a lot of shots while doing so. Chris Kelly was well worth the second round pick Boston gave up for him as he surrendered the fewest amount of shots per 60 minutes and did a lot of heavy lifting, as well. Oh, and he also helped the team win the Stanley Cup. Bergeron usually gets a lot of credit as a great two-way player and after looking at his underying numbers, it’s easy to see why.
It’s good to have a face-off specialist who can help contribute in other areas, that’s exactly what Paul Gaustad does. Saw the toughest zone starts on the Sabres and finished with a positive corsi number and the third least shots surrendered per 60 mins. per regular forwards. Other guys who received the tough assignments were Mike Grier and Rob Niedermeyer…who have yet to be re-signed by anyone yet and their performance clearly shows why. Sabres fans have to like what they got out of Nathan Gerbe this year, too.
Samuel Pahlsson, Derek Dorsett and Chris Clark were the only regular forwards who had OZ% below 50 and they were absolutely BURIED. Pahlsson having an OZ% rate of only 34.2%. Columbus, as a whole, did not give up a lot of shots against at even strength this season so none of their players did too bad aside from Chris Clark. It should be noted that Dorsett and Pahlsson gave up the second and fourth least amount of shots against at even strength but still were outplayed, showing that they did not do much to create offense on their own but after adjusting his corsi rating for his zone start percentage, he comes out as a positive possession player. Columbus was not a bad team at all last year but they suffered from poor goaltending and special teams which did them in before they could make a run for the playoffs. They have forwards who can play defense but guys like Brassard, Boll and Voracek were not doing enough. Maybe things can change with Jeff Carter centering Rick Nash (who was sheltered quite a bit last year) will change things. They also lacked a player who could play in key defensive situations and contribute offensively last year from the looks of things seeing how Pahlsson, Dorsett and Clark were given ridiculous DZ% rates.
Much was made about how Vancouver utilized Manny Malhotra to help the Sedins and Ryan Kesler but Chicago did a very similar thing with David Bolland and Jonathan Toews. Bolland started less than 40% of his draws in his own zone while Toews, Brouwer, Kane and Stalberg had over 60% in the offensive zone. Those four players along with Tomas Kopecky surrendered the least amount of shots for this Hawks team, too. It’s a little odd how Toews, who is usually praised for his defense, was being sheltered this much but it sort of makes sense when you conside the Hawks lack of depth up front. Also shows why the Hawks felt comfortable dealing Brouwer at the draft a couple months ago. A fine player, but like the many other players Chicago lost, he’s replaceable.
Interesting to see Todd Richards shelter a player with defensive capabilities like Miikko Koivu, especially since it meant givng tougher minutes to Martin Havlat’s line. In fact, Koivu, Miettinen and Brunette were the only players to receive the majority of their starts in the offensive zone while others like Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and John Madden had to do some serious heavy-lifting. I could see this easily changing with Minnesota’s new forward corps but if Heatley plays on Koivu’s line then the latter will probably continue to receive sheltered draws and the rest of the team will suffer.
David Desharnais has essentially replaced Maxim Lapierre on the Habs and he does it without constantly taking silly penalties. Desharnais helped make things slightly easier for Tomas Plekanec this season by not forcing him to take all of the tough draws for Montreal and be one of the main scorers. If Desharnais is as effective as he was last seaosn and Plekanec can work well with Erik Cole, then it should be a good year for Montreal.
Patrik Elias’ point production seems to decrease every season but I think his value as a defensive forward just keeps increasing by the year as he only surrendered a little over 20 shots per 60 minutes at even strength, which is excellent. However, they can’t afford to bury him with defensive zone draws as there wasn’t a lot of offensive firepower on this team last year and they needed him to be a point-getter. Wonder if things will change once Parise is back and younger players like Tedenby and Josefson begin to emerge.
Joel Ward is a HUGE loss to this team. Anyone who can be such a positive possession-type player despite starting over 60% of his draws in his own zone is pretty outstanding, which is why the Caps signed him at a slightly high price. However, despite losing him and Marcel Goc, the Preds have no shortage of defensive forwards at their arsenal but none of them are as good as Ward. Also, the Preds could never really take advantage of having guys who could take tough draws to benefit their scoring lines but I think that mostly has to do with Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn being their top scorers recently.
The Isles are also using their more defensive forwards to benefit their other players as guys like John Tavares, Matt Moulson and PA Parenteau really benefitted from some easy ice-time thanks to Frans Nielsen, Blake Comeau and Michael Grabner taking some tough draws and making the most out of them. Grabner’s rookie season looks even more impressive when you see that he didn’t benefit from soft minutes and PA Parenteau suddenly becoming a good player has more to do with him playing with good linemates and getting easier minutes. I do not understand most people’s admiration for Zenon Konopka, though. Yes, he’s good at face-offs and takes a lot of defensive zone draws but that doesn’t mean much when you can barely get the puck out of the zone.
The Rangers getting Brad Richards instantly makes them a contender now that they have a first line center to play with Marian Gaborik and then you have to worry about hte tandem of Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky behind them. These two had very efficient seasons at both ends of the ice and it’s going to be scary now that they are going to be relied on for only secondary scoring now instead of primary scoring like last year with Richards around. Guys who can take tough draws and produce a lot offense are some of the most valuable players in in the NHL, so there’s a good chance the Rangers are going be at the top of a lot of people’s preaseason rankings.
Fiddler is a lot like Joel Ward where he starts a ton of his shifts in his own zone and managed to play well territorially despite that. He did not have a good season last year, though and the coyotes elected to replace him with Raffi Torres who played in a similar role for the Canucks last season. The Coyotes roster is full of playaers who take tough draws, though. Vrbata, Hanzal, Pyatt, Stempniak and you can add Boyd Gordon to that list now. The easier minutes go to players like Whitney, Doan and youngester Kyle Turris. This kind of system has worked wlel for Dave Tippett the last two seasons but let’s see how it does with some new personnel.
Try this with the teams you follow and see what kind of results you come up with.
Who is your team’s best defensvie and two-way forward? What else did you find out?