Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Relative Value of Forwards and Defensemen

I wouldn't post on the topic but Dennis is starting to concern me here a bit, dude is lost in negativity and hasn't posted a thread in yonks either. And the normally cool guys at CinO are feeding off of each other's darkness at this point. A shame. I don't know what's going on in the friendnasium, but I'm guessing much drinking of bourbon with the lights dimmed. Don't MAKE me send Pat 'round to smash your Air Supply CDs and turn up the lights boys, cuz I will! Snap out of it.

Anyhow, shit happens when it does, we all know it. Goalposts happen, deflections happen, soft goals happen, passes between skates sometimes work and make you look brilliant ... or the same pass misses by a hair and you end up looking like a tit. That's life. No surprises there.

And how do you separate the D from the F when they are always on the ice together?
You can't imo. What you can do is see the difference in results from the top 2/3rds of defensemen to the bottom 1/3rd. And the same for forwards.

And of course you could weight everyone's dice in a craps game, based on hockey skills, and still some of the bad dice are going to have winning stretches, and some of the good dice are going to see the opposite ... that's life, we all know it. But on the whole one would hope that it would wash out. So you filter out the overall randomness (not surprisingly a bell shaped curve like the ones, back in your youth, that have let you pass courses that you thought you had failed. :) )

In short, all we can do is look at the relative difference. How the spread of results for Dmen and forwards shakes out. A replacement value way of thinking. And look at the collective results so as to not get caught up in the oddities. And since you can only look at one aspect of the game at a time, I've chosen even strength.

As a dimensionless number, the bigger it is the stronger the value of good players at their position relative to the guy 1/3rd of the way up the ladder:

At goal prevention (EV-) ...
Defensemen: 27
Forwards: 23

These should be the same. Must be the new NHL, defensemen really do matter a bit more. Still, near enough the same.

At goal creation (EV+) ...
Defensemen: 35
Forwards: 48

This is where the wheat gets separated from the chaff. The ability to be on the ice when goals are scored at even strength varies widely, for both D and F relative to their peers. The difference between the good and the mediocre starts to pull apart. Especially for forwards, they are driving the bus here. And as a consequence the same goes for outscoring.

Bottom line ...

1. Creation of offense is harder to replace than prevention of it. When it comes to making decisions or plays that result in the puck going in the bad guy's net ... with offense there is a bigger difference between the guys who can get it done and the journeymen.

2. Forwards drive that result a lot more than defensemen do. Less so now, but it's still a helluva gap.


My point:

For whatever reason, right now offensive defensemen are clearly overpriced relative to offensive forwards. Even considering PP contributions. Probably not relative to their defensive minded peers, but relative to forwards. And maybe this whole thing will shift and in a couple of years defensemen who can create offense will be undervalued. Who knows? The market will determine that.

IMO the wise man bets on sevens if he is given the same odds on any number in a roll of the dice. Even if a madass stretch of sixes have been rolled. And forwards who can create more offense than they surrender ... they are the sevens in 2006. Just are.


Anonymous oilswell said...

Good post Vic. I was hoping someone would really dive into the numbers for this. At least we have some inkling with these. You effectively drive home the point about not getting suicidal over a weaker D, but of course the important part that's sill left out is whether the F team MacT will be coaching can really create the differential needed.

Personally, I'm very much coming around to the strategy being used by the management to make the best omelete from whatever is available in the fridge. From the day the Oilers landed Pronger I wasn't happy with the salary distribution. I know that the actual salaries rarely relate to real value, but Pronger was costing as much as the entire first forward line, FFS. I might have gladly traded his salary in for a top 5 goalie in the league with the same contract (why goalies do not have (say) 5 of the top 10 salaries, I'm not sure). I really liked Pronger, don't get me wrong, but the Oilers were basically committing to having their top paid player for 5 years be a defender.

Right now, I'm just hopeful that the Oilers can ice enough talent up front to keep the puck away from their own zone. If (big if) Roloson's play is in the top third of the league, the thin-D strategy should also serve to magnify this relative strength. If so, that $4+M salary he's getting would look more palatable.

7/12/2006 5:57 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

Don't worry about me Vic. I'll be alright:)

Work has picked up and I'm going to the gym more and playing some summer sports so while I'm keeping an eye on the happenings I'm just not as fervent as I was a couple of weeks ago.

That being said I am spurred to post on the times when I really get mad about how some people seem content with the pisspoor return for Pronger.

7/12/2006 7:25 pm  
Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

(why goalies do not have (say) 5 of the top 10 salaries, I'm not sure).

My guess would be something to do with difficulty in forecasting their performance resulting in a big risk discount but that's just a guess.

If (big if) Roloson's play is in the top third of the league, the thin-D strategy should also serve to magnify this relative strength. If so, that $4+M salary he's getting would look more palatable.

It must be the season but I'm mucking around with replacement value metrics myself and have been chipping away at a post about goalies and what their replacement value is for a while. Interestingly, over the past 5 years, I have Roloson as a top ten, which is particularly good in light of my metric factoring in playing time. Doesn't mean that it makes sense to pay him for the next three years for that of course, but a guy can hope.

Except Dennis.;)

7/12/2006 7:45 pm  
Anonymous YKOil said...

My 'we-should-see-what-he-would-cost-us' special this year is Aucoin. No way a horse like that follows up such a lousy year with another lousy year. Given the contracts handed out to d-men this off-season his $4 million/year is peanuts.

But other than him I am with you on the rest of the post. The 80's Oilers, sans Coffey, still won 3 Cups WITHOUT a player of that caliber - just a set of d-men that played steady, steady hockey and an offense-first minded forward corps that learned to sacrifice themselves when it counted.

Which is really the key. Forwards who can stay offense positive and go defense even when they need to is the way to go imo.

7/12/2006 10:39 pm  
Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Well, you look at the Canes. Everyone figured their D would fold - no big names etc etc.

Now, I don't know about the whole puck possession thing - do we have access to those stats - the WC tracks that and it would be interesting to see if the Canes' talk of playing a puck possession game was true or just blowing smoke.

Anyhow, one way of helping out a weak backend - own the puck. Just like the Russians used to.

7/13/2006 8:25 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


I'm sure that Aucoin will bounce back, he's a quality player. Injuries killed his season before he had a chance to bounce back. That Chicago team had a helluva D corps with him, Spacek, Cullimore, Keith and Vandermeer. And Babchuk, Seabrook and Braker on the rise. Put that group behind Ottawa's forward corps and in front of Hasek ... they would have looked like world beaters.

How good is S.J's defence? Everyone thought that they were a collective bag of suck until Joe Thornton arrived ... after that they became a model to be emulated. Would Preissing have fetched Mark Bell in return if the Thornton trade had never happened? I dunno.

If, last summer, you had predicted that Carolina would have a great year with Hedican as their #1 D and Commodore and Aaron Ward as the second and thrid guys in the pecking order at even strength ... people would have thought you were as mad as a hatter.

Toni Lydman played a monstrous chunk of Forsberg's minutes in the playoffs, especially on home ice. And similar throughout the year along with Tallinder. And playing a tough schedule too. How many of us would have considered that a recipe for success in Buffalo last summer? Not me, and I'm a guy who thought there must be more to Lydman's game based on his tough minutes numbers from years previous (I hadn't even heard of Tallinder at the time btw)

Foote was a Pierre McGuire monster when he played on those strong Colorado teams. He's still a very good defenseman, but he didn't exactly make a noticable difference to that CBJ squad's results.

I'd like to see a veteran back there on reasonable coin. Hell, even Colin White at $3M on a long term deal sounds good, heck of a player. Matvichuk at $2M? ... sure. Lukowich @ $1M? ... I'm on board! Tarnstrom @ $1.5? ... sign him up.

7/13/2006 11:01 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

oilswell said:

...the important part that's sill left out is whether the F team MacT will be coaching can really create the differential needed.

Ya, that's the $64 question. Lupul, Hemsky and Schremp on the same roster is scary. Add in Stoll and Torres and Pouliot ... ouch. Good young players all I'm sure. And I'd like to think that Torres, Stoll and even Hemsky are going to be able to step up and get results with more responsibility. A lot of young players with holes in their games there though to go along with the vets. They need to add another solid veteran up front I think, someone is is hard on the puck.

7/13/2006 11:07 am  
Anonymous Julian said...

LT is saying Lindros, does he fit that description Vic?

I don't think we'll see all of Schremp, MAP and JFJ make it though, probably Schremp is the least likely.

7/13/2006 1:35 pm  
Anonymous YKOil said...

Heya Vic, nice to see we agree on Aucoin. Barring injury I see great things coming from him this year - IF ONLY BECAUSE - Khabibulin won't have as bad a year either.

That brings me too - da da da dum! - the other-factors-that-make-us-look-great awards.

Carolina - surprised by a Stanley Cup... yes I was. Surprised by their overall showing... not at all. Staal's play, and the fact that they had Gerber and Ward playing in net made a huge jump in point totals for them an easy call.

See also - the New York Rangers. Everyone points to Jagr and registers their surprise. Me... I knew Lundquist was coming in and that alone made making the play-offs a 50/50 call.

Easiest way to make a call on whether a BAD team (that distinction is important) improves year-over-year or not - look at the goaltending. Improved goaltending for such teams ALWAYS leads to a MUCH better year. Only two reasons why that theory won't always work:

1. a Khabby disaster
2. team has no skaters either (Kolzig in Wash or Luongo in Florida)

Have to admit San Jose is a call I couldn't have made - though it all makes sense in hindsight. Two things happened there imo:

1. Thornton's presence moved the puck into the offensive zone - something which makes it harder for the other team to score
2. The play on offense better matched the defensive requirements of the players to the plays at hand

Think about that for a minute. Teams that stretch their offensive zone are better served by fast, intercept style d-men that play up on the zones. Teams that play dump-and-chase are better served by d-men who hang back and can play physical on the boards (since a key component of teams that play dump and chase is that they have trouble controlling the puck in the neutral zone - hence they will find the puck is deep in their own zone as often as not).

San Jose's d-men are much better suited to intercepting a forward in the neutral zone or picking up the puck early in their own zone than taking a bump at their own end boards, retaining possession by outmuscling the forward and getting the puck to the release man (something a Jason Smith type excels at).

My impression anyways. San Jose's offense was, with the addition of Thornton, an easy stream of puck pssession from their own hashmarks into the goalie. Edmonton's offense doesn't have that kind of smooth transition as we tend to play (outside of Hemsky) a dump-it-in-and-go-get-it style of offense.

That said, Preissing was a guy who I had spotted from 2004 the same way I have spotted many others (Spacek, Tarnstrom, etc - going all the way back to Carney believe it or not) - his stats looked out of place on his team. A rookie playing 69 games, avg 18+ minutes a game, getting 19 pts (on a low scoring team!) but probably only 2nd unit PP, is a +8 and all of that on a veteran team?


Maybe if he was a veteran playing protected minutes or a PP specialist on an offensive powerhouse I could see the +8... but he was a rookie playing big minutes. Definitely a player to watch. Ottawa did really well imo.

Despite all of that my read on San Jose for the coming year is quite simple - if they do anything special it all comes down to Nabokov. The last year he sucked donkey balls he came back the next and had a great year. Will history repeat?

Now, as to Tallinder. I was always a fan of any idea that would bring him to Edmonton but more as a speculative play than anything. Not because of anything I spotted stats wise but because I always seemed to come across some writings that were positive on him. Might have just been a line in a longer article remarking on how steady he was but there was always SOMETHING. I remember well your advocacy for Lydman. It isn't surprising that they both had decent seasons... what is surprising is how well they fit together as a defensive pairing. Impressive and completely unexpected (by me anyways).

Okay, time for me to wind it up - way to talky in this post. I agree with you on the d-men - Matvichuk, Tarnstrom, LUKOWICH (at his price he is an unbelievable value imo). All would make a positive difference and, by steadying the defensive core of the team, allow the forwards to make the difference they should.

Barring disaster I see us as being unchanged in the standings next year btw. The presence of Roloson will balance out the loss of Pronger and with that WE will be the ones who see if an offensively talented, but defensively aware, core of forwards and a good goalie can win the Cup with an average group of d-men.

7/14/2006 1:24 am  
Blogger Jeff J said...

"...with offense there is a bigger difference between the guys who can get it done and the journeymen."

OK, I'm convinced. I can still harbour the belief that Pronger is an unbelievable talent and can control a game. What makes Jagr more valuable is the fact that the gap between Pronger and Joe Blow on D is not as wide as the gap between Jagr and Joe Blow on RW.

It makes sense. From a young age, the greatest natural talents seem to drift toward playing centre.

7/14/2006 6:06 am  
Blogger Showerhead said...

I've been busy for a couple of days and have some more work to do yet...

but I will say that your last two posts have been excellent. You are attacking the most pertinent questions with... (choose your lame descriptor - you can have "flair" or "zest" but not both!)

7/14/2006 9:01 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home