Blue Bayou (Defensive Defensemen)

One of the great writers of modern hockey advanced stats is Tom Awad. You’ll find lots of his writing at hockey prospectus and although it sometimes takes the reader (me) time to pick up what he’s putting down, the logic of his view of the game is pure.

Awad was one of the first guests I pursued when the Nation Radio shows began and the insight he offered during the interview was extremely valuable. There is no question we can all learn from Awad, the question is are you ready? Be prepared to have some of your hockey beliefs questioned, but keep an open mind.

Awad’s writings offer us a fine starting point as we begin to figure out what all of these young defensemen are going to do over the next decade. Today: finding an emerging defensive defenseman.

We often talk about “top 4D” and “depth D” like they are universally known disciplines. They are not and often cloud the issue. Let’s ask Tom Awad to give us a better picture of what we should be looking for–a real requirement—in a defensive defensemen:

  • Awad: It is easy for the value of a defensive defenseman to match the value of an offensive defenseman, but it is hard for him to match the value of a two-way defenseman. Top defensemen can contribute at even-strength, on the power-play and on the penalty-kill; a defensive defenseman, even an elite one like Willie Mitchell or Greg Zanon, is handicapped by his inability to contribute on the PP. On the other hand, one-way offensive defensemen, like Tobias Enstrom or Alex Goligoski are limited by the opposite problem. Best of all is someone who can contribute in all situations: Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara or Duncan Keith, but also Marc Staal, Brent Seabrook or even Mike Green. 

Completely logical and gets us away from “top 4D” and into “what does this player do well?” We’ve taken the argument from an emotional one to one of logic and reason.

  • Awad: Luckily for defensive defensemen, at even-strength defensive skills are more important for a defenseman than offensive skills. To find a top defensive defenseman, the 3 most important metrics are even-strength ice time, PK ice time and QualComp. A fourth is Corsi adjusted for Zone Starts, QualComp and QualTeam (DeltaSOT or something similar).

Now we’re looking at specifics. EV TOI, PK TOI and Qual Comp. Since this is an Oiler blog, let’s run the three disciplines from last year using Gabe’s behind the net numbers.

EV TOI (Oilers blue 10-11)

  1. Whitney 18:19
  2. Gilbert 18:09
  3. Petry 16:54
  4. Smid 16:50
  5. Peckham 15:58
  6. Vandermeer 15:39

Interesting list. Most of us would have guessed that Whitney and Gilbert led this category, but Petry’s number is a revelation. Coach Renney didn’t have Whitney due to injury, but did have other defensemen but chose Petry for a role well above the normal callup. When we talk about Petry being sent out, it might be wise to remember that the coach called his name above others at even strength last season. Peckham’s 16 minutes are also interesting, telling us that he had moved beyond some of the veteran hands available (Strudwick, Kurtis Foster) at the EV discipline in 10-11. Also interesting to note that Smid’s minutes do not tower over Peckham’s despite a large difference in NHL experience.

PK TOI (Oilers blue 10-11)

  1. Gilbert 3:21
  2. Whitney 2:42
  3. Smid 2:40
  4. Peckham 2:31
  5. Vandermeer 2:04
  6. Strudwick 1:57

This is a fascinating glance into the coach’s decision making process. Given the choice of veterans wide a nice range of skills (Gilbert, Whitney) versus young stay-at-homes (Smid, Peckham) and long in the tooth stay-at-homes (Vandermeer, Strudwick) he chooses the complete players (logical) and then goes with youth over experience. Interesting. We notice that Jeff Petry is not on the list of top options, perhaps suggesting there is more to be learned before he can be considered in the Whitney-Gilbert group. Smid and Peckham are quite close in minutes on PK, suggesting to me that once again Peckham has passed the older veterans on this team.

QUAL COMP (Oilers blue 10-11)

  1. Tom Gilbert .044
  2. Theo Peckham .023
  3. Ryan Whitney .016
  4. Ladislav Smid .005
  5. Jeff Petry -.033
  6. Jim Vandermeer -.047

Coach Renney used Peckham (based on these numbers) in more difficult situations than Smid. This isn’t to say that he would have in different circumstances but given the options available Peckham got the call. Gilbert struggled under the strain of tough minutes with Peckham, but another option (Smid) was available and many times coach Renney chose Peckham. In my reasonable expectations series earlier this summer, I wrote the following about him:

  •  Peckham played tougher minutes than one would think for a player of his experience. He did it while playing with Tom Gilbert 48% of the time at evens. He did have the toughest zone start, so for Peckham to emerge with his CorsiRel at -6.6 and a -5 overall (and allowing a major dollop for luck) that’s still a solid year. This was his first full NHL season.

I’m not one to reach grand conclusions on one year (or less) of available information. Having said that, and if we can agree Mr. Awad’s words hold water, then Peckham’s status as an NHL defensive defenseman is worth watching this coming season. He could be a useful player for the Oilers over the next several years.

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