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The NHL’s top defensive defenseman: Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik?

Jan 12, 2011, 12:22 PM EDT


In many sports, it’s easy to track the impact an athlete can make on defense. Major League Baseball statheads developed all kinds of crazy ways to monitor the impact a player has on the field, which seems to generate hardcore vs. casual fan debates about Derek Jeter’s worth. (This is something you can see in passing during an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”)

When it comes to hockey, it’s a lot more difficult to measure defensive impact because most plays do not result in a goal and many goals are not the fault of every opposing player on the ice. Sure, you can observe numbers that range from vary in quality from plus/minus to Corsi ratings, but ultimately it’s largely about perception.

That being said, there are some numbers that are better than others. The Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle has been looking at the league’s best defensive defensemen and forwards spanning to his beloved blog, so when he puts together a list of those top players, people take notice.

Mirtle released his latest list for the “Rod Langway Award,” a fictional trophy that serves as a reaction to the offensive fixation exhibited by voters regarding the Norris Trophy. His is list is based on an unreleased formula that includes quality of competition (QCMP), even strength goals allowed per 60 minutes (EVGA/60) and shorthanded goals allowed per 60 minutes (SHGA/60).

As you can see from this screen shot of Mirtle’s list, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik ranks in first place so far for the 2010-11 season while the Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins produced two players in the top 10.

Interesting stuff.

Does this list – based on stats, not opinion – leave you convinced that these are the league’s best blueliners in their own end? Let us know in the comments.

  1. sknut - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    I think its an interesting concept, one thing though is that the teams goalie should be factored in. YOu could have a play where the d gets beat but your goalie rewards you with a save and vice versa. The guys from the list seem to have elite goalies behind them for the most part.

    • James O'Brien - Jan 12, 2011 at 2:38 PM

      Yup, you’re exactly right. They also include a few defensive pairings if those players rarely play apart. It has its fair share of flaws, but overall, an interesting list worthy of discussion.

      Sadly, it’s very difficult to find objective ways to rate defense. It will be exciting (in a nerdy way) to see how stats bloggers continue to tackle the problems as time goes along, though.

  2. psujay - Jan 12, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    I’m just wondering where you draw the line for “defensive defenseman.” Are guys like Doughty, Keith, Pronger, Lidstrom, and Phaneuf eliminated from contention for producing offense as well?

    How do you define “defensive defenseman”? Does Orpik count as a defensive defensman due to the Pens preferring to give the puck to the more offensively talented Letang and then to Crosby while Orpik stays back a bit? If Letang is injured and Orpiks gets those 20+ secondary assists from giving it to Crosby is he no longer considered defensive? I think it’s a good list, I would just like to hear more about the definitions.

    It’s similar to “best corner” in the NFL…Revis, Bailey, and Nnamdi are great but where would Asante Samuel fit in? He can be beat in coverage, but he creates turnovers. In hockey this is much more subjective as change of possession is much more fluid than in football.

    • James O'Brien - Jan 12, 2011 at 2:37 PM

      I didn’t compile the list myself, but it factors in stats only, so if offensive-minded defensemen excel in those categories then they’ll qualify too. It just doesn’t award defenseman for producing offense at all, from what it seems. James Mirtle looks only at the stats produced in their side of the rink when compiling those stats.

      Great points to consider, though.

  3. djm89 - Jan 13, 2011 at 11:57 AM

    Being a Buffalo Sabres fan, Sekera is first and foremost an offensive defenseman. He’s superb skating and a very good stickhandler, but he often overcarries the puck. He can be a very defensive liability. He’s paired with Tyler Myers, and they both are offensive defensemen. They also let in the most goals against on the Sabres blueline. Sekera has lots of potential offensively, but needs a lot of work on the backend.

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