Measuring a player’s defensive abilities and contributions is very difficult, as we discussed in the recent Babchuk vs Regehr series but perhaps there are a few things to be learned from catch-all statistics, like Hockey-Reference’s point shares, Tom Awad’s GVT, Alan Ryder’s Player Contributions and the WhatIfSports engine, and how they defensively rank Calgary’s current blue line of Anton Babchuk, Chris Butler, Cory Sarich, Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano and Scott Hannan since the lock-out.
Hockey-Reference Point Shares
Justin’s approach over at Hockey-Reference establishes Jay Bouwmeester as Calgary’s strongest defensemen, consistently leading the group every season except for a close 2nd in 2005-06 to Scott Hannan and to Mark Giordano in 2009-10.
According to this system the weak link is Chris Butler, dead last in each of his three seasons, except for besting Mark Giordano in 2009-10 – another defenseman portrayed as a weak link if not for a big 2009-10 season.
Scott Hannan and Cory Sarich are perhaps properly classified as consistent middle-of-the-pack defensively, but Anton Babchuk is erroneously thrown in that basket as well.
Vollman’s Folly (Hockey-Reference distributed by ice-time)
The approach developed last week tried to distribute the defensive contributions more equitably based on ice-time, and at the very least it makes for a less chaotic graph.
Beyond correctly placing Anton Babchuk at the bottom, what makes this approach unique is that Scott Hannan stands out as the elite defenseman – though he is still trending down from that level just as most other approaches suggest.
Cory Sarich is next, bested only by Jay Bouwmeester in 2009-10, followed by Mark Giordano – who is again seen as a weak link until 2009-10, while Chris Butler and Anton Babchuk bring up the rear with almost identical measurements over the past three seasons.
Tom Awad’s GVT (Goals Versus Threshold)
Tom Awad’s GVT system is probably the most common catch-all measurement around, and it has Jay Bouwmeester on top in 2010-11, but sees him as someone who has made a consistent improvement from the worst of the bunch back in 2007-08, rather than someone who has been on top all along.
GVT also sees Cory Sarich and Scott Hannan as comparable players finishing in the top three every season but once (and unfortunately misplaces Anton Babchuk in this basket), but is the only system that gives Sarich the slight edge. The general consensus on Hannan’s gradual decline from the elite level is perhaps best shown with GVT.
After that, Mark Giordano’s 2009-10 season again looks like a fluke year from an otherwise weak defensive link, besting only Chris Butler last season.
Alan Ryder’s Player Contributions
Alan Ryder’s Player Contributions is similar to Tom Awad’s GVT, and just as established, but uses a far more detailed and complex formula.
PC ranks Jay Bouwmeester as the best defenseman of the bunch two years running, but agrees with GVT that it required climbing up from a couple of weak defensive seasons after a great 2006-07.
Add one more vote for Scott Hannan over Cory Sarich – PC sees him as the better defensively all six seasons, the best over-all until 2009-10, and remaining a top-three option.
Two things make PC’s perspective unique – Cory Sarich is seen as a weak link in 2009-10, and near the bottom of a tight pack in 2010-11, and while PC agrees that Mark Giordano was a weak link until 2009-10, it felt that it was no fluke, and he remained a sound, top-two defensive option in 2010-11 – quite comparable to Scott Hannan.
As for Anton Babchuk, he’s seen as middle-of-the-pack defensively and trending up, while Chris Butler is seen as the weak link.
I don’t know who generates the defensive values for the WhatIfSports simulator, nor what method they use, but it’s the only system that has Chris Butler in the mix – as the best of the bunch in 2008-09 and a top-three option in 2010-11.
Before we get too excited with WhatIfSports, it falls into the same “Anton Babchuk is awesome” trap, consistently placing the defensively-challenged Russian atop the group in recent seasons.
WhatifSports also seems to agree with the assessment that Mark Giordano had a fluke year in 2009-10, but didn’t previously see him as a weak link (though it certainly does now).
Cory Sarich was considered the worst of the bunch for four seasons before moving up to match Scott Hannan, who appears to be steady barring a bad 2007-08 season (his first in Colorado).
And what of Jay Bouwmeester? WhatIfSports is on their own with him – he’s been ranked 2nd last in the group these past two seasons.
There’s another hockey simulator that I played as a child called Strat-o-Matic. Defensively it divides players into four broad categories from 4 (Best) to 1 (Worst), using its own secret approach.
Strat-o-Matic sees a sharp divide in Calgary’s blue line. Jay Bouwmeester, Scott Hannan and Cory Sarich are all consistently rated a 4 year after year – though Sarich was only a 3 in 2008-09, and Hannan got a rare 5 in 2009-10.
Mark Giordano, Chris Butler and Anton Babchuk are all consistently rated a below-average 2, with Butler getting only a terrible 1 in 2009-10.
These five different systems achieve a general consensus on several points going into this 2011-12 season, as follows (any systems with exceptions are in parentheses):
• Cory Sarich and Scott Hannan are comparable players defensively (PC)
• Scott Hannan has the edge over Cory Sarich (GVT)
• Over-all, Scott Hannan is trending down defensively (WIS)
• For several years Anton Babchuk has also been at (or above) Cory Sarich and Scott Hannan’s level (VF)
• Mark Giordano had a fluke 2009-10 season defensively (VF, PC)
• Mark Giordano is otherwise one of the weaker players defensively (PC, WIS).
• Jay Bouwmeester had a great 2006-07 season defensively (VF)
• Chris Butler is generally the worst of the bunch defensively (WIS)
We could add a point that Jay Bouwmeester is generally their best defensive defenseman, but there isn’t enough consensus on that point. The new system gives a slight edge to Hannan, GVT placed Bouwmeester no better than 3rd until last season, and WhatIfSports had him as the 2nd worst defenseman three of the past four seasons.
I’m pleased that the new system we developed last week was the only one to correctly classify Anton Babchuk as playing at a defensive level below Cory Sarich and Scott Hannan while still agreeing with the masses on the less controversial points above.
The "Vollman" system is also less prone to exaggerating strong seasons like Jay Bouwmeester’s 2006-07 or Mark Giordano’s 2009-10.
Two questions for you to answer in the comments:
1. Which system did you like/dislike the most?
2. Which of the eight consensus points do you disagree with most strongly?