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TimeJul 31, 2016

Keith Yandle is a Hot Commodity in Florida

Photo: Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

Keith Yandle is on his way from the bright lights of Broadway to the sun and sand of Florida. Free agency has treated him well after signing a seven year deal with the Florida Panthers.

Offensive defensemen can be very tough to value. Conventional analytics tend to favor them but every coach realizes a great team performance can be undone by a few ill advised risky plays. Yandle's point total's have been among the league leaders for the past several years but let's take a look how he fares both offensively and defensively on a play-by-play basis.


See Defenseman Ranking Scale at bottom

In the 13/14 season, Yandle ranked near the top at number 4 offensively among all NHL defensemen. Defensively he was at the opposite end, ranking 170th as a low sixth spot D man.

In the 14/15 season, Yandle ranked 6th offensively and 174th defensively, only a handful of spots from the lowest in the league.

In 15/16, Yandle fell to 29th offensively but improved significantly to 125th defensively. He moved from near the bottom of the league to a strong 5th spot defenseman in defensive play.

Yandle's play-by-play results show a significant improvement defensively even though he slid a bit on offense, from 6th to 37th. Before we look at Yandle's defensive improvement, his offensive results beg the question; how did he slip from roughly the 5th best offensive defenseman in the 13/14 and 14/15 seasons, to the 37th spot in 15/16, considering he had similar point totals? His point total of 47 for 15/16, was only 5 points behind his 14/15 season of 52, and 6 points behind his 13/14 total of 53.

The answer is twofold. First, every point is not created equal. It is easy to appreciate how an 'end-to-end rush and saucer pass for a goal' is worth more than a simple 'D to D pass on the PP that turns into a shot and rebound goal.'

The second part of the answer is that offense goes well beyond just point totals. Offensive proficiency must consider all plays with the puck in all areas of the ice. It must also account for not only the number of turnovers a player makes, but more importantly the level of disadvantage created by each turnover. Just like all shots and shot attempts are not equal, neither are all turnovers.

Offensive Results:

From the 14/15 to 15/16 season, in offense created (Positive Offense), Yandle moved from a ranking of 2nd to 31st, dropping by 35.6%. This included similar percentage drops of both 'good' and 'great' offensive plays.

His weighted turnover score (Cost of Offense) actually improved fractionally but only resulted in a small ranking improvement of 9 spots. At a ranking of 170, he is still among the lowest ranked defensemen in weighted turnovers, but he does have some respectable company with Karlsson, Subban and Brodie all in the same neighborhood.

On the Rush he dropped marginally from a ranking of 19th to 36th.

In Offensive Zone Play he dropped from 4th to 35th.

On the Breakout he dropped from 76th to 150th.

Yandle is still relatively young at 29, so this slight drop in offense should be no more than a blip on what has been a stellar offensive career. The young offensive talents in Florida and their effective use of quick puck movement could help push his point totals to career highs.

Defensive Results:

Yandle's 15/16 defensive performance stood out like a smile in a crowd of frowns on a Ranger's D-core that had its' share of struggles, particularly in the playoffs..... more on that another time.

Yandle had a huge 34.6% increase in net defensive contribution from the 14/15 to 15/16 season.

His ranking in Defensive Zone Coverage rose from a bottom 6th spot defenseman at 179, to a strong 5th spot D man at 125.

On Rush Defend, his ranking rose from a mid 6th spot defenseman at 164, to a mid 4th spot defenseman at 103.

How did he do it? It was not by making more positive defensive plays, which were up only slightly from year to year. He did it primarily by reducing his negative defensive plays.... he simply made fewer defensive mistakes.

His negative defensive score (weighted defensive mistakes) dropped 29.3%, moving from a near bottom ranking of 178th to 56th, a huge improvement.

This drop in defensive mistakes was comprised of a 27.6% improvement in 'poor' mistakes, and a very significant 31.4% improvement in 'bad' mistakes. Bad mistakes often result in grade A chances against and can quickly cancel out any advantages a defenseman creates offensively.

Make no mistake (pun intended) it is unlikely Yandle will ever be mistaken for a defensive stalwart, but his improvement may help explain why some of the Ranger's faithful were excited about his contributions in the 15/16 season. See Joe Fortunato.

His significant improvement in reducing defensive mistakes, especially bad mistakes, relieves the burden on his teammates to clean things up. He may no longer need to play with the strongest defensive partners for support. This is of course dependent on him maintaining or improving on this timely commitment to defense.

We noted previously that Subban showed a similar improvement defensively in the 14/15 season only to give much of it back in the 15/16 season. This type of defensive improvement is relatively rare with players this deep into their careers but very well may have been inspired by Yandle's push to UFA status.

We will be watching closely early in the 15/16 season to see if Yandle's dip offensively and strong surge defensively are either anomalies or part of his player profile moving forward.

Defensemen Ranking Scale

1-30 31-60 61-90 91-120 121-150 151-180
#1 D #2 D #3 D #4 D #5 D #6 D



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