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TimeAug 4, 2016

Measuring NHL Team Defense

Photo: Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire

Walter McLaughlin put out a good article about halfway through the 2014-15 season on The NHL’s Top 5 Defensive Teams in 2014-15 . He notes using goals allowed is overly dependent on goaltending and offers a formula that weighs six common defensive stats. No doubt his formula can be enhanced by adding some of the current possession based defensive stats, but even if we do, how do we know how much to weigh each stat? More importantly, how do we know if all the relevant defensive stats are being included? The truth is we don’t, but do we need to?

Instead of trying to include every relevant defensive stat and then guess at a weighting, why don’t we just measure the sum of offense conceded to the opposition? Instead of trying to assemble what’s been done, we look at what’s been given up, which should reflect the effectiveness of everything done defensively. This approach ensures nothing is being left out.

We use play-by-play data to measure the average per game offense conceded to the opposition. We call it ‘Offense Against’. Offense includes every offensive play of every level of influence, whether it is a pass, carry, evade, protect, available, etc. Based on this approach, the ability of a team to keep Offense Against down reflects their overall defensive proficiency in all game situations. It is also very effective in separating a team’s defensive ability from it’s goaltending proficiency.

Offense Against = Team Defensive Proficiency

Ranking Results:


1 Kings, 2 Sharks, 3 Devils, 4 Blues, 5 Blackhawks


1 Kings (by 15.4%), 2 Blues, 3 Ducks, 4 Lightning, 5 Capitals


1 Ducks, 2 Panthers, 3 Kings, 4 Wings, 5 Capitals


In 14/15 the Canadien’s rated 22nd in Offense Against but 1st in GA/GP at 2.24 (Carey Price wins Vezina). In 15/16 the Canadien’s rated 21st in Offense Against and finished 21st in GA/GP at 2.84 (Carey Price injured).

From the 14/15 to 15/16 seasons, the Bruins had the biggest improvement in Offense Against, jumping from 23rd to 12th. The Senators had the largest drop, from 15th to 30th.



Offensive Plays


Defensive Plays

Learn more about OUR METHOD



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