Measuring NHL Team Defense - Part II
Photo: Allan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire
In Measuring NHL Team Defense , we noted the most complete measurement of a team’s defensive play is their ability to limit the opposition's offense. Regardless of the combination of player's skill and team defensive system deployed, effectiveness will be shown in the relative amount of offense allowed. Low levels of Offense Against will reveal strong defensive teams. We can further refine Offense Against to reflect the amount of offense given up in each game situation but this is still only the first step in assessing defensive performance.
The next step is understanding exactly what’s being done defensively. This includes not only tracking skills like closing passing and shooting lanes, limiting time and space, reads, positioning, stick lifts, checks, one vs one battles, etc., but also tracking their impact on the game. For example, if we only counted 'the number' of closed passing lanes, two defensemen could have the same totals but one of them may have contributed significantly more. Cleaning up two-on-ones and thwarting goal mouth chances are clearly more important than closing the same number of less threatening lanes. We may also have to consider a player’s role in creating the situation he just cleaned up defensively. All plays are essential to understanding a player’s net defensive contribution.
This play-by-play process exposes the defensive contributions of each individual player. We can sum these Weighted Defensive Plays to reveal how a team functions defensively.
These are the top 5 ranked NHL team's for each of the last three seasons:
1 Blues, 2 Predators, 3 Wild, 4 Rangers, 5 Kings/Bruins
1 Rangers, 2 Predators, 3 Wild, 4 Capitals, 5 Devils
1 Predators, 2 Devils, 3 Wild, 4 Sharks, 5 Islanders
From 14/15 to 15/16, the San Jose Sharks had the biggest improvement in Weighted Defensive Plays, jumping 20 ranking spots to 4th. The Coyotes rose 13 spots and the Sabres 11.
The Canucks had the biggest drop in Weighted Defensive Plays, moving 20 spots down, while the Flyer’s dropped 16 spots and the Rangers dropped 13.
Note, the league leaders in Defensive Plays do not necessarily correspond with the leaders in minimizing Offense Against (see Measuring NHL Team Defense ). Weighted Defensive Plays provide an indication of how hard the engine is working and Offense Against tells us how much of that work is getting to the wheels.
What does the difference between the two tell us? We’ll visit that question next in Measuring Defense Part III.
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