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A pleasant surprise...


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   So... I was digging in a little on the other thread about what forwards are the better shut down forwards in the league.  I came across this article relatively quickly which has some interesting analysis.  




Offensive players generally get all of the attention but defensive players are often just as valuable to a team.  Ask any NHL fan who the top offensive centers in the league are and they will quickly ramble off a few names from Crosby to Stamkos to Getzlaf to Malkin, etc.  Ask a fan to list the top defensive centers and the task becomes a little more difficult.  So, I decided to look into defensive centers a little further.

What makes a valuable defensive center?  Well, they should play against tough competition, they should give up fewer goals than expected, and they should be trusted to play a lot on the penalty kill.  So, with that in mind, I decided to set the following parameters in my defensive center search.

1.  I limited myself to players who have played >2000 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past three seasons.

2.  I only considered players who had an average opposition goals for per 20 minutes of ice time above 0.800 (i.e. only consider players who played against tough offensive opponents, must have OppGF20>0.800).

3. I then eliminated all forwards with a goals against per 20 minutes of ice time >0.800 (i.e. eliminate players who didn’t get good defensive results, must have GA20<0.800).

4.  I then took each players on ice goals against rate and divided it by his line mates goals against rate to ensure that they are performing better than their line mates and make their line mates better defensively (GA20/TMGA20 < 1.00).

5.  I then eliminated any players who didn’t have >300 minutes of 4v5 PK ice time over the past 3 seasons.

After doing this I got the following list of players sorted by GA20/TMGA20, or in English  sorted by how much better defensively they were than their line mates.

  1. Brandon Sutter
  2. Samuel Pahlsson
  3. Mikko Koivu
  4. Frans Nielsen
  5. Travis Zajac
  6. Martin Hanzal
  7. Mike Richards
  8. Brooks Laich
  9. Jordan Staal
  10. Joe Pavelski

Honorable Mentions:  Logan Couture, Pavel Datsyuk, Mikhail Grabovski and Alexander Steen missed the cut due to not having enough PK minutes.  Couture would have been slotted second behind Sutter, Datsyuk between Pahlsson and Koivu, and Grabovski and Steen immediately after Hanzal.  Plekanec, Kopitar, Bergeron and Legwand met the PK ice time criteria and would come in after Pavelski except that their line mates had a better GA20 when not playing with them so they were cut from the list.

All in all I am pretty happy with the defensive forward list above.  They all make sense and the only real surprise on the list might be Frans Nielsen but that is mostly because I don’t pay attention to he Islanders (who does really?) and this haven’t really paid much attention to him.  For a player on the lowly Islanders to meet these criteria it probably means he is a pretty good defensive player.

It is interesting to see Sutter and Jordan Staal both make this list as they were traded for each other this past summer.  When I compared these two players after the trade when down I suggested that Sutter is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL and this certainly backs that up.

What do you think?  Am I missing someone from this list of elite defensive centers?

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Can't say I'm surprised you came up with Sutter as the best defensive forward in the world. I doubt there's a non-Pens fan that would agree with you. I'll take Toews all day every day.

I didn't come up with that, it's someone else's article. I thought you of all people would appreciate the criteria he set for his analysis as it really requires a lot if defensive ice time including PK time.

Anybody in their right mind would take Toews, Datsyuk or Crosby over Sutter, but I think the point if the article was "unsung hero" types that really shut down the opposing star forwards.

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LOL. I can't honestly say I've seen enough of him to judge how good he is. We're pretty happy with the way Couturier is coming along here. Sounds like you guys are happy with Sutter. 


I'd say I was pleased, but not totally happy.  For the Pens to be successful in the playoffs, and not just the regular season, they really need to have a third line that can chip in goals as well, otherwise teams will just brutalize Sid and Geno yet again without anyone to pick up the slack.   His 8 goals and 9 assists are okay, but I'd like to see a little more potency in the third line.  Hopefully, we can get Neal, Megna, Kobasew and Bennet back into the lineup so that there can be a little more stability at the forward position.

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He was doing well to start the season but I think the non-stop injury list has taken it's toll on the third line most of all.  Heck Sutter started on the first line last game!  

And was soon back on the third, that was a mistake, he'll never be mistaken for a scoring forward. 

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