Kesler

 

Ed. Note: This is the second instalment in a series in which we’ll look at different aspects of the NHL game and how to value them appropriately in your fantasy league scoring, with the objective of creating scoring systems that reflect real life value as closely as possible. Click here for Part 1: The Power Game.

 

“Offence wins games; defence wins championships.”

 

 


It’s an oft-repeated sports maxim, and often true. But is it true in the fantasy realm? More to the point – should it be?

 


Historically, fantasy hockey has been the sole domain of the offensive-minded. As a Flames fan in the mid-90’s, Phil Housley’s frequent defensive blunders drove me absolutely up the wall; but as a fantasy manager, did I care? Not a bit! Keep putting up a point-a-game, Phil, and you can give the puck away in your own zone as often as you like!


As fantasy leagues have become more complex, things have changed. Wanting to reflect real hockey as closely as possible, many leagues have looked to incorporate a defensive element into their scoring system. But how is this best accomplished, and how much defence is too much?


Let’s be honest: as much as we may value realism, most of us have no desire to see someone take home the championship employing the fantasy equivalent of the neutral zone trap. And yet, a couple well-chosen stat categories can round out a league and bring fantasy value to players who would otherwise be irrelevant. The question is, which categories?


As we weigh the options, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no one stat that defines the defensive game. Defence comes in many forms. The best defenceman of our generation, Nicklas Lidstrom, relies on impeccable positioning to take away the opponent’s time and space – something that doesn’t show up on a stats sheet. In Minnesota, Greg Zanon sacrifices his body time and again as the NHL’s shot blocking king. Brent Seabrook locks things down by taking opponents out, as his 227 hits last season attest.


And that’s just the rearguards. Up front, you’ve got forwards who eliminate gaps with their speed; players who forget all about the puck and make their living shadowing others; guys who use their smarts to anticipate the play and create turnovers; and those who believe the best defence is a good offence.


All of this muddies the water when it comes to valuing defence in your fantasy league. Let’s take a look at the options and see where we land.


Plus/Minus: For many years, plus/minus has been the go-to “defensive” stat for most leagues; mostly because it was the only option. However, that doesn’t make it a good option. The shortcomings of plus/minus are obvious. Most significantly, it reflects the quality of a team much more than the quality of any individual player. Alexander Semin had the NHL’s 23rd best plus/minus last year (+22), but nobody’s ever going to mistake him for a top defensive forward. Meanwhile, a responsible player like Daniel Alfredsson clocked in at an ugly -19, largely by virtue of enjoying lots of ice time on a very bad team with suspect goaltending.


Beyond the team factor, plus/minus is a passive stat. A player doesn’t necessarily have to do anything to earn a plus or minus. If a teammate makes a mistake that ends up in the back of the net, five guys get a minus – four of whom don’t deserve it. These factors make plus/minus a poor representative of defensive proficiency.


Blocked Shots: Shot blocks, along with hits, are the new kid on the block in many fantasy leagues. Most major fantasy platforms now offer blocked shots as an option, and many leagues have embraced them. It’s an attractive option, to be sure. As a category, it’s an individual stat that doesn’t depend on the strength of the team a player suits up for. It’s objective and easily measureable. Like hitting, shot blocking is a valuable real life skill that is easily transferred to the fantasy environment.


There’s no real downside to including blocked shots in your scoring system. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that all good defensive players are shot blockers. Norris-winner Lidstrom recorded 92 blocks last season – a respectable total, but nowhere near Dan Girardi’s league leading total of 236. And perennial Selke-candidate Pavel Datsyuk had all of 20 blocks last season; clearly, he gets it done in other ways. So shot-blocking is not going to elevate the value of all defensive stalwarts, but it does capture a certain segment.


Takeaways and Giveaways: When the NHL started tracking these numbers, I had high hopes that they might prove useful for fantasy leagues. However, though some platforms now offer these categories, I remain unconvinced of their usefulness in measuring the top defensive players.


A quick scan of last year’s league leaders in takeaways finds players like Joe Thornton (1st), Bryan Little (4th), John Tavares (5th), Josh Bailey (7th) and Michael Grabner (12th) at the top of the league. Last I checked, none of those guys have ever generated any Selke buzz. And with Frans Nielsen coming in at 14th, it’s more than a little curious to find four Islanders in the top 15 of any defensive stat.


Giveaways tell a similar tale. Seabrook, despite his reputation as an elite shutdown blueliner, had the 18th most giveaways in the league last year (69), while Zdeno Chara was 29th worst. Also, it’s telling that Thornton didn’t just lead the league in takeaways; he was also the second worst offender in the league when it came to giveaways. So is he a good defensive player or not? It would seem these stats are more directly related to time on ice than defensive proficiency.


Shorthanded Points: It’s debatable whether or not shorties should even be considered a defensive category – after all, they’re actually about putting the puck in the net, not keeping it out. However, many of the league’s best penalty-killing forwards, like Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards, are consistent shorthanded threats. It’s really the only individual stat we have at our disposal that relates in any way to penalty killing, which is a key defensive skill.


I find it useful to include shorthanded points, with one caveat: when I first set up my keeper league, I made the mistake of including shorthanded goals and shorthanded assists as two separate categories. This turned them into even more of a crapshoot than they already are; usually one goal or one assist was enough to win the category for the week. Since we changed our categories and lumped them together as shorthanded points, it’s made it more interesting. Nevertheless, shorties are rare and unpredictable, adding an element of luck to the scoring that some poolies may prefer to live without.


At the end of the day, defence is a complex beast, and I’m not sure it’s possible to fully capture the defensive aspects of the game in a fantasy scoring system. I wouldn’t want any more than two defensive categories in my league, because ultimately, fantasy hockey is a celebration of goals and assists. With this in mind, I’d go with blocked shots and shorthanded points.


What do you think? What’s the best way to make defence a part of your fantasy league? Do you even want a defensive element in your pool? And who is your all-time favourite stay-at-home D-man or two-way forward?

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Comments (12)add comment

Nick Porter said:

Southpaw20
TOI Hey guys. When creating my local fantasy league I searched long and hard for a stat that could help make a shut down defenseman relevant in fantasy hockey. What I came up with is Time on ICE (TOI) and I have this stat count for defensemen only. This allows a top end defensive defenseman that may not light up the score sheet (yet is relied heavily on by his team) to make an impact in fantasy hockey. Having it only count for defensemen also helps balance the importance between Dmen and forwards (just like the real game)
October 23, 2011
Votes: +0

angelofharlem (Glen) said:

angelofharlem
... I think it's an interesting idea, but I'm guessing that most poolies would find it too complicated. Plus, if the major pool hosting platforms don't have it, most fantasy leagues would not be able to use it.
October 11, 2011 | url
Votes: +0

Austin said:

austeane
Team adjusted Good point....

Like most things it would probably be better as a hybrid. I could try to make a weighted +/- stat that takes into account the team but puts more weight on the player... Kesler at +30 would be better then Grabner on the Islanders at -3 but Nielson at +20 on the Islanders would be worth more (random numbers pulled from a hat.
October 11, 2011
Votes: +0

Louis-Alexandre Jalbert said:

louisjab
... Never been a big fan of team adjusted stat, because it punishes a player for playing with good teammates. A team adjusted +/- would greatly benefit the best defensive player of the Senators or the Panthers, which would see a huge bonus in the +/-, versus somebody like Kesler or Datsyuk, who wouldn't see a big bump, because the GM built a capable team. Unless the team adjusted +/- would be added as a new category next to the old +/-, so Datsyuk could rule the old +/- and some player on a bad team can rule the adjusted +/-.

For my league, I would use blocked shots and +/-. I know +/- is more of a team stat, but I think there's a bigger element of team play in a good defense, if only because all shots end up with the goalie, so I don't really mind a stat that is team related. I think shorthanded goals is too much of a crapshoot, and I like some other crapshoot stats better. And like all the shorthanded stats, it rewards a player for playing on a team that takes many penalties (especially shorthanded time on ice).

I kinda like takeaways and giveaways, but not as a simple number. Giveaways especially is going to punish first pairing of defencemen, because the plays many minutes and usually faces the best line from the other team. If Chara and Seabrook plays 8 minutes more per game than a forward, the will give the puck away more. Maybe as an average? Giveaways per 60 minutes? Could work.
October 11, 2011
Votes: +0

Austin said:

austeane
Team Adjusted +/- I actually really really like that idea... It is relatively easy to track and eliminated the biggest minus about +/- (pun intended)
October 09, 2011
Votes: +0

Krysmo said:

Krysmo
team-adjusted +/- I haven't found a site to track it, but I like the idea of team-adjusted +/-. Find the goal differential between Goals For and Goals Against per team, then add the player's individual +/-.

Using the Alfredsson example, Ottawa's GF last year was 192. GA was 250. This gives a team total of -58. Ouch.

+/- wise, Alfredsson was -19 last year. That means he was 39 points above the team's GF/GA average. So we'll call him +39.

Now this is arguably a worse idea than regular +/- because you have to track team performance with individual performance all season. Not to mention purists may say that comparing individual +/- with GF and GA differential is not realistic.

But I like it because I think it gives a more accurate picture of each player's value to their team, especially on crappy teams - it almost becomes worth owning a Panther.

My 2 cents.
October 09, 2011
Votes: +0

angelofharlem (Glen) said:

angelofharlem
... Thanks for the insight Santo! I don't get to watch the Caps on a regular basis, so I was going by his rep. It's certainly not hard to find other examples of poor defensive players with good +/- that comes from playing on a good team.
October 09, 2011 | url
Votes: +0

Santo (aka Ross10019) said:

ross10019
Semin Great article Glen! Only one small nit, despite appearances Alex Semin is actually a very good (and certainly underrated) two-way player. In fact many Caps fans feel that Boudreau doesn't use him enough on the PK given his skill on the other side of the puck. Of course, he has a reputation for lackadaisical approach to the game (witness the Matt Bradley comments and subsequent "Does Sasha Care?" campaign by Chesnokov on Twitter) and perhaps that's what has created this assumption that he is not good defensively.
October 09, 2011
Votes: +0

angelofharlem (Glen) said:

angelofharlem
... Austin: I suppose using giveaways/takeaways per 60 minutes eliminates ice time as a factor. But as I look at the leaders in these categories, something still seems fishy to me. Having 4 Isles in the top 15 in the league in takeaways tells me that the stat isn't completely objective, and that flaw would carry over even when it's averaged over ice time. But again, that's just my opinion. I can see the attraction in using these categories.

William: I thought about addressing SH TOI in the article, but it was getting a little long. I can see some value in this stat too, because in theory the best defensive players get the most shorthanded ice time. But personally I try to avoid time on ice as a stat, because TOI doesn't necessarily mean a player has done anything good with that time. The top penalty killers on the league's worst penalty kill get similar TOI to the top guys on the league's best penalty kill. TOI ignores their actual proficiency on the kill and rewards them regardless of results. Just my thoughts...
October 09, 2011 | url
Votes: +0

William McBride said:

bills09
... We use Short handed time on ice as a stat to reflect pking.
Downside is goaltenders end up getting the full two minutes in most formats.

our 30 team 67 roster 50 contract H2H keeper uses the following catagories
16 cats.
Goals, Assists, Points, GWG, SOG, Shtoi, Pims, Hits, Bs, Stpts, +/-, W, SO, GAA, SV%, FOW.
October 09, 2011 | url
Votes: +0

Austin said:

austeane
Takeaways/Giveaways What problem would you have with Takeaways and Giveaways per 60 min being used as a category?
October 09, 2011
Votes: +0

angelofharlem (Glen) said:

angelofharlem
Favorite Two-Way Forward I'll be the first to answer my own question and say that Ryan Kesler epitomizes everything I love about hockey. Far and away my favourite player, and the main catalyst in turning me into a Canucks fan after I moved to Vancouver.
October 08, 2011 | url
Votes: +0
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