Welcome to this week’s edition of Holding Court, a column where both sides of a fantasy hockey debate are argued just like in a courtroom, complete with a final verdict. Then you, the DobberHockey readers, can comment on whether justice was properly served! You can also leave ideas in the comments section for other debates to be settled right here in future editions of the column.
Ever since Ryan Suter decided to leave Nashville to sign with Minnesota, much of the focus has been on how his departure would affect Pekka Rinne, what with half of Nashville’s top defensive pairing – one of the best in the league in recent years – now gone. People wondered whether Rinne could remain arguably one of the NHL’s top five netminders in wins, and if his stats like GAA or SV% would suffer. What’s interesting is that largely lost in all the Rinne discussion was what the impact would be on Suter’s longtime defensive partner, Shea Weber.
Yes – Past examples and data point to bad numbers for Weber, especially with less talented players taking Suter’s place
Let’s get one thing out of the way from the start. Shea Weber is a great defenseman, and even with the departure of Ryan Suter he’ll still remain a player that any fantasy hockey GM will want to own in one year and keeper leagues that include defensemen. But he’s also not superhuman, and the loss of Suter will no doubt hurt Weber’s stats. Here’s why….
People might not realize just how good the tandem of Weber and Suter was last season. Keep in mind there were only 19 defenseman in the entire NHL who had 40+ points in 2011-12, and no other NHL team had two representatives in the top ten in defensemen points like Nashville did with Weber (tied for 6th) and Suter (tied for 10th). Even beyond points, Weber (+21) and Suter (+15) combined for an impressive +36, and Suter’s reliable blue line presence also allowed Weber to give his owners great peripheral stats, including over 300 combined hits and blocked shots. But now that Suter has left Nashville, Weber’s stats definitely will take a hit, quite possibly a BIG hit. For proof, we can look at what happened when other tandems of 40+ point, +10 or better defensemen were split up. Each of the following two examples - one involving Weber himself! – clearly shows how the departure of a 40+ point, +10 or better defenseman has horrible effects on the stats of the other 40+ point, +10 or better defenseman who remains with a team:
[Chara leaves Ottawa in the offseason]
2006-07 Ottawa – Wade Redden (64 games, 36 points, +1), a drop of 14 points and a staggering -34 change in +/-
[Timonen leaves Nashville in the offseason]
2007-08 Nashville - Shea Weber (54 games, 20 points, -6), down 11 points from the previous season (20 points in 54 games projects to 29 points in 79 games) and a huge -19 drop in +/-
These numbers are jaw-dropping on their own, but the truth is that things might actually be worse for Weber than what happened with these other situations, and that is due to how ill-prepared the Predators are to replace Suter with their other defensemen. Looking at what figures to be the Predators defense next season, you have three highly-touted but still very young and inexperienced d-men in Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum (140 total NHL regular season games between them, compared to Suter’s 542), two aging veterans in Hal Gill and Scott Hannan (neither one has ever reached 25 points in an NHL season), and a capable but unremarkable player in Kevin Klein. Suter averaged over 26 minutes per game last season (5th in the entire NHL), but none of these other six defensemen even averaged 20 minutes per game. Suter was +15; these other six combined to be a collective -19. Suter had 25 power play points (3rd among all NHL defensemen; Weber had 22 (tied for 6th), with many coming on plays where Suter also factored into the scoring) in over 3:40 of power play time per game, and all six of these other Nashville defensemen combined for a total of nine power play points, with none of the six averaging even half as much power play time per game.
It’s clear that no one is going to come close to giving Nashville – and Shea Weber – anything like what Ryan Suter provided in terms of stability and output. What’s more, at least Ottawa in 2006-07 had guys like Joe Corvo, Chris Phillips, Andrej Meszaros and Anton Volchenkov to help replace the departed Zdeno Chara and Nashville in 2007-08 had Ryan Suter (oh the irony), Marek Zidlicky and Dan Hamhuis to replace the departed Kimmo Timonen. Seeing this, and knowing the lack of support Weber will receive from his Nashville defense teammates, the only possible conclusion to draw is that his stats will decline as well, perhaps even worse than what happened in these previous two examples.
But wait – I’ve saved the best (or if you’re a Weber owner, the worst) for last. The easiest way to figure out how Shea Weber will likely perform without Ryan Suter is to look to Weber’s stats in games where Suter didn’t play. It turns out Suter has been an extremely durable player throughout his career, but in 2010-11 he missed a nine game span in October/November. And in those nine games, Weber had only 3 points and a put up a terrible +/- of -8 (Rinne also played uncharacteristically poorly, giving up five goals in one of the games and four goals in three of the other games). So if you’re a Weber owner reading this (and everything above), you should be very, very concerned about how his stats will look when faced with the reality of no Suter for an entire season.
No – Weber still has Rinne, and those past examples can be countered
We all know it will be very difficult for Nashville to replace what Ryan Suter gave the team, and of course Shea Weber (as well as Pekka Rinne) would prefer if Suter was still there. But we also can’t lose focus of both reality and what we’re debating here – this is about statistics, and with the combination of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne remaining in Nashville there's no reason to worry that Weber’s stats will suffer in the wake of Suter’s departure.
Let’s first look at the two examples cited above, as both can be easily discredited. First, in the case of Wade Redden, it wasn’t just Zdeno Chara that left Ottawa after 2005-06, it was also some guy by the name of Dominik Hasek, so of course Redden’s stats suffered, as would Weber’s if Rinne was leaving too. But we all know that Rinne’s staying in Nashville, so the Redden example isn’t analogous to what’s happening here. And if you look at Shea Weber in 2007-08, he was dealing with a series of injuries all season, including a dislocated kneecap that caused him to miss six weeks and then a leg injury which caused him to miss 11 games. Also, let’s not forget that he was still only 22 years old at the time. Weber is now more mature and is 100% healthy, making him far more equipped to deal with Suter’s departure now than he was with Timonen’s in 2007-08.
What’s also interesting is there are an equal number of instances from the same time frame where a 40+ point, +10 or better defenseman left a team and the 40+ point defenseman who remained behind did no worse despite the departure!
Take a look:
2005-06 Los Angeles – Lubimor Visnovsky (80 games, 67 points, +7 and; Joe Corvo (81 games, 40 points , +16)
[Corvo leaves LA in the offseason]
2006-07 Los Angeles – Lubimor Visnovsky (69 games, 58 points, +1), projecting to an identical 67 point pace over 80 games and only off by 6 in +/-
[Schneider leaves Detroit in the offseason]
2007-08 Detroit – Nicklas Lidstrom (76 games, 70 points, +40), a jump of 8 points despite 4 fewer games, and an unchanged +/-
In each of these cases, the stats for the 40+ point defenseman who remained with the team were virtually unchanged despite the fact that a defenseman - like Suter - who was at or above 40 points and at or above +10 left the team. The point is that you cannot automatically assume that Weber’s stats will get worse simply because Suter has left. Great defensemen like Weber find a way to stay great – it’s that simple. And for all the talk above about how bad the remaining Nashville defense looks on paper, if you recall LA’s defensemen in 2007-08, it was Visnovsky, Rob Blake, and pretty much no one else of note. Plus, who’s to say that having less skilled defensemen surrounding Weber will automatically mean that Weber’s stats will take a hit? After all, if there’s less talent around him, then it stands to reason that Weber will have to carry the offensive load even more, which in turn should translate into more points for someone as talented as he is.
And we also cannot forget the presence of Pekka Rinne, who is a world-class goalie in his own right. Rinne’s presence in the Nashville net will certainly help Weber’s stats remain great, just as Weber’s presence will help solidify Rinne’s stats. Looking at an isolated nine game stretch in 2010-11 when Suter didn't play in order to forecast doom for Weber and Rinne is not persuasive, as in that case Suter’s absence was unplanned. What’s different now is Weber and Rinne (and their teammates) have known for many months that Suter will not be returning to the team, so this time they’ll all be well prepared to adjust without a negative effect on their stats.
Another important point that’s not even touched on above is Weber’s signing of the offer sheet from Philadelphia and Nashville’s decision to match. Weber has now seen how important he is to the Predators, and knows that he’ll be expected to perform at the level of the $110 million, 14 year deal he signed (including the $68 million signing bonus). Weber fully realizes that he’ll be expected to justify that deal, and if anything ownership and fans in Nashville will expect his stats to get even better. And as a multiple time first team all-star and Norris Trophy finalist, I think we can all count on Weber – and his stats – to rise to the occasion.
The Final Verdict
This is a very tough call. The two examples provided by each side were useful, but they essentially cancel each other out. And although Weber’s poor performance when Suter missed nine games in 2010-11 is quite remarkable, you cannot put too much weight in data that covers such a short stretch of time. While there's no question that - on paper - Nashville has no one who seems prepared to step into Ryan Suter’s role, the steadying presence of Pekka Rinne cannot be discounted. In the end, it stands to reason that Weber’s points and peripherals (like hits and blocked shots) might actually be just as likely to go up as they are to go down, as Weber leans more on his own his talents to replace the void left by Suter’s departure. But it’s hard not to see Weber taking at least some kind of a hit in +/-, so if your league has +/- as a category then you should take that into account. So the final verdict is that Weber’s overall stats likely will not be negatively affected much, if at all, although watch out for a drop in +/-.
Previous Court Sessions: