Tom Gilbert, Buttery Soft

Jonathan Willis
March 12 2011 11:45AM

I have to admit that I get my nose a little bit out of joint when people start talking about how ‘soft’ Tom Gilbert is. I realize that he’s a 6’4” finesse defenceman who writes funny things in his blog over at the Oilers’ official site, but I think there is at least one item that should throw the ‘soft’ description out the window.

That item is shot-blocking.

In 2010-11, Tom Gilbert (pictured above) has blocked 156 shots (on pace for 188). There are a few ways to look at that total. It is…

  • 43 more blocks than the Oilers second-ranked player, Theo Peckham
  • The fourth highest total in the entire NHL
  • 78 times as many blocks as tough guy Steve MacIntyre has
  • An indication that Tom Gilbert isn’t a good enough skater to get out of the way of the puck.

In 2009-10, Tom Gilbert (pictured above along with friends watching a playoff game) blocked 165 shots. Once again, there are a few ways to look at that number. It is…

  • 26 more blocks than second-ranked Jason Strudwick, and 74 more than the next closest player.
  • The 10th highest total in the entire NHL
  • More than five times as many as Sheldon Souray, who at that point in time still had his name mentioned by fans in the same sentence as ‘next captain of the team.’
  • Proof that Tom Gilbert is a turnover machine; if he didn’t turn the puck over so many times people wouldn’t shoot it at him so often.

In 2008-09, Tom Gilbert (pictured above, unsuccessfully hawking bicycle tires) blocked 136 shots. As usual, there are a few different comparisons we might make with that number. It is…

  • The second-highest total on the team, 21 back of Steve Staios and 49 more than the next closest player.
  • The 32nd highest total in the NHL.
  • Twice as many as half the defencemen on the team (Souray, Smid, and Strudwick) managed.
  • A number that just goes to show how strange professional athletes are – here’s a guy who lives in abject terror of contact with a hockey player on the other team, but likes getting hit by a vulcanized rubber disc moving at incredible speed.

In 2007-08, Tom Gilbert (pictured above, with BFF Robert Nilsson) blocked 159 shots. Once again, there is more than one perspective on that total. It is…  

  • The second-highest total on the team, 28 back of Steve Staios and 64 more than the next closest Oiler.
  • The 11th highest total in the league.
  • More than the 14 lowest-ranked Oilers combined.
  • Further proof of the poor quality of Tom Gilbert’s hockey sense – we know he can’t be doing it deliberately, because he’s so soft, so he must just be dumb.

In 326 games split over four full NHL seasons and a 12-game call-up in 2006-07, Tom Gilbert has put his body in front of a puck speeding at his own net a grand total of 636 times. Maybe it’s just me, but that kind of consistent, game-in and game-out commitment to sacrificing his body to block shots means that I’d be hesitant to use the word ‘soft’ as my principle standby for describing his play.

Is Gilbert a physical defenceman? No. But words like soft, weak, timid, and afraid are not ones I would use to describe him. I don’t think they fit the available data.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#3 Peterborough
March 12 2011, 03:19PM
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DSF wrote:

As is a raw shot blocking number.

Dude, really? Really??

No Really??? I'm often reminded of old Abe Lincoln's favourite saying, at times like this:

"I have often found it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

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#4 Kodiak
March 12 2011, 02:22PM
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So Green passes to OvenChicken and Backstrom, Keith and Seabrook to Toews, Kane, Sharp, Doughty to Kopitar, Smyth and Williams. Gilbert passes Horcoff, Cogliano and a bunch of rookies. Of course they are a bigger part of their teams scoring, because their teams actually have scoring. I'm sure most of our lack of scoring is Gilberts fault though.

Gilbert is not physical. So what. Out of the top 50 in defensive scoring (Gilbert is 51st) there are maybe 15 that play a real physical game. Our team is the worst team in the league and Gilbert has put up more points than 10 top pairing Dmen in the league.

Gilbert is not Weber, Burns, or Seabrook and he never will be. Get over it. It doesn't mean he isn't effective and earning his paycheck.

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#5 David S
March 12 2011, 03:13PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ DSF:

The question is: if Gilbert lacks physical courage - which is generally what people are getting at when they call him soft - why does he block shots, an act that requires physical courage.

My conclusion is that Gilbert doesn't lack physical courage, he lacks a mean streak. Those two things are very different.

It might be fair to consider that the amount of minutes Tom is playing factors into how physical he can allow himself to be. It takes a ton of energy to play hard (to hit and be hit). Being as smart as he is, I'd bet he's pacing himself to manage the minutes. You may very well see a far more physical Gilbert if he was playing 17 minutes a game instead of the 27 or so he's tasked with.

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#6 jeanshorts
March 12 2011, 05:38PM
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You know who else plays a "soft" game where he hardly ever throws his body around? Nick Lidstrom. Seems to me he does pretty alright for himself.

And no, I'm not putting Gilbert on the same plane as Lidstrom. Lidstrom's in a completely different stratosphere. But their style is similar. Not every defenseman is Scott Stevens 2.0.

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#8 Chris.
March 12 2011, 12:43PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think it's funny that nobody mentions where Duncan Keith ranks in giveaways (sixth overall, fourth among defencemen). Or for that matter, Tomas Kaberle, Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers and Mike Green - notice a trend?

I also think it's spectacular that nobody has taken the time to compare Ryan Whitney's give-away totals to those of Tom Gilbert. Because, on a per-game basis, they're identical.

Conclusions?

Thanks for the info Willis. Now I'm forced to conclude that Ryan Whitney is buttery soft.

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#9 TigerUnderGlass
March 12 2011, 12:44PM
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Racki wrote:

JW: That would be fantastic if Gilbert was giving the puck away and contributing to a large amount of the team's offense but he's not. His first two years here, I really liked him because he seemed a lot more effective in the offensive zone.

In Whitney's case (and Doughty's, and several of the other D men metioned), at least they are putting up offensive numbers and making up for any defensive short comings with offensive prowess.

The point is that the turnovers are a result of carrying the puck a lot. He has been forced into the role of those players in terms of handling the puck, whether he can manage it or not. I cannot see how this is his fault.

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#10 RossCreekNation
March 12 2011, 12:46PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Last season's top-five forwards, ranked by giveaways:

1. Joe Thornton, 88

T2. Sidney Crosby, 77

T2. John Tavares, 77

4. Alex Ovechkin, 76

T5. Pavel Datsyuk, 73

Gosh, it would be nice if those five players weren't such turnover machines. I mean, maybe one or two of them would pick up an award or something, although I suppose it's too much to hope that any of them could transform into a Selke winner.

Who didn't already understand this concept? Wasn't it obvious? Didn't Gretzky lead the league in giveaways all the time?

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#12 SumOil
March 12 2011, 01:43PM
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@DS

so close to 0.9 hits/game is a hit once in a while no?

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#13 Ender
March 12 2011, 02:04PM
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Since the statistics and conclusions seem to have been beaten to death already, I will simply extend some props to Willis for his writing style today. Way to go, JW; who'd 'a thunk you were a closet funny-man? Keep it coming.

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#15 reaperfunkss (2nd tier fan)
March 12 2011, 05:43PM
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I never thought of Gilbert as soft so much as he just seems to jumpy and unsure what to do at times. He suffered from it greatly at the beginning of the season but got a lot better, imo, when whitney went down. He has had some ups and downs but is better than he was at the start. Lidstrom isnt a giant hitter so is he soft?

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#16 SumOil
March 12 2011, 06:01PM
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DSF wrote:

As is a raw shot blocking number.

and hence the inclusion of the other D men in the list

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#17 knobby k
March 12 2011, 06:27PM
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Gilbert is soft. He regularly bails on the puck and turns away from the play to avoid a hit. He gives the puck away in so doing resulting in numerous give aways. He blocks shots...lovely. He also can be seen standing around at the edge of the blue paint watching an opposing forward hammer the loose pucks into the net. I can't recall the last time he parked someone on their pants in front of the net. On the powerplay??? Geve me a break!!

Anyone pro-Gilbert is just not paying attention. Pass the Kool-Aid.

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#18 Wanye
March 13 2011, 01:25AM
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This could be one of my favourite Jonathan Willis articles of all time.

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#19 chuck
March 12 2011, 11:52AM
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fist

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#20 BaconWrapped
March 12 2011, 11:58AM
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"An indication that Tom Gilbert isn’t a good enough skater to get out of the way of the puck." - LOL

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#21 SumOil
March 12 2011, 12:28PM
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@Racki

I think that can easily be attributed to playing the toughest minutes on this terrible club. Giveaways are extremely subjective to rink bias

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#22 Racki
March 12 2011, 12:40PM
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JW: That would be fantastic if Gilbert was giving the puck away and contributing to a large amount of the team's offense but he's not. His first two years here, I really liked him because he seemed a lot more effective in the offensive zone.

In Whitney's case (and Doughty's, and several of the other D men metioned), at least they are putting up offensive numbers and making up for any defensive short comings with offensive prowess.

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#23 Chris.
March 12 2011, 12:53PM
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RossCreekNation wrote:

Who didn't already understand this concept? Wasn't it obvious? Didn't Gretzky lead the league in giveaways all the time?

Gretzky certainly gave away a lot of cars.

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#24 Chris.
March 12 2011, 12:58PM
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A team should function like a well oiled machine... not all the parts are going to be the same. Gilbert is simply not cut from the same cloth as Teddy peckman...So what? Right now, Gilbert is our absolute best available defenceman and I believe he could serve a useful role on a contender.

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#25 SumOil
March 12 2011, 01:29PM
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@ Racki.. the sv% is mostly luck based. Whitney on ice sv% is .935 and for gilberts its close to 0.870. Its just that they are unlucky. This happened to horcoff last season. and is one of the major factors that affects the goals against and +/-

If you have faith in David Staples stats, he found that goalies made more mistakes with gilbert on ice than average. So he has been unlucky

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#26 Robin Brownlee
March 12 2011, 02:04PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Keith .49 PPG Kaberle .59 PPG Doughty .54 PPG Myers .53 PPG Green .67 PPG Gilbert .43 PPG

My conclusion is that Gilbert gives the puck away as often as some very good offensive defensemen but that he doesn't produce as much offense to offset his mistakes as they do.

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#27 Archaeologuy
March 12 2011, 02:09PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Last season's top-five forwards, ranked by giveaways:

1. Joe Thornton, 88

T2. Sidney Crosby, 77

T2. John Tavares, 77

4. Alex Ovechkin, 76

T5. Pavel Datsyuk, 73

Gosh, it would be nice if those five players weren't such turnover machines. I mean, maybe one or two of them would pick up an award or something, although I suppose it's too much to hope that any of them could transform into a Selke winner.

I can't even count how many times I've brought this up in regards to Hemsky as well. Turnovers are more likely to indicate how important you are to a team in terms of being a puck carrier than it is to indicate how poor/good you are at keeping the puck.

Gilbert is frustrating but if the team ever finds a way to move him down the depth chart he should bounce back. I had such high hopes for him after his rookie year, it's a shame he's disappointed.

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#28 Bucknuck
March 12 2011, 02:11PM
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@DSF

How the hell is blocked shots a subjective stat? It isn't open to interpretation? If there is a shot fired on net and Gilbert gets in the way... it's blocked.

It takes courage to block a shot, and Gilbert blocks a lot so he has courage.

The subjective part comes in when interpreting what soft means. If it means lacking courage then it doesn't apply to Gilbert.

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#29 Kodiak
March 12 2011, 02:30PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Of course Gilbert has the offensive cast around him that those other guys do to, so it's such an even and valid comparison.

Cogliano, Gagner, Brule, all small guys who don't know what a backcheck is, and then a bunch of rookies. Yeah, we should be scoring way more with those guys and it also is unfathomable that we end up hemmed in our own end with these guys on the ice. I'm sure Gilbert throwing a couple more hits a game would fix that right up. Damn you and your brutally soft play Gilbert. You are killing this team.

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#30 K-UGER Industrial Smoothing
March 12 2011, 03:10PM
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Kodiak wrote:

Of course Gilbert has the offensive cast around him that those other guys do to, so it's such an even and valid comparison.

Cogliano, Gagner, Brule, all small guys who don't know what a backcheck is, and then a bunch of rookies. Yeah, we should be scoring way more with those guys and it also is unfathomable that we end up hemmed in our own end with these guys on the ice. I'm sure Gilbert throwing a couple more hits a game would fix that right up. Damn you and your brutally soft play Gilbert. You are killing this team.

I think you are out to lunch Kodiak. Those are some of the three harder back checkers on our team.

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#31 Fredi
March 12 2011, 03:51PM
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Certainly not trying to be a sh** disturber here, and I do like Tom Gilbert as a defenseman. But I also know that in the NHL statistician's guidelines, a blocked shot does not necessarily mean you are "sacrificing your body". Blocked shots include any puck headed toward the net which is deflected and/or blocked with the blade or shaft of a stick or can go off a skate in front of the net. Still gets recorded as a blocked shot. I do not know the percentage of Gilberts blocked shots that would be with the body vs with the stick but nonetheless. So not all blocked shots are a sacrifice of the body.

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#32 Team Hall
March 12 2011, 07:42PM
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Nice article J Dub, I am of the opinion that Gilbert is a good 2nd pairing defenseman, even though I got ridiculed for making that point at another website that shall remain nameless. I think our problem in Edmonton is we've got a thoroughbred pulling a tractor. Good horse, wrong usage. PK is not Gilby's forte. Puckmoving defenseman? Check. In fact, I would wager that had we a stronger and more experienced forward ranks, Gilby could easily be a 35-40 pt defenseman. Just wait till Hall starts parking more of those passes. Look out.

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#33 Oilcruzer
March 13 2011, 01:46PM
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I disagree with anyone who disagree this is a meaningless stat.

Blocking the most means you will have a number of shots that hit unprotected areas like, oh, the checkbone, behind the knee, the groin...

...and he doesn't bail.

If he had the LOWEST block stat of all the D in the league, wouldn't the Gilly haters be waving that flag?

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#34 Tha Legion
March 12 2011, 11:52AM
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I have an appreciation for Gilbert, he needs to play a little less than he is but he gets the job done

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#35 Starving Student
March 12 2011, 11:55AM
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first time i've seen gilbert in this light

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#36 TheseColoursDon'tRun
March 12 2011, 11:55AM
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Amazing the guy blocks that many shots and he's a got dang ironman.

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#37 Blame Gilbert
March 12 2011, 11:57AM
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you should read his Tweets on Twitter under "BLAME GILBERT"

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#38 dragon - Tom Gilbert for upgrading LA pick
March 12 2011, 12:00PM
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when you cannot play a physical D-game, when it takes 5 min to decide how to clear the zone, when everybody is waiting for you to finally bring the puck to the blue line on PP, when everybody knows you're going to turn it over if pressured well and when you haven't got a solid shot, what's left for you to do in order to look like an NHL D-man: block the puck. That's why Gilbert blocks so many shots: not much else able to do consistently...

now, Tambo, take all these blocked shots and trade them along with LA's first and move up!

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#39 RossCreekNation
March 12 2011, 12:12PM
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Well written Willis... had me giggling.

I'm thinking that maybe if he cut his hair, "only" made $3M, actually just played 2nd pairing minutes, and dropped the gloves even once in his lifetime (even by accident), then he'd be treated more fairly.

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#40 dragon - Tom Gilbert for upgrading LA pick
March 12 2011, 12:13PM
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@Jonathan Willis

now, why do you believe he's willing to block so many shots, but he would not consider moving a forward away from the front of the net? or maybe separate a winger from the puck?

is it maybe because he's too busy chasing said puck as opposed to taking care of forwards...

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#41 DSF
March 12 2011, 12:16PM
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A little "context" perhaps JW?

Gilbert also leads the league in giveaways by a defenseman with 79. Tied with Luke Schenn.

Giving away that many pucks might play a role in how many shots you need to block.

Likely no coincidence that Schenn is also in the top ten shot blockers with only 8 fewer than Gilbert.

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#43 Racki
March 12 2011, 12:21PM
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I'm pretty sure the shot blocking statistician is Tom Gilbert's mom.

Seriously though, I've noticed his very good shot blocking from time to time. But it's a shame when a 7 foot tall man chooses to lay it up every time, rather than dunk it.

Maybe you can add another item to your lists: Tom Gilbert blocks a lot of shots because he rarely gets possession back by battling for it.

Here's another interesting stat.. Tom Gilbert is 2nd in the league in giveaways (for all players) this year. Last year he was 7th. The year before he was 27th. The year before he was 17th.

This is the reason people call him "buttery soft". That's great that he blocks a lot of shots. I very much respect that, and I think he is quite good at it too. But when you see him panic to get rid of the puck to avoid a hit, that's when you think he's soft.

I love the shot blocking, but he's nowhere near hungry enough for the puck nor willing to get his nose dirty. That keeps him from getting hurt, but also makes him a fair bit more ineffective in his zone. It makes it more difficult for him to maintain/regain possession and move the puck out efficiently.

That's where I'd like to see him improve... get Taylor Hall's level of determination.

Edit: I see in my slow typing, DSF beat me to the punch on it. But I do maintain that Gilbert is as good at giving it away as he is at shot blocking, based on observation

.

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#44 TigerUnderGlass
March 12 2011, 12:32PM
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The list of top 20 giveaway players on defense this season also includes:

Keith, Kaberle, Yandle, Doughty, Seabrook, Green....

Edit: Bah - Willis beat me to it...that's what I get for not refreshing the screen before I comment

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#45 Racki
March 12 2011, 12:34PM
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SumOil wrote:

I think that can easily be attributed to playing the toughest minutes on this terrible club. Giveaways are extremely subjective to rink bias

I definitely agree that there are some stats that can be pretty subjective. I don't think blocked shots is much different in that regard either.

Truth be told, I had no intention on using the giveaway stat to back up that Gilbert turns the puck over a lot. It was something I just observe on a fairly regular basis. Out of curiousity, I was going to look up our team giveaways and happened to notice that Gilbert was #2 in the league and went from there.

I actually have defended Gilbert in the past, and I'm not the type to 'hate on' a player, so to speak. I just have a tough time watching Gilbert be our top d-man (mostly by default, unfortunately) when he really struggles like he does in his own zone.

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#46 The Towel Boy
March 12 2011, 12:58PM
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I have to admit, J Dub...when I started reading this article I was positive it was the work of Wanye. I LOL'd many times. BFF Robert Nilsson...heh heh.

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#47 I LIKE MILFS
March 12 2011, 01:02PM
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Has Gibby ever played forward ? He can skate and has a decent shot.but of course he is scared of the corners in the defensive zone , why would offensive zone corners be any different..

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#48 Racki
March 12 2011, 01:03PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

The point is that the turnovers are a result of carrying the puck a lot. He has been forced into the role of those players in terms of handling the puck, whether he can manage it or not. I cannot see how this is his fault.

It's too bad that the NHL doesn't measure (or at least let you query) where the turnovers occur. I think in the cases of the high-end offensive d-men (your Greens, Doughty's, etc) and offensive forwards.. yes... much of the turnovers occur in the offensive and late neutral zone, and you can't fault a guy as much for those.

This is completely subjective, I concede, but I don't think Gilbert has carried the puck into the zone as much as he once was (in his first year in particular). I also still think he's an excellent puck mover when not pressured... one of the best at that craft. I do think (and again, conceding that this is subjective) that he's shown an increase in defensive zone turnovers in the last couple of years.

Anyone know if that stat exists out there?

I should stress that I'm not a guy that hates Gilbert. I just think that his strengths are his passing, and to an extent shot blocking.. but they don't make up for his current weaknesses (being unwilling to take a hit to ensure possession is maintained, getting caught running around in his own zone, weakness in front of the net, etc..). I think his weaknesses are being more amplified due to him not performing to his strengths like he used to. I also have suspected that he could be much more effective if his minutes were decreased (i.e. 2nd pairing d-man) and if he were paired with a grittier d-man who's more willing to do the things that Gilbert seems unable to do.

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#49 SumOil
March 12 2011, 01:06PM
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@Racki

He is definitely not a top defenseman, but he is a very good defenseman. JW already showed the giveaway rate of other top defensmen/players in the league. But that said, he would be very good in a softer minute role. If the Oilers had a shutdown pair, then Gilbert and Whitney would be an ideal player. Another reason i think Gilbert gets so much hate is the emergence of Whitney. However Whitney's numbers are a mirage, He has a .935 sv% and an in oce sh% of over 12.5. Those are huge. So penciling Whitney as a #1 Dman will also be miscasting him. him and 77 are best suited to softer minutes than ones they have faced this season.

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#50 DSF
March 12 2011, 01:07PM
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RossCreekNation wrote:

Who didn't already understand this concept? Wasn't it obvious? Didn't Gretzky lead the league in giveaways all the time?

Yeah, he did.

But he also led the league in a few other categories.

Gilbert....not so much.

Gilbert is 119th in the league for hits by a defenseman. So, on average, every team has 3 players who deliver more hits than Gilbert.

That's why he considered "soft"

Trying to pump Gilbert's tires because he blocks a lot of shots just doesn't wash.

And, yeah, we all know the "hits" "giveaways" and "blocked shots" stats are subjective and vary from rink to rink but over nearly a full season there is a smoothing effect.

But you can't use one subjective stat to make a point and toss out the others.

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