When it comes to adding top 4 defenders this summer, most of
us have already come to the conclusion that one is not enough. The Oilers are
desperately lacking in quality on the blueline and have been for a long time.
This isn’t news, but sometimes it’s interesting to look at how that affects
what the club can do.
Oiler blogger Woodguy took a look at how much the Oilers (and the 29 other teams) gave time on ice to actual bonafide top 4 defenders not
that long ago. I was interested in his findings and his process, but I wanted
to tweak the methodology for finding his final numbers.
First, I accepted his criteria for determining what constitutes
a top 4 defender and ultimately accepted his selections for the actual top 4
defenders on each team. It’s important to note that not all teams had four such
defensemen. This year, for example, Edmonton had just three: Oscar Klefbom, Andrej
Sekera, and Mark Fayne.
Here are the criteria Woodguy used to determine legitimate
top 4 defenders:
1) Even strength time on ice per game (EV TOI/GM) via
2) Who their most common partner is (via
3) Their effect on GF% and CF% of their team mates (via
4) Is not a rookie, regardless of their results playing with
Actual Top 4 NHL Dmen
So that leaves us with just the three Oiler defenders named
above and nobody else. Next year players can graduate into the top 4 by
continued development (Nurse, Davidson) or the club can go out and get those
players. Since development is never a guarantee, the best option is adding
players who we know can compete in those spots today.
In Woodguy’s blog he looked at the total defenseman TOI
doled out by every team then compared it to just the TOI of the players deemed top
4 calibre. For example, this year the Oilers played their defenders a total of
7773 minutes and their big three only played 2840 of that. This resulted in
Edmonton deploying top 4 defenders 37% of the total minutes possible.
Meanwhile, the average NHL team deployed top 4 players 53% of the time and
playoff teams did it 60.3% of the time in 2015-2016.
This is where I chose to use a different methodology than
Woodguy in order to answer a slightly different question. I wanted to know how
often the Oilers were able to ice a complete set of top 4 defensemen and how
often they were able to get at least one top 4 defenseman out on the ice.
To know that, I wasn’t concerned with the time on ice total
for all defensemen, just the total 5v5 time on ice the Oilers played in general
and the time played by the top 4 defenders themselves. I used the Super WOWY
feature of Puckalytics.com to look at the time the different combination of top
4 defenders played with each other and then the minutes they played without any
of the others.
Below are the minutes the legit Oiler top 4 blueliners spent
on the ice, together and apart.
Klefbom Sekera 17:02
Klefbom Fayne 172:07
Sekera Fayne 656:37
Klefbom Neither 304:08
Sekera Neither 691:10
Fayne Neither 179:42
Total with at least one top 4 on the ice: 2020:46
Total with two top 4 on the ice: 845:46
Total 5v5 for Edm 3912:44
Percent with one top 4 on ice: 51.6%
Percent with two top 4 on ice: 21.6%
When you take all the time they played with each other and
then separate from each other, what you get is a paltry 2020:46 of the total
3912:44 played by the Oilers. Together it’s a sad 845:46 of the total. The
Oilers only managed 1/5th of their time spent with a complete
pairing made up of legitimate top 4 defenders. What’s scarier is that they only
managed to have at least one top 4 defender on the ice just 51.6% of the time.
That means 48.4% of the time the Edmonton Oilers were icing 3rd pair
defenders (or worse).
Think about that. There was essentially a coin flip’s chance
that the opposition would step on the ice against the Oilers and the defense
would be rookies or scrubs exclusively. Advantage to the opposition.
Unlike Woodguy, I wont do all 30 teams but I invite anyone
to do it. What I did is go from the bottom of the Pacific to the top of it. I
looked at what the Anaheim Ducks did this year using the same process. Their
top 4 defenders were: Bieksa, Lindholm, Fowler, and Vatanen. Here are their
Bieksa Lindholm 250:53
Bieksa Fowler 617:09
Bieksa Vatanen 175:24
Lindolm Fowler 36:04
Lindholm Vatanen 70:03
Fowler Vatanen 59:50
Bieksa Neither 151:20
Lindholm Neither 999:06
Fowler Neither 421:03
Vatanen Neither 783:06
Total with at least one top 4 on the ice: 3563:58
Total with at least two top 4 on the ice: 1209:23
Total 5v5 for Ana: 3882:20
Percent with one top 4 on ice: 91.8%
Percent with two top 4 on ice: 31.2%
The real strength of having four healthy legitimate top 4
defenders isn’t actually in the ability to play them all together. That
strength is in the ability to make sure at least one of them is on the ice
almost all the time.
While Edmonton could barely manage to have one of their top
4 defenders on the ice 50% of the time (5v5), the Ducks managed it almost 92%
of the time. While Edmonton was counting on rookies and replacement players to
stop the opposition 48% of the time, the Ducks only did it 8% of the time. The
percent of time both clubs iced top 4 defenders together was lower than I
previously imagined, especially with the Ducks.
That’s the difference between where Edmonton is now and
where the top teams in the NHL are. It’s 52% vs 92%.
How many defensemen do the Oilers need? Two at least and
they better stay healthy. No team is going to challenge for the playoffs playing lambs against lions 50% of the time.