The Canucks announced some great news today: Aaron Rome will be back in the lineup against the St. Louis Blues after missing 12 games with a broken thumb. With Sami Salo still
faking it out with a concussion, Rome’s return alleviates some of the concerns regarding the Canucks defensive depth.
Here’s the odd thing: he won’t be replacing Alex Sulzer, who would seem to be the obvious choice. Instead, he’s replacing Keith Ballard. Alain Vigneault has even said that he’ll be playing on the second unit on the powerplay.
While this seems like an odd choice at first, Sulzer has showed some versatility in being able to play on the right side, which allowed him to step up alongside Alex Edler against the Lightning on Tuesday. He acquitted himself quite well, playing 18:05 and finishing plus-1 with an assist. While his work on the penalty kill was uninspiring, Sulzer’s ability to move the puck alongside an All-Star like Edler makes him worth keeping in the lineup.
Ballard, on the other hand, isn’t as versatile: we have talked about his difficulties in playing on the right side in the past. In order to keep Ballard in the lineup, Vigneault would need to pair Rome with Edler, which would limit Edler’s offensive potential. Instead, he chose to pair Rome and Alberts, giving the Canucks a tough, dependable bottom pairing against a very physical Blues team.
The one area that Ballard excels in, however, is blocking shots.
I wrote a post on Backhand Shelf a week ago about a different way of measuring a player’s ability to block shots. One of the difficulties in just counting totals of blocked shots is that players who allow a large number of shots against by virtue of being unable to get the puck out of their own zone end up with a higher number of blocked shots simply because there are more shots to block. There’s no skill in just being in the way a higher number of times.
Instead, we should measure blocked shots by percentage. What percentage of shots taken by the opposition does a player block?
What I discovered is that some of the players who were in the top 10 in total blocked shots plummeted down the list when it came to measuring their blocked shot percentage. The biggest drop came from Dan Girardi, who was fifth in the league in total shots blocked but fell all the way to 86th in percentage. He blocks a lot of shots because he’s on the ice for a lot of shots, not because he’s particularly good at blocking them.
Alex Edler is first on the team in total blocked shots, with Kevin Bieksa right behind. They are also, however, first and third in time on ice, so they’re on the ice for a larger number of shots against. Keith Ballard is third in total blocked shots, but when it comes to the percentage of blocked shots, he’s first.
|NAME||POS||TEAM||GP||ES Shot Attempts Against||ES Blocked Shots||ESBS%|
All the data comes from Behindthenet.ca and is a week old, so it’s missing the last few games. I only included even-strength situations to remove any inequalities in time on the penalty kill, where a player is more likely to be in a shooting lane for a shot against and is therefore likely to have a higher blocked shot percentage.
It’s interesting to note that Rome also blocks a fairly high percentage of shots, so replacing Ballard with Rome fortunately won’t lead to a huge drop-off. Also interesting is how few shots Dan Hamhuis blocks. The style of play between Hamhuis and Bieksa is so completely different that it is truly fascinating to see how well they work together.
One aspect of Andrew Ebbett’s game that will be missed as he recovers from his broken collarbone is his willingness to block shots, though the sample size is a little too small to declare him the best shot blocker amongst Canucks forwards. That honour should go to Ryan Kesler, who blocks 5.21% of shots at even-strength, good for 48th amongst forwards in the NHL.
Ballard is 60th amongst NHL defencemen in blocked shot percentage, but he is first on the Canucks by a wide margin, blocking 9.40% compared to Edler’s 8.72%. Whether this mitigates his poor Corsi numbers, which include blocked shots as negatives in terms of possession, is up for debate.Tags: Ballard, Keith Ballard, Statistics, Stats, The Redemption of Keith Ballard