Drance Numbers: Alex Edler deserves the All-Star nod, but Dan Hamhuis deserves the Babe Pratt

Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at the quiet contributions of Dan Hamhuis.

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When Alex Edler first came into the league, he quickly endeared himself to Canuck fans and management team with his calmness and ability to make smart passes in both zones. His development has accelerated over the past couple of seasons, and while he continues to struggle with his consistency at times, he’s become a top defenceman in the NHL. On Thursday morning, the league noticed, naming Edler to the 2011-12 NHL All-Star roster.

Edler has more tools than Inspector Gadget: at 6’4″, 210, he’s big, and when he has a mind to, he can hit like it; his shot is lethal, whether it’s a quick, accurate wrister or a high-velocity slapper; and his puck control occasionally causes me to drop my jaw, as if my jaw were hot. The 26 year old Swedish defenceman has channeled all these tools into a fabulous first half of the season. Edler is fourth in scoring, both on the Canucks and among all NHL defensemen, on pace to notch 13 goals and pile-up 55 points this season.

He’s emerged as an excellent defenseman and a deserving All-Star, but I’d suggest to you that he’s not the team’s most valuable blueliner. As Harrison Mooney wrote yesterday in his discussion of whether or not Alexander Edler was “the right choice” for the All-Star game, “Dan Hamhuis… has been the steadiest Canucks’ defenceman for well over a year now.” I tend to agree.

Hamhuis is in the midst of what could be a career year offensively (he’s on pace for 39 points, one better than his career high of 38), and he’s easily the best Canucks blue-liner on the defensive side of the puck. In fact, he’s among the best defensive defenseman in the league, and last season won James Mirtle’s Rod Langway award, signifying just that.

Consider that, game in and game out, Hamhuis draws the toughest matchup at even-strength while leading the Canucks in shorthanded ice-time. He eats up all the difficult defensive minutes.

But he isn’t just the team’s go-to “defensive specialist”: offensively, he also keys the transition game with his deceptively quick skating, and clever puck movement and he’s played an essential role revitalizing the second unit power-play.

Unlike Edler, Hamhuis’s game is quiet, and unlike Kevin Bieksa, his personality is understated. This has caused the “Community Man” to go under the radar outside of Vancouver (and probably inside as well). He may not attract much attention, but it doesn’t change the fact that Dan Hamhuis is criminally under-rated.

To illustrate this, I figured we’d look at the chance-data which we record over at Canucks Army. A scoring chance is defined as a puck that is clearly directed on net from within “home-plate,” the area as outlined below:

By a healthy margin, Dan Hamhuis is carrying the best chance percentage (chances for, divided by chances against) among all Vancouver blue-liners:

Skater

Chance %

Dan Hamhuis

55.2%

Aaron Rome

54.4%

Kevin Bieksa

54.3%

Keith Ballard

53.2%

Alex Edler

52.5%

Sami Salo

50.6%

Andrew Alberts

50.3%

Alexander Sulzer

43.5%

If we use George Ays’ chance adjustment number to correct for deployment and usage, Hamhuis’s chance percentage is even more impressive.

Skater Adj Chance %
Dan Hamhuis 58.1%
Aaron Rome 57.7%
Kevin Bieksa 57.1%
Keith Ballard 55.8%
Andrew Alberts 54.6%
Alex Edler 49.4%
Sami Salo 47.8%
Alexander Sulzer 42.5%

You’ll notice that every defenseman, save for Edler and Sami Salo, sees their chance percentage jump when you adjust for usage. Edler and Salo are deployed as an offensive specialist pairing to some extent, so a lot of their numbers are seen as “situational” by this metric. Not unlike Christian Ehrhoff’s role last season, Edler is caddying for the Sedins to some extent.

He’s taking advantage of his skill, hitting more and generally doing an All-Star caliber job all around, but are his contributions as valuable as what Hamhuis provides?

I don’t think so, and I hope that Hamhuis gets some kind of recognition for his quality, steady play in Vancouver this season. He’s not dominant enough to be a Norris nominee, and he isn’t flashy enough to be invited to an All-Star game. So what’s left?

Well, since the 1972-73 season, the Canucks have awarded a trophy at the end of every year to the team’s standout blue-liner. Since it was renamed “The Babe Pratt Trophy,” it has been won by 10 different defenseman, 7 of whom were offensive specialists, and 3 of whom were best known for their defensive play.

The offensive defenseman (Lumme, Brown, Lidster, Jovanovski, Bieksa, Ehrhoff and Aucoin) have accounted for 13 wins, while the defensive guys (Murzyn, Mitchell and Ohlund) have won 7. The last two seasons, the award has been won by Christian Ehrhoff, who, despite the ease with which he’s been replaced, deserved it last year, seeing as he was the only Canucks top-6 defenseman who managed to dress for all 82 games.

Here’s the thing about the Babe Pratt Trophy: it’s voted on not by the media, and not by the players, but by the fans. It will be tempting to vote for newly minted All-Star, and possible 60 point defenseman Alex Edler, but I hope enough Canucks fans appreciate the quiet, tough-minutes effectiveness of Dan Hamhuis, and cast their vote for him. We would be wise to bestow the symbolic trophy on the team’s best blueliner.

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14 comments

  1. peanutflower
    January 13, 2012

    Well, I’d second and third that. Fourth it too. Hamhuis brings a lot more than just his defensive prowess, though. He’s Bieksa’s steadying influence, the guy on Bieksa’s shoulder telling him to do the good stuff and shut up. It’s too bad that Dan flies under the radar so much. Maybe recognition isn’t such a big deal to him.

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  2. tom selleck's moustache
    January 13, 2012

    Sounds good! He’s got my vote!

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  3. Anonymous
    January 13, 2012

    Hamhuis’ influence on the whole D-corps is so underrated by everyone, he deserves some real recognition! Good post.

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  4. LaLou
    January 13, 2012

    I would also argue that Hamhuis is a great candidate for the Fred J. Hume award. Unsung hero? Absolutely.

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  5. Zach Morris
    January 13, 2012

    Hamhuis is such a great guy. He’s the uncommon example of a sportsman you should emulate in every manner

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    Rating: +10 (from 10 votes)
  6. Nee
    January 13, 2012

    He’s doing a great job for the team. A very polished and responsible player. He always looks so calm on the ice, which is a great counter point to Bieksa’s edgy/surly approach. And as a bonus, he’s also a genuinely good person. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team.

    Can’t say enough good things about him. I’ve been a big fan for awhile now.
    .

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  7. By-Tor
    January 13, 2012

    Dan ‘Community Man’ was probably picked for the ASG but told them Edler deserved it more.

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  8. akidd
    January 14, 2012

    now i’m sure tht you guys think about this stuff a lot more than i do but now you’re bringing in ‘chance%’ as well as the much ballyhooed ‘corsi rating’ i ‘m wondering how this stuff affects a puck possesion team like the canucks.

    guys like henrik are inside ‘home plate’ with the puck and a look all the time and they don’t shoot. not just henrik but most of the team displays great patience and often holds the puck if they don’t like what they see. against the blues last game there were many instances of guys who could’ve shot but waited and often didn’t get any shot off and as the blues were pretty dogged that night with the stick-checking and other hitchcockian tactics. the blues had more overall pressure but the shot totals weren’t the perfect indicator. nor do i imagine was the corsi rating or chance %.

    for example, hamhuis(?) makes a transition pass, coho dishes a lovely pass to higgins, higgins is in the scoring area has a clear shot but doesn’t like it enough to risk losing puck possession, holds but is eventually checked,(next part imaginary) blues bring it back take their medium % shot lou stops it, faceoff. hamhuis gets a minus in both corsi and chance %( i believe.)

    sure higgins could’ve put one on net with coho charging it but he didn’t. the canucks in general seem to mostly only shoot as a last resort, preferring to pass the puck into the net if possible. the only time they shoot with abandon from the blueline is on the powerplay where they like their chances, with the extra man, of tipping it or recovering the rebound, or when the d-man shoots in the face of high-zone pressure because holding the puck or trying a pass could cause a bad turnover. otherwise the canucks seem to often look for the higher% chance to score and don’t want to rely of the whimsy of bounces.

    whereas some other teams often shoot whenever they can even if the puck is easily stopped or deflected over the glass( for an o-zone faceoff and plus on the corsi rating.)

    i know stats are fun and advanced stats advanced fun but when teams don’t all play the same systems it’s hard to measure them all by the same stick imo. just some thoughts that i’m sure you guys have had before.

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    • ArtemChubarov
      January 15, 2012

      Here’s the thing. Corsi is a proxy for possession, and by and large, “puck posession teams” have the highest numbers. While the Canucks, and the Sedin line in particular, often pass up quality chances for higher quality chances: the goal is the same. Create good looks, and maximize the opportunities the team has to score. For this reason, I think, differing philosophies re: posseion come out in the wash and by no means diminish the accuracy, or the worth of thse metrics.

      If point you to various comments in which Vigneault has spoken about their use of an in-house chances trackinbg metric very similar to the one used above, as evidence that these numbers are worth paying attention too. Thanks for reading and Cheers.

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  9. akidd
    January 14, 2012

    this explains why i took Booth’s high corsi rating with a grain of salt. he came over from the panthers and had no hesitation shooting the puck which almost never went in but was either stopped or deflected out for an o-zone faceoff. the sedin line in contrast could hold possesion for a full-minute in the o-zone but might not shoot it if a good chance didn’t materialize and their shift would end without a whistle. the sedin shift would be much more threatening than booth’s but booth got the corsi plus.

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  10. akidd
    January 15, 2012

    thanks for the reply. i’ll readily admit that i know next to little about how the corsi rating breaks down. i think in part it’s the fast and furious nature of how these new stats are being introduced that make me a little cautious. some stats like goal differential seem obviously sound. and i realize the purpose of many stats is for evaluation purposes, to try to give some extra insight into individual players . it’s all good if folks can keep an even-keel. i do worry though that some will get carried away and start to see things that aren’t there.

    i’ll keep reading though.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      January 15, 2012

      It happens, man. But Drance Numbers is a good intro to the world of advanced stats in that I, like yourself, am an agnostic when it comes to the church of hockey math. I recognize its value, but I also recognize that the introduction of all these extra statistics can allow one to extrapolate non-truths and come to hasty conclusions. But Thom is a wise guy, I trust his conclusions, and he’s really good about showing his work.

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    • ArtemChubarov
      January 16, 2012

      While I’m a big believer in hockey math, I was reticent at first too. Anyone engaging in some good-faith thinking about these numbers, even at a beginner level, is on the right track.

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  11. ryley
    January 21, 2012

    i believe the dan hanhuis injury in game 1 of the stanley cup final was arguably the main reason the canucks lost the series.

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