Drance Numbers: Which Canucks’ defender suppresses shots most effectively?

Earlier this week, Alain Vigneault talked about Chris Higgins’ plus-5 scoring chance differential over the Canucks’ losses to the Sabres and Stars. The two-game sample Vigneault referred to isn’t much to go on, but it was enough to make plain that the Canucks use a different methodology in their in-house tracking of scoring chances than what we use to track scoring chance data over at Canucks Army. What Vigneault’s number did correlate exactly with, however, was Higgins’ personal Fenwick +/- number.

This isn’t the first time that the Canucks seemed to be paying close attention to a players’ Fenwick number. At about this time last season, when everyone was confused as to why Vigneault seemed to prefer the unremarkable Aaron Rome over the more visibly skilled Keith Ballard, Cam Charron pointed out that Rome’s Fenwick events against rate was significantly lower than Ballard’s. We theorized that, for a third pairing defenseman, Vigneault preferred Rome’s “safe minutes” to Ballard’s more adventurous (albeit exciting) style of play.

Let’s backtrack for a moment and explain what Fenwick is. Fenwick is an expanded version of your traditional plus/minus number. It takes into account not just even-strength goals for and against, but also all shots for and against, and all missed shots for and against. Every goal, every shot and every miss is counted as a “fenwick event,” and every “fenwick event” that occurs either way is taken into account when producing a “fenwick number” for a team or an individual. Generally speaking, hockey math nerds consider blocked shots to be the fault of the shooter, so Fenwick is, theoretically, a more accurate number to measure defensive play than Corsi is.

Because I’m increasingly convinced that the Canucks place importance on a players’ individual “fenwick number,” I figured it would be worthwhile to break down the Canucks’ blue-line in this manner. Let’s see if we can get a handle on which defencemen have been the “best” defensively from a shot suppression standpoint.

A quick note on methodology. The numbers in the table below are zone-start adjusted. A team that starts in the offensive end of the rink is expected to generate .6 Fenwick events as a result of the where the shift began. It’s a rough number, but it works to separate the impact of a player’s usage from their actual possession skills. Further, the numbers below are “rated” per sixty minutes of even-strength ice time, and only defenders who have appeared for more than 490 even-strength minutes this season are included (which excludes: Tanev, Gragnani or Sulzer).

Defenseman Fenwick For/60 (ADJ) Fenwick Against/60 (ADJ) Fenwick Differential//60 (ADJ)
Dan Hamhuis 46.62 37.75 8.87
Kevin Bieksa 44.72 38.14 6.58
Aaron Rome 40.13 36.86 3.27
Keith Ballard 40.67 39.79 0.88
Alex Edler 38.78 40.16 -1.38
Sami Salo 37.96 39.59 -1.63
Andrew Alberts 33.73 37 -3.27

 

There’s a few things to notice in the table above. The first thing is that Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa are as important to the Canucks success as anyone else on the roster (including the twins, Kesler and Luongo).

The biggest difference between the one and done teams from 08/09 and 09/10, and last season’s Finals team was the presence of a proper, elite shutdown pairing with the ability to turn play the other way against the opposition’s top players. Bieksa and Hamhuis have picked up this season right where they left off, and from a possession stand-point are the heart and soul of the Canucks blue-line. While Bieksa can annoy some Canucks fans on occasion with his propensity for high-risk plays that result in turnovers, make no mistake: he’s among the team’s best defensive defensemen.

The other thing to notice: Aaron Rome’s quiet, (often) unsightly dependability. In terms of suppressing shots against, there’s no one better on the roster. Of course, he plays against “softer” competition than Bieksa and Hamhuis do, but against the opposition’s bottom-6 forwards, Rome is a rock.

Aaron Rome, suppressing shots.

As an aside, observers sometimes call out Rome’s passing, but it’s worth noting that in a largely similar role, Rome does less to deflate the number of Canucks’ chances in the offensive end than Andrew Alberts does.

Now there are some qualifiers to my praise of Aaron Rome. His plodding skating speed isn’t an ideal fit for the Canucks system, and his offensive skill set is limited. He’s a physical presence, but he’s not the most athletic guy, and when his timing is off on a big hit, the hits are dangerous. By the numbers and to my eyes, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Chris Tanev were brilliant together last night versus the Jets, and I’d like to see them get a few games in together.

That said, Rome remains the lowest-event third pairing option on the club, and his reliable, understated presence in the lineup is extremely valuable.

We should also point out that Alex Edler has had significant struggles in his own end this season. He regularly faces harder competition than the likes of Rome and Alberts, but when you adjust for zone-starts (Edler often caddies for the Sedins in the offensive end), the Swedish blueliner is allowing the most chances against of any Canucks’ defenseman per sixty minutes. Even if we go with his “raw” (unadjusted) fenwick number, he’s the fifth-best Canucks defender at suppressing events against.

Don’t be surprised if the gap between Edler’s even-strength ice-time and the even-strength ice-time given to Bieksa and Hamhuis grows once the Canucks get to the postseason.

Finally, because I can’t help myself, I decided to look at possession demon Chris Tanev. His sample of play this season is minuscule (he’s played less than 180 even-strength minutes this season), but if we combine this season and last, we get a 558 minute sample that is worth looking into. His adjusted regular season fenwick number is +10.69, which, would put him safely at the top of the table above. Through forty-one NHL games, Chris Tanev has consistently demonstrated the ability to drive play from the blueline: and that is rather unique, and very exciting.

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18 comments

  1. invisibleairwaves
    March 9, 2012

    Interesting. I have to say I’m getting a little concerned about Salo’s play. In my opinion, he hasn’t looked especially good in the past few games, and his Fenwick numbers on the season aren’t good either (unless he’s being dragged down by Edler?). Given that, and Rome’s solid stats, I wonder if we’ll see a bottom four of Edler/Rome Gragnani/Tanev for at least a few appearances down the stretch run?

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    • WorldTravels
      March 9, 2012

      Totally agree about Salo. I’ve noticed his decline (i.e a step behind) for the last few months. Eating top 4 minutes was never a good idea. I think it’s fatigue? Either way, resting him down the stretch is crucial. It’s nice to know Nucks have good depth to help replace him for a few games.

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      • SteveB
        March 10, 2012

        Sami just hasn’t seemed the same to me since Marchand submarined him. :(
        I hope Coach AV limits his minutes the next few weeks, so he can contribute more when it matters most.

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    • Steven Ray Orr
      March 9, 2012

      I wouldn’t mind someone taking an in-depth look at Salo’s Fenwick numbers (pre- and post-Boston game). While my gut says that his performance has declined since then, I suspect that he hasn’t had much more of a dramatic drop-off than the rest of the team. Even if we look year to year, I think that Salo is actually having a relatively strong season, considering his age and his tendency to be injured.

      But I don’t have the sabermetrics to back that pondering up.

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      • Steven Ray Orr
        March 9, 2012

        That is to say, my gut thinks that Salo is not playing as well, but if I think about it, I don’t really have much evidence to back that up.

        I should focus more on clarity…

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        • tom selleck's moustache
          March 9, 2012

          I’d be interested in seeing that as well. I do recall reading about the Canucks record with and without Salo in the lineup; They were basically an average team when he was out with injury. It could be that the team’s struggles since the Boston game are somehow tied with Salo’s struggles as well.

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  2. Lenny
    March 9, 2012

    Now we know how damaging it was losing Hamhuis AND Rome in the finals last year.

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  3. tom selleck's moustache
    March 9, 2012

    “Aaron Rome, suppressing shots.”

    Ha, I’ll say :)

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    • hockeyispretty
      March 9, 2012

      I watched that game. Wasn’t it pretty much Rome’s first time back after suspension and injury, and when that Blackhawks player got frisky around his goalie, Rome just kind of crushed him, literally; no hit, just sort of piled on. It was so soothing to watch. I finally understood what people were saying about wanting the Canucks to be more physical.

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    • Brent
      March 9, 2012

      “Aaron Rome, suppressing shots.”

      Good think he wasn’t working on suppressing votes in the last election! Hardly anyone would have voted.

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  4. Nee
    March 9, 2012

    Interesting analysis.

    It’s interesting to see how the numbers compare to what I see with my eyeballs, and to see if my perceptions are reflected in the numbers. I’m not a numbers person (I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to stats) but I really like these posts. It’s a nice glimpse into an aspect of hockey that I’m not well versed in.

    I’m very intrigued by the Gragnani/Tanev pairing. On paper they seem like they would be a great combo (creative roamer with a responsible defensive D-man). And I would love to see Tanev stick in the line-up.

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  5. Brent
    March 10, 2012

    Thomas,

    Have you done one of these when you look at penalty shot versus power play. The penalty against Edler could have easily been a penalty shot, so what is better? In this case Kessler scored the short handed goal, so it really sucked for Winnipeg, but what is the better for the team on average.

    If you have already done one just give me the link.

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    • ArtemChubarov
      March 10, 2012

      By the numbers, you’re definitely better off taking a penalty (Nucks kill 87% of penalties) than allowing a penalty shot. But it’s not a skill to have the ref call a trip as opposed to a penalty shot – it’s just luck. Edler got lucky on that play, and not so lucky when he fell down on Wheeler’s goal.

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      • Brent
        March 10, 2012

        Thanks. True we can’t influence what the referee calls but there always seem to be some inconsistencies in what they actually do call. So as I put on my tin foil hat) if we see the refs start to call more penalty shots against the canucks, we can assume it is part of the conspiracy theory that we all complain about.

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  6. ross
    March 10, 2012

    schneider has to start the rest of the way including playoffs….it has got to be obvious that lou cannot get the job done (way too many soft goals—-the guy just isn’t sharp)and that the team in front of him has a lot more confidence in cory going forward…

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  7. NTJ
    March 11, 2012

    And yet, Rome is the only Canuck defenceman who is a minus (as in +/-) on the season, and as you say, he plays against weaker opposition than the top 4.

    While Fenwick can be a very useful statistic, it can’t be looked at in a vacuum. A combination of scoring chances and Fenwick would be more useful.

    Rome gives up less shots overall, but maybe the type of mistakes he makes on defence lead to high quality opportunities (ill-timed pinches leading to 2-on-1s, or not picking up his man in front of the net leading to close-range shots, etc.)

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 12, 2012

      If you’re using plus/minus to provide context for Fenwick, then you’re going about it all wrong.

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      • NTJ
        March 12, 2012

        I’m just saying that there are other statistics that don’t appear to be in line with Rome’s Fenwick rating, and that his style of play may mean that this disassociation continues…

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