One of the primary benefits of using statistical analysis in sports is that it is impossible for the vast majority of people to watch every single game played. Further, even if one was able to do so, it would be very difficult to objectively evaluate the nuances of each player’s performance equally.
Defensive performance in hockey is one of the more difficult aspects to evaluate. Thus, the Selke Trophy, an award given to the forward who "demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game", is usually doled out based on narratives more than anything else. With the rising popularity of new hockey stats, that no longer should be the case.
This year, it seems as though the front-runners for the award are Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. Alex Steen would also be in there had it not been for his injury. How do Toews, Bergeron and Kopitar’s underlying defensive numbers compare?
Potential '13-14 NHL Selke Candidates
|Player||GA/20||Goal %||Adj. CA/20||Adj. Corsi %||Block %||O/D-Zone Start%||Qual. of Competition %||PK Time%||Penalties taken||Pen +/-|
The first thing that jumps out is that Toews shouldn’t really be in the same conversation as the other two. Toews benefits heavily from offensive deployment. At even strength, he starts 64.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone as compared to the defensive zone. Now this doesn’t say anything about his actual abilities defensively, it’s just that he has a much easier job in that regard than the other two. Further, he has been on ice for more shots and goals against and has the lowest shot and goal differentials among the three. He also spends substantially less time killing penalties. Unless there is a drastic change over these last 17 games, Toews should not win the Selke this year.
The trophy should be up for grabs between Anze Kopitar and Patrice Bergeron. Kopitar has an edge in goal based numbers and some of that has to do with goaltender performance. It’s better to take a look at shot based metrics which eliminates the effects of goaltender performance. When looking at these shot based numbers (and adjusting them for the effects of zone starts), the two players are just about dead even. Bergeron does have a tougher job in the zone start department, yet his shot differentials are only marginally better after adjusting for this effect.
Bergeron does have an edge in his shot blocking abilities. He has been responsible for 22% of his teams shot blocks when he’s been on the ice. That is 15 th best among forwards in the NHL. Kopitar also blocks a high number of shots and is 2nd on his team (behind Trevor Lewis).
One of the biggest edges between the two can be found in their penalty differential. Bergeron takes more penalties and has a negative differential (meaning that he takes more penalties than he draws). Our SBN colleague Eric T. once wrote about penalty differential saying, "penalties are a significant component of a player's value, to a larger extent than is generally appreciated."
Heading into the final stretch, the Selke is pretty much a toss-up between Kopitar and Bergeron. Now as to whether the Professional Hockey Writers Association feels the same is anybody’s guess.