How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mark Stuart?

Marianne Helm

Mark Stuart is a popular guy. He seems to be a nice, friendly face who can be a leader. TSNJets constantly fawns over his play when he blocks a ton of shots and hits guys, but he isn't that good at his primary job of defending and we see defending in a way that is counter-productive.

Sometimes we need to get out of own way. I have been trying to look at players through two lenses when I watch the games or read on Twitter. I want to understand how analytics can be properly used. I also think that to make fans like these stats there needs to be extreme patience and many visuals used when talking about them. Stats are counting things, adding them together, and making them into a percentage. Thanks to @Le_Mathieu for the definitions and usages for the stats.

Intrinsic Value: belonging to the essential nature of a thing: occurring as a natural part of something.

Sample Size: The amount of events, in this case shot attempts, used to acquire data. Like a survey of shot attempts.

Corsi: All shot attempts including blocked shots. Used as a proxy for possession time.

Fenwick: All shot attempts excluding blocked shots. If using a smaller sample size is more representative of scoring chances than possession.

Both Corsi and Fenwick are numbers you want your team to have over 50% of over the course of a game. Think of the Corsi/Fenwick battle as a test and you need 50% to pass. There are different situations that are used when calculating these percentages, think of them as mid-term tests and the final exam.

Corsi/Fenwick Close: When the teams are within one goal of each other.

Corsi/Fenwick Tied: When the teams are tied.

Corsi/Fenwick Total: The score for the entire game.

Finally when a team is down by a goal or two "score effects" come into play and that team usually "picks it up" and gets more shot attempts*

*this is not always a fact, but is what usually happens. I like to refer to it as the team started sportsing harder than the other team.

Why this is important?

When you ask someone what makes a good defender they will most likely tell you "someone who can clear the front of the net, block shots, and hit guys." But recently there has been a shift in the mindset of some fans who have begun to manipulate numbers to discover that what many people thinks makes a good defender may be something that makes someone a bad defender. The saying "the best defense is a good offense" is true. The more time you spend on offense, the more time you cannot be scored on. Instead of looking for intrinsic signals that someone is good at defense, we need to look for other things when deciding if we want a player to play an important role on the team we choose to cheer for (you want these guys on your least favourite team all the time always).

Back to Stuart...

Like I said, he seems like a good guy; I don't know much about him. But he is not good at preventing shots on goal, which is his primary job. Stuart is a possession black hole brings down everyone on the ice with him unless they had magical powers and could succeed with him.

Why does TSNJets love him so much?

Because the "old school" logic of defending still is the wide-held belief that if a player does well in the traditionally thought of defensive stats than untraditional stats like Corsi and Fenwick. It is easy to see when a player blocks a shot or hits a guy, but it is not alway easy to see if a guy is consistently on the ice for more shot attempts for than shot attempts against but it is easy to see that he is blocking many shots and hitting guys with little intention of getting the puck. Hitting only occurs when you don't have the puck it is hard to score a goal. As Dallas Eakins said Tuesday night "You know what the perfect game is? The perfect game is no hits." This is not the common belief as we live in a world where the Calgary Flames have a Grit Chart curtesy of Sportsnet is a thing.

Is he the worst though?

He should not be played more than a sixth defenseman but Ellerby and him are about even, Stuart starting more often in the defensive zone. I am fine with Stuart playing 15 minutes a night, more on the penalty kill than even strength and I will not wish he was scratched. He is a bottom pairing defenseman who should be let go.

How is he compared to other defensemen like him though?

He is better than Robyn Regehr, Francis Bouillon, and Douglas Murray, who are all considered bad players with no shot at making their countries Olympic Teams. Interestingly enough he is not much worse than Olympian Brooks Orpik and near-Olympian Jack Johnson. He is bad, but he is close to an Olympian so he cannot be that bad.

What are you really saying?

What I am saying in a million words is that Stuart is a fine sixth defenseman and I am alright with him playing in that slot. There needs to be more love for the Prince of Defense, Tobias Enstrom, who is missing his buddy on the blue line, Dustin Byfuglien, and is holding his own in the big, bad west. Praise players that deserve to be praised not just players who block shots and hit guys. They have their moments where they deserve to be praised, as long as the skill of preventing shots on their own net is appreciated more than the guys who allow a ton of shots and block them or attempt to block them.

Final Thoughts:

Analytics or fancy stats are not that fancy at all. They are basic math to help explain how a team is expected to do. When using them to help evaluate defensemen they force us to change the very way we view defensemen. No longer are stay at home guys as valued as puck-moving defensemen. It is hard to change your mind on how you view a position as a whole when one way has been talked about forever. Change is slow and patience is needed with people try to wrap their heads around this entire 180 change in thinking. Whenever someone asks a question, answer them and take the time to explain it to them in basic English until they get comfortable with the language used in discussing the stats. I am fortunate enough to only have positive experiences asking questions about these stats because I am polite and do not attack the validity of said stats. You do not get polite answers if you are rude. It is okay to not understand them but to dismiss them because of that is like dismissing a book by looking at the cover. Give the book a chapter or two before you throw it away or finish it.

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