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Looking at Defensive Forwards

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Today I'm going to share the results of a fairly simple exercise, but one that I've been meaning to complete for quite some time.


First, I compiled a list of the league's 20 best defensive forwards based on relatively subjective measurements, like Selke award nominations, or recurring mentions in various on-line threads about the league's best defensive forwards.


Then, I took a look at their stats at a group level, over the past three seasons, using the stats over on Behind the Net, like Quality of Competition, Zone Starts, shots/goals against, Corsi and penalties drawn/taken. I also looked for correlations between these various attributes. For now I considered only 5-on-5 play.


Finally I searched all the league's other players to find players whose stats most closely matched the aggregate pattern of this group, to see if I could find any unheralded defensive specialists. Here are the results.


First, the LOEDF (The League of Extraordinary Defensive Forwards): Blair Betts, Brenden Morrow, Brian Rolston, Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Zetterberg, Jay McClement, John Madden, Jonathan Toews, Jordan Staal, Manny Malhotra, Mike Fisher, Mike Richards, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Patrick Marleau, Pavel Datsyuk, Rob Niedermayer, Ryan Callahan, Ryan Kesler, Samuel Pahlsson, and Travis Zajac.


Average of LOEDF, 2008-11 (with Standard Deviation in brackets)

Relative Corsi Quality of Competition: 0.74 (0.41)

Goals Against per 60 minutes: 2.41 (0.43)

Shots Against per 60 minutes: 26.3 (2.2)

+/- per 60 minutes +0.16 (0.77)

Relative Corsi per 60 minutes: -0.7 (10.4)

Corsi per 60 minutes: 2.3 (10.1)

Offensive Zone Start %: 47.2% (7.7%)

Offensive Zone Finish %: 49.8% (3.1%)

Penalties Taken per 60 minutes 0.7 (0.4)

Penalties Drawn per 60 minutes: 0.9 (0.4)


The only factor that really strayed from league average was the Quality of Competition, everything else was relatively indistinguishable from all the other forwards in the league.


Within the LEODF there were two types of defensive forwards, those that got plenty of offensive zone starts, like Jonathan Toews, Travis Zajac, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Lucic and Henrik Zetterberg, and those that got very few, like Rob Niedermayer, Blair Betts, Samuel Pahlsson, John Madden and Jay McClement. The former had far better Corsi scores, but the latter faces tougher competition.


I studied the correlation between Quality of Competition, Zone Starts, and all the other stats, and there was virtually none in most cases. Here are the exceptions:


0.64 Offensive Zone Starts to Corsi per 60 minutes

0.56 Offensive Zone Starts to Relative Corsi per 60 minutes

0.42 Offensive Zone Starts to +/- per 60 minutes

0.24 Offensive Zone Starts to penalties drawn per 60 minutes

0.22 Quality of Competition to Goals Against per 60 minutes

0.22 Offensive Zone Starts to Shots Against per 60 minutes (negative)


First of all, it's interesting that the only thing that really seems to correlate with Quality of Competition (the one based on Relative Corsi) is goals against. Not shots against, just goals against.


Secondly, it's obvious that offensive zone starts is the key factor. Starting in the opposing zone results in higher Corsi, a better +/-, fewer shots against and (my favourite) more penalties drawn.  It's no wonder the recent work on Balance Zone Starts is so interesting and important.


Last thing I did was look through all the other players to find anyone whose stats match the LOEDF. As expected you get guys like Alexandre Burrows, David Legwand, Fernando Pisani, Jere Lehtinen, Joe Pavelski, Michael Handzus and Zach Parise, but only two players (other than those already in the LEODF) appear in more than 1 of the preceding three seasons: (Dr.) Mark Recchi, and Petr Prucha.


Anyway, those are the results of my quick and dirty exercise. Based on all of this, here's what I'll be studying in the near future:

  • Same study, broken up by offensive zone starts

  • How Quality of Competition affects goals against but not shots against

  • Relationship between offensive zone starts and drawing penalties

  • Recchi and Prucha: extraordinary defensive forwards?