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The Best Hitters in the NHL -- Defencemen

First, I just want to make note that I made an adjustment on this measurement, thanks to a good suggestion from reader "grumble_grumble"; as you can see in the reply to his comment, I ran correlations for all of the penalties I included to hitting rates and decided to drop the holding penalty as it did not seem to relate strongly to infractions committed by hitters. The result in rankings was a bit of shuffling among the top 15 (including a rise from the immortal Joey Crabb), and quite a bit more shakeup on the bottom 15:

Rk PLAYER %ile
Rk PLAYER %ile
1 Andrew Murray, C 1.00
403 Jakub Voracek, RW 9.67
2 Joey Crabb, RW 1.00
404 Alex Burrows, RW 9.67
3 David Moss, RW 1.00
405 Scott Gomez, C 9.67
4 Ales Kotalik, RW 1.00
406 Corey Perry, RW 9.67
5 Kevin Porter, LW 1.00
407 Martin Havlat, RW 9.67
6 Andreas Nodl, RW 1.00
408 Nathan Gerbe, LW 10.00
7 Trevor Lewis, C 1.00
409 Nikolay Zherdev, RW 10.00
8 Matt Bradley, RW 1.33
410 Jeff Skinner, LW 10.00
9 Toby Petersen, C 1.33
411 Dominic Moore, C 10.00
10 Chris Porter, LW 1.50
412 Alexander Semin, LW 10.00
11 Liam Reddox, LW 1.50
413 Sidney Crosby, C 10.00
12 Blair Betts, C 1.50
414 Jason Spezza, C 10.00
13 Rod Pelley, C 1.50
415 Tim Connolly, C 10.00
14 Jake Dowell, C 1.50
416 Evgeni Malkin, C 10.00
15 Mike Grier, RW 1.50
417 Marc Savard, C 10.00

If you need a refresher on the methodology, have a look at the first post on forwards. In brief, I took players with at least 20 games in two or more of the seasons 2008-09, 2010-11, and 2011-12 and, using their combined rankings (expressed in percentiles, 1 = Top 10th percentile, 2 = Top 20th percentile) in away hits per 15 minutes and what I call checking minor PIM (elbowing, roughing, boarding, interference, cross checking) per 15 minutes, averaging those 2- and 3-year performances. The argument I'm making is that, since it's been very difficult to determine that hitting as it's recorded actually helps teams, when we talk about the value of hitting we should gravitate towards hitters who can hit without at least not hurting their teams (via minor PIM). On to the defencemen...

One of the first things I did when I carried out the study was to look at the correlation between TOI (one of the more stable indicators of player talent we have) and three of the primary categories I worked with: away hitting rate, checking minor PIM rate, and the composite percentiles like the ones above.

Position TOI to Aw H/15 TOI to ChPIM/15 TOI to Cmp Rk
Forwards -0.62467 -0.40941 0.33548
Defencemen -0.35867 -0.29781 0.13679

A lot of interesting things going on here; for one, it's pretty clear that scoring forwards rarely hit as much as their 3rd and 4th line counterparts, and to a certain degree this means the 3rd-4th liners get more checking minors as well. This is why 3rd-4th liners who can consistently avoid minor penalties can do quite well by this measure. As for defencemen, minor penalties are more common and, apparently, more excusable. Thus, an otherwise good defenceman who takes bad minor penalties is less likely to sit. Regardless, I think it's still valid to look at defencemen by this measure.

Rk PLAYER %ile
Rk PLAYER %ile
1 Luca Sbisa, D 1.00
213 P.K. Subban, D 9.00
2 Dan Girardi, D 1.00
214 Paul Martin, D 9.00
3 Jeff Petry, D 1.00
215 Bryan Allen, D 9.00
4 Stephane Robidas, D 1.33
216 Nick Boynton, D 9.00
5 Johnny Boychuk, D 1.50
217 Brent Burns, D 9.33
6 Justin Braun, D 1.50
218 Adam Foote, D 9.50
7 Anton Volchenkov, D 1.67
219 Victor Hedman, D 9.50
8 Douglas Murray, D 1.67
220 Craig Rivet, D 9.50
9 Brad Stuart, D 1.67
221 Brett Lebda, D 9.67
10 Greg Zanon, D 1.67
222 Dan Boyle, D 9.67
11 Jan Hejda, D 1.67
223 Trevor Daley, D 9.67
12 Alexander Edler, D 1.67
224 Tom Poti, D 10.00
13 Luke Schenn, D 2.00
225 Sheldon Souray, D 10.00
14 Roman Polak, D 2.00
226 Keith Yandle, D 10.00
15 Nicklas Grossmann, D 2.00
227 Chris Pronger, D 10.00

Top 15 on the left, Bottom 15 on the right. Italicized players are those with only 2 season's data, so there should be less confidence in their placement. Both Sbisa and Girardi are extraordinary in this regard, and between Girardi and Robidas I think you'd be hard pressed to find a couple of defencemen who do more for their team in the defensive zone. As for the bottom guys, it's a bit of a perfect blend of light hitting guys who take minors and big hitters who have trouble keeping it clean. As for our Jets?

Rk PLAYER %ile
18 Grant Clitsome, D 2.00
64 Zach Bogosian, D 4.33
88 Randy Jones, D 4.67
94 Dustin Byfuglien, D 5.00
98 Mark Stuart, D 5.33
131 Johnny Oduya, D 6.00
162 Ron Hainsey, D 7.00
203 Tobias Enstrom, D 8.67

I included Oduya just for kicks. Enstrom is surprising, but at the same time not surprising. I knew he took a fair number of minor penalties. And how about that Grant Clitsome? But no, let's not actually consider playing him...

Let me know in the comments if you want to know how another player or players placed - forwards or defencemen, doesn't matter. I plan on looking at this data in regards to team performance, age, and relation to other advanced metrics before this is through. I do want to emphasize that this measure is not telling us who the best players are...rather, it's telling us who can play a physical game without taking harmful penalties. In my mind, it's the true display of skill in hitting - anybody can throw themselves all over the place, but to be able to demonstrate control in the process takes a special kind of player. Or they're just really good at hiding it.