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Top 20 Defensive Zone Starters

In this summer’s look at sabermetrics and hockey, I have recently introduced the concept of zone starts.  This is the tabulation of the number of times a player is on the ice for a faceoff in a given zone on the ice (offensive, neutral or defensive) over the course of the season.  In order to see the correlation of these numbers with Corsi Numbers, these zone start numbers are restricted to 5 on 5 situations.  The raw data has been tabulated by Vic Ferrari at Irreverent Oiler Fans.

Today I will present the list of the 20 players who were most preferentially used in defensive situations.  These are the twenty players who were on the ice for the most defensive zone faceoffs minus offensive faceoffs.

Here are the 20 most frequent defensive zone starters in the 2008/09 season:

2008/09 Top 20 Defensive Zone Starters
Def - Off Faceoffs 
 Rank in worst 20 Corsis  
1Nick SchultzMin235


2Zbynek MichalekPhx215


3Kurt SauerPhx208


4Kim JohnssonMin205


5Jarred SmithsonNas162


6Jay BouwmeesterFla161


6Stephane VeilleuxMin161


8Jay McClementStL137


9Radek BonkNas130


10Martin SkoulaMin127


11Brendan WittNYI120


12Karlis SkrastinsFla116


13Mike KomisarekMon114


14Scott HannanCol113


14Mike RichardsPha113


16Kyle BrodziakEdm112


17Martin HanzalPhx111


18Cal ClutterbuckMin110


18Richard ParkNYI110


20Dan HamhiusNas105


It is clear that players who are on the ice for a lot more defensive faceoffs than offensive faceoffs tend to have poor Corsi Numbers.  The six worst individual players by raw Corsi Numbers are all among the players on this list (Kurt Sauer, Zbynek Michalek, Brendan Witt, Scott Hannan, Nick Schultz and Karlis Skrastins).  The eighth (Jay Bouwmeester) and twelfth (Kim Johnsson) also appear on this list. Since shots are more likely to be directed on your goal on a defensive zone faceoff and more likely to be directed at your opponent’s goal on an offensive zone faceoff, this is not unexpected.  It is interesting is to see that players like Brendan Witt or Scott Hannan have worse Corsi Numbers than their defensive zone start ranking should predict.  Nick Schultz and Kim Johnsson appear on both lists as well, but they do better on the Corsi list than their defensive zone starts would predict.  Jarred Smithson and Stephane Veilleux are the leaders in defensive zone starts who do not appear on the 20 worst Corsi list.  They clearly did well despite playing a tough defensive role on their teams.

Niclas Havelid and Tim Jackman are the players who are on the top of the worst Corsi list who do not appear on this list.  They are clearly players who failed last season.

One interesting case is that of Jay Bouwmeester.  He has the eighth worst Corsi and the sixth most defensive zone starts.  Those do not look like the superstar numbers one might expect from a player of his stature.  These numbers are suspiciously not as good as a few defensemen with lesser salaries and lesser regard among hockey fans including Nick Schultz and Kim Johnsson.

There are a couple caveats to looking at these numbers.  There is no attempt to adjust for quality of opposition.  It is possible that one player may have been on the ice for faceoffs against tougher opposition than another and that would not come out in this analysis.  That effect is likely low, since any player who has enough faceoffs to make this list was on for a large cross-section of faceoffs and would not likely be hidden from top competition.  Also, since we are looking at unadjusted Corsi Numbers, players on worse teams (New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes) will look a bit worse due to team effects.  All the players on these lists played on weaker five on five teams.  That is necessary to have a lot of defensive faceoffs or to have a league-worst Corsi Number.  In fact only threeplayers on the top 20 defensive zone starters list made the playoffs in 2009.  They are Jay McClement, Mike Komisarek and Mike Richards.  None of these players come from teams with positive team Corsi Numbers.

Copper N Blue Hockey attempted to do this analysis earlier, but used zone start numbers in all situations, instead of 5 on 5 only to better compare with Corsi Numbers.  Clearly a player who starts in his own zone a lot will have a poor Corsi Number.  Those who have significantly better Corsis than their zone starts might predict had good seasons playing a tough role with their teams.  Those who have worse Corsi Numbers than their zone starts predict had weaker seasons and are likely to play reduced roles in the future in most circumstances.  Largely, this group of twenty players was unnoticed playing tough defensive roles that are tough to succeed in.  Those who did succeed are valuable players.

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

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Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com