The Rod Langway Award
I've always liked the idea of an annual trophy for the NHL's top defensive defenceman.
After all, the one end-of-season award available for blueliners, the Norris Trophy, long ago became dedicated to offence-first types, leaving the league's underrated defensive stalwarts going unrecognized. (The last player to win the award with fewer than 50 points was Rod Langway in 1984.)
But being a top defensive player is a tough thing to qualify, whether it's a forward or a defenceman. As someone who followed the Vancouver Canucks closely in the past, for instance, I've always thought Mattias Ohlund was, if not the team's best player, certainly one of them.
And that's not really something that shows up on his statline as a player that has never scored more than 36 points and has been a minus nearly as many years as a plus in the plus/minus column.
The past few days, I've been looking into coming up with a simple way to find who the league's top defensive blueliners have been this season, the combination of a few key metrics that will give us an idea of who has stood out in the category.
In order to come up with a manageable number of blueliners to look at, I came up with a few criterion:
- They'd have to play a lot, let's say be among the top 90 defencemen in even-strength ice time
- Playing shorthanded would also be a big part of being a shutdown blueliner, so we'll take the top 60 from that category
(a) rate of goals against at even strength,
(b) rate of goals against shorthanded and
(c) strength of opposition
Here's a look at the leaders when all three categories are weighted equally:
|RK||Player|| ||Team||GP||+/-||EVGA |
For one thing, the list shows how inaccurate a measure plus minus can be — at least if you put any stock in these rankings.
Kim Johnsson's certainly a surprise at the top of the list, but given he plays the most minutes per game on the top defensive team in the league, perhaps he shouldn't be. Johnsson's not getting easy minutes either, and plays a ton on one of the best penalty kills in the league, so perhaps it's time we gave him his due as a solid defensive player.
There are some other surprises there that highlight players who have had terrific seasons in the role: Dan Hamhuis, Bryan Allen, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, Brendan Witt and Brent Seabrook.
As for the bottom end of the 52-player list I've put together, it offers a telling story the other way:
|36||VAN RYN|| ||FLA||73||-6||2.65||30||5.48||18||0.0067||43|
Keep in mind that offensive statistics count for absolutely nothing in these standings — only defensive performance is rated. Atlanta's Niclas Havelid takes a pounding in the goals against categories, but benefits from a big bump up due to the fact he faces the toughest opposition in the league, and Derian Hatcher is saved by the fact he's actually been very strong on the penalty kill this season in huge minutes there.
I'll be the first to admit this is a pretty rudimentary look at defensive performance among blueliners, but I'm hoping this can be a jumping off point for other bloggers/stats junkies to come up with their own winners for the Rod Langway Award.
UPDATE Just an FYI: Chris Pronger would have been in a top five position had he not missed 16 games due to injury. His goals against rates are way up there.