Saturday, August 20, 2005

Bobby Orr is the Best Defenceman of All Time ... Right?

Most (if not all) hockey experts consider Bobby Orr to be the best defenceman in the history of hockey. Then how come in a comparison of the top 10 defenders of all time by Daryl Shilling's hockey project rating system and Pnep's hall of fame monitor both systems do not agree that Bobby Orr is the number one defender of all time?

This is a common sabermetrics and hockey problem. In all time player rankings how do we deal with players who played short dominant careers versus players who played longer less dominant careers? Bobby Orr played a relatively short career due to knee problems that forced an early retirement. He was the most dominant defender of all time. He twice won the NHL scoring title and Hart trophy. He was an eight time Norris trophy winner, which is the most times any single player has won that award.

Bobby Orr first came to the NHL as an 18 year old with the Boston Bruins in 1966. He was an immediate star. He won the Calder trophy as best rookie that year and made the NHL 2nd team all star. For the next eight years he won the Norris trophy annually. Six times he topped 100 points including 1970 and 1975 when he lead the league in scoring. He won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP in his two Stanley Cup wins in 1970 and 1972. He was a six time leader in the NHL in plus/minus rating. In 1975/76 his career was nearly over. Multiple knee surgeries had taken a big toll on his body. Over the next 4 seasons with Boston and the Chicago Blackhawks, he only managed to play in 36 games. He still managed to star for Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup where he was the top scorer in the tournament and its MVP. In 1979 he had to retire.

Daryl Shilling succeeds in rating Bobby Orr as the best defender of all time. He has a sizable lead over Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque, players who had more career points than Orr in much longer careers, but were never as dominant. Pnep fails to get Bobby Orr as the top defender of all time. He has Ray Bourque as the number one defender of all time, with Orr ranked second.

I think Darryl gets a better result because he considers dominance and career totals separately in his system. Pnep only considers career totals. This is an important difference and one that makes Darryl's system a better one.

Bobby Orr is the best defender of all time, he was far more dominant than any other defender either before or after him. Yet, because of his short career, it can be a challenge to show this in a sabermetrics system unless you specifically consider dominance. Orr's dominance is partially lost when you consider only career numbers.

If you ask me, he was the greatest hockey playerof all time..and I am sure many who saw him would agree.
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