Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Best Defenceman In The NHL so Far This Season

The position of defence appears to be significantly changed due to the obstruction crackdown. Defensive play is significantly changed because defenders are no longer able to clear the front of the net with physical play. Defence has to be played positionally instead of physically or else it will lead to excessive penalty calls. As a result of this, the value of a good defensive defenceman has been significantly decreased. I have no doubt that given sufficient time, schemes will be developed to adjust to this, but they haven't yet. Most value among top defencemen so far this year has been offensive

The elite offensive defencemen are getting into their thirties and in many cases adjusting to new teams. They have been slow off the mark this year. This group includes Sergei Gonchar, Chris Pronger, Nicklas Lidstrom, Rob Blake and Scott Niedermayer. An opportunity has been created for a new group of younger defencemen to take over.

These new defencemen must be power play specialists. A player on the number one power play unit for a team can score record amounts of power play points under the obstruction crackdown. Tom Benjamin notes the increased power play numbers (for example the Toronto Maple Leafs are on pace to score 173 power play goals this year - the current record is 119 by the 1988-98 Pittsburgh Penguins). The top scorers this year are power play scorers (for example Jaromir Jagr).

The top power play scorer on defence is Bryan McCabe so far this year. He has three power play goals and seven power play assists among his 15 points which currently are tied for the league lead. I think McCabe has been the best defenceman so far this year under the "new" NHL rules. His skillset better fits them then it did the "old" NHL (and he wasn't too bad in it making second team all star in 2004).

The question is in an ideal hockey league, should a Bryan McCabe type be your ideal defenceman? I don't think he should be. I think that the obsturction crackdown will not last at this level and it will allow other players to surpass McCabe. Even if they keep calling penal,ties at the current too high rate, I don't expect to see McCabe making a run at the NHL scoring lead, but I would expect a good season from him.

McCabe was 4th in scoring by defensemen and 4th in Norris trophy voting in 2003-04. McCabe's good play isn't just because of the new rules and all the power play points he gets. He still has 5 points in 9 games when not on the power play and over 82 games that is 45 points which ain't to shabby either. And if you check, only Tim Gleason and Steve Eminger have more non-PP points (both with 6) by defensemen. No matter how you cut it, McCabe is having an outstanding start to the season.
It is true McCabe is a good player (I noted he made the 2nd team all star). I argue that under the "old" NHL, there would be some other defenceman playing better than McCabe but there are not any in this game.
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