Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Best Player Who Doesn't Show Up In The Statistics

In the past, I have written a bunch of posts about sabermetrics and hockey. One of the biggest problems is that there are some players who are clearly very good, but it is hard to make a statistical argument for it. Often, this type of argument is used as a poor justification for why the role player on my team is better than the role player on your team, but in some cases it has merit.

There are some players who are always involved in the play when you watch the game, but do not wind up on the scoresheet nearly as often as it seems they should.

I think the best example of one such player in the NHL today is Rod Brind'Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes. He hasn't scored at point per game rate since 1995/96 when he scored 87 points in 82 games. In 2003/04, he scored 38 points in 78 games. So far this year, with the leaguewide increase in scoring, he has scored 16 times in 18 games.

Brind'Amour leads all forwards in shifts per game and time on ice per game (usually defenders play more than forwards as teams usually dress 3 lines of defenders and 4 lines of forwards). In terms of shifts per game, Brind'Amour is fourth in the NHL with 31.4 per game. The next forward on the list is Jeff Halpern of Washington (and he is 29th overall). In terms of time on ice per game, Brind'Amour is 26th in the league with 24.0 minutes played per game (it is normal for forward shifts to be shorter than defence shifts as it is easier to change forward lines then defence lines). This leads all forwards in the NHL in time on ice per game. Ilya Kovalchuk of Atlanta is 37th overall in minutes played per game and is second among forwards.

The fact that Carolina's coach Peter Laviolette sees fit to play Brind'Amour more than any other coach plays any other forward is strong evidence for his value. Brind'Amour is a valuable player to the Hurricanes in essentially all circumstances (even strength, power play, shorthanded, leading, trailing, tied ...).

Brind'Amour is also second in the NHL in faceoff percentage with a 62.2% winning rate (he is behind only Jarett Stoll of Edmonton).

Brind'Amour would be my pick for the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward at this early point in the season as he does all the little things that help keep the puck out of the net well. I think he would be a good choice for a spot on Team Canada in the Olympics, but he did not make the long list of eligible players.

There are players who are significantly underrated by the NHL statistics. Rod Brind'Amour of Carolina is the best example of one such player in the NHL today.

Your prediction was right on! Rod definitely deserved the Selke. But he deserved the Cup even more. He's the epitome of what a great hockey player should be.
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