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Monday, June 18, 2007

Selke Trophy: Making a case against Brind’Amour

(Author’s note: well, I decided to take a week off posting after a post-heavy playoffs, but I’m back. Rudy has explained nicely how Kopitar got shafted in the Calder nominations here and here, and it’s time I finally stopped procrastinating and wrote about another bad choice—Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour winning the Selke.)

First, let’s look at 5-on-5 play, where most of a player’s minutes are spent. First, though: what are murderer’s minutes? Well, it’s a term I just coined, but I’m using it to mean matching up against the top producer on the opponent’s roster. Playing against the Jaromir Jagrs or the Sidney Crosbys of the league—where in theory the best defensive forwards would be best utilized.

Thanks to Vic Ferrari’s minutes-tracking site, we can track opponent matching for 5-on-5 play, at least. In 4 games against the Rangers, Brind'Amour played in 26 of 62 of Jagr’s even-strength minutes (42%). Compare this against Pahlsson’s 1 game (9 of 13 minutes, 71%) or Pandolfo’s 8 games (103 of 134 minutes, 77%).

Or the same number of games for Crosby: Brind’Amour (14 of 44 minutes, 32%), Pahlsson (9 of 15 minutes, 60%), Pandolfo (94 of 126 minutes, 75%).

At 5-on-5, at least from these two examples, Pahlsson and Pandolfo are taking on more of the murderer’s minutes, whereas Brind’Amour is less rigorously matched.

Gabriel Desjardins’ Behind the Net site aggregates this sort of data and constructs an even-strength quality of opposition metric, a quality of linemates metric, and is able to show scoring rates with a player on the ice and when he is off the ice. These metrics are not meant to be taken as absolutes, but the do serve as an indicator of average difficulty and defensive results:

Even-strength Rod Brind’Amour: 14:41 per game
Quality of opposition: 214 / 676, Quality of teammates: 236 / 676
5-on-5 GAA on the ice: 3.10, 5-on-5 GAA off the ice 3.05

Even-strength Sammy Pahlsson: 12:43 per game
Quality of opposition: 10 / 676, Quality of teammates: 674 / 676
5-on-5 GAA on the ice: 2.39, 5-on-5 GAA off the ice 2.21

Even-strength Jay Pandolfo: 15:20 per game
Quality of opposition: 2 / 676, Quality of teammates 569 / 676
5-on-5 GAA on the ice: 1.95, 5-on-5 GAA off the ice 2.40
TAKEAWAY: Pahlsson and Pandolfo are playing among the toughest murderer’s minutes in the league, accompanied by some of the least productive linemates in the league: a really tough combination. Brind’Amour, by comparison, is playing less rigorous shutdown role alongside more capable linemates—his minutes are significantly easier, on average.

According to the Quality of opposition metric, six Carolina forwards played tougher even-strength minutes on average than Brind’Amour: Vasicek, Adams, Cole, LaRose, Stillman, and Whitney. And yet despite playing the 7th most difficult set of minutes on his team (a team that didn’t make the playoffs and finished in the bottom half of the league in goals-against), the Hurricanes had a better 5-on-5 goals-against rate with Brind’Amour off the ice than with Brind’Amour on the ice.

The real star in these even-strength minutes metrics is Jay Pandolfo, who despite playing very impressive murderer's minutes, still is able to demonstrate a significant defensive impact: The Devils have nearly a half-goal improvement in 5-on-5 GAA when Pandolfo is on the ice.

When it comes to shorthanded play, things become a little more clouded, as some of the same metrics are not available, and there's not always a clear breakdown of 4-on-5 vs. 3-on-5 vs. 3-on-4 minutes and results. All three Selke nominees were important fixtures on top-10 penalty kills, though, and here's what I've been able to amass: minutes played (both overall shorthanded and 4-on-5), a quality of opposition metric, a quality of teammates metric, and a 4-on-5 GAA rate while on the ice:
Shorthanded Rod Brind’Amour: 3:37 per game (3:24 4-on-5)
Quality of opposition: 158 / 395, Quality of teammates 123 / 395
4-on-5 GAA on the ice: 4.96

Shorthanded Sammy Pahlsson: 4:28 per game (4:10 4-on-5)
Quality of opposition: 88 / 395, Quality of teammates 168 / 395
4-on-5 GAA on the ice: 5.10

Shorthanded Jay Pandolfo: 3:03 per game (2:57 4-on-5)
Quality of opposition: 190 / 395, Quality of teammates 201 / 395
4-on-5 GAA on the ice: 6.95
TAKEAWAY: Brind'Amour does look fairly good here, especially in relation to Pandolfo, but considering the number of minutes and the quality of minutes, you gotta give a nod to Pahlsson here; overall he played 65 more shorthanded minutes than did Brind'Amour and 115 more shorthanded minutes than did Pandolfo, all while maintaining pretty excellent results.

At any rate, when talking about overall performance, it's fair to say that Rod Brind'Amour (a) played significantly easier minutes than did Pandolfo or Pahlsson, and (b) despite the easier minutes, did not demonstrate a particularly strong defensive impact in the minutes he played. I think based on the even-strength results especially, he was the least deserving of the three nominees, and in fact, I probably would have given the award to (surprise!) Jay Pandolfo. He, above the others, was able to play the toughest minutes (in a higher-scoring eastern conference) and was able to demonstrably neutralize the best scorers in the league.

All that said, I fully expected Brind'Amour to take the trophy (as he did), because he was more visible, more recognizable, and carried better surface statistics than either of the other two. I'm not upset with the voting results, but I thought I'd lay out some reasons why I think the wrong choice was made.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Does the quality of teammates metric include goaltenders? Because you could argue that Pahlsson and Pando played in front of better goalies than did Brind'Amour.

In addition, I think the fact that Brind'Amour scored 26 G and 82 P (Pando: 13/27, Pahlsson: 8/26) probably swayed 1) lazy voters who didn't have access to Ferrari's or Desjardins' sites and 2) voters who interpret "best defensive forward" as "best 2-way forward."

I'm with you on the rather-have-the-performance-than-the-award opinion, but I couldn't help feeling bad for Sammy when Rod's name was called. Since a lot of people think Pahlsson didn't win the award this year because voting occurred before the playoffs began and not enough people knew about him, it'll be interesting to see what happens next year.

Anonymous said...

I think both Pahlsson and Pandolfo should have gotten the award. I'm a big fan of Brind'Amour since his days playing with the Flyers but he got it last year and I really think it was a case of east coasters voters not knowing Pahlsson that prevented him from getting it. Also Pandolfo has been around for a while and I think of him as the Devils' Pahlsson (or is Pahlsson the Ducks' Pandolfo?), doing the dirty work every game and it was about time he got a nod.
What I was trying to say was that it would have been better for either of the other two guys to have the trophy (specially Sammy P), although Brind'Amour isn't that bad of a choice.

RudyKelly said...

Nice work, Ed. Apparently you like to use "evidence," which is a unique way of presenting an argument. I think it's more effective than my method, which is yelling a lot and calling people names.

RudyKelly said...

Also, what is up with Brind'Amour's tie? You can see it all the way around.

Earl Sleek said...

voters who interpret "best defensive forward" as "best 2-way forward."

Yeah, a lot of arguments for Brind'Amour (he plays all situations, 2nd on the team in scoring, led the league in faceoff wins) sound a lot more like Hart reasons than Selke reasons.

Also, what is up with Brind'Amour's tie? You can see it all the way around.

He's not wearing a tie. He's wearing a shootout.

Schnookie said...

Wow! Okay, I'd heard these numbers hinted at, but hadn't actually looked at them until now. While previously my heart said Pando should have won, now my mind does too. (I give less weight, by the way, to the PK numbers because Pahlsson had the monster D-men on his PK with him, while Pando had Brian Rafalski and Colin White. The human brain has yet to construct a metric to properly measure how much of a detriment those two ostensibly good defensemen really are... :P)

Earl Sleek said...

Yeah, Schnookie, I'm not sure how much stock I put in those PK metrics; those are awfully team- and system-dependent. I think the main takeaway from the PK is that all three players were strong contributors to a top-rated penalty-kill (all three teams were in the top 8 percentage-wise).

Though Pando's metrics are the worst of the trio on the PK, I'll grant leeway there. I'm probably still looking for better metrics on special teams.

Jeff J said...

Great analysis!

To me, the three nominees should have been Pahlsson, Radek Bonk, and John Madden - the centres for the three purest checking lines in the league. I have no idea who the most deserving winner would be.

Pandolfo is a fine checking winger, but wingers just don't have as much defensive responsibility as centres. The wingers' check will generally be a defenseman, while the centre generally has to cope with the opposing centre. I think Madden makes Pandolfo look good, just like Bonk (along with the Habs best defensive pair) made Mike Johnson and Alex Perezhogin look good.

Bonk just doesn't get the respect he deserves for his season. He was used every bit as much in the shutdown role as Pahlsson and Madden, only he played on a worse team and had fewer leads to hold. Plus he didn't have a collection of Vezina or Norris trophies backing him up from the blue line or the crease.

Earl Sleek said...

To me, the three nominees should have been Pahlsson, Radek Bonk, and John Madden - the centres for the three purest checking lines in the league. I have no idea who the most deserving winner would be.

I could definitely be talked into this slate--Bonk and Madden definitely played murderer's minutes this year also.

As for the checking center vs. checking winger distinction, I dunno. I see your point, but I don't think that the Selke need be a "centers only" award. Probably there might have to be slightly different criteria, but I'm not opposed to a winger taking the trophy if he's playing his role effectively.

That said, I admittedly spent not that much time this season watching the eastern conference teams, so I don't have much to offer in the Madden vs. Pandolfo or the Bonk vs. Johnson debate. For Anaheim, the straw that stirs the checking line's drink is definitely Pahlsson, as people who saw him only in the postseason can probably agree with.