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Backchecking: Trying To Reward the Intangibles

Scott Cullen

3/11/2010 2:34:27 PM

One of the many challenges presented when trying to evaluate hockey players is attempting to measure the impact of the "intangible" elements on the game.

While fans are all very familiar with goals, assists and plus-minus, evaluation gets trickier when it comes to categories like hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, face-offs and penalties.

I endeavour to include these statistics in my player rankings because it represents a certain fairness to the players (often defencemen) who aren't lighting up the scoreboard; some tangible evidence that their contribution matters, even if the measure is an estimate.

There isn't a great answer for how many blocked shots equates to a goal scored at the other end, or how many hits it takes to be worth the same as a goal. In reality, 100 hits isn't worth as much on the scoreboard as a single goal, but there should be some way to indicate the contributions of players beyond simply turning on the red light.

While these are statistically-generated rankings, I consider them the intangible portion of the player rankings because, for one thing, the statistics go beyond those that are rattled off everynight on Sportscentre or in the boxscore and their value to an actual win is completely debatable. I just know, if given the choice between two otherwise equal players, I'd be happy to take the player who consistently sacrifices their body in the name of the game.

It's not all sacrifice, as having few penalties doesn't always equate to discipline; sometimes it's merely indifference. But, when all these stats get rolled together, there appears to be a fair measure of which players are doing the "little things" -- things that might generally go unnoticed.

I've listed the top three "intangible" leaders, along with the lowest-ranked regular (at least 40 games played) for each team, presenting some indication of which players might be considered unsung heroes and a comparable at the other end of the spectrum.

A couple of caveats:

These measures are cumulative, which presents an obvious advantage to players who haven't missed many games. I could easily transition the calculation to a per-game basis, but if a player is going to have a real effect on the game in this way, it sure helps to be in the lineup night-in and night-out.   Likewise, players who log more ice time have a greater likelihood of accumulating these statistics.  (Perhaps the "per game" and "per 60 minutes" leaders will be a future blog.)

Players that have low ratings aren't bad players and I'm not trying to suggest as much. Some guys don't block shots and don't do a lot of hitting, but they put the puck in the net -- a most valuable contribution. Additionally, players that have the puck frequently when on the ice -- think the Sedin twins cycling ad nauseam in Vancouver -- aren't really in position to block a lot of shots or deliver a lot of hits. Obviously, this doesn't mean they're not incredibly important to their team.

In conclusion, then, the point of this exercise is to look at some of the players who may have at least a little more value than what their standard "back-of-the-hockey-card" stats might suggest.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Aaron Ward 4.85
James Wisniewski 4.84
Todd Marchant 4.35
Teemu Selanne -0.13

ATLANTA THRASHERS

Zach Bogosian 5.49
Chris Thorburn 3.31
Jim Slater 3.24
Vyacheslav Kozlov 0.58

BOSTON BRUINS

Dennis Seidenberg 8.14
Zdeno Chara 3.94
Steve Begin 3.78
Marc Savard 1.03

BUFFALO SABRES

Patrick Kaleta 5.58
Tyler Myers 4.30
Paul Gaustad 3.16
Thomas Vanek 0.58

CALGARY FLAMES

Chris Higgins 5.10
Mark Giordano 5.06
Eric Nystrom 3.71
Jamal Mayers 1.07

CAROLINA HURRICANES

Tim Gleason 6.18
Tuomo Ruutu 4.26
Tom Kostopoulos 4.22
Eric Staal 0.83

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Brent Seabrook 6.47
Troy Brouwer 4.56
Jonathan Toews 4.37
Patrick Sharp -0.35

COLORADO AVALANCHE

Brett Clark 4.70
Kyle Quincey 4.27
T.J. Galiardi 4.12
Marek Svatos 0.46

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Jan Hejda 4.85
R.J. Umberger 4.70
Rick Nash 4.14
Kristian Huselius 0.89

DALLAS STARS

Stephane Robidas 7.06
Jamie Benn 6.33
James Neal 5.16
Brad Richards 0.28

DETROIT RED WINGS

Darren Helm 6.15
Pavel Datsyuk 5.62
Justin Abdelkader 3.97
Todd Bertuzzi 0.21

EDMONTON OILERS

Tom Gilbert 3.87
Jean-Francois Jacques 3.65
Ladislav Smid 3.27
Dustin Penner and Ethan Moreau 0.46

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Keith Ballard 5.74
Gregory Campbell 5.40
Bryan Allen 4.18
Nathan Horton 1.75

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Dustin Brown 7.89
Matt Greene 5.23
Jarret Stoll 3.72
Raitis Ivanans 0.28

MINNESOTA WILD

Cal Clutterbuck 7.16
Greg Zanon 6.63
Nick Schultz 4.41
Derek Boogaard 0.27

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Travis Moen 4.06
Josh Gorges 3.81
Maxim Lapierre 3.74
Mike Cammalleri 0.73

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Kevin Klein 4.59
Francis Bouillon 4.27
Shea Weber 4.19
Steve Sullivan 0.04

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Colin White 5.17
Zach Parise 4.69
Andy Greene 4.19
Patrik Elias -0.26

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Jon Sim 4.38
Sean Bergenheim 3.98
Mark Streit 3.54
John Tavares 1.50

NEW YORK RANGERS

Ryan Callahan 9.13
Dan Girardi 6.90
Chris Drury 5.17
Olli Jokinen 0.98

OTTAWA SENATORS

Mike Fisher 6.82
Andy Sutton 5.94
Anton Volchenkov 5.76
Jason Spezza 0.60

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Daniel Carcillo 5.11
Mike Richards 4.72
Chris Pronger 4.59
Simon Gagne 0.50

PHOENIX COYOTES

Shane Doan 4.55
Zbynek Michalek 4.43
Vernon Fiddler 4.06
Robert Lang 0.33

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Brooks Orpik 5.43
Craig Adams 4.72
Matt Cooke 4.65
Eric Godard -0.21

ST. LOUIS BLUES

David Backes 5.60
Roman Polak 4.99
T.J. Oshie 4.67
Carlo Colaiacovo 0.91

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Scott Nichol 5.88
Douglas Murray 4.83
Niclas Wallin 3.99
Jamie McGinn 1.12

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Nate Thompson 4.25
Mattias Ohlund 3.95
Ryan Malone 3.64
Alex Tanguay 0.86

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Nikolai Kulemin 5.60
Dion Phaneuf 5.05
Luke Schenn 4.50
Phil Kessel 0.91

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Ryan Kesler 7.12
Andrew Alberts 4.56
Tanner Glass 3.76
Daniel Sedin -0.31

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Alexander Ovechkin 4.24
Mike Green 4.19
Shaone Morrisonn 3.73
Tomas Fleischmann 0.47

Scott Cullen can be reached via e-mail at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen