Ryan Stimson recently shared the results of his passing project, a great piece of work that’s collected some really interesting data. Spencer Mann followed up by creating some visualizations to summarize the key findings for each player. This data deserves to be used more, so I wanted to try it out on a fairly small question: what does it tell us about the currently available free agent defensemen? As Ryan lays out in his posts, passing is a significant aspect of offensive production, so this data may offer more information than shooting metrics alone. The data does not cover every game last season, so there are some limitations. Anton Volchenkov and David Schlemko are both excluded because they both have less than 100 min of tracked 5v5 time. (Want to help fix that for next season? Ryan is currently looking for more volunteer trackers, which will be a huge part of how much data is collected moving forward) Regardless, the data as it currently stands has some interesting points to show.
Glossary of Terms
First, a quick summary of what each bar in the chart represents:
Top Four Defensement
Lubomir Visnovsky is a great offensive contributor with elite zone entry numbers. He’s also excellent on the power play and would provide significant offensive output for any team that signs him. At 38 years old, he is likely looking for a one-year deal, so a team with cap space should be able to acquire him without a long-term commitment. The primary concern, and likely the reason he has not yet been signed, is injuries. Visnovsky has missed significant time due to injuries in the past few years and did not finish the Islanders first round playoff series due to a concussion. He’s not a shut-down guy and would likely not play a full 82 games, but he would definitely provide value for a team that expects to make the playoffs and is looking for an offensive boost.
Marek Zidlicky’s statistics are very impressive, and frankly, much higher than what I expected. His graph shows an inverse from Visnovsky in terms of which categories he is elite in compared to those in which he is just very good. In particular, Zidlicky is involved in a ton of scoring chances, both by pure volume and by his involvement compared to teammates. If there’s an area measured here where he struggles, it’s his limited involvement in controlled zone entries. Like Visnovsky, Zidlicky is 38, but the statistics here show serious offensive output
Christian Ehrhoff has had less time tracked than the previous two UFAs, but he did very well in the games that were tracked. Many of his stats are quite similar to Zidlicky but a bit lower overall, especially SC SAG/60. On the other hand, he was much more active in created controlled zone entries. Overall, this backs up a general assessment of Ehrhoff as a very good but not spectacular defenseman.
Franson, like Ehrhoff, has limited tracked time, and his numbers are very interesting. Franson has the greatest disparity in his rankings between different statistics: the middle four are great while the right two columns are awful. At 27, Franson is unlikely to significantly improve in the future but should remain productive for several seasons.
Possible Depth Defensemen
The talent pool for UFA defensemen drops off considerably after the top 4 options. Tim Gleason’s stats across two teams suggest a third pairing guy. The distribution of the stats is similar to Franson’s, but Gleason’s stats are worse across the board. NHL.com’s article on remaining free agents called him a “cheap, veteran 3rd pair”, which seems about right.
Andrej Meszaros has almost identical stats as Gleason though he is a bit stronger on controlled zone entries. Jan Hejda’s passing summary is flat out bad. At 29 years old, it does not seem like he would add much.
While there’s limited passing ability from defensemen still available on the free-agent market, there is definitely still some talent to be had. That is particularly true for teams looking for a veteran player for a year or two rather than a younger player to commit to long-term. One interesting finding from these summaries is that the two older players – Visnovsky and Zidlicky – did better than would be expected by their general reputation among fans. Given the focus on passing in this data set, I’d guess that these vets rely on passing as a way to produce offense while limiting skating, and thus conserving energy. SportLogiIQ just had a post on Duncan Keith’s playoff performance and suggested that he conserved energy by passing rather than rushing the puck. It would be interesting to examine the data further to see if the same holds true across the regular season for Visnovsky and Zidlicky.