Should the game's greatest defensive forwards receive more Hall of Fame attention?

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jerelehtinenplaysd.jpgIn many sports – particularly baseball – it seems like just about any action and tactic can be chronicled with a hard number statistic. Sure, you cannot put a number on chemistry, desire, heart and – let’s face it – the greed that can sometimes be the driving force behind sporting success, but it seems like numbers can explain a huge portion of what happens in games.

Hockey stats lag behind and for good reason: there are some things that are simply difficult to measure without just using your eyes and a fair share of subjectivity. Sure, you can look at a faceoff won or a goal averted as a “success” for a defensive forward, but that doesn’t always tell the whole story. Neither does a plus/minus or Corsi number.

This lack of data/benchmarks for great work by defensive forwards is obvious in everything from Selke Trophy voting and Hall of Fame inductions. The fantastic number-crunching blog Behind the Net took a look at the serious lack of shutdown forwards in the Hockey Hall of Fame beyond Bob Gainey and Bob Pulford and provides two compelling examples of worthy inductees.

Since the 1980s, I’d argue that there’s a reluctance to recognize the defensive forward, an important player lost in the astronomical offensive numbers we saw three decades ago, rarely to be recognized even when the defensive game re-emerged in the mid-90s. Sure, if there comes a player that joins point-per-game offense with relatively good defense, he enters the conversation, and when Selanne’s opportunity comes around his average defense will be sufficient. But what about those defensive forwards?

Case in point is a player that entered the league in Gainey’s waning years, and survived the 1980s and early 90s with his elite defensive reputation intact. Guy Carbonneau toiled over 19 NHL seasons, winning 3 Selkes and 3 Stanley Cups, all the while carrying the label of the league’s best defensive forward. Beyond that, he did something incredibly well that Bob Gainey rarely ever did: win faceoffs. In the process, Carbonneau played 1,318 games, scoring 260 goals, 403 assists, and 663 points along with a career +/- of +186.

Another more-recent example is a player currently without a job, Jere Lehtinen. Also the recipient of 3 Selkes and a Stanley Cup, Lehtinen has had a more prolific scoring career than Gainey or Carbonneau, but this was certainly not to the detriment of his defensive game. For sure, if you were to ask 100 hockey experts on the best defensive players of the period 1995-2010, Lehtinen would enter the conversation for almost every one. With 875 games played, 243 goals, 271 goals, 514 points, and a career +176, who could argue? He only had one season where he finished with a minus (Gainey had two, and Carbonneau four) despite playing on a number of suspect Dallas teams. He and Modano were constants on teams that boasted some of the most incredible goaltending statistics in NHL history, including Ed Belfour’s 1997-98 and 1998-99 and Marty Turco’s 2002-03 and 2003-04. Yet it is unlikely that Lehtinen will get his due, much like Carbonneau sees each year come and go without a chance to join his Montreal brethren in the hallowed Hall.

In a time when statistical analysts are bringing us ever closer to defensive player value, it’s time to remember that those Red Wings, those Devils, those Penguins, didn’t get there without Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, Jordan Staal, etc. The defensive forward is still important, still integral to regular season success, playoff hockey, and the Silver of all Silvers. I’m not saying enshrine Michael Peca on principle, but I do believe that each generation boasts at least one defensive forward that deserves enshrinement along with the multitudes of point-per-gamers nominated from year-to-year by our hockey writers and dignitaries.

Both Carbonneau and Lehtinen seem like perfectly reasonable selections for the Hall of Fame, at least when you compare their impact on the game in relation to good-but-not-quite-elite inductees such as this year’s selection Dino Ciccarelli.

I think it comes down to a lack of education and data, though. Simply put, it’s difficult to know which forwards make a big impact beyond looking at team-based statistics such as plus/minus. If there were easier (or at least more prevalent) ways to measure how useful a forward is defensively, it would be easier for everyone to judge these players.

This is why the movement for deeper statistical analysis among bloggers (and the occasional mainstream writer) is such a great thing. Some of the number crunching can make you a little dizzy, but with time I think that the blogosphere and writers in general will develop stats that are both simple and sophisticated.

Then maybe we can finally give the New Age Gaineys their deserved recognition.

Video: Gaborik (lower-body) not expected to return after awkward collision

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The L.A. Kings are expected to be without forward Marian Gaborik for the remainder of Friday’s game against the New York Rangers.

Gaborik was involved in a collision with Dominic Moore at the Kings’ blue line late in the first period, and L.A. up 2-1.

Gaborik, 33, hobbled off the ice, favoring his left leg. In 53 games this season, Gaborik has 11 goals and 21 points.

 

Video: Bergeron questionable versus Wild; could that be the result of his latest fight?

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The Boston Bruins could be without Patrice Bergeron for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

He’s currently listed as questionable, according to the Bruins. The details are sketchy right now, however Bergeron was involved in a fight with former teammate Blake Wheeler during Thursday’s game against the Jets, and didn’t play much in the third period — only four shifts and 3:15 of ice time.

(Granted, he did score in the third period, giving him 21 goals on the season.)

Why Bergeron was fighting is also worth debating.

Replays show Bergeron and Wheeler caught each other with a healthy slash in the neutral zone during the second period. A few minutes later, they squared up at center ice, with Wheeler landing a few heavy punches and a hard takedown.

“You don’t like seeing your star players (fight), but you also understand that it’s an emotional game and that stuff happens and at one point a player says, ‘Enough is enough and I’m going to stand up for myself,’” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said, as per the Boston Herald.

“From what I gathered there was a lot of slashes behind the legs behind the play and stuff like that. He took things upon himself. As much as you don’t like it, you can’t tell him he’s not allowed. He’s a big boy and he can certainly make some decisions on the ice. And it’s not the first time that he’s fought. But I like the fact that he doesn’t fight much.”

The Bruins are third in the Atlantic Division.

But with such a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, Boston needs Bergeron — considered one of the best two-way centers in the world — on the ice and in the lineup rather than dropping the gloves, which is something he doesn’t do often.

Bergeron has four career fights.

A potential loss for the Bruins could be a potential gain for the Wild.

Minnesota’s free fall continues. The Wild has won once in its last 10 games, and currently sits two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West.

 

Flyers staff give Gudas a talking to as questionable hits pile up

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1The list of questionable Radko Gudas hits — some of which he’s been suspended for and others he has escaped discipline — has grown again, prompting Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol to apparently have a chat with the 25-year-old defenseman.

There was no hearing for Gudas from his latest infraction, a major penalty for charging called against him for a hit on Buffalo Sabres rookie Daniel Catenacci on Thursday.

Catenacci has since been put on injured reserve, after he went through concussion protocol, as per John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

The NHL didn’t hand out supplemental discipline in this case, but the Flyers brass held a meeting of their own with Gudas, because hits like this could end costing Philadelphia results and precious points in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Flyers are four points out of a playoff spot.

“There’s a big picture to all of it in terms of our main concern,” Hakstol told CSN Philadelphia. “Our main goal right now is to do all the little things necessary to win hockey games.

“In keeping with that, how individually does everybody do their part to help us win games. That’s the basis of my conversation with Radko.”

In December, Gudas was suspended three games for a head shot on Mika Zibanejad. Earlier this month, he was given a major penalty and game misconduct for clipping in a game against the Habs, but escaped discipline for that, as well.

Gudas, who didn’t want to comment on the hit on Catenacci, also spoke with Flyers GM Ron Hextall about this latest incident.

Asked about that conversation, Gudas told reporters, “Just making sure I pay attention and not get suspended again and make a good hockey play or make a good hit.”

After 11-game absence, Savard (oblique) back for Columbus

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These are pretty decent times for the Blue Jackets.

The team is 7-3-2 in its last 12, recently re-upped with Ryan Murray on a two-year deal and, on Friday, announced that blueliner David Savard has been activated from IR after missing the last 11 games to an oblique strain.

Savard, 25, was a pretty integral part of John Tortorella’s defense when healthy. He averaged over 24 minutes per night and had 15 points through 39 games prior to being sidelined by the ailment.

He’ll presumably draw back into the lineup when the Jackets take on Ottawa on Saturday. No word yet on a corresponding roster move.