Many people find Norris Trophy voting to be a flawed process because it overvalues offense (since assists and points in general are the easiest stats to track) while overlooking the most important job of any defenseman, namely protecting their goalie and playing their best in their own end. Let’s not throw hockey writers under the bus too much, though, because only the most stubborn stat head will fight this fact: there just aren’t many easy ways to gauge defensive impact right now. We simply haven’t gotten the point where some of the best stats (particularly “Quality of Competition”) are easily digestible numbers.
(I will say that Corsi Ratings might be the simplest “new” stat that people mistakenly think is complicated. This is a slight oversimplification, but a Corsi Rating is basically the same thing as a Plus/Minus only goals are replaced by shots.)
Anyway, the reason why I bring up this point is because it’s possible that the NHL Hot Stove’s list of the top 10 penalty killing defensemen is an interesting (if flawed) exercise. According to that post, they judged the best by time on ice (a decent factor, but something that might be determined by a lack of decent teammates), blocked shots (not a great stat because number crunchers will point out that it’s often a sign of being out of position), shorthanded points (eh, not great) and penalty kill percentage (good, but kind of like TOI).
While I note that those standards are imperfect, I’d probably use many of the same stats if I was compiling such a list. Let’s look at the top 3.
3. Anton Volchenkov – The “A-train” doesn’t have that name as a sarcastic joke. Known to be one of the League’s finest shot blockers, he’ll patrol the New Jersey blueline in charge of the penalty kill. With solid numbers throughout his entire career, he did dip a bit in the amount of blocked shots last season ending the year with 172. Regardless, he is a machine and a quiet weapon on the blue line and should help Martin Brodeur clear the crease or keep pucks out of the net.
2. Zdeno Chara – It’s no secret that the Boston Bruins play in a defensive-minded system and that allows Big Z to flourish. Chara will continue to log big minutes for the Bruins in his contract season. Playing with the shot blocking phenom Dennis Seidenberg for an entire season could see Chara return to his 2009-09 Norris Trophy winning numbers.
1. Nicklas Lidstrom – What can be said about the ultimate defenseman in the National Hockey League that has not been said already throughout his outstanding 18 year career. Lidstrom is the model d-man in the game today, and though he plays and excels in all occasions on the ice, he averaged 2.56 minutes a game short handed last year with Detroit and earned three short handed points. However, this is the ultimate machine patrolling the blueline and is one reason the Red Wings are constantly competitive.
All of my misgivings aside, that is a solid final three. Volchenkov’s penchant for blocking shots might inflate his value on this list, but he is one of the better single-minded defenseman in the league. Zdeno Chara and Nicklas Lidstrom are the kind of players you throw out there when your team needs a stop, so they make sense in the top two.
Overall, it’s a solid depiction of the best penalty killers in the league. Check out the rest of the list here.