By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) — What Duncan Keith is doing this season is nothing short of remarkable. He leads all NHL defensemen in assists with 23. His plus/minus rating is 5th among defensemen with a +13. Keith is playing his best hockey since 2010, when he took home the Norris Trophy for the NHL’s best defenseman.
I contend that if his 2013-14 season continues as is, he should win the award this year, hands down.
While I’m certainly a bit biased, living in Chicago, and seeing every Hawks game, there is no defenseman in the league I trust more in a critical situation than Keith. While some will make the case for Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson or Montreal’s PK Subban, to me, they lack the defensive skill and reliability that Keith offers on a night to night basis. Both are better offensively than Keith. Both are electrifying puck movers and rushers, but the slight offensive edge they have over Keith doesn’t make up for the defensive edge that Keith has over both and isn’t defense what the Norris Trophy is all about?
Recently, hockey people (fans, media, etc) have worked to develop their own versions of baseball’s sabermetrics. Obviously, hockey, (and all team sports) are tougher to break down metrically than baseball, but there are a few metrics that seem to tell a solid story of how a player has performed.
We will focus on three key metric categories* :
QoC – Quality of Competition (Average Relative Plus-Minus of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time.)
PDO – PDO is the sum of “On-Ice Shooting Percentage” and “On-Ice Save Percentage” while a player was on the ice. It regresses very heavily to the mean in the long-run: a team or player well above 1000 has generally played in good luck and should expect to drop going forward and vice-versa.
Relative Corsi – On-ice Player Corsi Ice is the number of goals + saves + missed shots + blocks per 60 minutes that the player is on the ice. Off-Ice Player Corsi is the same number for that player’s entire team when said player is OFF the ice. Therefore, Relative Corsi is the On-Ice Player Corsi minus the Off-Ice Corsi. This compares how much better the team is with the player on the ice than off.
(I know it is complex, but stay with me…)
Let’s take a look at the three current favorites for the Norris (through Monday):
Erik Karlsson – Ottawa Senators
QoC : .037
PDO : 997
Relative Corsi : 8.2
PK Subban – Montreal Canadiens
QoC : .029
PDO : 1020
Relative Corsi : 23.8 (!)
Duncan Keith – Chicago Blackhawks
QoC : -.071
PDO : 1016
Relative Corsi : 5.8
As you can see, the metrics don’t help Keith win any arguments, but that’s the flaw with hockey’s metrics. A team with the offensive balance of the Blackhawks is a detriment to Keith’s statistical and metric output. Ottawa and Montreal rely on Karlsson and Subban, respectively, to drive their offense from the blue line. Ottawa’s Chris Phillips is second among Senator defensemen with 10 points. For the Habs blue liners, Andrei Markov has 18 points, but from there you have to go all the way to Raphael Diaz, who has 8 points.
The Blackhawks feature five defensemen that can be counted on to move the puck efficiently. Keith has 24 points, Brent Seabrook has 16 points, Niklas Hjalmarsson has 13 points, Nick Leddy has 12 points, and Johnny Oduya has 7 points.
The Hawks depth is killing Keith in the metrics argument. This is where Hawk Harrelson’s good old fashioned “eye test” comes in handy. Ask yourself if there’s another D-man in the league you’d want on the ice in a critical situation. Ask hockey people. Ask fans in other cities. Outside of Ottawa and Montreal, I think you’d be hard pressed to find an answer other than Duncan Keith.