Hockey statistics favor offense, this is no surprise really, they are the easiest to quantify. Goals are what drives the game and they are the clearest and easiest events to track. However, how do you measure a player when they don’t score goals? If a player has a low offensive output does that automatically make them a bad NHL player? No. Every player on a team has a role. Just because a player is a forward, doesn’t mean that he is automatically supposed to score, and by contrast some defenseman are expected to be more aggressive while others are expected to make safer and more cautious plays. It’s a give and take in an attempt to try to create the most successful implementation of the skill set of a given team. For some teams, it means creating diverse lines where each line plays the same style. For other teams, it means grouping together similar skill sets where that line plays towards its advantages in a way that is different from the other lines. This is just a long winded way of saying that not every player is expected to produce offense, preventing the other teams best players from scoring can be just as valuable.
Luke Glendening is a player that fits this description quite nicely. His value is rooted in the idea that a goal saved is equal to a goal scored. Before I start the statistical analysis, I think it’s important to explain exactly what Luke Glendening’s role on this team is and how he can succeed in this role. His role on this team is to be an uber defensive center man. He is a prime example of a bottom six shutdown grinding center. For him to be good at what he does, he needs to simply play against top 6 competition and he needs to stop them from scoring. It doesn’t matter if he scores or not because by him taking up these tough assignments it allows the rest of the team to play against easier competition and as a result have an easier time generating scoring chances. Like any player, he is going to get scored on, he is playing against the other teams best scorers. If Glendening was able to play against the other teams top lines and win the possession and scoring battles, he would be a #1 center getting Selke trophies. He’s not going to win the possession or scoring battle, but despite that, he can still be an effective player.
I have said on this site and on others that stats are only as good as the way they are understood. Every stat measures a very specific thing, and for stats to be effective we have to understand exactly what it is that stat measures and what it doesn’t. Some stats have value in some contexts and some don’t. Every stat has value, it’s just that some stats are inherently more valuable than others. Just something to keep in mind.
In Glendening’s 56 games this year, he allowed just 21 goals against in all situations. To put this in context, Glendening had a SHTOI% of 47.3. SHTOI% is a metric that tells us the percentage of a team’s shorthanded ice time that a player is on the ice for. In simpler terms, for every 2 minutes the Wings are shorthanded for, Glendening will be on the ice for about one minute of it. This is important because scoring is much higher when a team is shorthanded. The average team in the NHL this year had a power play that scored on 18% of its chances. This can be expanded into 10.8 goals per 60 minutes played, which is almost 4 times higher than the league average of 2.74 goals per game. Glendening allows .375 goals per game in the 13.8 minutes that he plays. By my calculations, Glendening played 4.25 of his 13.8 minutes shorthanded each game. The average NHL player would allow .765 goals in the 4.25 minutes of penalty killing. As stated above Glendening allows just .375 goals per game in his 13.8 minutes(4.25 minutes of penalty killing) per game. Reread the last two sentences. That’s not a typo.
At the end of this argument, Glendening’s value is pretty easily summed up by the amount of goals he allows per game he plays. We have already established that he is supremely better than the average NHL defender, but how does he stack up against, oh I don’t know, Patrice Bergeron, a Selke finalist. Bergeron has 29 goals against this year in 80 games this season. That is .3625 goals against per game that he plays. Bergeron plays 17 minutes per game, 3.6 of which is on the penalty kill. So Bergeron allows a few .015 goals less per game than Glendening in 4 more minutes played. But the argument is a little bit more complicated than that because Bergeron gets a significant amount of power play time, a luxury that Glendening doesn’t get. Since I have identified goals against per game as the most effective metric for measuring Glendening’s value, power play time skews the stat. A shorthanded goal is very rare and is almost like free time that Bergeron is getting to pad his stats in favor of this statistic, when we factor out his average power play time per game(4.6 minutes) we see that his average even strength and shorthanded time per game puts him at 13.2 minutes per game. So, in 13.2 minutes per game Bergeron allows .3625 goals against with 3.6 of those minutes dedicated to killing penalties. As stated in the preceding paragraph, Glendening plays 13.8 minutes per game, 4.25 of those are spent killing penalties, and allows .375 goals per game. With the extra .6 minutes of penalty killing that Glendening has, this gives him the slight edge over Bergeron as a defensive forward. At this point you might want to say well yeah Bergeron plays harder minutes or Glendening has had a lucky year, something along that line. Using QOC TOI%(the quality of competition that opposes a player for a given period of time) they are almost the same, Bergeron at 29.5% and Glendening at 28.3%. As far as luck would go, things actually favor Glendening here, as his PDO sits at 97.6 while Bergeron’s is 102.2. PDO is a stat that adds up a players shooting percentage and his own teams save percentage. It is believed that a PDO of 100 leads to a player having neutral luck.
Here are just some other things that I wanted to talk about in relevant to this topic.
Corsi and Fenwick
It’s really hard to use a stat like Corsi or Fenwick in this situation because both of those stats are essentially plus minuses, a comparison of a players offensive output compared to their defensive output. You can only have a good Corsi or Fenwick if you are outshooting the opponent. I’m not generally interested in whether Luke Glendening is outshooting his opponents, my only concern here is whether he is stopping goals. Possession wise, he is not good. Glendening possesses a 46.2% corsi for(the percentage of shot attempts that a players team is responsible for when a player is on the ice). That’s not awful, but it’s not really all that good.
Glendening has a penalty differential of +3. That’s something that I think is relevant. For a player who generally finds himself without the puck and playing defense, I find it to be extremely relevant that he is able to draw more penalties than he takes. Most penalties happen on defense when a player gets tired and loses the ability to keep up with the opposition. Glendening is very disciplined it appears and has the ability to be an agitator. This again, is relevant to his game. He plays against other teams top players and is able to agitate them enough where he can get them off the ice in the box or just off their game. It’s really hard to quantify, but it does has some value.
On different Red Wings message boards, people talk about Babcock’s “misuse” of Glendening and that he is a useless player. The main reason I wanted to write this article was in defense of Glendening because what he does is valuable. But more so this should be a piece of evidence used for the argument that Mike Babcock knows what he’s doing. He is able to identify that Glendening is able to play defense at a high level against other teams top players. He uses Glendening the way he should, as a defensive specialist and penalty killer. A lot of the commenters on these message boards are very quick to dismiss Babcock because he makes calls that can confuse us or that we don’t fully understand. I think it’s important to talk about this because Babcock is an elite NHL coach. He’s not perfect, sometimes he makes mistakes as well all do, but his use of Glendening seems to be spot on.
For anyone interested, you can keep up with me on twitter @ProspectGuy. If you have any questions regarding any articles I have written or any hockey related questions at all, feel free to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I answer every question that I get.
Stats are courtesy of ExtraSkater, Sporting Charts, ESPN, and Hockey References.