Point Projections: Defensemen

Robert Vollman
October 26 2012 08:04AM

Every year we project how many points each of the players will score using a couple of different statistical methods, and why should a potential lockout season be any different?

If you're just tuning in, we explained our methodology in more detail in our first piece, which covered the top-six forwards.  This time we'll cover the defensemen and then close up in a third and final piece that features the remaining, secondary forwards.

Dion Phaneuf

A rare quality Calgary Flames draft pick, but with a common bad Calgary Flames contract, the Toronto Maple Leafs agree to take on Dion Phaneuf and his deal, of which two years remain.

To make their investment worthwhile they've worked to complete his game.  Though he remains a physical power play specialist, especially last year when he leapt from his usual 2.8-3.0 points per 60 minutes to 4.5, he now has a top-line defensive component to his game.  As a Leaf, he's been a top penalty killing option and at even-strength he starts equally often in both the offensive and defensive zone, and against top-line competition.  Fortunately none of this appears to have affected his scoring.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 82   12   32   44
VUKOTA    72.2  9.8 27.9 37.7
Best      82    8.1 33.2 41.3
Worst     82    4.9 22.3 27.3
Average   82    9.4 26.1 35.5

Seven of Phaneuf's ten closest historical matches fell in a tight band between 35 and 41 points, including perhaps his more appropriate one: another Edmonton-born, offensive-minded 1st round draft choice who started off hot, had predictions of Norris trophies, before being involved in an unpopular trade at the same point of his career, Dave Babych.  The only difference is that Babych didn't land himself a hot actress (probably because of his moustache).


Phaneuf GP  G  A  PTS
Career 552 97 215 312
2010-11 66  8  22  30
2011-12 82 12  32  44

Babych  GP  G  A  PTS
Career 589 72 256 328
1986-87 66  6  25  31
1987-88 71 10  27  37
Next    70  4  30  34

John-Michael Liles

John-Michael Liles was signed in the 2011 off-season after a strong season in Colorado where he was used against top competition, scored 46 points, and was even used occasionally to kill penalties.

Unfortunately in Toronto he has fallen back to his more customary role as an offense-only defenseman, didn't kill penalties, played primarily in the offensive zone against below-average competition, and nevertheless slid to just 27 points, thanks in part to missing 16 games, and having his worst season on the power play in quite some time.

Only five defensemen have a worse plus/minus than Liles' combined -44 over the past four seasons, but in his defense the team's save percentage with him on the ice was under .900 in three of those four seasons.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 66    7   20   27
VUKOTA    58.9  5.9 20.4 26.3
Best      82   17.1 46.4 63.6
Worst     82    7.5  9.4 16.9
Average   82    8.7 25.2 33.9

Of Liles' ten closest matches, half of them managed at least 40 points – but none of the other half even managed 25.  Either his health and power play scoring returns and he bounces back, or the Leafs give one of their younger players the soft ice-time at Liles' expense.

His closest historical match is Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM Norm MacIver, who unfortunately played just half a season more (poorly) before ending his playing career.


Liles   GP  G  A  PTS
Career 589 75 227 302
2010-11 76  6  40  46
2011-12 66  7  20  27

MacIver GP  G  A  PTS
Career 459 41 180 221
1995-96 71  6  40  46
1996-97 32  4   8  12

Jake Gardiner

Acquired in the Francois Beauchemin deal after a very high scoring season at the University of Wisconsin, Jake Gardiner is hoped to be their new offensive threat on the blue line.

With solid scoring rates and possession numbers in his rookie season, thanks in part to being used mainly in the offensive zone and against depth competition, Gardiner will no doubt get a more important role in the coming seasons (both offensively and defensively).

Unfortunately the historical comparison system needs at least two years of NHL data to come up with any projection at all.  The VUKOTA system tags him for another 30 point season.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 75    7   23   30
VUKOTA    72.5  6.9 22.9 29.8

Carl Gunnarsson

Does Carl Gunnarsson have an offensive upside?  He scored just 33 points in 150 games in Sweden before coming to the NHL, and has just 203 shots in 187 NHL games, so the answer would appear to be no. 

That being said, four of his ten closest historical matches scored between 28 and 32 points.  Furthermore, his even-strength scoring rate was always a strong 1.0 points per 60 minutes before dropping to just 0.6 last season, and he did very well in this secondary power play role last year, and could perhaps warrant more such action in the future.

Potential aside, Gunnarsson's defensive-focused role is unlikely to change this season, or any time at all.  He has been a top penalty killing option in all of his three seasons, consistently finishes with the 3rd or 4th lowest offensive zone start percentage among Leafs defensemen and even saw the Quality of Competition he faces boosted up to 2nd highest last year.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 76    4   15   19
VUKOTA    64.1  4.0 13.6 17.6
Best      82    3.5 28.8 32.2
Worst     82    3.3 10.5 13.8
Average   82    5.1 18.4 23.5

His closest historical match is the more rugged but still defense-oriented defenseman Rick Lapointe, who played for Philadelphia and St. Louis at this stage of his career.


Gunnarsson GP G A PTS
2009-10    43 3 12 15
2010-11    68 4  6 20
2011-12    76 4 15 19

LaPointe GP G A PTS
1977-78  47 3 14 17
1978-79  77 2 15 17
1979-80  80 5 15 20
Next     80 6 18 24

Mike Komisarek

In one of several strange moves at the time, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Mike Komisarek to a truly strange contract, of which two more years remain.  His 77 points in 515 NHL games work out to about 12 points over a full campaign, which is exactly where the history-based statistical models place him.


          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 45    1    4    5
VUKOTA    49.8  1.4  5.4  6.8
Best      82    3.7 15.0 18.7
Worst     82    1.6  4.3  6.0
Average   82    2.7  9.3 11.9

His closest historical matches are guys like Dean Kennedy, Rick Zombo and Brad Marsh, and very late in their careers when they were nothing more than stay-at-home seventh defensemen at best.  Six of the ten closest historical matches were between 8 and 12 points (over the 82 games Komisarek is unlikely to play).

On the plus side, Komisarek is a big player who throws a lot of hits and blocks a lot of shots, has been a usable secondary penalty killing option, and has endured the lowest offensive zone start percentage on this team in three of the past four seasons (but generally against average competition at best).  That partially explains his -30 in three seasons as a Leaf.

With an even-strength scoring rate of just 0.5 per 60 minutes (or less) in three of the past four seasons, and no power play time to speak of, don't expect Komisarek to get anywhere near that 19 point upside.

Next Time

That's it for Toronto's defensemen.  In our final piece next time we'll look at the remaining, secondary forwards.  Thanks for reading and I hope you found it interesting.

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Rob Vollman of www.HockeyAbstract.com is a regular feature writer on ESPN Insider, co-author of Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 and 2011-12, and regular contributor to NHL Numbers, Flames Nation and Arctic Ice Hockey. Innovator of Player Usage Charts, Quality Starts, GVS (Goals Versus Salary), the Snepsts Projection System, and known for work in League Equivalencies (NHLE). Twitter: @robvollmanNHL
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