Player types: The offensive forward



Earlier, I introduced on The Nations Network a new way of looking at a player’s plus/minus rating, specifically to do with on-ice shot differential, in an effort to learn more about teams and players.

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This month, somewhat regularly, I will break down types of players and teams in an effort to localize player talents and figure out exactly what certain teams need. There’s definitely more to a hockey player than simply being “good” or “bad” and by how much, so today I will profile the defensive forward.

(Previous: The two-way forward, the defensive forward, the offensive liability, the no-way forward and the defensive liability)

This will be the final player-type analysis before the big conclusion. I’ve gotten some email feedback already, so if there’s anything you’d like to see touched on, don’t hestitate to send me a message (email address is at the bottom of the post) and I’ll see if I can include it in the post. If not, thanks for reading.

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When we look at offensive players, the scorers, the powerplay specialists, the ticket-sellers and the guys whose name you have on the back of your jersey, the question you should ask isn’t “is this guy bad defensively” because he probably is. The right thing to ask yourself and your team’s General Manager in a hypothetical conversation is “how many goals can he score” because the best weapon to confront your bad defensive play is the ability to put the puck in the net.

Altogether, that’s the difference between a player I could classify as a defensive liability and one I’d classify as an offensive forward. The difference in number of shots given up between the average defensive liability and offensive forward is .6 shots per 14.65 minutes. The difference between their average shots taken is more like .8 per 14.65, so a player could “make up” for lousy defensive play by playing a type of game that augments his shot total.

Let’s take a brief example of Sidney Crosby and Mike Cammalleri. Both players were minus-.44 shots above average allowed, but Crosby was on the ice for 1.80 shots above average for and Cammalleri just .27 above. Figuring the math out, that makes Sidney Crosby a plus-player while Cammalleri is a minus one. The basic definition of an offensive forward is a player who gives up a lot of shots defensively, but produces enough at the other end to make up for it.

While the graph says “SF” and “SA” implying “shots” for and against, I’m really referring to every Fenwick event, which includes missed shots along with saves and goals. The reason for this is that the onus of the taken shot is on the shooter, and not on his teammates, who don’t deserve to be penalized a shot for because their teammate had an open shot attempt and either whiffed or put it harmlessly off the glass, nor does a defenseman deserve to not be penalized for a shot against where the opposing player does the same thing.

Here are the top 15 players who best fit in with the offensive forward designation. These numbers are only at even strength, and, as mentioned earlier, are per 14.65 minutes of play, above or below the average:

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NAME TEAM AdjFen Events F Events A Type
Eric Staal CAR 0.03 1.92 -1.85 FO
Patrick Eaves DET 1.08 2.00 -1.00 FO
Scott Gomez MTL 1.26 1.82 -0.59 FO
Henrik Zetterberg DET 1.70 2.06 -0.27 FO
Brad Marchand BOS 0.63 1.53 -0.78 FO
Andrew Ladd ATL 1.35 1.86 -0.43 FO
Jason Pominville BUF 0.94 1.62 -0.67 FO
Claude Giroux PHI 1.63 1.99 -0.29 FO
Sidney Crosby PIT 1.49 1.80 -0.44 FO
Jason Spezza OTT 0.71 1.43 -0.70 FO
Daniel Cleary DET 1.02 1.59 -0.49 FO
Kris Draper DET 1.47 1.70 -0.28 FO
James Van Riemsdyk PHI 0.03 1.00 -0.93 FO
David Booth FLA 0.47 1.20 -0.70 FO
Darren Helm DET 1.91 1.81 -0.08 FO


(Raw data downloaded from and adjusted in Excel.)

[ LEGEND: AdjFen Adjusted Fenwick number per 14.65 minutes Events F On-ice goals, shots and misses for above the league average Events A On-ice goals, shots and misses against below the league average Type Player type Events T Unadjusted total number of events above or below the league average ]

Some other notables include Jeff Carter, Mikhail Grabovski, Alexander Ovechkin and Vincent Lecavalier. For the most part, familiar names that you’d associate with scoring goals. The teams that fit the description are Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston and Montreal, who were 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 22nd respectively in goal scoring this season. Of those, their defenses held up and they made the playoffs in part because of some pretty good goaltending; yes, even Philadelphia.

What makes Philadelphia’s moves interesting this summer is that they seem primed to become one of the top-scoring teams in the National Hockey League, despite losing all those goals, they’re losing some defensive competence in Nik Zherdev, Mike Richards and Darroll Powe and making up for it with guys with large offensive pedigrees in Jaromir Jagr, Jakub Voracek (who counted as an offensive forward last season) and Brayden Schenn, mind you, Max Talbot and Wayne Simmonds are both low events guys. With Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk expected to earn more sheltered minutes this season on Philly’s top line, I see no reason why they can’t both be excellent hockey pool pickups.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, all 14 forwards with over 40 games were above league average in shots for, which showcases that team’s scoring depth. A number of them show up in this list. Meanwhile, you might recall former Carolina Hurricane Erik Cole was the league “leader” in being a defensive liability. Then-teammate Eric Staal is right up there as well, showing off a run-and-gun style used by the Hurricanes which is sure to make goaltender Cam Ward’s agent happy. Montreal dipped on shooting percentages this season, but Cole should give Scott Gomez a little bit of space and I think he’s due for a bounce-back season.

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You may see Sidney Crosby and Andrew Ladd with a similar defensive number, but Ladd ends up with more shots for. Disregard that as me interpreting that Andrew Ladd is a better offensive player than Sidney Crosby. We know that’s not true. As this analysis gets more evolved, we will be able to adjust for other factors we can consider such as powerplay scoring rate and individual shooting ability, all of which would probably make Sidney Crosby the best player in the NHL statistically, with his overwhelming offensive numbers atoning for his under-average defensive play.

So, what have we learned? With many of the top scorers in the NHL also generally being unable to break average defensively, we should stop worrying about their defensive capabilities and focus on whether or not they can score, and how much. In the later conclusion to the series, I will discuss what we can do with this sort of analysis, and how we can determine which player types will allow a hockey organization the most success.

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  • SmellOfVictory

    I’ve enjoyed these breakdowns you’ve been doing, but (as you mention) there does seem to be the occasional flaw or two when you break analysis down to a relatively simple degree such at this. In particular, Zetterberg is widely considered one of the better two-way forwards in the game, and I think that probably holds true despite this analysis.