Armchair GM: Picking a #1 Defenseman

As the trade deadline draws nearer, the talk of picking up a #1 Defenseman becomes more and more frantic for most Stars fans. There are a lot of rumors floating around, focusing mostly on three potential trade candidates: Brent Seabrook, Dion Phaneuf, and Cody Franson.

Everyone wants to be an armchair GM, and this article will help guide us through that process. So really the first question we have to ask ourselves is this: What makes a number one defenseman in the league?

It has to be more than just the ability to play big minutes: there have been games when Jordie Benn has played 26 minutes for the Stars this year, but clearly he’s not a #1 guy.

I would argue it comes down to two things, with a few caveats. First, you must have good possession numbers. The more you have the puck, the less your opponent can have it. In fact, it’s being argued that possession is the most important stat for a defenseman, as fewer and fewer teams use Dump & Chase as their strategy. Second, you must be able to prevent scoring chances against your team. Scoring Chance For % is currently the best indicator of winning, and since a Dman has little influence of the For number, his biggest realm of influence is the Against number (SCF% = SCF/(SCF+SCA)).

What about those caveats, though? Well, the first (and biggest) is that Zone Starts will factor into a Dman’s possession numbers. The second is that point production is becoming increasingly important even for the defense, so that has to be factored in as well.

2.5 NHL 3yr Top D Compare

These picks are a crowdsourced group of what can be considered #1 Dmen. You’ll notice that there isn’t necessarily one from every team, instead the question was “who would you give a big fat contract to?” because that’s really what we’re talking about.

All numbers are from the 12-13 season to now (aka 3 seasons worth of data), and are score adjusted in all situations (not just 5v5). The chart is sorted by Scoring Chances Against Per 60 Minutes.

The big black outline is surrounding all defensemen within one standard deviation of the average SCA/60 in this group. (Stat nerd note: A standard deviation is in laymen’s terms, the allowable “wiggle room” around the average without being considered “statistically significant.” So in this example, the average for our sample group is 24.91 SCA/60, but it’s not unusual to be within the range of 22.46-27.35).

Unfortunately, two out of three trade options fall outside of the box. They do, however, have very low offensive zone starts comparatively, which we already know can affect possession. So we have to ask – is the ZSO% what is pulling these numbers down? Is it still worth it to pursue these players?

2.5 Top D cf v sca60

Not unexpected – there’s a pretty good correlation between a high CF% and a low SCA/60. (Stat nerd note: That R² number is a mathematical calculation that gives you how well your data correlates. In excel, the closer that number gets to 1, the better the better the data fits). And as we already knew, Phaneuf and Franson are well away from most of the pack. But again, Zone Starts aren’t on this graph.

2.5 Top D Cf v zso

Again, we kind of knew this, too – the more offensive zone starts, the better CF% you’ll have. With an R²=0.671, this is another pretty good correlation.

So, if low CF% correlates to high SCA/60, and low ZSO% correlates to low CF%, then shouldn’t it follow that low ZSO% leads to high SCA/60?

2.5 Top D sca60 v zso

Well…no. It doesn’t. The R² here is only 0.389, which is a loose correlation at best, plus you can clearly see that the majority of #1 Dmen are clumped in the 23-26 SCA/60 range. And again, on the outside you have Franson and Phaneuf.

Now that we have a good basis for who we’re targeting and why, we have to make sure we’re asking the one simple question that frequently trips people up: Is change really necessary? Do the Stars really need a #1 Dman or is it better to stay the course and keep working with who we have already?

2.5 DAL 3yr Dman Compare

These are the current Dallas Defensemen, with numbers pulled the in the same timeframe and situations as the others. The players in purple have only been with Dallas for 55 games or less, which is admittedly not the best sample size. The numbers highlighted in green are within one standard deviation of the #1 Dmen within those same categories.

As you can see, the only person on the Dallas roster currently that fits our definition of a #1 Dman is John Klingberg. And he’s a rookie.

So yes, there’s definitely a need for a top minute guy (Goligoski is leading minutes per game at 23.2, this season the #1 guys are running 24.8). The average #1 Dman is pulling in 1.5 points per game – Klingberg is the only one hitting that mark for Dallas, though Goligoski is close.

Still, it’s never good to put all our eggs in one basket. Seabrook does fit all our criteria, has another year on his contract, has two Cups, and (most importantly) has a big contract on a team that needs to clear cap space. But on the other hand, a lot of teams are going to be gunning for him, which means he’ll be expensive. The Stars would not only have to take on most of his contract, but would probably have to give up some very valuable assets for him.

Other names we should be looking at are Yandle and Hedman. Yandle also has another year on his contract before going UFA, and is a similar cap hit to Seabrook (5.8m vs 5.25m). The Coyotes seem to be in “firesale to rebuild” mode, and have another #1 guy in OEL, who has a bigger contract kicking in next year. Plus, the Coyotes lack goal scorers and would probably be very interested in some of our younger guys like Ritchie, Sceviour, or even a vet like Horcoff or Cole.

Hedman plays for the Lightning, and might be the harder get. His cap hit is only 4m, though his salary does jump to 5.75m next year, but he’s signed through the 17/18 season. Tampa has spent most of their defensive budget on Matthew Carle and Jason Garrison, neither of whom are eating as many minutes as Hedman this season, but are putting up similar possession numbers. Still, Tampa made that “interesting” Gagner trade last summer to clear some cap space, so could be possibly interested in a cap reducing swap with Dallas.

Those are my picks: who could you see coming to the Stars?


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