Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Who Was Least Deserving Of The 2017 NHL All-Stars?

With the announcement of the NHL All-Star Game rosters this afternoon, Hockey Twitter grabbed their torches and pitchforks and took to the internet to protest every single player nominated to the game.
 Well, I guess not every player was undeserving. It seems like the captains (Crosby, McDavid, Subban, Price) were at least mostly accurate. But there were a handful of guys who are decidedly Not Deserving, and we should try to fix that right now.

We'll use Dom's Average Game Score metric to figure out who needs to get lost, and then replace them with someone who deserves it more.

Atlantic Division - Frans Nielsen

We'll start off with possibly the biggest head-scratcher of all. Every team has to have at least one representative, so there had to be someone from this year's Detroit team on the list.

But Nielsen? The guy who is tied for fourth on the team with just 8 goals? The guy who is less good than Henrik Zetterberg, less popular than Dylan Larkin, and less of a redemption story than Jimmy Howard? I don't understand.

My Pick: Zetterberg or Larkin, you choose

Metropolitan Division - Ryan McDonagh

I admittedly don't have nearly as much of an issue with McDonagh being selected as I do with Nielsen, because The Captain Of The Rangers, in my opinion, should always be one of the premier stars of the league.

Realistically, if this nomination was just based on success this season then it would have gone to one of New York's forwards. They've been on fire and they're a huge reason why the team seems to have a stranglehold on a playoff spot. In terms of points, I would probably not laugh if this spot went to Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, JT Miller, Mats Zuccarello, or Michael Grabner. I would certainly laugh if Kevin Hayes was the lone All Star from the Rangers, but he does lead the team in points.

But, as it turns out, McDonagh is right with the rest of that pack, and he's the captain so I'm fine with him being the guy for the Rangers.

My Pick; McDonagh, begrudgingly

Pacific Division - Bo Horvat & Cam Fowler

We have a twofer here because 21-year-old Horvat and 25-year-old Fowler both somehow got on the team despite having season-long game scores in the range of Radim Vrbata and Andrej Sekera.

Horvat does lead the Canucks in scoring, which has elevated that team all the way to Sixth Place In The Pacific Ahead Of Only The Lowly Coyotes. I know the Canucks stink this year, but can't we just throw the Sedin twins into the mix so everyone can make fun of them on Twitter?

The Ducks, on the other hand, are quite a way up the standings in second place. Fowler is unquestionably a big part of that; he leads the entire team in ice time and he leads their defense in goals, assists, and (obviously) points.

Even if we measure by Per Sixty to account for his ice time, Fowler leads all Anaheim defensemen in Primary Points Per Sixty. There are certainly metrics that you can find to make Hampus Lindholm seem like the more effective player, but it's close enough that I'm fine with the old school guys focusing on Fowler's points.

My Pick: Fowler is fine, but Horvat should be replaced by Ricky Rakell, Ryan Kesler, or Leon Draisaitl.

Central - Ryan Suter

This is where we'll end, because I'm really curious why Suter got included. He's almost a full 10% lower than the next-lowest player's average Game Score, and I have to think the only reasons he's there are his name, his contract, and his jersey.

Ask a hockey fan who the best American defensemen in the league are. Suter's name will almost always come up basically immediately. But why? That immediate name recognition comes in spite of the fact that his Norris Trophy finishes are as follows:

  • 2009-2010 - 11th
  • 2010-11 - 15th
  • 2011-12 - 9th
  • 2012-13 - 2nd
  • 2013-14 - 4th
  • 2014-15 - 9th
  • 2015-16 - 8th
And I want to do a little #StayWoke here. Before that 2012-13 season where he saw his Norris ranking jump, Weber signed his mammoth 13-year, $98 million contract. The buzz from the contract, and the feel-good story of the good Midwestern boy returning home to the Midwest to make American hockey great, should have swayed some of the upstanding media members who vote for the Norris based almost exclusively on dumb shit they believe in their own minds. 

Let's hop over to Corsica and see where Suter ranked among big-name defensemen over his first two seasons in Minnesota (5v5 metrics, minimum 1200 minutes played, out of 146 eligible defensemen):
  • 48.88 Corsi For % (99th/146)
  • 48.88 Fenwick For % (101st/146)
  • 49.56 Shots For % (81st/146)
  • 52.46 Scoring Chances For % (37th/146)
  • 51.59 On-Ice Expected Goals For % (47th/146)
  • 54.14 On-Ice Actual Goals For % (40th/146)
  • 49.70 Babcocks For % (79th/146)
    • (that's on-ice scoring chances plus expected goals)
  • 29.48 Babcocks For Per 60 (127th/146)
  • 28.84 Babcocks Against Per 60 (34th/146)
I mean, he's an above-average defenseman over that span. But you want to tell me that a guy who is neither good offensively nor great defensively is one of the two or four most valuable defensemen in the league?

The only excuse I can think of making here is quality of competition. If Suter was getting buried against elite talent every night, then maybe we can let him slide for not putting up the same numbers as some more sheltered or offensive-minded players. Presented in three graphics from that 2012-13 season where he finished second in Norris voting behind PK Subban: 

To wrap up those three visuals in sentence form: Suter played with top-heavy teammates, he made nearly all of them worse when he was with them, and the team as a whole was not too much different in either zone with or without him. 

And he was the second best defenseman in the league???

And now, here we are five years later, and this same "Suter is actually one of the best defensemen in the league" narrative has stuck around. This year, he is not even on the list of highest-scoring defensemen on Hockeyviz. In his 39 games played, he has totaled just five goals and six primary assists. He has made every defenseman on the Wild worse this year:

And yet, somehow, he is an All-Star. To answer the question posed in the title of this post, Suter is far and away the least deserving of the 2017 NHL All-Stars. 

There is no shortage of defenseman from the Central Division that deserve this spot more than Suter. Dustin Byfuglien, Roman Josi, Tyson Barrie, Alex Pietrangelo, and John Klingberg are all featured higher on the points list. Nashville's Matt Irwin and Chicago's Michal Kempny lead the division in Expected Goals For Percentage (lol), and Irwin and Chicago's Trevor van Riemsdyk lead in Actual Goals For Percentage (double lol). 

My Pick: Byfuglien, of course

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