Player types: The offensive liability



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 and the defensive forward)

At this point we get to move from players who are in the plus side of the plus-minus diagonal and move into murkier waters. The next three profiles will deal with players who are on the negative side, starting with the offensive liability today. As you can see from the highlighted section on the graph below, this particular range of players deal with those who are above average on defense, but much worse offensively.

The offensive liability works out if the player is low-event, as in, few shots taken either side. As you’ve may have noticed from previous entries in the series, team effects and scorer bias play a lot towards a player’s individual numbers, however, some teams certainly play the game at a snail’s pace and their players tend to fit right along into the mould. The New Jersey Devils are examples of this and tend to have a lot of low-event players, particularly in shots for.

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The Devils, however, do not dominate the below column. No team really does, since it deals more with players who play few minutes and therefore probably not a big enough sample to really determine these players worths. These are playing about two minutes below average and probably not the type to draw any criticism; where a defensive liability draws criticism from all the mistakes he makes on one end, we never seem to criticize the offensive liability in the same way, despite the effect being just as pronounced in the overall score. This doesn’t mean you’re missing the net or are taking dumb shots, but it’s missing the puck on a breakout or making the wrong decision in the neutral zone. Somewhere along the line, whether it’s poor decision making, lack of talent, or the aforementioned “scorer bias” shots aren’t being created when these fellows are on the ice.

But here, we do not come to criticize these player’s abilities, but rather, to celebrate the low-event player. If a cheap option is required for a third or fourth line, I’m all in favour of a team bringing aboard a player who can slow down the game, preferably one who has a favourable penalties taken to drawn ratio and allow the team’s offensive stars to win. Eating tough minutes and not allowing too much out of it is a pretty valuable skill; we’re looking at Blair Betts and John Madden. 

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NAME TEAM AdjFen Events F Events A Type Events T*
Brian Sutherby DAL -3.29 -3.42 0.21 LO -3.62
Blair Betts PHI -0.23 -1.92 1.56 LO -3.47
Adam Mair N.J -1.01 -2.30 1.01 LO -3.29
Kevin Westgarth L.A -1.05 -2.34 0.88 LO -3.21
Nick Palmeiri N.J -0.17 -1.57 1.45 LO -3.01
Toby Peterson DAL -0.67 -1.74 1.12 LO -2.85
Matt Bradley WSH -0.02 -1.42 1.38 LO -2.79
Eric Nystrom MIN -2.33 -2.55 0.24 LO -2.77
Jarkko Ruutu ANA -0.16 -1.50 1.15 LO -2.65
J.F. Jacques EDM -1.73 -2.19 0.39 LO -2.58
Rod Pelley N.J -0.73 -1.65 0.84 LO -2.48
Trevor Lewis L.A -0.75 -1.72 0.75 LO -2.46
Colin Fraser EDM -2.23 -2.33 0.10 LO -2.43
Jody Shelley PHI -1.34 -2.04 0.39 LO -2.43
Craig Adams PIT -0.76 -1.58 0.70 LO -2.27

(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 below the league average Type Player type Events T Unadjusted total number of events above or below the league average ]

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*Note, I’ve corrected the Events T column to above or below the 14.65 minute average rather than per 60, which works out to 20.02 events per game per forward.

These are the 15 players who most fit the profile, judging by the player’s distance from the origin on the graph above. It just so works out that these are the lowest event players on the graph. From the most part, these players are from teams that struggled to score goals, which fits in nicely with the research. The notable exception here is the Ottawa Senators, but they only had nine forwards who played over 40 games and six of them were useless on defense, so the objective “goals” and “against” statistic works moderately well vis-a-vis our more subjective shot metrics.

You’ll notice that not many of these players were major factors on playoff teams. I like Blair Betts because he ate up a lot of defensive zone starts in his limited minutes and helped the offensive guys contribute. This is probably the best way to handle these sorts of players, rather than laying a pile of minutes on these guys like the Devils and Wild seemed wont to do over the course of last season.

Join us for our next “Player-Type Profile” as we make our way around the graph, and deal with The No-Way Forward.