Friday, April 29, 2011

Value of returning blue lines

Toward the end of the season, I was looking ahead to next season and was a little worried about the blue line for next season. I was looking at the Badgers blue line knowing Jake Gardiner was likely to sign and Craig Johnson was going to graduate after a solid 4 seasons. It was bouncing through my head, how would the blue line look if Schultz was gone too (this was before he gave fans a big boost saying he would return), and the answer was not pretty.

Amazing what the return of a singular player does for one’s outlook. As I sat back enjoying an improved outlook on the Badger’s blueline, I wondered how does one quantify the “experience” and overall “talent” on a team’s returning blue line for the coming season? I’m not sure I’ve found the exact answer, but using collegehockeystats I compiled some stats. I’ll add this disclaimer now that I’m fully aware there are gaps in the information that follows. You can’t account for the freshman coming in and what type of impact they are going to make. Scott Mayfield could be a monster for Denver or struggle next year, while Jake McCabe as a senior in HS in age could play above expectations. You can’t account for the improvement of players and their future impact. I certainly expect Frankie Simonelli and Joe Faust to contribute a lot more next season. You also can’t account for a Kyle Klubertanz type performance where a player actually gets worse as an upperclassman. Lastly, how does one quantify the value of a dominant defensive defenseman? Game played and points scored only tell you so much about that type of player who makes an impact every night.

All that said, I think there is some good information below, and it’s the off season after all. The first thing I totaled up was the number of games played by defensemen through this past season who are projected to return to each WCHA school.

Colorado College: 398 games
Michigan Tech: 360
North Dakota: 327
Bemidji State: 303
UAA: 294
Duluth: 279
Nebraska Omaha: 279
Wisconsin: 270
St Cloud: 234
Denver: 229
Mankato: 219
minnesota: 148

CC , Tech, BSU and UAA appear to only losing one defenseman each. North Dakota lost a ton of experience on the blue line w/ Chay Genoway, Jake Marto and Derrick LaPoint graduating, but Ben Blood and Andrew MacWilliam bring back a lot of games played, boosting them on the list. Looking through the rosters, the number of senior defensemen for the 2011/12 season is very low, which is probably a function of all the top end talent in the league who do not make it to their senior season. Early departures to the pros or WHL just this season on the blue: Matt Donovan (DU), William Wrenn (DU), Aaron Ness (um), Justin Faulk (UMD),Dylan Olsen (UMD), Oliver Lauridsen (St Cloud) and Jake Gardiner (UW). Only Brad Hunt (BSU), Gabe Guentzel (CC), John Lee (DU) and Blood (UND) have over 100 games played, w/ Brady Lamb (Duluth) just short w/ 98. There will be a lot of young blue lines in the WCHA next season. The gophers, whose defensemen play has struggled (really which part of their team hasn’t struggled) the past few seasons doesn’t have much coming back next season. Hopefully tDon didn’t blow recruiting on early blooming players once again, while studs like Ryan McDonagh and Gardiner don the Cardinal and White.

To me, games played counts for a lot. The WCHA is a tough league and it is few and far between when a freshman defenseman burns up the league. Having upperclassmen on the ice does a lot for the success of a team’s blue line. Continuing to look at stats, I then added up the returning offense of each blue line.

Bemidji State: 27-100-127
Colorado College: 22-95-117
Wisconsin: 31-79-110
St Cloud: 14-65-79
UAA: 23-53-76
North Dakota: 10-66-76
Duluth: 18-51-69
Denver: 11-56-67
Michigan Tech: 12-54-66
Nebraska Omaha: 8-52-60
Mankato: 8-27-35
minnesota: 5-21-26

A lot of the same teams are at the top and the bottom once again, but there are exceptions. UW and St Could move up as Tech plummets. These stats can be swayed quite easily by one superstar player on a team (like Schultz), but having a superstar bolsters the overall strength of the unit. Again, points don’t tell you the value of a shut down defender. McDonagh never put up big offensive numbers, but only a fool would doubt his value to the Badgers during his three years. He was good at everything. If I had the choice between offensive star Brendan Smith and overall stud Ryan McDonagh, it would be a no brainer to take McD. Anyway, some of the big stat players returning next season Hunt (BSU) 19-67-86, Guentzel (CC) 12-56-68 and Schultz 24-45-69. These players separate their schools in a higher tier due to their success. There aren’t many players (11 total) w/ 25 points or more in their career. Mankato and minnesota don’t have much coming back.

So finally, doing some simply math, I merely took the total points returning by the total number of games played by each team’s respective blue line.

Bemidji State: 0.419 pts/game
Wisconsin: 0.407
St Cloud: 0.338
Colorado College: 0.294
Denver: 0.293
UAA: 0.259
Duluth: 0.247
North Dakota: 0.232
Nebraska Omaha: 0.215
Michigan Tech: 0.183
minnesota: 0.176
Mankato: 0.160

What I initially take out of this, is that despite not returning a ton of games played on the blue line, Wisconsin, St Cloud and Denver are returning a decent amount of offense per game. BSU returns experience and scoring. Tech returns experience, but their offense still sucks, and the gophers and land cows don’t have much going for them on offense (and not defense either really). You can draw your own conclusion though.

Being a Badger fan, I find the final stat pts/game to help my optimism. Before Schultz said he was firmly returning, I was in despair wondering who would run the PP and be out there on the top pairing, knowing that John Ramage along w/ the sophomores would have to run the blue line. I was frightened. Schultz certainly has room to grow defensively, but he is something special to have back and should only get better. Now had Justin said hello to an Anaheim Ducks contract instead (which could still happen, being a realist), the Badgers would be down to 186 games returning (11th instead of 8th) and the points would be down to 7-34-41 joining the bottom tier w/ minnesota and Mankato. That would have yielded a pts/game of 0.220, almost half of the amount w/ Schultz returning. Can you say Hobey Baker?

I also calculated the total each team lost to graduation and early departures. I’ll post them up in the near future for comparison, and later on might have to do a blue line comparison of just the Badgers over the past several years. I am interested on how the Defense of the Ages coming into 2009/10 compared to other Badger squads.