As someone that’s worked the mathier side of hockey analysis for a few years, I’ve become inured to seeing players with shiny boxcar numbers get lauded while players labouring under difficult circumstances get ignored. It’s the way things have always worked in the hockey media, and despite the occasional mention of underlying numbers from guys like Elliotte Friedman, the use of advanced stats still is out there on the fringes.
With that in mind, this morning’s column from Gary Lawless mentioning, amongst other things, that Jonathan Toews was his pick from the Selke was pretty much exactly what I expected. I realize that the Selke has evolved into an award given to really good offensive players that can find their own end without the aid of a GPS, so the fact that players in the recent past like Frans Nielsen have received the bum’s rush is unfortunate, but unsurprising.
I have a bit of a harder time with the perpetual lauding that Toews gets in that regard, however. Toews is a terrific player any team would want, but a player who, contrary to Lawless’ assertion, doesn’t routinely play the other team’s toughs and also enjoys ZoneStart numbers north of 60% likely hasn’t any business being in the Selke conversation. Again, wonderful player, but he’s been getting pretty generous treatment from Joel Quennville several years running.
The guy that wasn’t mentioned in that story, and a player fresh off a snub for the league’s showcase event in Ottawa later this month, is someone whose performance merits a closer look. The St. Louis Blues have become one of the league’s powerhouses this season, a dominant out-shooting club at EV that have reached equal status with Detroit and Chicago, and anyone paying any attention at all should be able to identify the guy that’s made the leap from good player to elite.
David Backes isn’t exactly an unknown quantity, obviously. He was terrific on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team, and even as St. Louis has missed the post-season over the last couple of years, he’s been widely acknowledged as a very solid pro.
This season, though, Backes is performing at a very high level in all phases of the game, and it’s my view that his progression is driving the Blues’ move from a OK team at EV to becoming a club sporting the second best Fenwick tied in the NHL, just behind the Red Wings.
Let’s run the numbers, then. First, from Behind the Net, here are his 5v5 stats, with his team rankings where applicable. For comparative purposes, I’ve included similar stats for Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Kesler, and Jonathan Toews:
|Corsi On||Corsi Rel||ZoneStart%||CorsiRelQoC||PDO|
|Backes||17.59-2nd||13.7-2nd||49.7-4th toughest||2nd toughest||101.3-6th best|
|Bergeron||14.84-5th||11.7-4th||45.5-3rd||2nd toughest||106.7-5th best|
|Kesler||18.59-5th||15.8-5th||48.8-8th||7th toughest||102.6-3rd best|
|Toews||13.67-3rd||13.1-1st||61.4-8th||4th toughest||100.0-6th best|
Backes and Bergeron really stand out here, in my view. Both get tough comp, aren’t particularly aided by easier starting postions, and can still knock it out of the park. Kesler’s world is made markedly easier by the fact that Alain Vigneault buries Manny Malhotra, and Toews gets equal benefit from the manner that Joel Quennville uses David Bolland. As an aside, those Bruin PDOs are off the planet. Unless Claude Julien has invented a new way to play hockey, they’re likely due for a regression all the way down from exceptional to merely excellent.