BLOCKBUSTER! Subban vs Weber - Part III Defense
Photo: Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire
Results compiled from 13/14, 14/15, and 15/16 seasons
There is a premise that good offensive defensemen do not have to be very good defensively because they rarely have to defend…. they have the puck most of the time. This is a fascinating idea that warrants a separate discussion, probably two, but for the backdrop of this defensive comparison, it is important to note the data was captured on a play-by-play basis. This means every time a positive or negative defensive play was made, that play and all the details around it were recorded. By logical extension, if the ‘strong-offense, no-need-to-play-defense’ premise is true, the frequency of defensive plays for the stronger offensive defenseman should be relatively lower.
Shea Weber makes 6.8% more defensive plays than PK Subban in all game situations and Subban actually makes 1.5% more defensive plays than Weber at even strength. The percentage difference narrows at even strength as Weber’s PK contributions are pulled out. To put in a league context, Erik Karlsson is the runaway leader with most defensive plays at even strength, registering roughly 34% more than Subban and Weber. In all game situations Karlsson is again the leader, but Francois Beauchemin also has a very high number of defensive events, only 4.2% behind Karlsson. Nonetheless, the purpose here was to establish that PK Subban’s strong offensive play does not reduce his exposure to playing defense, at least in relation to Weber. Now to the breakdown of positive and negative.
Positive defense includes plays like; closing shot lanes, closing passing lanes, taking away time and space, qualifying hits, making proper reads and adjusting positioning accordingly, etc. At even strength, Weber leads Subban in positive defense by 45.4%, ranking 12th to Subban’s 150. In High Impact - Positive Defensive Plays, Weber leads Subban, by 74%, ranking 27th to Subban’s 128. In Low Impact - Positive Defensive Plays Weber leads Subban by 42.9%, ranking 14 to Subban’s 146. Weber contributes much more positive defense than Subban, particularly in making great defensive plays. Let’s look at negative defense.
Negative defense includes the failure to execute the defensive skills mentioned above. It is no surprise Marc Edouard Vlasic is the leader in lowest negative defense, he is as reliable as they come. At even strength Weber leads Subban by 61.9% in lower negative defense, ranking 87 to Subban's 180+. Subban makes 85.3% more High Impact - Negative Defensive Plays than Weber, only 9 defensemen rank lower in Bad Defensive Plays the last three years. Weber ranks 74. In Low Impact - Negative Defensive Plays, Subban is 33.1% higher, ranking near the bottom compared to Weber at 108. Subban makes significantly more defensive mistakes than Weber, including both poor and bad defensive mistakes.
It is important to note the different types of Defensive Defensemen. Vlasic does not crack the top 20 in Positive Defense but rises to the top due to his very low negative defense. Not making defensive mistakes is a huge part of playing defense at the NHL level. No stat may be more prevalent in determining whether a young defenseman can stick in the NHL than staying in an acceptable range of defensive mistakes. Some defensemen have high positive defense but the best 'net' defensive score is the ultimate target.
Next we look at defensive game situations at even strength: Rush Defend (RD) and Defensive Zone Coverage (DZC):
RD – Proficiency in RD includes the general defensive skills mentioned above, and; controlling time and space on zone entry, managing outnumbered rushes, creating Def to Off situations, making appropriate reads based on back pressure, etc. Executing these skills well are positive contributions, failing to execute these skills are negative contributions. In the last three years of combined data, Weber ranks 11th on RD while Subban ranks 180+.
DZC – Proficiency in DZC includes many of the same skills used in RD, but skills like a strong active stick and appropriate reads based on circumstances and team system become even more important. In DZC, Weber ranks 12 and Subban ranks 180+.
Note: We did not include percentage separation between Weber and Subban because Subban’s raw defensive score is negative. Roughly 74% of league defensemen fall on the positive side of defensive proficiency while 26% fall on the negative side. In addition, the last three years of data include all defensemen who have played a minimum number of games, this swells the total pool of defensemen to between 250 and 350, depending on the category. Any ranking above 180 is represented as 180+.
Looking at a few Defensive Skills will shed more light on 'how' Weber and Subban contribute defensively.
Defensive Skill Rankings:
Active Stick - Weber 69, Subban 180+
Close Pass Lane - Weber 52, Subban 116
Close Shot Lane – Weber 65, Subban 180+
Check - Weber 109, Subban 179
Read Positioning - Weber 51, Subban 133
Weber is strong in most defensive skills but one may expect his Check total to be a bit higher. Check as we define it is not merely contact, unless it is huge, but must also include a possession change, deny an advantage, or at minimum create a loose puck and some sort of advantage.
A strong Active Stick is essential to being strong defensively and Subban’s relatively weak Active Stick shows up in his low Close Shot Lane ranking as well.
Read Position is the skill most revealing as to defensive hockey sense. Often young defensemen have low rankings in their first few years as they explore how much their physical skill will let them get away with.
In Overall Defense in all game situations Weber (rank 7) has a significant advantage on Subban (rank 180+). At even strength Weber (rank 11) drops a bit without his Penalty Kill contribution but still is much stronger than Subban. Subban does create some positive defense but struggles with his negative defense.
In the 2014-15 season, Subban made a significant jump in his defensive contribution, more than doubling it. This improvement was due to a commitment to closing shot and passing lanes and a bump in a few other skills. In 2015-16 he was not able to continue that climb but was still stronger than the 2013-14 season. Whether he can take another jump in defensive proficiency is a great question but the data does show that the more years a player racks up and the older he is, the more consistent his contributions become.... that is until age starts catching up to him.
Next, in Part IV, the final installment of Subban vs Weber, we will bring Offense and Defense together and see whether the Predators or the Canadien’s got the better deal.
Read BLOCKBUSTER! Subban vs Weber - Part IV here
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