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Colorado Avalanche Mailbag: All defensemen all the time

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January 26, 2016


Welcome everybody to another edition of the Avalanche Mailbag! Today we’ve got a special theme: almost all the questions I’ve picked from the hat* have to do with the Avalanche’s defense. We had a great response this week and I’m already scribbling down extra questions for next week’s hat*.

It’s intriguing to me as an Avalanche writer that the fanbase has moved on to asking questions about defensemen’s usage and handedness and technique rather than just blanketing the entire Avs d-corps under the umbrella of “uniformly awful.” While the Avs’ defense still has a lot of room to grow, these tweets and letters encourage me.

*Note: not an actual hat.

Zach Redmond doesn’t seem to stand out by the ‘eye test’, yet he is the best Avs D in CorsiFor% and points/60 minutes.  His WOWY (With Or Without You) chart shows he makes almost everyone better when he is on the ice.  Should he be given more minutes and more of a chance to shine?  Has he been held back by his frequent pairing with Nate Guenin and limited overall ice time? – Greg via email

Redmond is a perfect example of why using just numbers to evaluate a defenseman doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Or at least not those numbers. While Redmond is a perfectly serviceable third pair defender, it’s important to remember that he’s getting third-pairing minutes. Being paired with Guenin was likely not doing him any favors, but if you look at Redmond’s zone starts and consider his quality of competition, his lower ice time numbers are likely inflating his WOWY by virtue of the situations he’s most often on the ice.

This is a conversation a few of us have hashed out various times on Twitter before, so I can summarize it easily. If you’re curious whether a player’s possession stats may be artificially inflated, one good place to check is the situations where coaches prefer to use them. Given that our current generation of hockey possession stats place an emphasis on shot attempts, a so-called ‘offensive defenseman’ who generates a lot of shot attempts will often be used more in the offensive zone than the defensive zone.

Getting more offensive zone than defensive zone faceoffs can inflate possession stats in a few different ways: first off, some defensemen just take a lot of shots. We’re all familiar with Redmond’s clapper from the point. Also of note is that Redmond is a talented passer. While it’s difficult to gauge exactly what effect his passing ability has on the Avalanche’s ability to generate shots short of counting his assists, a defenseman who passes the puck to people who generate shots will generate positive possession numbers. Defenders who often start in the offensive zone simply get the chance to do this more.

Now, all that taken into account, I’d like to point out that the above doesn’t necessarily make Redmond bad or mean that his possession stats would be terrible if he saw less offensive zone usage. That’s just an explanation of how Roy is currently using him.

Redmond gets 33% of his starts in the offensive zone. And as importantly, he gets only 26.2% of his starts in the defensive zone, where the team is more likely to suffer shot attempts against.

None of this means he’s terrible and the stats are “wrong.” It just means that a player’s usage has an impact on possession stats which are tied to shot attempts. I’d be curious to see what Redmond’s numbers would be like if he were used primarily in the defensive zone–but that’s a moot point anyhow because that’s not how Roy uses him.

Shot-based metrics are new in hockey and still continuously evolving. As of now, they don’t quite tell a complete picture.

Has Tyson Barrie‘s defense gotten better or is that a misconception? What does Nikita Zadorov have to do to stay up? – @StrictlyRandy

It’s tough to gauge ‘better’ without knowing which starting point we’re looking at. I believe Barrie’s defense has gotten much better over the course of this season, in my estimation. But then again, the team as a whole is playing much improved so it’s difficult to gauge his individual performance.

Zadorov being sent down over Redmond or Guenin ruffled some feathers, but one reason he was sent down was simply that his was a more convenient contract. Playing roughly 9-12 minutes a night on the third pairing, Zadorov is not quite developed to the point of being an obvious improvement over Redmond.

Patrick Roy mentioned puck control issues being one of the things Zadorov needed to work on and that’s something us at BSN have noticed as well. The errors are little, but I’m inclined to agree with the coaching staff here: Zadorov will learn more getting big minutes in the AHL than a handful of minutes for the Avs.

The other unfortunate truth is just that the roster didn’t quite have the right place for Zadorov once Johnson returned. If you sent down Redmond instead, you’d have two young players on the third pairing together. Zadorov would also likely be playing on his off-hand.

I will say though that during his recent call-up, he proved that he is capable of filling in and getting better every time he does so. I can’t wait to see him in an Avalanche uniform full time.

Is soccer in the hall still allowed? - @PetermanPeter

At my place? My house doesn't actually have any hallways. It's laid out like a blindfolded person drew his impression of what a house is supposed to be while on mind-melting drugs.

Oh, you meant the Avalanche. Well, only AJ has access to the darkened innards of Pepsi Center, but if I were Avs head trainer Matt Sokolowski I might make some recommendations.

Out of Zadorov, Bigras, Holden, and Beauchemin... who do you see as the best fit for moving over to the right side? - @Snowhees

I think asking Bigras or Zadorov to switch sides at this stage in their development is a bad idea. Beauchemin is dominating right where he is and I'd hate to muck with that. Guess that leaves Holden! Also, in case we hadn't had enough Zach Redmond Chat this mailbag, this is another instance where it's worth pointing out why Redmond is a contract I don't mind the Avs having on the books. A cheap but dependable RHD is a tough thing to come by.

Is there any timetable for Brad Stuart's return? - Kelly via Facebook

The team has not given one, no.

Thanks again for all your questions this week! Given we'll have less hockey action than usual over the All-Star break, I hope you all find something to entertain yourselves with. The new season of The X-Files is quite good.

If you've got a burning question you want answered in next week's mailbag, there's a couple ways you can reach me: tweet a question with #BSNMailbag to @BSNAvalanche or @CaseyDownUnder, or email BSNAvalanche@gmail.com.

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