Now most people compare two players at the same position in one way: point totals. Brian Campbell has a robust 33 points so far this season (4 goals, 29 assists) while Henrik Tallinder has a measly 6 points (0 goals, 6 assists). Campbell must be better, right? Not so fast. I really don't think simply looking at point totals works in this case and not just because it works against my favorite player (although that's definitely a strike against it). Here are my problems with just comparing points in this situation: One, it favors Campbell's strength as a player (offense) while disregarding Tallinder's strength (defense). Two, you're not looking at defense at all which is at least a little bit important when you're talking about defensemen. (I know, it's crazy.) So we're gonna bust out some other numbers up in here.
First a few disclaimers. All numbers were taken from BehindTheNet.ca which is an absolutely amazing website. It's a gold mine of statistics and it boggles my mind what you can find there. I also have to give a huge shout-out to reader, commenter, and fellow blogger Meg. She did all the foot work in parsing the following numbers. All I'm doing is writing it up in blog form. (I did ask for her permission which she kindly granted.) Finally all numbers are based on defensemen who have played at least 30 games this season and who play at least 15 minutes at even strength per 60 minutes of game time. That eliminates any outliers - guys who have great numbers but have only played 3 shifts all season due to injuries or whatever. Meg just looked at even strength numbers because she was laaaa-zy (just kidding, Meg!) but I think that's okay with these two players anyway. I would consider special teams kind of a wash. Most people aren't going to argue that Tallinder isn't more valuable on the penalty kill and most people aren't going to argue that Campbell isn't more valuable on the powerplay. And if you are going to argue either of those things, well, you'll have to do it somewhere else. Ha! So all that said, let's get ready to rumble!
The first stat we'll look at is Quality of Competition. This takes into consideration who the players in question are playing against. I think this is pretty important because to me, for a guy to be considered a top pairing defenseman, he needs to play his share of time against the opposing teams' top lines. Even against a team like Ottawa where the third line still has talent, the top line is well, the top line. No other line on the Sens team is as good as the Heatley-Alfredsson-Spezza line. And on teams that don't have as much talent as Ottawa, let's say, Tampa Bay for example, there's an even bigger difference between playing against the top line and playing against a lower line.
Tallinder's Quality of Competition rating is .15, the highest on the Sabres and good for 13th out of the defensemen who met our criteria. I won't bore you with all the names above him but it's a very solid group that includes Nick Lidstrom and Anton Volchenkov just as a couple of examples.
Campbell's Quality of Competition rating is .01 which puts him below Tallinder as well as in the lower half of the defensemen we're looking at here.
So that shows us that Tallinder is playing against tougher players but it doesn't tell us how he's handling them. To judge that we move on to a stat called Goals Against On/60 which tallies how many goals the opposing teams scores while the player in question is on the ice. Just to be clear, the lower the number, the better.
Tallinder's GA ON/60 is 1.82 good for 10th best in the league out of the players who met our criteria. Above Tallinder are players such as Nick Lidstrom (really, the man is not human), Mathieu Schneider, Chris Pronger, and Paul Martin.
Campbell's GA ON/60 is 3.03, 10th worst out of the group we're looking at. That means that Campbell is facing a lower level of competition than Tallinder - considerably lower, I'd say - but allowing more goals per 60 minutes. Out of all the Sabres defensemen, Tallinder is facing the hardest competition while also allowing the fewest goals per 60 minutes of ice time.
Great, Heather, but what about the offense? Hold on, I'm getting there. The next stat we'll look at is the opposite - Goals For On/60 or how many goals the Sabres score while the defenseman in question is on the ice. In this case, the higher the number, the better.
Tallinder's GF ON/60 is 2.82 which is right in the middle of the pack. Not great, not terrible. It is important to note however that, as average as it is, it is a good bit higher than his GA ON/60. For every 60 minutes Tallinder spends on the ice, the Sabres score one more goal than they allow.
Campbell does have Tallinder beat in this category. His GF ON/60 is 3.17, putting him at 12th best among the defensemen we're looking at. (I don't have a list of the guys ahead of him but I'm sure Lidstrom is one of them. Seriously, he's a freak of nature.) So you could definitely make a case that Campbell does bring a lot to the table offensively. However his GF ON/60 is negated somewhat by his high GA ON/60. The Sabres score .35 more goals when Campbell is on the ice than when he's not but they also allow 1.21 goals more when he's on the ice.
One thing Meg pointed out that is in Campbell's favor is that he's lower than Tallinder in Quality of Teammates, meaning Tallinder plays with either a higher rated defensive partner or with higher rated forwards or some mixture of both. Tallinder's rating is a .10 while Campbell's is a -.09. So that could account for some of the difference in their overall numbers but their rankings are close enough here that I don't think it accounts for everything.
So let's summarize:
- Campbell averages about a minute and a half more in ice-time than Tallinder per 60 minutes but Tallinder is facing a much higher level of competition, almost always taking on the opponent's first line.
- Despite playing a higher level of competition, Tallinder is on the ice for fewer goals against than Campbell. For every 60 minutes Tallinder is on the ice, the Sabres score one more goal than they allow.
- Campbell is on the ice for more goals for the Sabres but also on the ice for more goals against the Sabres. In fact, his goals for number (3.17) is almost completely wiped out by his goals against number (3.03).
So while you could say that Campbell is more valuable than Tallinder offensively, you could also say that Tallinder's defensive ability is, in the long-run, more valuable to the Sabres because of how often Campbell's defensive lapses hurt his offensive contributions and again, this is despite Campbell playing against lesser skilled lines. I know I'm really pounding that but these are defensemen. I think it's important to take defense into consideration. And let's not forget that this is all based on a season that most everyone would agree has been pretty uneven for Tallinder.
In other words, I win! Brian Campbell is NOT worth 5 million dollars plus per season and the Sabres are NOT going to fall apart without him. I win! Tell all your friends!
(Thanks again, Meg! You're awesome!)