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January 21, 2011
Front Office Focus
Heavy Lifter Index, Defensemen

by Ryan Popilchak

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A few weeks ago, we used the Heavy Lifter Index to evaluate forwards in the NHL over the past three seasons. This time around, we're going to use the same methods to evaluate the defensemen in the NHL who have consistently faced top competition. However, you'll notice the scores for defensemen are quite different given the disparity in ice time, their penchant to draw less penalties than forwards and just generally less extreme scores in most aspects of the index.

2007-08 Season

Rank	Name			Pos	Team	HLI	HLI Res	HLI Sit
1	Nicklas Lidstrom	D	DET	3.89	1.43	2.45
2	Scott Niedermayer	D	ANA	2.82	0.37	2.45
3	Zdeno Chara		D	BOS	2.70	0.41	2.28
4	Brian Rafalski		D	DET	2.57	1.44	1.12
5	Duncan Keith		D	CHI	2.02	0.12	1.90
6	Paul Martin		D	NJD	2.01	1.11	0.90
7	Dennis Wideman		D	BOS	1.46	0.37	1.08
8	Marc-Edouard Vlasic	D	SJS	1.44	0.09	1.35
9	Freddy Meyer		D	NYI	1.40	0.33	1.07
10	Mike Green		D	WSH	1.28	1.34	-0.05

Lidstrom, Niedermayer and Chara played significantly tougher competition than any other players on the list for the 2007-08 season. Their HLI Sit scores alone would put them in the top four.

Mike Green is an interesting case. He's the only player on the list with a negative HLI Sit which runs counter-intuitive to the concept of a Heavy Lifter. His underlying stats show that he definitely faced top competition with a QualComp of 0.017 and a Corsi Rel Qoc of 0.315. However, because of his offensive skill, he was deployed with a zone start ration of 56.4% which drops his overall HLI Sit score. That said, he outplayed his competition to the degree that Lidstrom and Rafalski did.

You might be asking how Freddy Meyer got on the list. He's a relative unknown but played harder competition than Green while suffering the hardest zone start ratio of anyone in the top ten (44.6%). Meanwhile, he had the best Corsi of all Islanders defensemen by a mile that season. However, an HLI of 1.28 isn't anything phenomenal, but it seems that 2007-08 was the weakest year of our HLI study.

2008-09 Season

Rank	Name			Pos	Team	HLI	HLI Res	HLI Sit
1	Nicklas Lidstrom	D	DET	4.49	1.80	2.68
2	Brian Rafalski		D	DET	4.03	1.82	2.21
3	Willie Mitchell		D	VAN	3.36	0.59	2.76
4	Duncan Keith		D	CHI	3.27	1.03	2.24
5	Brent Seabrook		D	CHI	3.15	0.88	2.27
6	Zdeno Chara		D	BOS	2.89	0.49	2.39
7	Paul Martin		D	NJD	2.37	1.06	1.30
8	John Oduya		D	NJD	2.19	1.04	1.14
9	Dennis Wideman		D	BOS	2.18	1.09	1.08
10	Marc-Edouard Vlasic	D	SJS	2.09	0.93	1.16

2008-09 appears to be the year that pairs of defensemen dominated the index. It's difficult to tell whether one player carried the pair or that they just work well together and shared the load. I'm sure most of our readers will say that Lidstrom carried Rafalski to some extent, but it might be harder to make that assertion with the pairings of Keith and Seabrook in Chicago or Martin and Oduya in New Jersey.

2009-10 Season

Rank	Name			Pos	Team	HLI	HLI Res	HLI Sit
1	Zdeno Chara		D	BOS	3.67	1.18	2.49
2	Brent Seabrook		D	CHI	3.64	0.99	2.64
3	Duncan Keith		D	CHI	3.33	1.25	2.08
4	Nicklas Lidstrom	D	DET	3.05	1.43	1.62
5	Tom Poti		D	WSH	2.89	1.17	1.72
6	Brian Rafalski		D	DET	2.61	1.43	1.17
7	Marc-Edouard Vlasic	D	SJS	2.43	0.97	1.45
8	Matthew Carle		D	PHI	2.40	0.73	1.66
9	Chris Pronger		D	PHI	2.39	0.51	1.88
10	Shea Weber		D	NSH	2.20	0.49	1.71

Tom Poti's inclusion on the list definitely surprised me. Outscoring the opposition by 1.59 goals per 60 minutes while only starting 47% of your shifts in the offensive zone will definitely boost a player's index score though.

Matt Carle's place on the list over Kimmo Timonen shows who really was driving the bus with Pronger last year. Timonen's HLI was a meager 0.67.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic doesn't get much fanfare in San Jose. He gets overshadowed by the likes of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle. It's time he got a little more recognition for taking the tough assignments given that he made the Top 10 HLI list for each of the last three seasons.

Best individual seasons of the last three years, defensemen

Rank	Season	Name			Pos	Team	HLI	HLI Res	HLI Sit
1	2008-09	Nicklas Lidstrom	D	DET	4.49	1.80	2.68
2	2008-09	Brian Rafalski		D	DET	4.03	1.82	2.21
3	2007-08	Nicklas Lidstrom	D	DET	3.89	1.43	2.45
4	2009-10	Zdeno Chara		D	BOS	3.67	1.18	2.49
5	2009-10	Brent Seabrook		D	CHI	3.64	0.99	2.64
6	2008-09	Willie Mitchell		D	VAN	3.36	0.59	2.76
7	2009-10	Duncan Keith		D	CHI	3.33	1.25	2.08
8	2008-09	Duncan Keith		D	CHI	3.27	1.03	2.24
9	2008-09	Brent Seabrook		D	CHI	3.15	0.88	2.27
10	2009-10	Nicklas Lidstrom	D	DET	3.05	1.43	1.62

Willie Mitchell easily has the most unlikely entry on this list. He had a Top 5 Corsi Rel QoC but really drove the HLI up with a 42.9% zone start ratio in 2008-09. However, he may have benefited from the magical Sedin twins, given that Vancouver outscored opponents by over a goal per 60 minutes when he was on the ice, even though he only averaged 0.88 points per 60 minutes.

3-Year Total Heavy Lifter Index, defensemen

Rank	Name			Pos	Team(s)		HLI	HLI Res	HLI Sit
1	Nicklas Lidstrom	D	DET		11.43	4.67	6.76
2	Zdeno Chara		D	BOS		9.27	2.10	7.16
3	Brian Rafalski		D	DET		9.22	4.71	4.50
4	Duncan Keith		D	CHI		8.63	2.40	6.22
5	Brent Seabrook		D	CHI		8.04	1.43	6.61
6	Paul Martin		D	NJD		6.27	4.45	1.82
7	Marc-Edouard Vlasic	D	SJS		5.98	2.00	3.97
8	Tom Poti		D	WSH		5.17	1.84	3.33
9	Dan Hamhuis		D	NSH		5.12	0.42	4.69
10	Dennis Wideman		D	BOS		3.64	1.46	2.17
11	Tim Gleason		D	CAR		3.23	0.28	2.95
12	Shea Weber		D	NSH		3.21	0.50	2.71
13	Matthew Carle		D	PHI		3.01	0.80	2.21
14	John Oduya		D	NJD, ATL	2.96	1.55	1.40
15	Mike Green		D	WSH		2.82	3.44	-0.61
16	Scott Niedermayer	D	ANA		2.82	0.37	2.45
17	Kris Letang		D	PIT		2.61	1.51	1.10
18	Ian White		D	TOR, CGY	2.37	1.52	0.84
19	Christian Erhoff	D	SJS, VAN	2.25	1.75	0.50
20	Ryan Suter		D	NSH		2.22	0.65	1.57

Vancouver clearly made a concerted effort this offseason to improve their play against the opposition's top lines. Dan Hamhuis ranked ninth among defensemen while another acquisition, Manny Malhotra, was 45th on the 3-year total HLI Index for forwards. Apparently, the strategy is working since they're sitting in first place in the Western Conference.

With the domination of the HLI index by the top pairings from Detroit and Chicago, an interesting question can be raised: do they ride the coattails of Corsi-driving forwards or are they the ones driving the bus? In the case of Lidstrom, Rafalski, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, we have an HLI quadruple that blows every other team out of the water. In Chicago, the link isn't so clear. The Blackhawks had Dave Bolland (fifth) and Andrew Ladd (eighth) at the top of the HLI for forwards, but they didn't outplay the competition the way Datsyuk and Zetterberg did.

Ian White is due to be a free agent this summer and if HLI is any indicator, should receive a few offers in the range that players like Anton Volchenkov got last offseason.

Finally, there appears to be well-defined tiers of defensemen according to the 3-year Heavy Lifter Index. The first tier contains the Top 5 players all scoring over 8 HLI. Tier 2 contains Paul Martin, Vlasic, Poti and Hamhuis and the field drops steeply after that.

If you want to know more specifically how individual players ranked by HLI, please leave a note in the comments and I'll respond to your requests.

Ryan Popilchak is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.

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