How Colin White's Defensive Performance Compared with Similarly Paid Defensemen in 2009-10

How does Colin White's defensive performance last season stack up with similarly-paid defensemen? (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Yesterday, I posited that Colin White was a pretty good #3 defenseman.  In analyzing his usage, I used his ice time (from NHL.com, quality of competition, and zone start information (the latter two from Behind the Net) to determine his role on the New Jersey Devils in the last three seasons.   It is accurate to conclude that White is a defensive defenseman who plays on the team's second pairing, and that he draws tough assignments regularly.   I utilized the shots against per 60 minutes and goals against per 60 minutes rates to establish how he performed on defense from Behind the Net, which was (and will continue to be) his main role.  White has a no-trade clause and will be paid $3 million in the next two seasons by New Jersey.

In the comments, ILWT user FrankG929 asked an interesting question: How does Colin White compare to other defensemen in the NHL who make a similar amount of money?

I used nhlnumbers player comparison capability and pulled all the defensemen who will make between 2.75M and 3.25M in 2010-11. Pretty good company. Perhaps seeing where Colin ranks among his monetary peers might finally quiet some of his critics (among which I do not number).

Edler, Alexander; Robidas, Stephane; Seidenberg, Dennis; Wisniewski, James; Coburn, Braydon; Allen, Bryan; Barker, Cam; Gleason, Tim; Leopold, Jordan; Lydman, Toni; Quincey, Kyle; Tyutin, Fedor; White, Colin; White, Ian; Klesla, Rostislav; Salvador, Bryce; Vlasic, Marc-Edouard; Greene, Matt; Morris, Derek

This is a very good question.   Has Colin White been earning that $3 million salary, relative to others who make that much? I went back to Behind the Net and pulled the numbers from last season for these players.  I focused on their performance (GA/60, SA/60, impact on both stats, quality of competition) rather than their role.  Not all of these defensemen have the same skillsets or the same roles on their team.  Cam Barker, Matt Greene, and Rostislav Klesla didn't even hit the 15 TOI/60 requirement that I've used yesterday.   However, the request was to see how Colin White ranks among Frank's group; so that implies comparing performance.   Keep that in mind as you read on (and please set your viewing to "Wide" before continuing).

As with yesterday, I'm focusing on shots against per 60 minutes (SA/60) and goals against per 60 minutes (GA/60) as they give us a picture of how the player performed on defense.  Plus, I've added impact values for both, or the difference between off-ice SA/60 or GA/60 and on-ice SA/60 or GA/60.   This way we can tell what happened when that player stepped on the ice.  Of course, all numbers are for 5-on-5 hockey, since players will play the most minutes in a game in that situation.

All rankings came from a list of 132 NHL defensemen who played at least 20 games and 15 TOI/60 last season; Greene, Barker, and Klesla were added since Frank specifically mentioned them.  I didn't include zone starts, as I noted on Saturday how White was among league leaders in starting in his own zone way more often than in the offensive zone.   It'd be pointless to say over and over how Colin White had it harder since he started off in his own end so much.

2009-10_colin_white_salary_comparables

I've organized this chart by quality of competition (QUALCOMP).  Among all 135 defensemen, Colin White's quality of competition ranked 52nd, but among the group of comparable-salary defensemen, it sits at seventh.   That's not bad at all.  White's on-ice numbers ranked well among the entire league as well as his peers here.  Even his slightly negative impact on SA/60 put him above average among the league.   In fact, the only stat where Colin White doesn't look good is on his impact of GA/60.

(Aside: For some reason, when I did yesterday's post, I was using the same numbers I had from the Paul Martin series of posts for rankings of White's numbers. Since the season already ended, I didn't expect the numbers to change, but they had slightly when I pulled them again.  So Colin White's rankings yesterday were off by one or two.  The numbers themselves were exactly the same, though.  Weird.)

Here's a few quick points among this group:

  • Seven defensemen in this group had a lower on-ice GA/60 than Colin White. In order from smallest to largest before White, they were: M-E Vlasic, Greene, Salvador, Lydman, Seidenberg, Quincey, Barker.  Colin White had a higher quality of competition value than all seven, though.
  • Only two defensemen had a lower on-ice SA/60 than Colin White: Greene and Tyutin.  White had a higher quality of competition than both, as well.
  • Actually, by now, you may have noticed that Matt Greene had excellent numbers across the board. He played some decent 5-on-5 minutes with a TOI/60 of 14.28, and he was actually starting in his own zone a few more times than in the offensive zone. However, before you get excited, let me point out that his quality of competition value of -0.044 was the second lowest among this entire group, and ranked 121 among the larger population of defensemen.   In short, look at those numbers with a grain of salt.
  • Given that Colin White's impact on GA/60 was so terrible; let me point out who finished below him among this group: Stephane Robidas and Rostislav Klesla. In a word: Oof.  Just to fulfill any unasked curiosity, the only defensemen who were worse than Klesla in this stat last season was Steve Staios ($2.7 million in 10-11), Sergei Gonchar (will make $5.5 million for Ottawa), and Jack Johnson ($1.425 million, becomes a RFA in 2011).
  • Poor Klesla! He was injured for much of the season with a torn groin muscle.  When he did play earlier in 2009-10, he got pounded.  I hope for his and the Blue Jackets' sake that he's healthy and ready to bounce back.
  • White's slightly negative impact on SA/60 didn't throw him down the list in this group. Six defensemen had a positive impact on SA/60 last season, in order from largest to smallest: Tyutin, Greene, Robidas, Morris, Leopold, and Lydman.  Ian White had no impact, so he's the seventh one above Colin White.  Leopold (0.098), Robidas (0.077), Ian White (0.061), and Morris (0.039) all accomplished this with higher quality of competition values than Colin White.

Overall, I think the same conclusion from yesterday's post applies here.   Among his salaried-peers, White is good but not great.  I'd say the top defensive defenseman among this group last season would be Fedor Tyutin.  He played a decent level of competition, didn't play with a high level of teammates, he had an excellent impact on SA/60 and a low on-ice SA/60, and he had a positive impact on GA/60 even though his on-ice GA/60 wasn't that good.  

Bryce Salvador stacked up quite well, and unlike Matt Greene, you can't fully discount him since his quality of competition was respectable. Though, Salvador had a higher quality of competition and while his on-ice stats were great and had a positive impact on GA/60, he had a worse impact on SA/60.  Depending on your view of what is a defenseman's main job (preventing shots, for example), you may see that more as a negative.

For the most part, everyone on this list has some area where they didn't do so well. Dennis Seidenberg and Toni Lydman had excellent GA/60 stats, a good impact on SA/60, but not a good on-ice SA/60 stat.  Like Colin White, Derek Morris's impact on GA/60 sticks out like a sore thumb among his other solid numbers.  Other defensemen are good in one area but not the other, like Marc-Edouard Vlasic looking great on GA/60 but not so good on SA/60.   When you throw quality of competition (and quality of teammates) into the mix, it's another factor to consider. It makes me more sympathetic to someone like Stephane Robidas, who didn't have good numbers but played tough competition, more so than someone like Cam Barker, who ranked well in three out of the four stats but did it against really weak competition. 

Plus, there's the giant elephant of offensive skills.   Colin White isn't offensive at all and I completely agree that's a big reason for justifying salary.  Alexander Edler may have been consistently above-average in all stats here, but his group-leading 42 points last season definitely justifies his salary.  It's a lot easier to forgive Robidas' not-so-good advanced defensive stats given that he gave his team 10 goals and 31 assists last season (tied for 23rd in NHL defensemen scoring last season).   I can easily tell you that Colin White would not stack up well in terms of offensive performance.  Therefore, I've focused solely on defensive stats to see whether Colin White's performance there stood up well or not to his similar-salary peers.  He's a defensive defenseman, so he should be judged on those merits.

I think it's easy to see that while he's not dominating the group, White ranked well enough within this group (and not too poorly within the league) in three out of the four categories while having a respectable quality of competition.  Again, good but not great.  Based on his defensive performance in 2009-10, it seems to me that White's $3 million salary is more justifiable given this comparison to his peers.

Now it's your turn.  Do you agree that White compared well to his fellow salaried defensemen in the NHL least season? While his defensive performance compares well to his peers, do you think it (further) justifies his $3 million salary?  If not, what do you think he can do to fully earn his $3 million?  Please leave your answers as well as other thoughts about this comparison and Colin White in the comments.  Thanks for reading, and thanks to Frank for the idea.

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