Who Needs Defense? Eye-Opening Numbers For “Crankshaft”
Photo courtesy of Le Journal de Montreal
There’s been a common theme surrounding the Canadiens for the past who knows how long: This team needs to be bigger. What the word “bigger” actually means is up for debate, but essentially fans believe this team is soft.
On August 22nd, 2013 Marc Bergevin accidentally gave Douglas Murray a pen and he subsequently signed a one-year contract worth $1.5 million dollars. I wish I was kidding. The 6’3″, 245-pound defenseman was brought in to apparently help mitigate the loss of Alexei Emelin. I’m still struggling to understand how that makes any sense at all.
It seems as though any time Murray is criticized the response is, “He does what is expected of him.” Hm. Let me see if I understand this correctly; Marc Bergevin signed Douglas Murray with the expectation of disgusting defensive zone coverage, a moderate ability to kill penalties (thanks in large part to Carey Price), awfully pathetic puck-moving, turnovers, shot-blocking and hitting? That doesn’t seem like the thought process of an NHL general manager, but literally that’s what Douglas Murray brings to the table. So, essentially he was expected to be very bad.
The two aspects of hockey that Murray “excels” at are things that he can only utilize when the opposition has the puck in Montreal’s end. That isn’t really a good thing. Though, when Murray is on the ice, the opposition has the puck a lot. That’s backwards thinking as far as I’m concerned. Call me crazy, but I’d prefer having someone who can minimize scoring chances while possessing minimal offensive upside rather than someone who will make opponents “think twice” (which he doesn’t) while giving up a ton of shot attempts against. That’s just me.
I’ve noticed an absurdly large number of fans backing Douglas Murray’s play. So I thought I’d compile a list of the No.7 defensemen around the NHL based on ES TOI with a minimum of 10 games played. I had to take Minnesota and Winnipeg’s No.8 defenseman because their No.7’s blew Murray out of the water. Anton Volchenkov averages the least ES TOI/G on the Devils while Fayne averages 7th most ES TOI, but every defensemen (all 9) averages 17+ minutes of ice time per game and has way better numbers than Murray, so it didn’t really matter which defenseman I chose from New Jersey. Also, it was a toss-up between Demers, Hannan and Irwin on San Jose. Hannan averages the least TOI/G, but Demers averages the least ES TOI/G. Again, all 3 have better numbers so it didn’t matter.
The above graph outlines the 5v5 shot attempts-for percentage combined with the percentage of shifts beginning in the offensive zone for the No.7 defensemen around the NHL (besides Dumba and Pardy who are No.8s). The closer the defenseman is to the top left the more impressive they’ve been this season. Conversely, the closer the defenseman is to the bottom right corner of the graph, the worse they’ve been this season. I like to call the bad corner of graphs the “Crankshaft Corner” because you’re always going to find Douglas Murray there.
Murray ranks 17th among the 30 defensemen in OZ start percentage. Yet he has the 2nd worst CF%. If that isn’t bad enough (which it is), the Buffalo Sabres’ bottom-dwelling CF% consists of a No.7 defenseman that has a better CF% than Murray while beginning a less percentage of shifts in the offensive zone.
Simply put, Murray is given ample opportunity to raise his CF% from the pathetic 38.9% (remember, 2nd worst among No.7 defensemen plus two No.8 defensemen) that it is and can’t. In other words, he has zero offensive upside and struggles mightily to prevent shot attempts against.
Let’s take a look at these defensemen’s Fenwick Close versus their average quality of competition.
Any defenseman you see near the top right corner of this graph is doing a spectacular job during the game’s most important situations. The “Crankshaft Corner” is the bottom left. And, yeah, Murray’s there.
Poor Yannick Weber has been pretty bad for Vancouver this season, though when they put him in the lineup he typically begins his shifts in the defensive zone (as you saw in the first graph – Weber only begins 28.4% of his shifts in the offensive zone). Other than Yannick, there’s another Weber that’s been awful this season when the game’s tied in any period or within one goal in the first or second periods – Mike Weber. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given how pathetic the Buffalo Sabres are and how they’re the worst possession team in the entire NHL. Besides the two Webers, the only other defenseman that one could argue has been worse than Murray is Shane O’Brien. But again, Calgary is the 4th worst FenClose team in the NHL, so it’s no wonder their No.7 defenseman has been relatively bad, whereas the Canadiens are 19th in FenClose but Murray has essentially been the 3rd worst No.7/8 defenseman this season.
For fun, I threw in the zone-adjusted Fenwick Close numbers in place of the regular 5v5 FenClose numbers to see how much of an effect the zone starts have on the possession numbers.
Same thing here: bottom left corner is pathetic and the top right is excellent. As you can see, there’s hardly a difference besides the Rangers’ defenseman Falk who clearly benefits from his 60.2 offensive zone start percentage. Look at where those No.8 defensemen are (Dumba and Pardy). Also, Mark Fayne has been really good this season.
So, to sum up everything we’ve gone over so far: Murray’s been the worst “extra” defenseman in the entire NHL. Let’s carry on.
A lot of Habs fans tend to compare Murray to Hal Gill. I don’t know where that came from, but I’m going to assume it’s because they’re both “big” and they’re both slow.
Douglas Murray is 33 years old right now in his one and only first season with Montreal. In Gill’s first season with the Habs he turned 34 years old. So I took data from this season and 2009-2010 to compare both of these players.
Murray starts far more in the offensive zone than Gill did, against worse competition, playing far less TOI/G (Gill’s 18:20 to Murray’s 13:11) and Gill still blows him out of the water (and Gill’s numbers aren’t even good). Montreal still had the 11th best PK that season with Gill playing 3:08/game on the penalty kill (2nd most on the team to Gorges’ 3:09). The Canadiens didn’t have a healthy Markov for the whole season or a Carey Price putting up a .903 PK SV% either (both Halak and Price were below .900, Price was WELL below). Whereas Montreal has the 4th best kill this season with Murray playing 2:19/game (4th on the team trailing Markov, Gorges and Diaz by quite a large margin per game). So don’t use the excuse that Murray’s been vital to the penalty kill this season. It isn’t right. Murray is worse than Gill, by a lot.
It’s been brought to my attention that criticism directed at Murray is being deflected and placed on Diaz. When I wrote that sentence, I laughed.
Here’s the 5v5 Corsi effect the two defensemen have on the 13 main forwards on the beloved Montreal Canadiens.
Every single forward is better off without Murray. Granted, TOI with each forward has something to do with the inflated numbers, but overall (as you very likely guessed after seeing the first 3 graphs) these players enjoy more puck possession and subsequently more success away from Murray. Some of those numbers are really, really ugly.
Diaz is clearly a different story. All those minuses are players that have better puck possession while on the ice with Raphael Diaz. One very eye-popping player is Alex Galchenyuk.
The average CF% of the 13 forwards with Murray is 39.2; without Murray it is 48.7. That’s a difference of +9.5 Corsi points without Crankshaft. The average Corsi with Diaz is 49.2 while it’s 46.2 without him. The difference without Diaz is -3.0 Corsi points. I think it’s pretty obvious who benefits the Canadiens more while they’re on the ice.
Sure, Murray can lay some massive body checks, but he sacrifices position to lay those players out. And his absolutely pathetic turtle-like speed isn’t nearly quick enough to regain coverage in time.
Yes, Murray can also block shots well. But if you’re blocking shots, you don’t have the puck. And if you don’t have the puck (which, based on all the above data, is rarely ever with Murray on-ice), you’re not scoring. And if you’re not scoring, you’re not winning. And if you’re not winning, you’re not having fun. And if you’re not having fun, then you shouldn’t be playing hockey. And if you shouldn’t be playing hockey…I forget where I was going with this.
Anyway, Murray sucks. What do you think? Vote below. And remember, I’m rarely wrong. And when I am, I’m still not.
Till next time,