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.

Is Douglas Murray worth his one-year, $1.5M contract?

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Till next time,

Adieu.

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Curtis Kinden (11 Posts)

Born in 1988. Grew up a die hard Habs fan and Jays fan. Outstanding shortstop, a great breakfast cook and the love for Rick Nash knows no bounds. Also found the love of my life. "Penalty to 76, Montreal, PK Subban - 2 minutes in the sin bin and 10 minutes on the bench." Follow me on Twitter @CurtisAATH


122 Responses to Who Needs Defense? Eye-Opening Numbers For “Crankshaft”

  1. Sorry bud, am sure you work hard on stats and graphs, but I think I have seen 2 games which Murray was a pylon/turnover machine, other than that, love the signing.
    His physicality is so missed in Habs backend and I find his play very entertaining for sure and love the hits and crease clearing.Is much better than running a Parros out there/or have him on the bench.

    cheers

    • I wonder how many games you have watched then because there have definitely been over two that he has had some serious difficulty in the turnover department. Also, he’s a pylon consistently because he just can’t keep up, it’s like he has cement permanently in his skates! As for his physicality, sometimes he takes himself out of position just to make the hit. It’s a problem. Not to mention, his crease clearings? Budaj probably really hated that time he cleared it right into him to cause a goal against. I don’t think we can fully compare Parros/Murray here besides the fact that they both shouldn’t be on the team at all.

    • You don’t have to apologize ma-man.

      While I respect your opinion, I didn’t even mention Murray’s superior ability to turnover the puck (especially blatant ones to ex-Hab players in the slot).
      You prefer defensemen who allow the opposition to skate freely in Montreal’s end and register as many shot sttempts as they’d like, with no offensive upside whatsoever, while sacrificing position to throw the occasional hit (sometimes into the Canadiens’ own goaltender resulting in a goal against). I prefer defensemen who can move the puck well and limit scoring chances against while possessing a secondary ability to hit and block shots if necessary, who also don’t severely hinder the Habs’ offense.

      What’s worse is Therrien can only play Murray in certain situations, otherwise they will absolutely get burned. It’s one thing to hamstring a coach, it’s another to actually be the worst out of all defensemen who play that role. Not only that, he’s being used more prominently as a No.6 recently, and in that regard…you don’t even want to see how far away from the pack Murray is on the graphs.

  2. It actually makes perfect sense when you think about it. The habs didn’t want to be forced in a desperate situation to keep one of the 3 big D in Hamilton up in Montreal for any extended period of time, they still need development. Also wanted to have a tough guy back there for those divisional games. Is he as good as Emelin? NO! But the price was only 1.5m, it gives the habs A big Dman, and any habs fan knows damn well that you can never have enough D. It isn’t my money, so why should I care? The alternative would be cash sitting in Molsons bank right now. If I have any complaint at all it is Murray being played over Boullion. I think Boullion is a much more capable defender.

    • You should care that they are spending money on a player that shouldn’t be in the line up and shouldn’t have been signed when they could have employed someone else instead that would actually help them win games.

  3. Therrien dresses #6 by choice.
    Bergevin actively recruited #6.
    Pens mgmt. spent couple draft picks to rent him.

    Habs are 22-13 on pace for 102 point season and what is Habs record with Murray dressed?

    So again, appreciate the effort in the stats and stuff, but when team is doing well, why keep focused on a negative?

    Bottom line I simply have no complaints.

    Cheers

    • The problem is, the team hasn’t been playing well for weeks. Even when they won those two games against NJD and BOS etc, that was bad hockey and they got lucky, it was going to catch up to them. It did right after that. They need to regroup after this break and get back to how they were playing before.

  4. well, half way through the season I find myself much more pissed off about the Briere signing than the Murray one. This is yet another article made by a fan who decides i’m going to dig deep into stats to make a point I desperately want to make seem more harsh.

    Sure, he is the slowest D-man we have had since Gill, sure his passes aren’t usually tape to tape. But he hits like a truck, and he doesn’t have to plaster someone every shift to get the message out. He brings to the table two elements that have no paper statistic during a game.

    He is another huge body to deal with that is ready and willing to fight when needed, policing during his shifts. And he adds an element of intimidation to whoever decides they want to park there butts in front of the net while he is on the ice. There is no stat to document how many players take a look around and see him in the zone, and decide this shift they won’t go sit in the area near the blue paint, maybe next time. Do you think they do that when they see Boullion? Georges? Diaz? no.

    I knew what I was getting when we signed him after watching the playoffs last year and seeing him in Pittsburgh. 1 year, as a band-aid for 1.5 is nothing to kick a can down the street about. He is giving us exactly what he is labeled as, nothing more and nothing less.

    • Actually this article is to shed light on how bad he has been performing while with the Canadiens. If you spend enough time talking to other fans about this player, many feel that he does what is expected of him or he is a good 6th d-man when in fact he isn’t. This article proves that even up against 7th defensemen from other teams, Murray is worse. It’s really funny that fans think he is intimidating when in reality, they could just blow by him and he isn’t as effective as some claim. He isn’t policing anything, he has only fought John Scott and ended up being a bloody mess. Yeah that was courageous what he did because really, who wants to fight Scott but I think we are in a different brand of hockey now.

      Those people that gave cheap shots to players on the Bruins really didn’t feel any consequences or felt scared to do what they did. Nothing happened. They’ll do it and if they have to fight after, oh well what was done is already done.

      Face it, Murray has been awful and the Canadiens could’ve employed someone that would have been better for the line up like Gilbert.

  5. Murray’s best days are behind him. He gets progressively slower on his skates year after year, he can’t keep up with the pace of the NHL. The only thing he brings to the table is “intimidation” with his size and hitting. I have to be honest, I was surprised he even found a job this season after how bad he looked with the Pens last season.

    • The Canadiens would have been better off signing Gilbert if they wanted to pick up UFA for depth. Otherwise should have given the nod to Tinordi, Beaulieu or Pateryn. Which Pateryn has been the most ready out of the three at this point.

  6. Murray is slow and makes bad puck decisions. BUT, if he can keep up with you, he WILL hit you. Everytime. Hard. Everytime. And that is what he was brought in do

    • Unfortunately, that rare really hard (fairly meaningless in the grand scheme of things) hit typically results in Murray sacrificing position to make the hit. He’s far, far too slow to regain any kind of defensive posture following the hit.

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