In Defense of Jay Bouwmeester

On Friday, Andrew Walker from Fan960 had a blog post talking about his dissatisfaction with Bouwmeester.  The trigger point for his argument was the Shea Weber arbitration and realizing that Bouwmeester was the 4th highest paid d-man in the NHL.

I have a real issue with arguments of this type because they rarely define the premise of the actual comparison.  Walker has stated that there are 20 defencemen that are hands-down "better" than J-Bo and he "WILL NOT take arguments on" when compared to Bouwmeester.  Walker also goes on in the comments to say that "I don't need metrics to tell me if Jack Johnson, Lidstrom, or Doughty are good or not.``  If Jack Johnson is part of your argument, I`d like to suggest that you start including metrics, because your eyes are failing you.

More after the jump...

 

That said, I think that Walker`s premise is an interesting one.  I would completely agree that Bouwmeester shouldn`t be the 4th highest paid defenceman in the league. At this point, J-Bo`s skillset appears to be as a top-comp matchup defender who isn`t going to rack up the points.  Some of Walker`s `no arguments`list are top-comp guys as well, but control possession or score at a rate superior to J-Bo. However, there are a bunch of other players on the list who get deployed like the Sedins with easy zone starts or play against 3rd line competition.  I generally don`t advocate comparing one against the other since the comparison is like saying the Malhotra isn`t valuable because he doesn`t score enough.  However, GMs have to make this kind of choice all the time.  They have to choose between needing a matchup player or an offensive point man to round out their talent arsenal.

I would argue that the Flames need a shut-down defenseman more than offensive players at this point.  Giordano is a great two-way player and Babchuk fills the bill of an offense-only blueliner.  With the loss of Regehr, J-Bo is the only current matchup guy left on the roster unless one of the young guys steps into that style of role.

By definition, any player who lands in a Top 30 defensemen list should be considered a capable number 1 defenseman on their team and at the very least a deserving top pairing guy.  Getting back to Walker`s list, there are at least 7 players in his Top 30 that I have trouble giving the edge over Bouwmeester, including 6 inside Walker`s top 20.  Below, I`ll list the players and how J-Bo compares.

Jay Bouwmeester

We can`t make comparisons unless we talk about Bouwmeester first.  Last season, J-Bo faced the 2nd hardest competition (using Corsi Rel QoC) on the Flames behind Robyn Regehr.  His zone starts were middle-of-the-pack and represent 2nd pairing difficulty.  He played his competition relatively close to a draw possession-wise but only scored 0.62 pts per 60 min. This is largely the knock on Bouwmeester.  In Florida, he appeared to be a player with some offensive upside and since his move to Calgary, that really hasn`t come to fruition.

Bouwmeester is nowhere close to being elite, which is what his salary seems to represent.  However, he has evolved into a very dependable top-comp defender, and frankly seemed to drive the bus between he and Regehr with a Corsi differential 7 shot attempts better than Reggie.  It will be interesting to see how he does this season when paired with someone like Sarich or Giordano.

So there you have it, he plays top competition, plays to a draw but doesn`t really rack up points offensively.

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson is highly over-rated and overpaid. I wrote about this on Hockey Prospectus when he signed his new contract, and I still believe it now.

Johnson plays second pairing competition and scores at a weaker rate than Bouwmeester (0.5 to 0.62 points per 60). At the same time, he is severely underwater in possession (-8.7 Corsi Rel) despite getting middling zone starts.

Using Jack Johnson as an example just about obliterates Walker`s credibility on the subject of defenseman value.

PK Subban

I love PK.  He`s fun to watch, he`s an electric skater and he celebrates better than almost anyone in the NHL.  However, he`s a very good offensive d-man (0.96 points per 60) with good possession ratings (+6.5 Corsi Rel) for a very good reason.  He plays against 3rd line competition.  This isn`t a knock on PK, it`s actually good management of a young offensive defenseman.  That said, the league is full of sheltered players and saying that he`s unequivocally better than Bouwmeester is absurd.

Chris Pronger

This is a tough one.  At his peak, Pronger dominated the league and could anchor a cup contender.  Last season he wasn`t that type of player.  He was surpassed (just barely, but still) as a top-pairing competition guy, ranking 3rd on the Flyers in Corsi Rel QoC.  He still scores better than J-Bo and has slightly better possession numbers, but he`s getting near the twighlight of his career. 

If Walker doesn`t like Bouwmeester`s contract, I  can`t see how anyone could like Pronger`s. It`s an over 35 deal with a cap hit of $4.9 million through the 2016-17 season.  Since he`s already 36 years old, that deal will take him until the age of 41.  For those who don`t understand the terminology, a 35+ contract under the NHL`s current CBA counts against the cap regardless of if the player is still playing (according to CapGeek.com), so they`re incredibly risky if the player doesn`t play the length of the deal.

Keith Yandle

Yandle is another defenseman I like, but wouldn`t say is unequivocally better than Bouwmeester.  He faces 2nd pairing competition and scores at an incredible rate (1.21 points per 60) but his possession numbers are mediocre (+1.7 Corsi Rel) and his zone starts are t 3rd easiest on the team behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Paul Bissonnette.

I`d take Yandle on any team but he`s a completely different player than Bouwmeester.

Dion Phaneuf

This one bites deep for most Flames fans.  We`ve all convinced ourselves that we traded away a locker room problem and signed the better player, even if the contract wasn`t better.  So is Phaneuf actually a more valuable defenseman than J-Bo?

Well, to be fair, they have fairly similar statistical attributes, even if they play a different style of game.  Phaneuf was second in quality of competition on his team last season and so was Bouwmeester.  Both are slightly in the hole for possession (Phaneuf -1.5 Corsi Rel to J-Bo`s -4.4) and Phaneuf racks up points at a slightly better pace (0.78 to 0.62 pts per 60). 

The one area where Bouwmeester has the advantage over Phaneuf is in zone starts.  Bouwmeester plays 2nd pairing zone starts, while Phaneuf plays 3rd pairing zone starts.  I don`t watch enough Leafs game to give an answer here, but it appears as if Phaneuf is deployed more offensively, and may earn his quality of competition based on opposing coaches matching up.

The two d-men are similar in value, but I would never say that Phaneuf is a much better value without accepting arguments to the contrary.

Mike Green

Mike Green is a fantastic player and can be extremely fun to watch.  However, he`s a completely different player than J-Bo and I`d never compare them directly.  Much like my comments on Subban above, they fill a completely different role on their respective teams than matchup blueliners like Bouwmeester.

Green faces 3rd line competition and is given 3rd pairing zone starts.  Those are sheltered minutes.  Even with that cushy assignment, he scored at a lower rate (0.84 pts per 60) than Yandle, Campbell, Subban, Kronwall, Enstrom and Pronger.  It was not a great season for Green. 

Brian Campbell, Dustin Byfuglien and Christian Ehrhoff

All three of these players do well because they`re given offensive minutes.  Byfuglien is by far the most effective of the group, but none of them deal with major defensive responsibility.  Campbell and Byfuglien played second pairing competition while Erhoff was playing against 3rd pairing difficulty.  They all score well and have very good possession numbers but get deployed in a ridiculously offensive manner.  Campbell (60.3%), Byfuglien (55.6%) and Ehrhoff (61.5%) all get a massive benefit by starting their shifts in position to drive offense.  They make the best of those situations, but it`s the equivalent of starting the 100 yard dash at the 15 yard line.  They SHOULD come out ahead.

Don`t get enough credit

Two players on the list actually jumped out at me in a much more positive light than I had thought.  Both Nicklas Kronwall and Tobias Enstrom are much better defensive players than I had given them credit for. 

Kronwall plays 2nd pairing competition and mid-level zone starts, but scores quite well (0.93 pts per 60) and is a positive possession player, even above such a talented team as Detroit (3.9 Corsi Rel).

Enstrom actually faced top-pairing competition last season, scored at a slightly better rate than Kronwall on a much less talented team and dominated possession (8.1 Corsi Rel).  He definitely has a zone start advantage (55.8%) but I didn`t realize that he faced such hard competition.

Conclusions

Given that Walker was comparing mixed types of defensemen, I`ll stick with that methodology.  I`ve given 9 defensemen that I thought Bouwmeester could compare favourably to.  I could add more, but this could get exhausting. 

However, conceding the fact that someone else could find arguments against J-Bo, I used a 50-50 split, putting the Flames rear guard at roughly 24th or 25th on the list.  That isn`t comforting given how high his cap hit is, but it also means that he`s good enough to be the top d-man on a few teams in the NHL and top pairing on pretty much any squad outside of Detroit, Chicago and San Jose.

I understand the vitriol aimed at Bouwmeester`s contract and the fact the Flames aren`t getting true value for the money they`ve spent, but blindly stating that J-Bo is categorically worse than 30-40 defensemen in the league without looking at the role he plays or the talents of the players in a more fact-based manner is the equivalent of just using points to measure every player in the league`s contribution to their team`s success.

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