Frozen Tools Forensics: The Ten Worst Defensemen according to GAR

by Grant Campbell on July 19, 2019


What is GAR (Goals above Replacement)?

Cam Robinson’s (@Hockey_Robinson) explanation of GAR is far better than my own, so I will use it with permission: “For those who don't know, GAR is a tabulation which spits out a number that encapsulates how valuable an individual player is in terms of on-ice play, relative to a “replacement level” player. A replacement level player is a player of a caliber such that they are readily available and can be acquired quickly and easily. For reference, a player who shuttles on waivers every year, or are considered emergency call-ups from the farm.”

There is a lot that goes into the calculation and concepts that have been developed and the best explanation can be found  in these three links (WAR1, WAR2 and WAR3) on the topic. Any fan of Bill James will appreciate what the analytical community is bringing to hockey.

Here are the bottom ten defensemen from 2018-2019 (over 500 min TOI) for GAR at even strength (Evolving Hockey):

#10 – Neal Pionk – Winnipeg Jets

Pionk averaged over 22 min/GP with the Rangers until the mid-point of last season and was playing top-four and second-unit power play. In the last 34 games of the season, he averaged just over 19 min/GP and was removed from the power play. With the move to Winnipeg, he is pencilled in ahead of Sami Niku and will battle him for top-four and second-unit PP minutes, unless the Jets opt to use a four forward deployment with the man advantage.

GAR -5.8

WAR -0.4

CF% 44.15

OZ start% 45.31

2018-2019 AAV $925,000

#9 – Marco Scandella – Buffalo Sabres

Scandella was a bottom-six defenseman last year averaging just over 17:30 min/GP. He is of no value in fantasy, as he doesn’t hit, get many points or block shots.

GAR -6.2

WAR -1

CF% 46.4

OZ start % 47.68

2018-2019 AAV $4 million

#8 – Brent Seabrook – Chicago Blackhawks

At 34 years of age, Seabrook has seen his game decline the past two seasons, to the point that his TOI was below 20 minutes for the first time in his 12 years in the league. The added insult for him was that he was deployed less than 50% of the time in the offensive zone for the first time as he gave up time to Erik Gustafsson. Seabrook can still chip in with the odd point, hit and blocked shot, but with the prospects the Blackhawks have, his days are numbered.

GAR -6.4

WAR -1.7

CF% 46.68

OZ start % 49.33

2018-2019 AAV $6.875 million

#7 – Ben Hutton – UFA

Having watched Hutton play for four seasons, I will admit I’m not a fan of his by any means as he has struggled since his rookie season.  He averaged over 22 min/GP last season, but there is not another NHL team that he would have had more than 20 min/GP. There is a reason that he is still an unrestricted free agent at the time of this writing. A team will sign him and he will contribute at the NHL level, but not to the point where he is a fantasy option.

GAR -6.4

WAR -0.7

CF% 45.62

OZ start % 48.76

2018-2019 AAV $2.8 million

#6 – Gustav Forsling – Carolina Hurricanes

Forsling should benefit by ending up in Carolina, where he has an opportunity to play on the top four. This season will be a make it or break it year for him as there is no place in the NHL for a player that doesn’t produce points, hit, block shots or play well without the puck. He will need to add an offensive component to his game or his career will be short. He is the only player in this bottom 10 that started more than 50% in the offensive zone last season.

GAR -6.8

WAR -1.3

CF% 47.89

OZ start % 52.11

2018-2019 AAV $925,000

#5 – Deryk Engelland – UFA

At 37 years old, we might not see Engelland suit up in the NHL again, but we might see Vegas re-sign him, as they are not very deep at defence. Fantasy wise, he still provides lots of hits and blocked shots. He has pulled a Stan Mikita and no longer takes penalties with only 18 PIM last year in 74 games.

GAR -7

WAR -1.4

CF% 50.17

OZ start % 49.93

2018-2019 AAV $2.5 million

#4 – Justin Braun – Philadelphia Flyers

Braun will be in Philadelphia this season after nine years in San Jose. He struggled offensively last season with only 16 points in 78 games after putting up an impressive 33 points in 81 games the year before. He plays over 20 min/GP and will not be on the power play that much if at all. After playing with Marc-Edouard Vlasic he will be given the opportunity to play with any one of Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim or Shayne Gostisbehere.  Braun has the potential for 25-30 points and will get hits and blocked shots with the Flyers.

GAR -7.5

WAR -1.6

CF% 50.78

OZ start % 42.01

2018-2019 AAV $3.8 million

#3 – Adam Larsson – Edmonton Oilers

Larsson will always be maligned in Edmonton for who he was traded for. He is not below replacement level. What he provides is hard to measure as evidenced by his PDO of 963 and CF% of 49.72, when the team CF% was 47.98. In fantasy he won’t provide many points but he will provide lots of hits (256 last year) and blocked shots.

GAR -8.2

WAR -1.3

CF% 49.72

OZ start % 46.54

2018-2019 AAV $4.17 million

#2 – Jonathan Ericsson – Detroit Red Wings

At 35 years old, this will more than likely be Ericsson’s last year in the NHL. He has no fantasy value.

GAR -8.7

WAR -1.5

CF% 44.66

OZ start % 42.21

2018-2019 AAV $ 4.25 million

#1 – Jay Bouwmeester – St. Louis Blues

A recent Stanley Cup champion, J-Bo has averaged over 20 min/GP his whole career and no doubt is slowing down. However, he still managed to elevate from 20 min to 23 min/GP in the playoffs. How does a guy play 1,184 games in the NHL and not score many points, hit, or block that many shots?

GAR -9.2

WAR -1.7

CF% 48.07

OZ start % 46.29

2018-2019 AAV $5.4 million


For the past few years, I’ve thought there was a bit of a disconnect between what some considered the worst defensemen in the league (using Fenwick%, CF%, GAR and WAR) compared to their actual deployment and the perception among actual NHL GMs and coaches. Every city has a much-maligned defenceman in their midst, but are these players as bad as their advanced stats? Why are most of these players averaging over 20 minutes per game? Is it over deployment and lack of understanding from the coaches and GMs on what these analytical stats might be telling them? Or is there an immeasurable quality that defensive players have that adds value to their play that is not being represented? I don't have the answer, but I think the answer lies closer to the middle of analytics and "hockey men".

The bottom ten players according to GAR average $3.5 million AAV in salary and averaged 19:40 TOI. There are still players on this last that are valued by their organization and have large roles that they fill. They just aren’t statistically represented to display that fact except with hefty pay cheques and the odd Stanley Cup.

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