It appears the the NHL Network is at the point in the offseason where they are doing positional rankings. I didn’t catch the segment, but they recently ranked the top-20 defensemen around the league. As you can see in the screen grab below by Evgeni Malkin’s Ego, the Caps’ John Carlson is ranked 19th by the NHL Network.
NHL Network's Top 20 Defensemen right now pic.twitter.com/4iXvlWndgf
— ego (@EvgeniMaIkinEgo) August 14, 2016
Is Carlson a top-20 defenseman in the NHL? Let’s take a glance at some numbers.
Let’s get this out of the way: Regardless of whether Carlson is a top-20 defenseman, he’s a very good player. He’s an asset to the Caps. The Caps are better with him than without him. It’s not a knock on Carlson to question whether he’s a top-20 player at his position in the best league in the world. I repeat, it’s not a knock on a player (in this case, a very good player) to question whether he is among the top-20 in the best league in the world at their position and you can question this while still acknowledging the player is very good.
The inclusion of a player like Shayne Gostisbehere shows that this ranking leans heavily on what’s happened recently, also known as recency bias. In order to be as fair as possible to the rankings, we’ll adhere to this bias and look at only stats from last season.
The ranks are among the 198 defensemen who skated at least 500 5v5 minutes last season. All numbers except for points at at 5v5 and, where applicable, adjusted for score.
|Goals Against/60||1.82 (38th)|
|Shot Attempt Percentage||51.08 (66th)|
|Relative Shot Attempt Percentage||-1.06 (113th)|
|Relative Shot Attempts Against/60||4.04 (158th)|
Carlson is clearly a strong offensive player, but many of his defensive numbers cause me to question his ranking as the 19th best defender in the league.
Yes, he’s spent a lot of time being dragged down by Brooks Orpik, but he spent enough time away from Orpik last season for that not to be the only explanation for his defensive numbers. And sure, he was hurt a good deal of last season, but is his body of work defensively over the course of his career enough to negate facts such as that the Caps allowed 4.04 more opponent shot attempts per 60 with him on the ice than when he was on the bench, ranking him 158th among NHL defenders?
I don’t question that Carlson is a net-positive to the Caps, the team is clearly better off with him than without him. And while he may still have the highest ceiling among all of his defensive teammates, he may not even be the best defenseman on the Caps right now, let alone a top-20 across the entire league. Does he have the skill to become a top-20 defender in the NHL and could a healthy, bounce back season in 2016-17 go a long ways to establishing that? Yup. But he’s not there right now.
Your turn: Is John Carlson a top-20 defenseman in the NHL?
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