Photo: Chris Gordon
First, a quick literature review.
“Orlov is a talented, smooth skating offensive defenseman who prefers to press the attack and create scoring opportunities at all times.”
– Hockey’s Future. No date provided.
Q: The public at large in the U.S. knows only that Orlov is a D-man. Is he a “stay-at-home” defenseman or an offensive defenseman?
A: I would say it’s offensive… But we don’t know what the coach says in the locker room. He’s not a “stay-at-home” defenseman, that’s for sure. His attacking skills have actually led him to play some games as a forward. He scored twice that game.
– Evgeni Starikov, a Metallurg Novokuznetsk fan, to RMNB. January 2010.
“He loves to attack on the rush and this will lead to him earning points on a team like the Capitals (though they have become more defense-minded).”
– Dobber Hockey. April 2012.
“He’s a great offensive player. He’s very effective on the power play and everything. It definitely hurts when he’s not there.”
– Cam Schilling to the Washington Times. December 2012.
Since even before Dmitry Orlov made his Caps debut back in 2011-12, we’ve heard that he’s an offensive defenseman, the eventual successor to Mike Green’s throne as the Caps blue liner most likely to attack.
I’m not so sure.
(Note: whether or not Orlov is an offensive defenseman is not a value judgment. It’s a matter of what kind of player, not how good of a player. I personally think he’s totally nifty.)
Let’s define our terms. To me, an offensive defenseman is a defender who regularly participates in the attack. He enters the offensive zone, takes shots, and– hopefully– scores goals. The best examples of offensive defensemen I can think of are Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang, and Mike Green. They’re all great players, and they all love to score.
When playing with Mike Green over the last three season, Dmitry Orlov has seen 54.5 percent of shot attempts belong to his team. That’s an awesome possession score, but he is not the one generating those shots.
Possession scores alone won’t reveal who is an offensive defenseman. A blue liner who is great at dealing the puck to forwards in neutral but doesn’t join them in the offensive zone might rank high on Corsi charts, but wouldn’t merit the title of an offensive defenseman. Instead, let’s look at how they generate shots individually.
I grabbed the 285 defensemen who played at least 500 minutes in the last three seasons, and I ranked them by their individual shot attempts during 5v5. Then I grouped them into quintiles. Here they are, from lowest to highest.
|Group||Shot Attempts / 60||Examples|
|I||5.79||Regehr, Smid, USS Hal Gill|
|II||7.23||Oduya, P. Martin, Suter|
|III||8.23||S. Jones, J. Johnson, Stralman|
|IV||9.17||Phaneuf, Ehrhoff, Subban|
|V||11.34||Karlsson, Yandle, Letang|
There is some selection/survivorship bias in the numbers (crummy defenders rarely play offense and are less likely to hit 500 minutes over three seasons), but I think this stands up. Group V is your elite offensive defensemen. Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang are in there. Down in Group I, the most hermetic of the stay-at-homes, you find guys like Robyn Regehr and Lanislav Smid. That’s kind of what you’d expect.
Now here’s how the Caps defense corps sorts.
Orlov is in group II. He is not an offensive defensemen; he’s the opposite. He shoots less than Karl Alzner, who may or may have an acute puck-shooting allergy. Orlov’s reputation (evidenced in the quotes above) do not match his stats, which otherwise fit our expectations.
Orlov has played 45% of his NHL career next to Mike Green, the 20th most aggressive defender on the list. Maybe Green sucks up all the shot-attempt oxygen when they’re together. That’s totally possible. And Orlov is in the 65th percentile when it comes to primary assists, which might suggest he’s a bit more involved than his personal shots indicate. Still, I wonder with some anxiety about what would happen if Orlov and Brooks Orpik, the two least aggressive Caps defenders, were to get paired together next season like I mused last week.
Let’s do the literature review one more time.
“He looks at himself as an offensive defenseman. I look at him as an all-around defenseman.”
That’s ex-coach Calle Johansson speaking to the Washington Post last September. I think he nails it. All the scouting reports and buzz about the Orlov– even his own reported characterization of himself– have missed the mark, but Orlov is still a solid player with a bright future.
It kind of makes you wonder what else the conventional wisdom gets wrong. Are there other types of players who get miscast? Are there any lone wolves who are actually terrific teammates? Are there any scoring forwards who actually stifle offense? Are some types of players routinely overvalued?
If only there were some way to test ideas through repeatable observations…