Lightning numbers: Evaluating the Lightning's new defensemen

It looks very much like the Lightning are more or less done in free agency this offseason, and while I would never assume that Steve Yzerman is completely done for the summer, most of the major holes (goaltending and defense) appear to be filled. Perhaps a depth forward could be acquired or perhaps the AHL kids will get the chance to make that spot,

In any event, it's possible at this juncture to evaluate the free agent pickups Yzerman made on defense to get some idea of where they fit into the roster, statistically at least. As you know, Yzerman signed defensemen Sami Salo and Matt Carle since July 1. Salo, 37, received a two-year deal with a cap hit of $3.75M. Carle, 27, received six years with a cap hit of $5.5M. While these contracts may be more than fans would prefer to see, they reflect market conditions this summer, and so are fairly reasonable, all things considered.

But what do these signings mean for the Lightning statistically? Obviously it's impossible to predict how either player will perform next season--with a new team, a new system, and considering the variability of a hockey career. What we can do, however, is see where their recent performance would have placed them among the Lightning of 2011-12.

Sami Salo comes from the Vancouver Canucks, a team that generally has the most specialized territorial player usage in the league. That is to say that Alain Vigneault, more than probably any other coach in the NHL, uses his player in specific terrritorial roles. Salo, however, was essentially in the middle of Vancouver's player usage spread with an Offensive Zone start percentage (OZ%) of 53.6 and a Quality of Competition level (CorsiRelQoC) of 0.597. His relative Corsi for the season was -5, which is rather low. Salo also had a Quality of Teammate level (CorsiRelQoT) of 1.867, which was again, rather in the middle for Vancouver's defensemen (range was from about 2.5 to about -3).

Matt Carle played in generally similar situations with the Philadelphia Flyers, although his OZ% was lower at 49.4. His CorsiRelQoC was .589, however, so he faced essentially the same level of competition as Salo. Carle's Corsi Rel was 3.2, moderately good for this spot on the chart. Carle's CorsiRelQoT was 0.484, meaning that while his teammates tended to generate more shots that their opponents, they did not do so by a huge margin. I make special note of this because for a guy who has a reputation as an offensive defenseman, he was not playing in situations that were especially offensive.

There are two interesting notes about the how these two players compare to the Lightning's 2011-12 roster. First, they have both had success on the power play and penalty kill. Lat season, 7 of Salo's 9 goals and 3 of Carle's 4 goals came on the power play, and both were used on the penalty kill as well. It seems clear that Yzerman believed that fixing special teams performance was important and he found two experienced defensemen who could play in all situations.

Second, the Lightning had no one who had similar usage profiles to either of these players. When I reviewed the Lightning's player usage in June, I noted that only four players, two of whom were traded away at the deadline, appeared in the center of the Lightning's usage chart, near the team averages. Both Salo's and Carle's usage would put them in that range. If Guy Boucher uses them in anything near the same way, this should take a great deal of pressure off of Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer, who were being asked to play against tough competition in defensive situations, while other defensemen were playing against easy competition in offensive situations.

Finally, there are two statistics that attempt to measure a player's contribution to his team's goal differential. One is point shares, which uses the difference between league averages and the player's personal statistics (goals and shots) to determine what share of the team's points in the standings could be attributed to that player. With Vancouver, Salo had an offensive PS of 2.10 and a defensive PS of 3.5 for a total of 5.6. Carle had offensive PS of 2.5 and defensive PS of 3.3 with Philadelphia for a total of 5.8. Both of these are far higher than the Point Shares put up by any Lightning defenseman in 2011-12, where the high was Victor Hedman's 2.9 (1.4 OPS + 1.5 DPS).

The second of these is Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), which measures players' performance relative to a theoretical "replacement" player. A replacement player, in this case, is a top AHL, non-prospect call-up, not a stud prospect, so it tends to overvalue NHL talent compared to the players who actually get called up to replace injured roster players. GVT also ends up valuing goaltending above all other positions, Despite these issues, there is some value in being able to compare players to a single standard when evaluating them.

Salo's GVT in 2011-12 was 6.4 (offensive and defensive both came to 3.2). Carle's GVT was 8.5 (5.9 on offense and 2.7 on defense). For comparison, Marc-Andre Bergeron had the highest GVT among Lightning defensemen at 7.0 (5.0 OGVT and 2.0 DGVT), while Hedman had a GVT of 5.0 (3.0 OGVT and 2.0 DGVT). No other defenseman came close to these levels. (Fun Fact: Steven Stamkos's GVT was 26.7, nearly twice the next highest of 14.5 put up by Teddy Purcell.)

These statistics all underline the sense that both Salo and Carle can be expected to immediately improve the Lightning's play next season, and they give us some perspective on the contracts they've received. The team may have paid a rather hefty price to improve, but Salo and Carle almost certainly improve the defense by a rather large margin, both through their own contributions and by allowing other defensemen to play in more favorable circumstances.