You may recall that back in May we did our annual assessment of the Washington Capitals defensemen for the 2021-22 season. You may also recall that analysis and evaluation ultimately tied Nick Jensen and Dmitry Orlov as essentially the best defensive defensemen on the Capitals team for the 2021-22 season. (article here).
Jensen received additional praise from JFreshHockey’s hockey analyst Jack on Monday, labeling him the most underrated defenseman in the entire NHL, based on a comparison of fan evaluations and “WAR” projections for the 2022-23 season.
For the curious, if you look at the 2022-23 war predictions, the most “underrated” defenders are:
1. Nick Jensen
2. Matthias Samuelson
3. Mike Reilly
4. Nick Holden
5. Jordan Spence
6. Sean Durzi
7. Jonas Siegenthaler
8. Jake McCabe
9. Gustav Forsling
10. Alex Carrier https://t.co/VnyDefGgoC
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) 25 July 2022
A new, “revolutionary” metric that hockey statisticians are beginning to track and use is Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. WAR essentially aggregates all of a player’s contributions statistically into one overall score.
Fan Poll Rankings: [Click to enlarge]
War? What is it good for?
WAR calculations ultimately allow a comparison of how much value a player provides compared to a replacement level (average) player (which is usually a player with 0.0 WAR). If a player’s WAR value is negative, it means that a replacement level player will contribute more statistically to the team than that player.
Overall, WAR is an interesting addition to hockey analysis. Fans of advanced analytics in baseball are probably familiar with WAR, as it was introduced after the rise of sabermetric analysis. WAR is very strong in the MLB metric community, so hockey statisticians are confident in how they can port WAR into hockey metrics. For more information on how WAR is calculated, visit Hockey-Graphs.com’s series of blog posts here.
Back to Nick. An interesting comparison here is an understanding of reality.
The ’21 turnaround
Nick Jensen felt the heat when he first arrived from Detroit. His first season with the Capitals didn’t go swimmingly, with his play being widely criticized by the back end, including myself. And Stats acknowledged that his play was lacking.
Then came the strange season of 2021. Shortened by Covid and played in empty arenas, the abbreviated season was just 56 games. But during that time, Jensen began to turn his game around, and suddenly.
I then wrote a post on February 26, 2021, “The Rise of Nick Jensen,” documenting his sudden and impressive turnaround. Whether it’s pairing up with veteran Zdeno Chara, or even just expanding his position at the end, Nick Jensen is starting to make a statement. This seems to have gone unnoticed by many in the fan base, and many are only now beginning to see its true value.
Below is this year’s postseason scorecard of the Capitals’ defense. The numbers represent the team’s ranking for each category, thus, the lower the score the better. [Click To Enlarge]
By John Sorensen