Greetings sports fans, this is a spinoff from Breaking Down where I take a pair of players that are linked in some way and compare and contrast them. We begin with a couple of Avs defensemen that played support roles this past season and we assume that will continue. The Ian Cole signing will rob them both of minutes and one of them of starts when the team is fully healthy. Maybe they aren’t in direct competition for the 6th spot in the staff’s minds but I’m going to make the case that they should be.
Let’s start with a little bio. Barbs was a 6th round pick of the Bolts in 2008, he’s 28 and has 239 games of NHL experience. Nemo was a 2nd round pick by Dallas in 2010, he’s 26 and has 176 NHL matches. Both have been Calder Cup Champs, Barbs has his name on the QMJHL Presidents trophy and Nemeth has a gold medal from World Juniors. The Avs ended up claiming both on waivers and here we are.
Career-wise neither are heavy points producers, if you put them together you’d have about a 30 point per season guy, but we’re mainly concerned about how they function within the Avs system so lets take a look at what they contributed last season. Neither had noticeable power play time so this is all 5v5 and I’m only looking at the 7 Ds with more than 200 minutes TOI (the 6 obvious ones plus Lindholm)
Barbs: 10.75, 3rd
Nemo: 7.70, 5th
Barbs: 0.20, 3rd
Nemo 0.14, 5th
Barbs has a significant edge here for what it’s worth and slots in right between EJ and Big Z. These guys had about the same zone start numbers, which I don’t really put much stock in but everyone asks, and Nemeth probably faced slightly tougher competition, which I also don’t put much stock in. Furthermore, there are similar spreads in iCF/CF and ixG/xG so Barberio is influencing play in the offensive zone to a greater degree than Nemeth.
So here we see that Barbs not only has a higher point rate but is more likely to be a part of a goal when one is scored when he’s on the ice. If you want to make that case that scoring isn’t a part of Nemeth’s job that’s fine but with similar usage then you have to assume it isn’t for either guy. Bottom line, individually Barberio generates points, shots and quality like a reasonably good defenseman and Nemeth doesn’t.
Barbs: 55.37, 3rd
Nemo: 53.04, 6th
Barbs: 1.87, 6th
Nemo: 2.04, t2nd
These on-ice measurements are honestly pretty close but it is interesting that Barberio’s overall shot rate is higher but Nemeth’s quality rate is higher. It’s counter-intuitive from their play styles but Nemeth is high-event comparatively, lots more shots and goals happen for both sides when he’s on the ice.
It’s hard to find a catchall defensive stat that can definitively tell you if a pure defensive defenseman is doing his job or even if a top-pairing guy is any good in his own zone. The debate over blocked shots is endless and my take is that it’s good to block some shots for sure but better to prevent those shots from being taken in the first place. For the record Nemeth led the Avs by a mile in blocked shots and comparing rates he had 6.86 per hour to Barberio at 3.89 per hour. I’m going to try this in three sections, an on-ice rate section, a look at entries and exits and a PK section since they both played there a bunch. Again, I’m looking only at the 7 Ds that played more than 200 minutes at 5v5 last year.
Barbs: 57.18, 1st
Nemo: 62.55, 7th
Barbs: 2.01, 1st
Nemo: 2.20, 2nd
SA/CA (percentage of on-ice shot attempts against that are on goal)
Barbs: 1.72, 1st
Nemo: 1.91, 3rd
Barberio is the top shot and goal suppressor on the team. Nemeth’s quality suppression is a lot better than his volume suppression (oh, hi there blocked shots…) but it’s still far behind Barbs. Some of this goes back to Barberio being generally low-event and Nemeth high-event but there’s also some influence here by D-partners which we’ll get to in a bit.
These days you want to see defenseman that get the puck out of the zone before they have to things like block shots so here’s what we have as far as the Avs D’s exit percentages:
Once again Barberio is tops on the team in successful exit rate and just behind Sam Girard for exit rate with possession. That’s good. Nemeth isn’t as involved in the breakouts so he lags here. If you aren’t that great at getting the puck out, the next best thing is preventing zone entries in the first place.
The legend here is blue – breakups, purple – forced dumps, orange – opponent carry in, red – opponent pass in, or to simplify blue/purple = good, orange/red = not so good. First of all this shows that EJ is a stud and Barrie’s pretty damn good at breaking up zone entries. For the two we’re concerned with today Barbs is slightly better at defending the blueline which again is a little counter-intuitive.
These guys both have essentially the same on-ice save percentage on the PK and if you do the math essentially the same goals against per expected goals against. The difference comes down once again to Barberio’s shot suppression giving him the edge overall. At 5v5 you can dream up a few good reasons for that but in a static defensive zone situation like the PK it’s basically all speed, positional recovery and ability to clear the zone.
PERCENTAGES & PARTNERS
Barbs: 49.2, 1st
Nemo: 45.9, 6th
Barbs: 48.2, 2nd
Nemo: 48.1, 3rd
Barbs: 52.5, 3rd
Nemo: 58.0, 1st
Barbs: 6.73, 7th
Nemo: 9.00, 2nd
*Both have an on-ice Sv% of .914
As we slide from pure shot volume to straight up goals Nemeth looks better and better, which is explained partially by the difference in shooting percentage. Using shot attempts as a proxy for possession is a little outdated these days but it does have some merit. Safe to say good things happen when both are on the ice, just in different ways.
Barberio didn’t have a consistent partner, which isn’t that surprising because none of the D really did. Out of 663 total minutes 5v5 he spent a little over 150 with Zadorov, the same with Nemeth, 111 with EJ, 74 with Lindholm, 54 with Barrie, 35 with Girard and the rest with the rest. This indicates that he was used as the puck mover with generally defensive partners in defensive situations. Corsi WOWYs indicate that he and both Z and Girard (SSS) did well together but he wasn’t a drag on anyone.
Nemeth’s most common partners were Girard (323 min), Barrie (238 min), Barbs (153 min), Z (120 min), EJ (117 min), Lindholm (52 min) and then the field. This goes along with the Avs philosophy of pairing offensive D’s with a minder. Strangely enough he was most successful with Zadorov and Barberio and not with the offensive D’s. Both TB4 and Sam had noticeably higher Corsi without Nemeth and he and Barrie were poisonous for each other. Each was in the mid-50’s for GF% without each other and only 45% together.
Mark Barberio is versatile, an effective shot suppressor and zone exit specialist that doesn’t generate much offense. He can play with anyone and not be an anchor but he won’t drive scoring. The biggest struggle we’ve seen is with decision-making. I’ve said since the Avs acquired him that he may not make the right decision but he will make a quick one.
Patrik Nemeth is a typical defensive defenseman. He blocks a lot of shots because he allows too many to develop, both at even strength and on the PK. He allows too many to develop because he is poor at getting the puck out of the zone on his own successfully and foot speed doesn’t allow him to get where he needs to be quickly. To put it bluntly, he needs a minder more than he is needed to be a minder for the skilled defensemen. There are times when a team needs a player like Nemeth, as we saw last year the PK was good with him out there and the Avs were ok at the turtle in the final minutes of a game. He absolutely should not be paired regularly with Tyson Barrie or Sam Girard. That’s going to be counter-intuitive for the staff but they have to work through it.
Contracts have many influences from off the ice so there are pitfalls from trying to read a lot into them. Barbs was on the way to becoming a UFA on July 1st so he would naturally be done earlier than an RFA situation like Nemeth was in. The team signed him to a reasonable 2-year contract at a $1.45M cap hit. Nemeth was signed 3 days before his arbitration hearing to a 1-year contract at a $2.5M cap hit. The hot take here would be that the Avs were more comfortable with keeping Barberio around for longer and weren’t all that excited about re-signing Nemeth, especially after solidifying the middle of the blueline with Ian Cole. I’d say that’s part of it. What I’m seeing is Patrick Nemeth getting a massive raise driven by being used in a role last year that he’s unlikely to fulfill long-term. The Avs were smart to go short term here, especially since they would be buying UFA years at a premium. If he does end up backing up that performance and the need is still there then it is what it is. Better than being locked into something undesirable with a boatload of new contracts to do next summer.
Assuming everyone is healthy at the beginning of the season and the 7 Ds are EJ, TB4, Z, Sam, Cole and these two fellows, it’s going to be a tough choice who plays and who sits. I’d probably say a rotation would be the way to go but there’s no point in locking down thinking on this until camp. At worst this is a problem you’d like to have.
Thanks to Natural Stat Trick and Corsica for the stats and CJ Turtoro for the zone data & vizzy