When Shea Weber was awarded a 1-year, $7.5 million contract in salary arbitration this past Wednesday, it left me wondering whether or not the Predators’ superstar defenseman was deserving of such a high salary. After all, $7.5 million ties him for the 7th highest cap hit in the league for 2011-2012 and is #1 amongst his fellow blueliners. What is it that Weber continually brings to the table for Nashville? Per nhl.com, let’s take a look at his ice time in all situations last year:
|Player||Games Played||ES TOI/Game||Team Rank||PP TOI/Game||Team Rank||SH TOI/Game||Team Rank||Total TOI/Game||Team Rank|
As we can see, Nashville relies heavily upon Weber in all situations. Ranking number one among defensemen teammates in total ice time per game, Weber allows coach Barry Trotz to lean on him no matter the pinch that the team may find themselves in.
In an attempt to bestow some context upon these minutes, I wandered over to Behind the Net and ran a query for the CorsiRelQoC score of all NHL defenseman with a minimum of 20 games played last season. The results are below:
|RK||NAME||TEAM||Corsi Rel QoC|
Weber sits 23rd, perhaps unsurprisingly attached at the hip to his frequent defensive partner Ryan Suter. Browsing some of the names on this list, we can see that Weber is in elite league-wide company with the toughness of his minutes. Putting Weber’s score in a team context, here is the CorsiRelQoC of all Nashville skaters with the same games played requirement:
|RK||NAME||TEAM||Corsi Rel QoC|
We see just how important Weber is to his team. He and Suter face competition in the conversation with the league’s elite, and Nashville would certainly struggle to replace his minutes if they were to lose his services. With tough-minutes eater Joel Ward leaving for Washington in the offseason, it will only make Weber all the more important to Nashville’s success in 2011-2012. Having noted the context of Weber’s minutes, just how well is he doing with his given role?
|ES Goals||ES Assists||ES Points||PP Goals||PP Assists||PP Points|
|Corsi ON||CorsiRel||Fenwick %||CorsiRelQoC||Zone Start %||Zone Finish %|
The table should be fairly self-explanatory: Weber is the best offensive producer amongst the defenseman on his team and ranks in the top-30 league-wide in every category. What is more, despite a 45% zone start and a hefty CorsiRelQoC number, the majority of the shots while he is on the ice are being directed at the opponent’s net. Weber is certainly handling his minutes in the manner of an elite NHL defenseman, and without him Nashville would be in a pinch for tough-minutes help in all situations and production from their back-end. On one hand, the numbers don’t indicate that he’s the best defenseman in the league, though he appears to be among them, so it seems the ruling overpays him. On the other it doesn’t seem like the contract will keep Nashville from signing anyone given their cap situation and the timing. Perhaps they are less likely to make a trade that takes on more salary for this season due to an internal cap. I would have to conclude that Shea Weber’s new 1-year contract is a win-win for all parties involved. What he signs next year will be more interesting.
The Good News and Bad News for Nashville
How important is Weber to the Predators? This question doesn't quite equate to value but is certainly a big part of how their fans and front office will view the extension. To speculate, it seems likely that Nashville GM David Poile chose arbitration because he thinks Shea Weber is very important to the Predators - he didn't want to risk losing him due to another team tabling an unmatchable offer sheet, despite compensation the Preds would get if that happened.
On that front, there is good news and potentially some bad news for Nashville. I'll start with the good news. Using play-by-play data from the last two seasons, WOWY stats indicate that the Predators were far better off with Weber on the ice in every situation. Let's break this down.
Here are the overall even-strength numbers with both goalies in net:
Weber is facing tough competition and Nashville does far better with him on; their Corsi rate goes up by 5.92 shots per 60 when he jumps onto the ice. Let's go ahead and break this down further. What about when facing tough or weak competition? To look at that, we've broken down the ice time into situations where the average Corsi of the opposing players, according to BTN, is positive and those where it is negative. Here is the breakdown:
|Tough, Weber On||-136||1,714.2||-4.760||6.037|
|Tough, Weber Off||-440||2,689.4||-9.816||5.794|
|Easy, Weber On||+340||1,251.2||16.304||-5.533|
|Easy, Weber Off||+287||2,423.3||7.106||-5.533|
Looking at the overall picture, Weber has had success despite having a really high qualcomp. While he is obviously doing well against the above-average players, to the tune of increasing his team's Corsi rate by 5.1 per 60, a much larger WOWY difference comes against weaker competition - his presence on the ice increased Nashville's Corsi against below average players by 9.2 per. Given his offensive skills, this is perhaps not too surprising.
Now let's move on to zone starts. Using faceoff information, we can look only at times where there was a faceoff in the offensive/defensive zone within the last minute. That should serve as a pretty good indicator of how good he is in each zone. We also include all situations where either the most recent faceoff was more than a minute before or was in the neutral zone.
|Off Zone||Corsi||Minutes||Corsi/60||Corsi QoC|
|Def Zone||Corsi||Minutes||Corsi/60||Corsi QoC|
Again, we see the same pattern with Nashville having much more success with Weber on the ice in all three zones. Somewhat surprisingly, the biggest difference is in the defensive zone.
Now let's look at special teams. Here are the PP numbers, first Corsi then goals, with shorthanded goals conceded subtracted:
Here are the penalty-kill numbers:
There are a couple things worth noting here. A guy has to rest sometime, but these numbers indicate that Weber is an above-average penalty killer for the Preds and should probably get more time. The previous set of charts indicating that he was good in the defensive end is further evidence. On that note, it's interesting that there was a larger difference in his defensive-zone WOWY than for the offensive zone, but that was flipped for special teams. This is pretty likely just due to random variance. You shouldn't put too much stock into the exact numbers, but note the very strong pattern that has emerged. In every situation, Nashville was better with Weber on the ice than off it, in most cases substantially. This despite him facing tougher competition than the average Predator in all 5-on-5 scenarios and most likely on the power play.
I put bad in quotation marks because it's not really bad news for Nashville, except that it would indicate seriously overpaying for Weber no matter how you look at it. I say potential because evidence is scarce. The reason for this is that Shea Weber and Ryan Suter have spent almost all of their ice time together over the last three years. That makes it very difficult to separate. Going back four seasons, Suter had better numbers but he also had a much better partner. Weber spent most of his time alongside Greg Zanon while Suter was paired with Marek Zidlicky.
While the sample sizes reduce this from a blow-your-mind revelation to an anecdote worth considering, you may be surprised to learn that when they've been apart Suter has had more success, or perhaps less failure would be a better way to put it. He's also faced tougher competition. Here's a chart going over their time together and apart in the last two years.
|Even Strength||Corsi||Minutes||Corsi/60||Corsi QoC|
Overall it is certain that at the very least the Weber-Suter pairing is very important to the Predators' success. In every situation, Weber's presence on the ice improved his team's numbers. This is muddied by Suter's stats looking very similar, for obvious reasons, and actually being better against tougher competition in the rare cases when they were apart. Given that they are both free agents next summer, it's going to be very important to figure out if they are both carrying the water or if only one is.
We'd love to hear from Nashville fans. Which of the two do you think is Driving Play? What do you think Weber should get if he re-signs long term?