Overview of some the top value 3rd pairing defensemen

We analyzed some of the best value top pairing defensemen (link here) and 2nd pairing defensemen (link here). While getting top production at strong market value is paramount, finding good value throughout the lineup is also important. Today we take a quick look at some of the better value contracts of 3rd pairing defensemen.

A couple things to note

+ We rank “pairing” based on the quality of competition (which accounts for ice time) that each defenseman faces. Given normal error in the model, some “top pairing” guys will trickle into 2nd pairing and vice-versa. We’ve manually refined the tier segmentation to account for this.

+ There are other factors that go into the value of a player (e.g., special teams ability, defensive scoring chance suppression, etc.), but we use QoC adjusted puck movement ability (because of the important of puck movement from the back-end in today’s NHL – we go into detail here).

Some important terminology

To understand the breakdown and analysis, let’s walk through some key terms

Our puck movement metric (PMF) considers relative corsi improvement, weighted by teammate strength (both defense partner and forward lines – isolated), zone starts, usage, and even chemistry. We look at it in more detail here.

+ Our QoC (quality of competition) was built based on 4 variables: opponent corsi for %, gf/60, FirstA/60, and TOI/gp. We discuss that in detail here.

+ QoC adj. PMF is simply the puck moving ability metric adjusted for quality of competition that the player faced. We touched on that here.

+ Finally, $ per QoC adj. PMF (e.g., each grey column) is just the cap hit per QoC adjusted PMF score. For example, if someone’s salary was $5M and their QoC adjusted puck movement score was 50, then their $ per QoC adj. PMF would be $5,000,000 divided by 50 = 100,000 (denoted as just 100 on the chart)

Value assessment

31JUL2017 -- 3rd pair value.JPG

To understand the chart further, start by looking at the middle column (with dotted box and NHL logo above). That represents 3rd pairing average (3rd pairing being based on QoC they faced, which makes intuitive sense as a big driver of QoC is TOI, etc…). The takeaway is that across the NHL, the average 3rd pairing defenseman earns $1.8M and has a QoC adjusted puck movement score of 28.9.  That $$ value per QoC adj. PMF is 74. Any numbers lower than 74 would be considered “above average value” whereas anything below would be considered poor value.

Some rapid fire observations

+ This is a good opportunity to bring back the point that other factors impact the value of a defenseman. Consider Shayne Gostisbehere. At 5v5, his puck movement ability does not warrant a $4.5M per year contract. While he moved the puck efficiently (PMF +0.66), he did so in a sheltered role against weak QoC. Still, he brings tremendous value to power play (was a top PP player the past 2 seasons).

+ Shattenkirk is a comparable at $6.5M per season (but not listed above). His usage is also in line with ‘3rd pairing’ and even though he’s good as a puck mover, his $6.5M is not good value given the ‘easy’ minutes he plays. But like Gostisbehere, Shattenkirk is among the best on the PP. Teams need to assess how much that is worth – and in the case of SG and KS, some place a premium on it.

+ The Hurricanes acquired Trevor Van Riemsdyk from Vegas (and a 7th) for a 2nd round pick. TVR was solid as a puck mover with Chicago (PMF +0.17) but did so against weak QoC. At the cheap price $750K per year, he’ll be strong value again in 2017/18.

+ Skjei (PMF +1.44) and McNabb (+2.00) both excelled as puck movers in 2016/17. Skjei is entering the last year of his ELC with McNabb entering the final year of a 2-year deal he signed at the end of 2015/16. Both players are intriguing for different reasons: Skjei is younger and proved last year he could produce in a 3rd pairing role. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain that production in a top-4 role and make a case for a big pay bump next summer. McNabb has already proven he can be an efficient puck mover in a stornger role (was paired with Doughty when DD won the norris). McNabb could be expected to play top-4 minutes for Vegas, creating a good opportunity for him to earn term and $$ when he enters unrestricted free agency next off-season.

+ Orpik and Bieksa both stand out as poor contracts. Bieksa is UFA after next season ( signed a 2-year, $8M deal) whereas Orpik has 2 years left at $5.5M. Bieksa was particularly poor as a puck mover (PMF -5.20) and while Orpik was OK (PMF +0.51), it’s besides the point. Both players are getting paid $4M+ to play 3rd pairing minutes. That is more than double league average in that role. When both players signed, they were already approaching mid 30’s. Bieksa and Orpik both carried name value (Orpik with Pittsburgh and Bieksa with Vancouver), but this serves as an important example when offering term and money to older defensemen who have played tough minutes for many years.


No team in any sport will be perfectly optimized across the board in terms of contract value. But finding 2nd and 3rd pairing gems – at great contracts – will often make a big difference.

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