What to Expect in 2010-11: Brett Lebda

Brett Lebda
The newest addition to a strong Leafs blueline

Brett Lebda
The newest addition to a strong Leafs blueline

Brett Lebda has barely registered on the radar for Leafs fans and with good reason. This offseason is yet again centered solely on Tomas Kaberle, while Lebda toils away on the bottom pairing in many fans’ minds. Expectations are understandably low for Lebda, so it now becomes important to gauge proper expectations. All stats not specifically referenced are found on BehindtheNet.ca.

Lebda primarily played with two people in 2009-10. Those players are Jonathan Ericsson and Brad Stuart (courtesy of DobberHockey.com). Lebda registered the fewest points in the trio at 8, with Ericsson amassing 13 and Stuart putting up 20. Lebda’s -2 rating is by no means a good stat to have, but it is significantly better than Stuart’s -12 and Ericsson’s -15. So in looking at these basic stats, we find that Lebda is average defensively and sub-par offensively. However, do advanced statistics shed any more light on his overall play? Let’s find out.

We’ll start by taking a look at +/-OFF/60 and +/-ON/60. These stats track the +/- of a player when he’s off the ice per 60 minutes and when he’s on the ice per 60 minutes. Lebda’s +/-OFF/60 is a -0.09, which means his team is scored on a little more than they score when he’s off the ice. This is better than both of his frequent linemates, with Ericsson at 0.14 and Stuart at 0.25. Lebda’s +/-ON/60 is also not bad at 0.13. Stuart (-0.58) and Ericsson (-1.09) are both substantially worse. Overall this is a passing grade for Lebda in the +/- department, considering the limited minutes he plays and his frequent linemates.

The important question to ask at this point is how Lebda’s +/- stats are so much better compared to his linemates when he had so few points. The answer is hidden in the zone start stat. Zone starts measure the place at which a player starts their shifts. This is tracked in the offensive zone shift start percentage, which is shortened to OPCT. If a player gets the majority of their starts in the offensive zone and still has a poor +/-, it is indicative of poor defensive play. Lebda’s OPCT is a very high 53.2%, which is third highest among defensemen and eighth overall on Detroit among players that played 25 games. Stuart (50.3%) and Ericsson (50.1%) both have much lower percentages.

What this means is that Lebda was being sheltered. Detroit was attempting to make up for his defensive play by starting him in the offensive zone. By contrast, Stuart and Ericsson’s +/- stats are a bit easier to understand now. However, this by no means indicates that Lebda is a bad player. It means he’s not a top player, which no one was accusing him of being anyways. Next up are Corsi ratings and their related stats.

Corsi tracks the amount of shots directed at the opposition’s net versus those directed at their own net when one player is on or off the ice. Lebda’s on ice Corsi rating for 09-10 comes out to 4.78, which is higher than Stuart (4.60) but lower than Ericsson (5.90). Among players with 25 games played, only Kirk Maltby and Brad May had negative Corsi ratings. This is obviously an indicator of the strength of Detroit as a team. Where things go awry for our three amigos is in their off ice Corsi ratings. Lebda’s is the best at 9.71, with Stuart at 11.30 and Ericsson at 14.09. Offense was generated much more when these three players were off the ice, which is not unexpected when dealing with a bottom pairing defenseman.

Blocked shots also factor in heavily to Corsi ratings. Because of the fact that Corsi is a possession stat, blocked shots count against your Corsi rating. While it is good that you blocked a shot, it also indicates that you currently do not have possession and thus the offensive chances are granted to your opponent. So a comparatively low Corsi value may be overlooked somewhat if you are a decent shot blocker. This is an area that all three of these players are decent at. Lebda and Ericsson both finished the season with 39 blocked shots while Stuart led the team with 94. It is by no means the strongest ability that Lebda has, but it is helpful to have a bottom pairing defenseman that has a knack for putting himself in front of the puck.

What this all adds up to is that Lebda is a bottom pairing defenseman and should be expected of nothing more. However, that’s where the problem lies. At the price of $1.45M, Lebda is vastly overpaid for the role he plays. He’ll no doubt be a good presence in the locker room while being a steady if unspectacular player on the ice. He’s another of Burke’s character guys and I do look forward to seeing what he can bring to an up-and-coming Leafs team.