Friday, April 10, 2015

Chris Wideman as AHL's Best Defenseman? We're Not 'Shore'

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League is announcing the 2014-15 year-end awards. As the media representatives for the Texas Stars, Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey and Sean Shapiro of the Austin American-Statesman submitted a ballot for each award. As winners are announced, we’ll break down the choices. Today’s ballot: the Eddie Shore Award.

Keep the rule and guideline in mind from our first post: we can’t vote for Texas, and we tend to vote for Western Conference players.

The Eddie Shore Award, recognizing the league’s most outstanding defenseman, is the first award in the announcements that just has a single winner. In these awards, we select three players in order. The top player gets five points, second gets three, third gets one.

Sean: Before we discuss our ballot, let’s make something very clear.

I have not seen Chris Wideman play in person this season; Binghamton doesn’t play Texas. However, I have spoken to those who cover the Eastern Conference and a handful of scouts about Wideman, and in no regard does he fit the mold as the “AHL’s Outstanding Defenseman.”

One scout for an Eastern Conference team once told me Wideman is a “good puck-moving defenseman, but he struggles a bit with coverage in his own zone.”

Doesn’t sound like the league’s best defenseman, right?

Stephen: And that brings up the point, what makes an ‘outstanding’ defenseman anyways? The league doesn’t give any guidance on the ballot, so it’s up to each media cadre to decide on their own.

For us, we certainly considered the offensive side of things, but we put a heavier focus on the job title: defenseman. Our outstanding defenseman selections were positive additions in both the offensive zone and their own. That put Wideman on the outside looking in for us. While he was a plus-7 this season on a bad Binghamton team, the point remains that an ‘outstanding’ defenseman should be impactful enough to stem the tide of a bad defensive team.

Sean: The Senators have allowed the most goals in the AHL this season, 245 in total and 3.45 per game.

If anything, Wideman should have been crowned the best defensemen on one the league’s worst defensive team. But they didn’t name that award after Eddie Shore; a player who was known for playing defense first and his 1,047 penalty minutes in 550 NHL games with the Boston Bruins.

Now that we’ve ripped the rest of the ballots, here is ours:
  1. Bobby Sanguinetti, Utica Comets
  2. Stefan Elliott, Lake Erie Monsters
  3. T.J. Brennan, Toronto Marlies
Stephen: After seeing our ballot for All-Stars yesterday, our first place vote was probably an easy one to predict. Bobby Sanguinetti is the best defenseman on the best team in the West. His numbers on offense aren’t as eye-popping as Wideman (16-22=38 in 58 GP), but his defensive skills are better. In seeing him in person, he impressed in his own zone in the limited times we got a chance to see him against the Stars.

If you dive into his stats further, you find a staggering plus-22 rating. Alex Friesen, owner of the the second-best plus-minus on the Comets, has a plus-14. It’s not even close. He’s also had some solid impact goals, tallying six game winners on the season.

Sean: Like I said with the AHL All-Star team, I was a big fan of Stefan Elliot’s play this season with the Lake Erie Monsters.

If you check out his stat line Elliott is minus-9 right now, and that looks bad. But let’s look at the past two weeks and how it impacted his stats.

On March 29, Elliot was at an even zero in the plus/minus category. Since then Elliott has hit a rough patch and been minus-9 in Lake Erie’s past five games -- this was after our votes had been tallied by the league office.

Even with his plus/minus (which the #FancyStats camp will claim is an useless stat) Elliott was still one of the best defensemen in the AHL this season.

He contributed offensively, while still being defensively responsible. He also had the ability to control the play in both zones, something coaches and management have noticed as the 24-year-old appeared in five games with the Colorado Avalanche this season.

Stephen: If you aren’t convinced that T.J. Brennan is one of the best defensemen in the league after what we saw last year in the Western Conference Finals, I’m not sure you’ll ever be convinced. In a season split between Rockford and Toronto, Brennan shined bright in both spots.

Unlike Dustin Jeffrey yesterday, Brennan had the good fortune of being traded from a playoff team to what looks to be another playoff team. He’s been impactful in both places (9-27=36 in 54 in RFD; 2-6=8 in 13 GP in TOR) and maintained basically the same points pace for both clubs. With Brennan quarterbacking the power play, Toronto is a potentially dangerous first round matchup.

It’ll be fun to see two members of our ballot battle it out in the first round if Toronto plays Utica.

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