I’ve been thinking a lot about the incredible performance Erik Karlsson is putting in for the Ottawa Senators this postseason.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it. First of all, this blessed boy just straight up tells everyone like two weeks ago, “Oh yeah, I have two hairline fractures in my heel. No big deal.” And he said it was because he doesn’t like to lie! What an angel!
But beyond that, a guy with two fractures in his heel shouldn’t be able to skate like Karlsson does (he’s the fastest player on the ice), produce as Karlsson has (13 points in 12 games), or dominate games like Karlsson does (he was 65-plus percent at 5-on-5 in Game 5 despite playing more minutes than anyone else).
This is pretty much a one-man team at this point, as all the on/off goalscoring stats will tell you. The Senators destroy the competition for the 40 or so percent of the game Karlsson is on the ice, and get caved in the second he comes off. How about this for a stat: Among all defensemen to play at least 230 minutes at 5-on-5 in a playoff run since 2007-08, Karlsson’s relative goals-for percentage (plus-32.8) is third all-time behind pairing partners Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik in in 2011-12. And both were used far more selectively, taking just 33 percent or so of the Capitals’ minutes that postseason.
However, Karlsson isn’t exactly heavily-used as far as playoff defensemen go either. In terms of the percentage of his team’s minutes he actually gets, he only ranks 39th since the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And a bunch of the guys who got even larger percentages of their teams’ 5-on-5 TOI are flat-out shocking. So here are some of them:
7. Braydon Coburn for Tampa Bay in 2015
You look at the defensemen Tampa Bay had on the roster when they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and Braydon Coburn is not high on the list of guys you would expect to eat a ton of minutes at 5-on-5.
But because he was their No. 4 behind Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Jason Garrison — all of whom were relied upon heavily in special-teams situations — it was Coburn who actually got a fairly significant run-out as Hedman’s partner at 5-on-5. Somehow, he played a larger percentage of Tampa’s full-strength minutes in that run to the Final than Karlsson has so far.
The whole “well he doesn’t play a lot of special teams” is going to recur a lot on this list, but the fact that teams got so deep while giving 42-plus percent of their minutes to guys like this tells you how good (or lucky) they were.
6. Dan Girardi for New York in 2014
That’s certainly the case for Dan Girardi, who by 2014 was already considered a shambolic defender who had no business being on the ice in high-leverage situations. Of course, it’s 2017 now and that was still a problem for the New York Rangers. (I wonder why they got eliminated by a one-man team.)
Anyway, the Rangers get to the Cup Final in 2014 and immediately get pounded out of existence by the Los Angeles Kings, probably due to the fact that Girardi was their No. 2 defender. But here’s the amazing thing about that: Girardi — by dint of his pairing partner being Ryan McDonagh and the rest of that Ranger defense being a mess — actually appeared to drive play across the board. I mean, we know he didn’t because we hashtag Watched The Games and saw McDonagh drag Girardi up and down the ice.
But it’s like all the Bill Murray urban legends: If you said there a Cup run in which Girardi played 24 minutes a night, not a person on earth would believe you.
5. Dennis Seidenberg for Boston in 2011
When Boston won the Stanley Cup, Zdeno Chara played 27:39 a night. Dennis Seidenberg averaged one fewer second per game than that.
Part of this is skewed by Chara having missed a game, so Seidenberg okayed more than he normally would have in Game 2 of the opening round. But still, that’s a lot of minutes for Dennis Seidenberg even if he is playing exclusively with Chara but not getting the power play time. Seidenberg played more than 50 percent of all of Boston’s 5-on-5 minutes. Too much, you’d think!
Of course, to contextualize things a bit, this was at a time when people thought he was good. Run the numbers and it turns out he wasn’t; barely 50 percent in most statistical categories, despite playing on one of the best “process” teams in recent memory. But hey, that 103.7 PDO made him look real good, so here were are.
Interestingly, that’s not even the weirdest name from that Bruins team to get the Karlsson treatment. We’ll get to that later.
4. Joni Pitkanen for Carolina in 2009
Okay, this is a Carolina team that went to a Conference Final with Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo as its top two defensemen. I don’t even know what to say about that. Pitkanen was the No. 1 with a bullet, though, averaging almost 26 and a half minutes a night and more than 42 percent of the team’s 5-on-5 ice time.
I mean, I guess it shouldn’t surprise you that the Pittsburgh Penguins swept them in the Conference Final, but c’mon. This should not be a thing that can happen.
3. Jonathan Ericsson for Detroit in 2009
Well okay, Ericsson spent more than 105 minutes at full-strength playing with Nick Lidstrom. Mystery solved, right?
Wrong. Because he spent more than 170 with… Brett Lebda?
This is another situation where the coach, in this case Mike Babcock, had better defensemen to use ahead of Ericsson in most situations, so basically the only TOI he got was at 5-on-5 (he played 354 of his 412 total minutes at full strength). He ended up being fifth in average time on ice among Detroit defensemen, behind Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, Nik Kronwall, and Brian Rafalski. But he, he was way ahead of Lebda, with whom one assumed he got stuck as a matter of convenience more often than not.
Jonathan Ericsson was Detroit’s heaviest-used 5-on-5 defenseman and almost won the Stanley Cup. Signs and wonders.
2. Andrew Ference for Boston in 2011
Okay, this is the other Bruin I was talking about.
Andrew Ference played more than 47 percent of all Boston’s 5-on-5 TOI in the 2011 Cup run. More than Chara. More than Seidenberg. Again, it’s because Claude Julien wasn’t going to use Ference much on the PK or the power play, so they had to use him somewhere.
But this is like the answer to a trivia question: Which defenseman played the most 5-on-5 minutes when the Bruins won their only Stanley Cup since Nixon’s second inauguration? That’s right: Andrew Ference.
1. Braydon Coburn for Philadelphia in 2010
Yes, our old friend is back!
And here’s the crazy thing this time out: Coburn was not only the defenseman used most often at 5-on-5 for the Flyers when they went to the Cup Final. He is the defenseman who played the largest percentage of his team’s 5-on-5 minutes in the Behind the Net era.
In total, the Flyers played about 715:28 at 5-on-5 in that Cup run. Coburn played nearly 435 of them. That’s 60.8 percent.
And here’s the crazy part: He only played about 26 minutes with Chris Pronger. For most of the rest of the time he was with Kimmo Timonen or Matt Carle, both of whom finished ahead of Coburn in average TOI per game in all situations. But here too, look at the value Pronger (29-plus minutes a game), Timonen (26:38), and even Carle (almost 26) provided. Despite all those other minutes being apportioned ahead of him, Coburn still played more than 25 a night himself.
But at 5-on-5, it seems like no one is ever going to beat what Coburn did. No coach would be fool enough to try.
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