Is Douglas Murray the worst defenseman in the NHL?

Richard Wolowicz

Those with even a basic understanding of hockey would have to agree that the Swedish rearguard's play hasn't been up to snuff so far this year, but might it be bad enough to to give him this dishonourable title?

Douglas Murray is a 33 year old Swedish defenseman who plays for the Montreal Canadiens. He once scored 7 points in 15 games in a playoff series, represented Sweden at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and was voted by The Sporting News as the 16th smartest athlete in sport after attending Cornell University. But this year, Douglas Murray has been a laughing stock, best summed up by this play from Friday's game, in which he pushed Jared Boll into Peter Budaj, resulting in the second Columbus goal. If it wasn't clear when he was signed for triple league minimum this summer (it was), it certainly is now that Murray is no longer a good defenseman. But how bad is he? I used the always valuable Extra Skater and Hockey Analysis to determine whether the one known as Crankshaft is not only bad, but the worst defenseman in the National Hockey League. Let's look at how he's performed both at even strength and on the penalty kill thus far:

Even Strength Usage:

Looking at how a player is deployed is important whenever analyzing a their performance because it gives context to fancystats like Corsi (total shot attempts), Fenwick (unblocked shot attempts), and even regular shot differential. For usage numbers, I set the minimum appearances for this year to six and for last year to 12 (both 25% of the season).

D Rank (out of 229) 2012-2013 Performance Statistic 2013-2014 Performance D Rank (out of 216)
- 15.0 ES TOI/60 9.8 -
14 39.3% O/D ZS% 53% 150
101 28.6% TotTm% QoC 26.4% 211
119 27.4% TotTm% QoT 24.9% 201

Some of these numbers can look pretty complicated, especially with the confusing rankings, so I'll break them down in depth. The first one isn't too hard to grasp. Murray's even-strength ice time has decreased significantly this year, which doesn't really tell us much other than that he's very much a third or fourth pairing guy in the eyes of his coach. O/D ZS% is the abbreviation for what is often referred to as simply "offensive zone start percentage", but really means "percentage of post-whistle non-neutral zone shifts that start in the offensive zone". Murray played very tough minutes last year, in fact being leaned upon in the defensive zone by coaches Todd McLellan and Dan Bylsma more than all but 13 other guys in the NHL, as well as playing with decently strong teammates but against fairly strong competition (TotTm% = Total percentage of team's play they're on the ice for). This year, however, Therrien has sheltered him about as much as as player can be sheltered. He starts in the offensive zone, and plays against scrubs (although having Bouillon as a partner doesn't help much).

In summary, last year Douglas Murray was used as a tough minutes second or third pairing defenseman at even strength. This year, he's been nothing more than an injury fill-in, and it's clear that Michel Therrien hasn't trusted him nearly as much as coaches have in the past. Let's see if that's been justified.

Even Strength Offense

When it comes to Murray, we know the offensive numbers aren't going to be pretty, but it's worth examining them anyway to put his defensive play into perspective. For offense, defense, and possession, I set the minimums to 50 minutes of even-strength play for this year, and 200 minutes for last year.

D Rank (out of 222) 2012-2013 Performance Statistic 2013-2014 Performance D Rank (out of 218)
122 52.9 CF/60 38.9 215
123 38.8 FF/60 25.5 215
159 26.6 SF/60 16.2 217
189 1.7 GF/60 0.0 216 (tie)

Last year, Murray was slightly below average offensively, getting some shot attempts off despite his tough role. This year, however, he is right at the bottom of the league despite his sheltering, and his team hasn't scored an even-strength goal with him on the ice.

Considering his deployment, Douglas Murray has been the worst defenseman at generating offense in the NHL this year.

Averaged out, these stats indicate that the only defenseman who has contributed less offensively to his team than Murray is former Canadien and current Vancouver Canuck Yannick Weber, and Weber has an O/D ZS% of 20.7. Considering his deployment, Douglas Murray has been the worst defenseman at generating offense in the NHL this year.

Even Strength Defense:

Defense is supposed to be Murray's bread and butter, as the need for a physical presence to clear the crease and to bring experience on the back end following Alexei Emelin's injury led to his signing in the first place. So let's take a look at how he's done in that department so far.

D Rank (out of 222) 2012-2013 Performance Statistic 2013-2014 Performance D Rank (out of 218)
216 64.6 CA/60 81.4 218
208 45.3 FA/60 54.0 214
190 31.7 SA/60 35.3 200
121 2.3 GA/60 2.9 169

Even last year, Murray struggled mightily on the defensive end. He was poor at limiting shots, which was likely because he spent so much time in the defensive end, and even if solid size and positioning accounted for his slightly better GA/60 results, they still left him below average in that category. This year, like his offensive game, his defense has completely fallen apart. He allows the most shot attempts against of any defenseman in the league, and if it wasn't clear to the naked eye, his numbers indicate he can't keep the puck out of the net very well either. How much of this is a result of playing with Francis Bouillon? Well in 10 minutes of time apart from Bouillon, Murray's CF% is 34.8. Bouillon's away from Murray, in 200 minutes, is 43.7. Neither of them is getting the job done, but it appears the Swede has been the bigger anchor.

Murray may not be the worst at playing defense among his peers, but he's certainly in the bottom tier. If his goals against numbers turn out to be simple variation and not sustainable skill, which is quite possible, things could get even uglier.

Even Strength Possession:

D Rank (out of 222) 2012-2013 Performance Statistic 2013-2014 Performance D Rank (out of 218)
198 45.1 CF% 32.3 217
178 46.1 FF% 31.8 217
191 45.6 SF% 30.0 217
176 42.5 GF% 0.0 216 (tie)

It's undeniable that in this small sample of time, Douglas Murray has been one of the worst even-strength d-men in the NHL

Yeah. Murray has struggled big time in possession for most of the past three seasons, but this year has taken it to a whole other level. Sure, he's only played in nine games, but it's undeniable that in that short time he has been the worst possession driver in the NHL. As mentioned above, Weber, the only player who trails Murray in these categories, has been significantly less sheltered. It's undeniable that in this small sample of time, Douglas Murray has been one of the worst even-strength d-men in the NHL. But what about on the Canadiens' improved penalty kill?

Penalty Kill:

It's important to keep in mind that early in the season sample size is a considerable issue, and that problem is compounded when it comes to the penalty kill. Since Murray has only played 18 minutes at 4-on-5 this season, league wide comparables were unavailable, but I decided instead to look at how he's done compared to the other d-men on the Canadiens. This time I set the minimum for 2012-2013 at 100 minutes played 4-on-5.

D Rank in NHL (out of 60) 2012-2013 Performance Statistic 2013-2014 Performance D Rank on team
- 113:28 TOI 18:38 4
42 71.4 FA/60 48.3 1
56 9.0 GA/60 0.0 1

At around the same time as Murray's possession game fell apart, his shorthanded game also deteriorated. For several years, the myth of Douglas Murray being a strong penalty killing defenseman has been just that. Amazingly, however, in his short stint this season, he's been the best one on the team. While most of the fanbase has been clamoring for Subban on the penalty kill, he's been outdone their by the Swedish menace. His 48.3 FA/60 is easily a career high, and it would lead the NHL if he qualified to be ranked. Once again, it's a small sample, but Murray has actually been exceptional on the PK thus far, which brings at least one silver lining to his performance. Here are a few other notes I tweeted out Friday night:

Summary

  • Douglas Murray has been one of, if not the worst, even strength defensemen in the NHL this year
  • He and Francis Bouillon appear to be dragging each other further and further down the possession meter towards some kind of corsi-pocalypse
  • Bouillon is a better defenseman than Murray, in the same way that Colton Orr is a better forward than John Scott
  • Murray has actually been the best penalty killer on the Habs this year, despite him being terrible at it for most of his career
  • A nine game sample size isn't nothing, but it's also not ideal
  • Alexei Emelin may well turn the Canadiens season around, but it's probably more to do with who he's replacing than who he is. It's probably a good thing Bergevin got him signed before he wins his Hart Trophy as a result.

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