Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Defending Colin White
I apologize for the long description of Colin White, but I feel it is always important to establish how a player actually plays as opposed to attacking him for what he is not. That wouldn't be fair nor prudent to this discussion.
Let's tackle the issue of his defensive play. Now, I think it's important to state that all players are going to have bad nights. Even Nicklas Lidstrom, arguably the best defenseman of this era, had nights where he finished a -4 and looked out of place. So if your main beef with Colin White is how he played poorly on March 14, 2007 against Pittsburgh (a crushing 3-0 loss that included a Jarkko Ruutu goal), I can't agree. You can't judge a player over one game.
Again, based on the amount of ice time he receives as well as the fact that he was part of a defensive unit that gave up only 28.4 shots on average per game (tied for 6th best in the NHL), you can't say the White consistently harms the team. Speaking of shots average per game, which I think is a good stat when looking at a team's defense, let's look at how the Devils did since 2000-2001 (White's first full season). Since 2000-2001, the Devils' defense allowed an average of 24.7 (2nd overall), 23.2 (2nd overall), 23.6 (1st overall), 24.4 (2nd overall), and 29.3 (10th overall) shots per game. The increase in average shots against can be attributed to the loss of Scott Neidermayer and the Devils adjusting to that very large loss on the blue line. I also think that perhaps the changes to the game since the lockout had an effect, as offenses became more open since 2005 (the season where the Devils let up an average of 29.3). My point is that Colin White was a second pairing defenseman on all of those teams and with increased ice time; the team defense letting more shots go through to Martin Brodeur can be attributed to other factors. Moreover, from what I've seen of the Devils, it's not Colin White who constantly misses coverages (unlike, say, Brad Lukowich) nor is he a turnover machine. White only had 44 giveaways last season (third behind Brian Rafalski's 80 and Paul Martin's 68). Related to what I stated earlier, White is a physical player, with two stats suggesting his use of his size helps on defense more than it harms: his team-leading 174 blocked shots (tied with Chris Phillips for 12th most in the NHL) and 168 hits (25th in the NHL, 48 more than 2nd place Erik Rasmussen). Overall, I'd say Colin White is a solid defensive defenseman who adds a physical element to a blueline that after White "boasts" Richard Matvichuk and Johnny Oduya in terms of big players (not to mention new signing Vitaly Vishnevski).
Now, you may agree with all that but what about the penalties? I'm not going to argue that White does not take stupid penalties. White definitely commits some infractions that makes my head scratch and wonder why any player would do something so obviously dumb. What I will argue is that White has improved significantly in this regard. In his first full season, White had 155 penalty minutes over 82 games - an average of roughly 1.89 minutes per game. Since then, White's penalty minute totals over his career have declined with each season: 133 minutes over 73 games in 2001-02 (1.82 minutes per game); 98 minutes in 72 games in 2002-03 (1.36 minutes per game); 96 minutes in 75 games in 2003-04 (1.28 minutes per game); 91 minutes in 71 games in 2005-06 (1.28 minutes per game); and 69 minutes in 69 games last season (1 minute per game). While dumb penalties are never good, White has made an effort to cut down on the total number of penalties (in minutes) he takes, which is definitely good. For example, last season's 69 minutes are bolstered by a particularly nasty December 14, 2006 game against Boston where White picked up 19 minutes in his only major and misconduct penalties of the season. Take that out and White actually averages less than a minute per game in penalties. So, no, I can't defend some of the stupid slashing and hooking (among other infraction) calls he takes; but White's been taking fewer penalties overall which hurts the team less in the long run. Will White continue to take fewer penalties? Maybe, but the fact that Colin White has improved this much in his career is a testament to the Devils' focus on discipline.
Lastly, we come to his contract. Supposed you fully agree with me that White's a solid defensive defenseman who is arguably the best physical presence on the Devils' blueline, that he's a second pairing defenseman who is improving his worth to the team by blocking shots, throwing hits, being positionally sound in general and even is taking fewer penalties with every season. Fine, but is he worth $3 million until he's 34 (White will turn 30 this coming season)? This is where things get a bit murky since you have to make comparisons at this point. Relative to the Devils alone, White is actually a bargain at $3 million/year, in my opinion. Again, he's the the best defensive defenseman on the team (unless someone would like to make the case for Richard Matvichuk) and the best at being physical (the shot blocking and hit stats support this). Since no one on the team seems to take over White's responsibilities and his role in the team in the near future, the smart thing to do was to give a long-term contract. $3 million/year for that seems fair, especially if White continues to give a solid 21-22 minutes a night while still playing like the big man that he is.
Relative to the general market, it depends on who is a good comparison with Colin White in terms of their role (2nd pairing defenseman, primarily defensive, etc.). Toni Lydman has comparable numbers in terms of blocked shots, hits, offensive numbers (OK, Lydman has more points, but by no means he's an offensive defenseman), and average time on ice. According to NHLSCAP, Lydman stands to make just under $3 million this coming season and just over $3 million per year in the next two seasons. Derian Hatcher is another big, physical defenseman with the exception that he plays on Philly's first pairing. While in the twilight of his career, Hatcher is making $3.5 million per year over the next two seasons. I rate Brad Stuart as being better than Colin White, but the two play similar styles and Stuart stands to make $3.5 million per year with LA. While you can argue that you can't compare White with any of these three, my point is that $3 million or a little more for a good second pairing-caliber defenseman or a physical, defensive defenseman is definitely not unheard of. In short, it's a defensible contract.
Anyway, I'm sure this won't convince some Devils fans who think Colin White is what's wrong with the Devils. However, I hope I convinced other Devils fans that Colin White is definitely not a bad defenseman, who is not an overpaid stiff, and is not a consistent penalty machine (though his decision making for some infractions are certainly worth questionining). Thanks to NHLSCAP for providing the Internet with salary information and NHL.com for all of the stats (going back to 2000-2001).
Labels: Devils Issues
At $3M, he is a relative bargain.
John, did you catch the new coaching staff?
I'm not a huge Colin White fan, but I think you take a good approach and make a strong argument in defense of his game -- nice job.
Anonymous: You really can't complain about somebody's groin - I'm pretty sure White would love to have a groin that doesn't act up on him. But seriously, groin injuries have a tendency to occur multiple times - it's not an easy thing to beat.
The only real problem with the argument however, is you make the case that White is good as a 3-4 defenseman but currently I see him as the #2, behind Paul Martin. He needs to step it up this year./