Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My dad can beat up your dad: John-Micheal Liles vs. Cody Franson edition

Nobody is better then me.

The other day on Twitter I had a little Tweet explosion comparing John-Micheal Liles to Cody Franson, I figured i may as well write up what was said as it wasn't very understandable. I have also since changed my view point slightly. 

On the surface the two Maple Leaf defensemen look like similar players, both considered offensive guys that are not that particularly great at defense, similar to Tomas Kaberle. But one of them has to be better right? Who do you want to put on in the last minute of a one goal lead, if you had to chose one?

How did we come across these two defensemen? John-Micheal Liles was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for a 2012 2nd round pick, not bad for the most handsome guy in the league. Cody Franson, as you all know, was apart of the historical trade that sent well known pylon Brett Lebda to Nashville.

Now that they are both playing for the Leafs I get to scream at my TV when they do something wrong, and high five my friends when they do something right. But who is the better defenseman? Let's take a look a little deeper into their play, this year and last.

2010-11 Stats for Franson and Liles

Liles (COL) Franson (NSH)
Corsi REL 7.1 5.5
Corsi ON -1.49 2.45
OFF Zone start% 55.6 50.3
OFF Zone finish% 50.8 47
Corsi REL QoC 0.484 -0.673
+/- -9 10
REL +/- 0.33 0.26
5v5 TOI 16.93 12.84
GA on/60 2.89 1.75

Liles was a little bit out of his element last year, as he was playing against tough competition. He didn't do horribly last year defensively though, but he also didn't do great, evidenced by his low Corsi and negative OFF zone start/finish ratio. Liles just plain and simple is not good enough defensively to be playing against top competition, but he held his own, and what other choice did the Avs have?

Usually a high Corsi REL is a good thing, but since Colorado was so terrible last year it just shows that Liles was a lot better then a bunch of really crappy defensive players, still not something to snub your nose at though.

Despite Colorado's terrible season Liles was actually very good (he was obviously a little bit over his head defensively), he was still able to put up 46 points in 76 games, a solid amount of points, and not get absolutely humiliated in the defensive zone.

Looking into Franson's season shows quite the opposite, a player that was used within his skill set and was set up for success. Franson played against weak competition, not surprising for a young offensively talented defenseman, but he was able to handle that workload, and he thrived, having the best GA on/60 on the Nashville defensive squad, and seeing a stellar .943 Sv% behind him. He did only put up 29 points in the 80 games he played, but this was with significantly less power-play time then Weber and Suter.

Both players were used in offensive roles at even strength, meaning they would start the majority of their shifts with the puck in the offensive zone, with Liles being used that way a little more, shown by his 55.6 offensive zone start %. Franson and Liles both weren't able to finish in the O-zone more then they started though, but this isn't entirely surprising from an 'offensive' defenseman, as in theory once the other team gains control of the puck they don't exactly know what to do.

Besides from being a offensive specialist, another reason Liles was pushed back so often was sure to be the competition that he faced, he was facing the second hardest competition of D-men on the Avs in terms of Corsi, and Corsi REL. Franson, however, was facing pillow soft competition and probably should have been able to have a positive O-zone start/finish ratio, he faced the weakest competition of all Nashville players that played more then 15 games.

Lets quickly take a look at this years stats:

Corsi REL 1.5 8
Corsi ON -1.98 1.31
OFF Zone start% 51.1 52.5
OFF Zone finish% 52 50.6
Corsi REL QoC -0.054 -0.562
+/- 2 2
REL +/- 0.33 0.33
5v5 TOI 16.08 14.14
GA on/60 2.63 2.61

After a quick look at this years stats for Liles and Franson it seems that their play is similar to last years. Liles has started finishing shifts in the O-zone more then he's started. That is likely because he is facing much weaker competition. He is also continuing to be a very offensive defenseman with 21 points in 34 games.

Franson has seen his ice time go up from last year, probably because of some injuries to the blue line, and he has seen some good results so far. Cody is also playing against slightly tougher competition (not by much though), with that he's seen more goals scored against him. Although a big reason for that would be the change in quality of net-minder behind him with last years on ice Sv% at .943 slipping to .910 in 2011/12.

Franson is still growing as a defenseman, he's getting more ice-time and still seeing good results. At 24 he still has the potential of maturing into a solid defensive and offensive player. Since he has been promoted from the press-box (and also maybe since people have forgotten about his complaints at the beginning of the year) he has definitely opened some eyes, and seen his stock rise within the Maple Leaf organization.

Liles is a great offensive, power-play guy, however he doesn't have too much to offer defensively. At 31 he's most likely hit the ceiling of how good defensively he is going to be in his career. But, there is no question that when healthy he holds a top 4 spot on this hockey team, something that Cody Franson cannot lay claim to yet.

Throw any opinions in the comments section
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  1. Personally, I really like Franson. I liked him in Nashville and I really liked it when the Leafs traded for him. In Nashville he didn't play against real tough competition but he excelled, both offensively and defensively, which made me think he could be more than "a defenseman with a good shot who can man the point on the PP" as many were billing him at the time of the trade. I thought he was ready for a bigger challenge against tougher competition to see what he can do. He has gotten a bit of that so far this season and so far so good. I think he is ready for a more prominent role. I'd like to see more Franson and less Phaneuf and Schenn. Schenn is simply bad defensively and Phaneuf shouldn't be getting 25 minutes a game on a team with the depth of defense the Leafs have. Bump Franson's minutes up to 18-20 minutes per game from his 16-18 minutes and drop Phaneuf's to 23 minutes per game from the 25 minutes he has been playing. A more rested Phaneuf is probably a better Phaneuf.

  2. Cpmpletely agree with you on the Franson front. He is ready for a prominent role. You probably wont see it this year but maybe next year. As for Phaneuf, he's our best defenseman and while I don't want to see him overplayed, I want to see him playing as much as he's comfortable with.

  3. You had me until the Schenn part. Schenn is having some confidence problems but as he proved in his rookie year he could be the best defensively on this team. He just needs a little confidence boost and he'll return to form.

  4. Have a read of http://hockeyanalysis.com/2011/07/20/is-luke-schenn-really-a-top-shutdown-defenseman/ and http://hockeyanalysis.com/2011/12/15/the-leafs-defensively-whos-good-and-whos-not/

    The numbers for Schenn aren't pretty.

  5. Oh I know Schenn doesn't have great numbers. But for a young defenseman he actually has great vision and when he calms down and gives himself time he is very effective at moving the puck. And I don't think anybody can argue his physical presence in the defensive zone. I still believe that with a little more development and something to get his confidence up he will be an amazing defender. I don't think many GM's around the league would disagree, I'm pretty sure that if Leafs are wanting a first line centre, the package will have to include Schenn.

  6. PS. I almost want Schenn to be traded so he could have the chance to excel in a different system.

  7. I agree with most of what you have said. His on-ice offensive numbers are actually pretty good and maybe his defensive numbers would improve in another system. I am sure that I have written elsewhere that I think Ron Wilson deserves some blame for not developing him properly into the defensive defenseman (mostly anyway) he projected to be. But, with that said, it still needs to be pointed out that statistically speaking he is probably the 5th or 6th best defensive defenseman on this team and that isn't saying much. Others, including young guys like Gunnarsson, have performed better under Wilson.

  8. Yep, as of this moment skill-wise and number wise he's 6th on this team