The Noon Number, 4.15

4.15.

If you read this section of the blog often, you'd understand that I value so much where a player started his shift. Maybe a little too much. Today's number isn't necessarily Vancouver-related, but it's sort of a fair warning to the rest of the league to hold onto their guys who can do well defensively playing the tough minutes that start in the defensive zone.

The 4.15 in question refers to Blair Betts, an otherwise-underwhelming player who is the final piece in the gutting of the Philadelphia Flyers at the hands of Paul Holmgren. 4.15 is the number of shifts Betts started in the defensive zone minus those started in the offensive zone over a standardized ice-time of 14.65 minutes. This number was fifth in the NHL (min. 40 games) behind just Manny Malhotra, Zenon Konopka, Steve Ott and Adam Burish.

Betts was waived yesterday and claimed today by the Montreal Canadiens. The move upset the stat-head quotient of the hockey blogosphere based on the fact that Betts can play tough minutes, and still allows fewer shots against him than the average NHLer. He did this often playing on a line with Dan Carcillo, and, even at under 7 minutes a game at even-strength, Betts was just one of those players, under-appreciated in the newspapers and the highlight clips because his game was so brilliantly unspectacular.

Take away Manny Malhotra's offensive abilities, his linemates, and cut his minutes in half, and what have you got? You still have the segments of a player that has an ability to win faceoffs and plays consistently good defense in tough situations. Why Blair Betts is so important is because the first qualities I described of Malhotra are not the ones that we appreciate so much as Canuck fans. What remains is a rich man's Blair Betts, and for just $700K, you've got yourself a true bargain bin, Moneypuck sort of signing.

Overhauling the forwards this offseason, the three toughest minute players will start the season in Montreal, Minnesota and Columbus. Of the Flyers who had the seven hardest minutes (a function of quality of competition and zone starts) only Andreas Nodl and Jody Shelley remain with the team. Of the rest, three were traded and one signed as an unrestricted free agent elsewhere. Betts, the seventh, again, was waived.

Keeping players who play tough minutes is important. When you shelter the minutes of a better offensive player, you need to be doing the sheltering with a player who can play the tough minutes and not allow much to happen. He's not necessarily the prototypical fourth liner because he has "bang" and "crash" and "pop" and "grit" and "spunk", but because he's successful in doing what he was employed to do: Shot prevention.

Luckily for us, Manny Malhotra is not going anywhere.

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