Kevin Bieksa, transgressions aside—being a guy who, along with Ryan Kesler, is "too dirty" one night and "not tough enough" the next night—is a fantastic hockey player and one of the all-underrated players in the National Hockey League.
(As an aside, as I presume readers of this blog to mostly be Vancouver Canucks fans, I would urge you not to bother discussing how dirty or not dirty the Canucks are with rival fans on the Internet. Keep the perspective that it doesn't matter, and there are a lot of really bad, yet 'honourable' hockey teams out there. The winning teams get to write the stories, and the winning team gets to determine what is acceptable play)
Defensemen, and particularly good ones, are tough to come across. And Bieksa is one of them. It's no coincidence that the Canucks have been a pretty good hockey team since Bieksa's breakout a couple of years ago. He faces the toughest minutes of any Canucks defenseman and leads the unit in Corsi, an expanded plus/minus number that includes all types of shots, not just goals.
People often say that traditional plus/minus doesn't mean anything. Well, of course it means something. Team plus/minus is an excellent predictor of the number of wins a team will get. Does it matter when judging players? No. Based on the hundreds of shots that a player will be on the ice for over the course of a season, the goals are just minor pieces of the puzzle.
Because a lot of goals look like this:
I'm sure you could find a reason to fault Bieksa on that play, somewhere. After all, a goal was scored, so he must have done something wrong.
You all know the story about Kevin Bieksa. He started his first w games at minus-x and has played his next y games at a plus-z. Bieksa has been playing better since more goals have been going in the net with him on the ice for the Canucks since the Canucks California road-trip.
Actually, not. People ignore that even with Bieksa was a minus-x in his first w games, he was playing exceptionally well. It's not much different from how he's been playing lately.
However, Bieksa has been very good lately. With the score-tied, in the last y games played, 56.4% of the Corsi events that have taken play have been in the other team's end. While that doesn't seem like much, consider...
1) Chicago, the best team in the league in this regard, is 56.1%.
2) Bieksa has still been playing tough minutes.
It's fact that players who generally play against tougher competition, or who start more in the defensive zone, will have lower Corsi numbers than players who don't. Bieksa has come out well above a 55% pace in those situations.
Now, let's split up the season here:
|First w games||56.6%||5.1%||88.7%||93.8%|
|Last y games||56.4%||10.1%||95.1%||105.2%|
(I grabbed this data from here, clicking through Vic Ferrari's awesome player scripts. They are the best.)
So, yes, while Bieksa may have played awesomely of late (in his last y games), your eyes may have deceived you into think he's better. That's a very high-PDO number, a good indicator of why Bieksa's plus/minus number is way higher than it was after the first month or so.
PDO is the addition of team shooting percentage and team save percentage. Just as easy it is to be a minus-player when your goalie is stopping only 88.7% of shots behind you, it's as hard to be one when your goalie is stopping 95.1% of attempts. A 92.1%, that we've seen over the entire season to date, is a more realistic finishing percentage.
In 34 games (ditch algebra) Bieksa is a plus-5. Theoretically, that's on pace for being on the ice for twelve more goals for on the ice than against, which I guess is okay, but that number will probably wildly fluctuate in one direction or the other over the next bunch of games and he'll be thrown wildly off-pace.
But he probably won't deviate much from that 56.5% range in Corsi Tied, unless Alain Vigneault decides to wildly change the type of minutes Bieksa plays.