Thursday, 18 September 2014

The battle between Mikkelson and Tallinder

With news coming that Brendan Mikkelson and Henrik Tallinder will be invited to the Maple Leafs' training camp, I thought it would be useful to take a statistical comparison between the two. The goal is to see, in advance, who might be the better candidate for the currently available #7D spot in the Maple Leafs' roster. There's no guarantee that either of these guys will have the spot, as they could be outplayed by any of Petter Granberg, Korbinian Holzer, Stuart Percy, Tom Nilsson, Viktor Löov or Andrew MacWilliam in the preseason.

Brendan Mikkelson

Mikkelson is 27 years old, still riding the prime years for a player. He has played 131 NHL games for the Ducks, Flames and Lightning, scoring 1 goal and 9 assists during those stints. Identifying as an offensive defenseman, these are less than inspiring numbers in terms of production. In his most recent AHL season, he put up 38 points, good for 12th in the AHL among defensemen.

In terms of advanced statistics, the picture isn't too bright either. Here's how his numbers looked for his time in Tampa Bay and Anaheim (with a little of Calgary in there). If you're unfamiliar with any or all of these numbers, check out the link to the guide to advanced statistics in the sidebar links.

Teams Seasons GP TOI/G G A P P/G GF % Off ZS % CF % Corsi HART Corsi HART QoT Corsi Hart QoC
Tampa Bay 2011-13 45 12:08 1 2 3 0.067 46.2% 33.4% 46.8% -7.1 -6.0 -0.66
Anaheim/Calgary 2008-11 86 12:47 0 5 5 0.058 42.4% 31.6% 45.6% -7.9 -2.2 0.21

Advanced Statistics for Brendan Mikkelson. Data from and All stats 5v5

The jist of these numbers break down to say Mikkelson was a below average player. His possession numbers were poor, while receiving no noticeable or significant burying from his quality of competition (average QoC), bad bounces (almost 1000 PDO) or zone starts (above average zone starts).

His quality of teammates was certainly low in Tampa Bay, playing with poor possession players like Keith Aulie, Brian Lee and Eric Brewer for about 33% of his shifts. His numbers away from those players were much better, especially Brian Lee (38.4% CF% with, 47.6% CF% away from). His primary partner was Bruno Gervais, playing 50% of his TOI with him, and although Mikkelson's numbers were worse when away from Gervais, this was likely because he was with the aforementioned bad possession players. Thus, you can give him a bit of a break on his bad CF%, but it doesn't totally apologize for his own bad possession play, contributing to a miserable Tampa Bay defense.

In Anaheim/Calgary you can't give him the same break. The five defensemen he played with most were Sheldon Brookbank, Chris Pronger, Steve Eminger, Anton Babchuk, and Cory Sarich. All of these players played better without Mikkelson, and Mikkelson was worse without Pronger and Sarich. He wasn't totally helped with QoT, but he wasn't hampered by it either. This said, his possession numbers were even worse in Anaheim/Calgary.

It starts becoming clear that Mikkelson is not much of a possession player. As someone who identifies as an offensive defenseman, an inability to control possession is certainly a red flag.

Henrik Tallinder

Tallinder is a much older player. A long-time Buffalo Sabre, and short-time New Jersey Devil, Tallinder has been a steady defensive defenseman in this league for a while. He has racked up 678 NHL games, and 142 points in that time. In his most recent season, a return to Buffalo, he registed 2 goals and 6 assists, good for 8 points, in 64 games.

With age, Tallinder is starting to have injury concerns. He played less than half of the 2011-12 and 12-13 season with various injuries. Also, last season, he missed a week and half in the early part of the 2013-14 season with a shoulder injury, and the another week during the last part of the season with a lower-body injury. He is coming into camp healthy, though, which is a good sign and more than fellow veteran Stephane Robidas can say.

Being a defensive defenseman, looking at his offensive production won't do much good. If we take a look at his advanced statistics (not including the possession graveyard season with a terrible Buffalo team in 2013-14):
Team Seasons GP TOI/G G A P P/G GF % Off ZS % CF % Corsi HART Corsi HART QoT Corsi Hart QoC
New Jersey 2010-13 121 12:08 5 13 18 0.15 41.7% 29.9% 54.8% 15.3 9.7 -1.51
Buffalo 2007-10 219 15:31 5 29 34 0.16 52.1% 30.0% 49.7% -1.7 -1.3 -0.79

Advanced Statistics for Henrik Tallinder. Data from and All stats 5v5 only.

Henrik Tallinder's numbers look quite good. He had a great 3 year span in New Jersey, posting the 2nd highest Corsi HART (a HART number looks at the difference, percentage-wise, in how the team did when you were on the ice vs. when you were off the ice; Corsi HART looks at this difference in terms of Corsi events) in the league during that span. He did have quite high QoT, but the entire New Jersey defense core is in the top 11 in the league during that time, so that says more about New Jersey than it does about Tallinder.

His most common partners all benefitted from playing with him (Tallinder and Zidlicky together were a 65% CF% PAIRING) and he didn't really suffer from high PDO or easy competition either.

Tallinder's numbers seem to confirm his strong, and lengthy career as a solid defenseman. The risk you take with a player of his age is whether he can keep up for an 82 game season, and whether he can be healthy when you need him to play.


All this said, I think you have consider what the Leafs are looking to use the #7D spot for. Obviously and primarily, you want a band-aid for if/when an injury strikes somewhere in the top 6. But secondarily, do you want a young player who's going to grow and improve with little tastes of NHL experience, while benefiting from practicing with an NHL club? Or, do you want a stable veteran who will be a mentor to young players and not suffer from any growing pains when filling in for an injury.

In either case, I don't believe Mikkelson is the answer. If you want another veteran to help Robidas with the mentorship role, go with Tallinder. If you want someone who's young, promote someone in-house. They don't have to be totally ready for the NHL when they step in, they can grow into it with a limited number of games and ice time. Petter Granberg looks steady enough and more than deserving of an extended opportunity after an excellent rookie campaign in the AHL.

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