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Puck Polemics: On The Stoner Signing

There has been much haranguing of the Clayton Stoner signing. While the numbers aren't great, for argument's sake some context is necessary.

Clayton Stoner and Matt Beleskey will be teammates in 2014-15.
Clayton Stoner and Matt Beleskey will be teammates in 2014-15.
Jeff Gross

You've seen the reactions.

Fans that sang the praises of Anaheim's General Manager of the Year-winning Bob Murray for acquiring Ryan Kesler from Vancouver immediately reverted to criticism.

Wails that the Ducks have signed an 'anchor defenseman' that is surely "Bryan Allen 2.0". Complaints about Corsis, frustrations over Fenwicks, and in general incredulity at the acquisition of defenseman Clayton Stoner.

When the signing was announced on the first day of free agency, a cursory glance at the traditional statistics appears wholly unimpressive. The advanced metrics are more unkind, painting the picture of a player who is generally on ice for more shots against than the team average and compares even less favorably than Allen. While all of these individual numbers taken in a vacuum are true, they weren't compiled in one.

One of the beauties of the sport of hockey is the reliance every player has on their teammates to be a successful unit on the ice. Therein lies the paradox of trying to measure a player based solely on individual metrics- they tell you what the player did, but not the context in which he did it. That in mind, let's examine how Stoner earned those numbers within the Minnesota Wild.

Since Stoner became a fixture in the Wild lineup in 2010-11, Minnesota have finished dead last in shots on goal in three of the four seasons with the only deviation coming in 12-13 when they finished 17th (also the only season in which the team had a positive shot differential). As you'd expect, the team Corsi numbers follow in kind. Though people point to Stoner's multiple seasons with a negative Relative Corsi For (amount of the team's shot attempts while the player is on the ice as opposed off it) percentage (CFr%), it happened on a team that on balance allowed a significant percentage more shots and attempts against.

The comparison to his fellow defenseman over the stretch provides some context. In 11-12 Stoner's 1.1% CFr% was second best amongst Minnesota defenders who appeared in more than half the team's games. Though his -2.8% was worst in the same sample in 12-13, his improvement to -1.3% slotted him fourth overall in that sample ahead of Nate Prosser, Greg Zanon, and wunderkid Jonas Brodin last season. When you look at the team as a whole, Minnesota has only had 11 total players with greater than 50% Corsi For numbers that've played at least half the season over the last three years. Stoner is not a top pairing defenseman, evidenced by averaging the team's least ice time per 60 minutes two of the last three seasons, but he's hardly been the worst relative Corsi defender on the Wild.

Another angle to consider is the quality of the players he generally skated with. His most regular defense partners over the last three years have been Zanon, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, and Keith Ballard. With these partners he was perpetually one of the Wild defenseman who started in the defensive zone at a higher relative percentage to offensive zone starts than either the most, or near most on the team over that timeframe. It's easy to see why getting the greatest percentage of his starts in the defensive zone with a fellow non-offensive minded defenseman that his Corsi numbers wouldn't look that great. Add to it that the forwards he played most with were the likes of Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, and Nino Niederreiter. This past season nobody on the Wild saw a relative lower quality of teammate measured by percentage of ice time than Stoner, and he's been consistently on the minus side of this while facing opposition that's on relative slightly better.

It's important to note that the darlings of the advanced stats community and Stanley Cup champion Kings had four defenseman (Alec Martinez, Willie Mitchell, Slava Voynov, and Robyn Regehr) who were negative CFr% players this season. Voynov, Mitchell, and Jeff Schultz were all negative CFr% players in the playoffs. Granted in each case the players in question had a positive Corsi For percentage, but that's where you tie in the Kings shoot the puck a lot. CFr% taken in a vacuum does a disservice to the mentioned Kings defensemen, and completely ignores the style of game the team plays.

Keep in mind none of this is to say that Murray and the Ducks picked up a Norris caliber defenseman, and it would be foolish to expect the team to acquire a top pair defender through free agency. Fans can argue the need for physical defenseman has diminished, but it hasn't gone away completely (see: Regehr, Schultz) either. As evidenced by last season, it's also important to have several NHL-caliber defensemen in case of injuries.

Signing Clayton Stoner is not a 'sexy' move. But before you can label it a failure, you have to see how he performs with his new teammates in a new system in Anaheim. Games aren't played on paper, and though the ultimate champs were kings of the Corsi, they didn't meet the team out of the East with the same statistical pedigree.

While it may not have the inspirational quality of the Kesler acquisition, for argument's sake the signing of Stoner isn't quite the sky falling like some fans seem to think.