Winging It In Motwon user wingedoctopus wrote a wonderful article about Brendan Smith yesterday, arguing that this season, Brendan Smith's offensive contributions at 5-on-5 may be underappreciated. A simple summary shows that Smith's play drives possession and he creates offense when he's on the ice, at a surprising rate when compared to the rest of the defense corps.
Hockey's advanced statistics to date have provided some great tools to help identify offensive and puck possessive contributions. And even through the eye test, most Wings fans honestly could assess Smith's game and agree that he's a good skater who involves himself in the play when bringing the puck into the zone and driving back the opposing defense as the Wings' offense sets up.
However, statistics can be used to prove anything, and I plan to look at more statistics to attempt to quantify Smith's defensive contributions so far as we might be able to see. Unfortunately, quantifying defense requires a look at the numbers we have as a whole, because otherwise, we could just call out "PLUS MINUS" and call it a night.
Wingedoctopus referenced Brendan Smith's raw Corsi numbers and added context with the usage charts, which do indicate that Smith is a valuable offensive/possessive player, but they don't really show enough context. Although Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff are the most zone sheltered players, we can look at the difference between offensive-zone shift starts and finishes at 5v5, which shows us who more often end their shift in the opposing zone, given their zone starts (all statistics are as of April 7, 2014):
We can see that Smith his highly sheltered, like Kindl and Lashoff, but he at least keeps the play down in his end, unlike the other two. This metric does not account for quality of competition (which is adjusted by the Corsi effectiveness of opponents), and we know that Smith roughly plays the third-easiest/fifth-most-difficult competition on the Wings' blueline.
In fact, a cursory glance at the regulars shows that at 5v5, relative quality of competition Corsi (that is, a player's on-ice Corsi numbers adjusted against the Corsi effectiveness of opponents) places Smith 5th:
This shows that Niklas Kronwall is the leading possessive defenseman, especially as compared to the players against whom he faces. Of course, the caveat to Corsi in general is that, like plus/minus, it doesn't necessarily mean it was one player specifically who keeps play in one end over another. Here, using a combination of the numbers and the eye-test, although Jonathan Ericsson is a fine defenseman whose breakout pass is sorely missed, one could argue his possession numbers could also be a reflection of playing with Kronwall and usually with the first offensive line, at least at 5v5.
But this is about Smith, and for that discussion, I'd refer you back to the WOWY stats posted in wingedoctopus' article. Generally, I caution how much to read into Smith's clear offensive ability, when the reality is as demonstrated above, he's playing against vastly inferior competition.
Now we also can't readily rely on the NHL's "Real-Time Stats," as the statistics tracking varies widely from arena-to-arena, and off-ice officials might have different standards. With that caveat spread across the season to date, however, we can look at the takeaway-to-giveaway rate as credited:
Smith is second on the team in giveaways, however NHL off-ice officials define it, and most on the team, given his ice time. He might move the puck well, but we also know that Smith is absolutely prone to turnovers, some at the worst time.
I don't mean to bash wingedoctopus's article, nor hate on Brendan Smith. I believe that Smith has looked very good (when he's not taking penalties, but he's not the only one, and as of publishing, he led the defense in penalties drawn per 60, and nominally, the whole team), and wouldn't be the first out the door in an offseason bottom-half defense corps flush out.
That being said, although possession statistics indicate Smith's ability as demonstrated through his even strength point totals and raw Corsi, he still makes too many mistakes to trust with ice time of significant responsibilities at 5-on-5.
EDIT: Brendan Smith scores a goal tonight on a nice play, because of course.