The Perfect Christmas Gift: Giveaways from Your Favorite Defensemen

Turnovers, they are for what all intents and purposes can drive coaches, teammates, goaltenders, general managers, fans, almost everyone berserk. Turnovers can almost single-handedly turn the tides of a game and can be the sole reason why a player gets benched or has his ice-time diminished.

So when you think of players who likely give up the puck the most, some might expect third or fourth line players to be the biggest culprits. You wouldn’t expect the game’s elite stars to be the ones causing the most havoc for their own teams, right? Well simply put, no.

Who is the Worst?

Erik Karlsson leads the league in turonovers this year.(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
Erik Karlsson leads the league in turonovers this year.(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

The number one leader in giveaways so far this year is Ottawa Senator’s captain Erik Karlsson. The former Norris Trophy winner, first team all-star, and member of Team Sweden’s silver medal winning team at last year’s Olympic Winter games, currently leads the entire NHL in turnovers. His 47 giveaways are more than any other player who has seen the ice this season.

PK Subban, who is second in giveaways subsequently, leads the NHL in turnover plus-minus (takeaways-turnovers.) What is odd though, is Subban and Karlsson aren’t the exceptions to this stat, many other elite defensemen are also among the leaders in this category. Subban is followed by Brent Burns who has 42 giveaways this season. Drew Doughty has 29 and has the second worst giveaway plus-minus behind Subban with a minus-29. Shea Weber is a minus-19 and Zdeno Chara is minus-14.

Karlsson is the worst among the names above in plus-minus with a minus-14 on the season while the only other player above with a minus rating is Burns who is a minus-two, though Burns leads the group in points with 26. However, he is an interesting case because the Barrie, ON native splits his time playing both forward and defense. It is interesting that the giveaways doesn’t necessarily translate to goals against or their offense is evening the numbers out.

Even Olympians Aren’t Immune

Burns Sharks
Brent Burns is third in the league in giveaways, but also plays both defense and forward. (Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Besides Burns, the rest of the players above are all former Olympians. So, do these players get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this stat? Last season Weber, Chara, Doughty, and Karlsson were all in the top-10 in Norris Trophy voting while Subban held the 13th most votes. Defensemen aren’t the only stars who find themselves among the passes to the opponent.

John Tavares of the New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton sit eighth and ninth in the league in giveaways so far this year with 36 and 35 respectively. Sidney Crosby isn’t immune to turnovers either; the Penguins’ star has 22 giveaways to date.

The Best at Takeaways

On the other hand, the player with the most takeaways this year is Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly. While probably shocking to some, second and third on that list are Tyler Bozak and Peter Holland of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who actually lead the league in takeaways this year. In fact four of the top six in takeaway-turnover plus-minus are Maple Leafs (Bozak, Holland, Leo Komarov, and Daniel Winnik).

So What’s the Reason for This Trend?

San Jose Sharks rookie has the best takeaway-turnover plus minus among all defensemen. (Photo: Christopher Mast)
San Jose Sharks rookie has the best takeaway-turnover plus minus among all defensemen. (Photo: Christopher Mast)

Getting back to the giveaways, it seems the most likely reason why the top defenders in the league give up the puck the most is because they are the ones relied upon to forward the disc to their forwards and start most breakouts. Of course there is always the risk that these don’t always go as planned and so a very good portion of these passes are likely picked off. In fact it seems to be defensemen in general are most likely to cough the puck up. And you have to have the puck to give it away, so the player who starts off rushes is already at a handicap to lead other. In fact the defenseman with the best giveaway-turnover plus-minus is Sharks rookie Mirco Mueller who is a plus-eight. Despite being the best amongst D-men, Mueller only has the 69th best giveaway-turnover plus-minus.

It is a very interesting trend to find that the elite defensemen in the game all have a bit of a flaw defensively. Yet a coach would be really hard-pressed to bench one of the team’s best players for giving up the puck to the opposition. These players provide a huge offensive boost to their team’s back-end and it seems that in the end those offensive contributions might be the reason why these stars are given the benefit of the doubt.