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In Defense of Braydon Coburn

No, that's not a pun and yes, I'm serious. 

Braydon Coburn has gotten a lot of criticism so far this year - some of it from me - and I thought it would be good to look into how he is actually performing.

Coburn had a lot of expectations on his shoulders this season.  This is a contract year for him, he was reunited with his 07-08 partner Kimmo Timonen, and Chris Pronger was brought in to take some of the heavy workload off of him.  All of these are good reasons to expect a big year from Coburn.

The problem is, what exactly is a "big year" for Coburn?  I doubt most people would be able to say what a reasonable expectation for Coburn is.  Obviously, "don't look like a turnstile", "don't turn the puck over" and "hit some people" are obvious ones, but what exactly do they mean?

This got me thinking:  Besides the really terrible plays this guy makes - Brandon Sutter's goal, anyone? - there are a lot of really smart plays no one notices - Keith Jones' illustration during the Rangers game, for example.  So with that, I decided to look at Braydon Coburn's career and his performance this year.

Since Coburn only played 9 games in 05-06, I'm just skipping over those.  One assist and a minus-2 rating isn't much to go off of.

So, I turn to 06-07, the year the Flyers acquired him from Atlanta.  Combined, he played in 49 games, scoring 3 goals and adding 8 assists while finishing with a minus-1 rating.  Further, he had 41 hits, 49 blocked shots, 25 giveaways, and 17 takeaways.  Since this was essentially his rookie season, this is a solid baseline to look at and judge whether he got better or not.  Per game, he averaged 0.84 hits, exactly 1.00 blocked shot, and had a 1.47 giveaway to takeaway ratio.

The next year (07-08), his first full season as a Flyer, he showed a great deal of improvement.  Playing in 78 games, Coburn scored 9 goals, added 27 assists, and was a plus-17.  Here are his additional totals:

Player                                                                    Team Pos     GP    Hits       BkS      MsS     GvA      TkA

Braydon Coburn PHI D 78 79 79 60 53 36


Obviously, this was the season that Coburn took his big step.  He went from the newly acquired defenseman to the up and coming stud defenseman.  He had more hits and blocked shots than games played while keeping his giveaway to takeaway ratio the same - 1.47.  It wasn't until the following season that people started really noticing Coburn's play.

In the 08-09 season, Coburn had a lot to live up to.  He came out of nowhere to become a key piece of this team's blue line the year before and a lot was expected of him.  So he went out and put up very similar numbers:  80 games, 7 goals, 21 assists, and a plus-7.  Everything was down from the year before, but not by much.  The additional stats:

Player                                                                       Team       Pos        GP           
Hits            BkS       MsS      GvA     TkA

Braydon Coburn PHI D 80 146 129 57 59 39


After this season, many people - including myself - wanted more.  As Travis said in the "Grading the Flyers" series,

"Coburn earns a B because of the steps he took this past year, but he doesn't get a higher grade because there is still so much more he can do. He can be even more physical and he can definitely become a more solid performer on the offensive side of things."

But really, Coburn took a huge step forward last year.  He went from 1.01 hits per game to 1.83 last year.  He went from 1.01 blocked shots per game to 1.61 last year.  Lastly, his giveaway to turnover ratio increased to 1.51, but that was a modest increase from 1.47 the year before.  Obviously, these stats are flexible depending upon the mood of the scorer in that arena that night, but an increase like that cannot be attributed to scorer's bias alone.

Despite our reactions, Coburn had a great year last year.  He only took a touch off of his offensive game, while taking a huge step forward on the defensive side.  This may be attributed to who was on the ice with him (a decrease in his qualcomp from 0.032 to 0.014, and an increase in his qualteam from -0.057 to 0.114), but that wouldn't affect his blocked shots or hits.  Also, this can most likely be attributed to being on the top pairing with Timonen in 07-08 and then being switched to Matt Carle's pairing in what may be considered the second pairing halfway through last season.

So, after those three seasons, let's look at what he's doing so far this year.  He's got 5 goals and 8 assists in 36 games, and is a minus-5.  Additionally:

Player                                                                      Team       Pos        GP 
    Hits       BkS       MsS      GvA     TkA
Braydon Coburn PHI D 37 46 51 37 31 11


When you look at this year, he's clearly taken a step back.  But last year, he scored 0.088 goals per game and 0.263 assists per game.  This year, he's upped that to 0.139 goals per game and 0.222 assists per game. While he's clearly having a worse year than last year, he's still doing better than he did in 07-08.  His hits per game has fallen from 1.83 to 1.24, but that's still better than his 1.01 in 07-08.  The same is true for his blocked shots:  down from 1.61 to 1.38, but still better than his 1.01 in 07-08.  The biggest problem is his giveaway to turnover ratio, which stands at an enormous 2.82.  Throughout the three years we looked at prior to this one, Coburn has had this ratio at 1.47, 1.47, and 1.51.  Having a number this year that is nearly double his career 1.49 ratio is most likely an aberration.  I for one expect this number to even out as the year goes on.

While his plus/minus might seem extremely troubling, look at his goals against per 60 minutes of play.  Last year, it was 2.57 and this year it's 2.79.  It's definitely gone up, but not by as much as you think it has.

Basically, Braydon Coburn has had a bad start to the year.  Through 37 games, he's regressed to where he was before last season.  Still, he's blocking shots, hitting people, and putting the puck in the net.  While he has a bad giveaway to takeaway ratio, he has only one more giveaway than both Matt Carle and Chris Pronger.  The difference is that both of those guys have at least 20 takeaways.  The biggest problem is that when Coburn screws up, it is winding up behind the Flyers goalie.  Not only that, but when he screws up, it's a highlight reel screw up.  Take his two own goals or Sutter's goal as exhibits A, B, and C.  Add Teemu Selanne's game-tying goal back in October as exhibit D.

Now, for those of you who want Ryan Parent or Oskars Bartulis to get more playing time at Braydon Coburn's expense, I will only warn you that Bartulis has a grand total of 24 NHL games played and a minus-7 rating while Parent has a total of 92 games in the NHL, ten of which were in the playoffs.  In that time, Parent is a combined minus-10, with a 2.52 career giveaway to takeaway ratio.  And he has done this while only playing above average competition last year where his goals against per 60 minutes was 2.96.  (To put that in context, Parent had a qualcomp of 0.069 with a qualteam of 0.251.  This year, Matt Carle has a higher qualcomp (0.075) and a lower qualteam (0.158), yet he has a markedly lower 1.55 goals against per 60.  And Carle is supposed to be an offensive defenseman.)  You may argue that Parent will become a solid defenseman - and I would wholeheartedly agree - but right now, Braydon Coburn is much, much better than both Ryan Parent and Oskars Bartulis.  Even if he's off to a bad start.

Plus, he has a lazer: