The Sad Truth About a Fan Favorite: Defense-Only Players Are Useless

New York Islanders v Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Islanders v Toronto Maple Leafs / Chris Tanouye/GettyImages

Whether it's the vast majority of Toronto Maple Leafs fans or just he loudest ones who are huge fans of Simon Benoit is hard to say. Certainly he embodies a certain je ne sais quoi that appeals to people who love hockey but have a hard time cheering for players like William Nylander.

What is easy to say however, is that traditional hockey fans love the defense-only open-ice-hitting stay-at-home defenseman, and do not care what the math says about their effectiveness.

Unfortunately, while big hits and a penchant for throwing your face in front of pucks will always endear players to fans, if those players can't provide any offense then they are useless.

So while I too have enjoyed watching Simon Benoit play for the Toronto Maple Leafs this year, he isn't a top-six player on an elite blue-line, and the Leafs need to do better.

The Sad Truth About a Fan Favorite: Defense-Only Players Are Useless

Benoit went from one of the worst players in the NHL last year to playing in the Leafs top four.

And his numbers are fine - the Leafs break even with him on the ice in terms of puck-possession, they are getting 54% of the shots, and 54% of the expected goals.

These numbers are good, great even.

But if you look a little deeper, they are concerning.

Benoit is by far one of the lowest event players in the NHL. There is almost no offense when he's on the ice. Since he blocks so many shots, his OK possession numbers translate into great shot numbers.

The problem is that when you also supress your own team's offense, you have to be perfect defensively to have any impact. If your team doesn't score when you play, all goals against are magnified.

The score this year when Benoit plays at 5v5 is 12-12 and that's with a 93% save-percentage. No matter how counter-intuitive it is, defenseman just don't have much affect on save-percentage, and there is no way that Benoit will continue to get a 93% save percentage, which means that he's likely become much less effective with time. (stats

Like other similar defenseman - Bogosian, Schenn, Polak, Gudbranson - Benoit's complete inability to move the puck sabotages the part of the game that he's good at.

Considering that Benoit has been on the ice for about 20% of Auston Matthews minutes, and that the Leafs are losing those minutes, that's a problem.

It's taken almost 20 years, but most hockey fans now realize that offensive defenseman like Erik Karlsson are actually the best defenders because it's impossible to be scored on when your team has the puck. The best defense is offense.

The second best defense is what Benoit does, but the problem when you never score is that it takes several games worth of perfect defense to overcome a single goal against.

Whenever you talk about this, someone always suggest skating the offensively inept player with an offensively elite player, but that doens't work. All you end up doing is putting Benoit on the ice with your best offensive players and hurting their ability to do what they do best. (See the line about Matthews above).


In the dead-puck era Benoit would have thrived. Unfortunately he's not built for today's game, and if the Leafs continue with him as anything higher than a #7 they will eventually pay for it.