Nashville Predators: The Odd Man Out On Defense, By The Numbers

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 19: Yannick Weber /

Yannick Weber is no longer a resident of the injured reserve and can play games again. This leaves the Nashville Predators with a few questions to answer.

On Friday afternoon, Yannick Weber came off the IR, but was replaced by Nick Bonino. It’s still uncertain if Bonino is on the IR retroactively, but reports suggest that Bonino could be out for a few weeks. That gives the Nashville Predators plenty of time to experiment with their defense before sending one of their bottom four defensemen down. So far the candidates are Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, Anthony Bitetto, and Samuel Girard.

Irwin has played himself onto the roster in an almost full-time position. He’s looked great and so I’m not even considering him to miss time unless he’s injured. The other three are wide open though. Girard doesn’t have to go through waivers which makes him the likely candidate but has he earned a spot over other players? What do the numbers say?

The 5v5 possession stats

I probably should’ve mentioned that this will involve some new-age advanced stats. The eye test only takes us so far, and we need to go deeper.

Games PlayedAverage TOI 5v5Corsi 5v5Fenwick 5v5High Danger Chances Against 5v5
Samuel Girard






Yannick Weber






Anthony Bitetto






A few qualifiers for these facts, Girard has played one fewer game and Weber has really only played three games as well. Weber was injured in the first period of his fourth game, his TOI average is closer to Bitetto’s 11:58 minutes if we discount the last game.

Girard takes the cake on all of the possession stats, his Corsi and Fenwick shine. While the numbers between Girard and Bitetto are pretty close, we have to remember the level of competition. Bitetto regularly played third and fourth line forwards while Girard routinely faced second line talent. The context can be confusing as Girard has put up better numbers against tougher talent, but with better linemates. Would Bitetto or Weber thrive in that role as Girard did? Tough to say, although we do know that Irwin floundered while playing sheltered minutes with Josi.

The high danger scoring chances allowed is an interesting stat to look at. For reference, those chances come from in the slot and net-front area. According to Andrew Berkshire of Sportsnet, the average save percentage of those shots is only in the upper 70s. So giving up too many of these chances can really hamper a team. From the numbers, we see that it’s fairly close, but Bitetto leads the pack. Bitetto played on average seven fewer minutes against lesser competition. My thought is Girard would put up even better numbers in Bitetto’s situation while Bitetto wouldn’t post better numbers in Girard’s. I think we can all agree that Bitetto in a top-four role would be a mistake, but Girard looked like a natural. The stats prove it as Girard edges out the competition with no NHL experience on his side.

Filling in the big picture

Possession isn’t everything in the NHL, and so we shouldn’t base our entire opinion off of those stats. Other stats help us fill in the story and provide some context.

PDO 5v5Teammate (most played with) (5v5)Scoring Chance Ratio (5v5)Zone Deployment (5v5)
Samuel Girard


Mattias Ekholm


60.00 Offensive

Yannick Weber


Matt Irwin


45.83 Offensive

Anthony Bitetto


Matt Irwin


60.00 Offensive

PDO is a lot like plus/minus, it’s a terrible stat to solely focus on. It’s most commonly referred to as the lucky stat by most in the industry. But in a more supportive role, it can tell us a lot about a player. A player’s PDO combines a team’s on-ice shooting percentage with it’s on-ice save percentage. The average is 100 and the rule is everything eventually comes back to the average. A quick look at the chart shows that Girard is currently unlucky, especially when you consider the Nashville Predators are shooting at a 7.41% and saving an 88.89% of the shots taken. Poor goaltending will eventually rise, as it has in Nashville. Rinne has been hot to trot for the last few games that Girard has missed. The shooting percentage will rise as well, but the average is only 9.2% so it won’t jump astronomically. Bitetto is on the money at 100.0 so what you’re seeing is average. Weber is actually super lucky in this instance, but that’ll come crashing down eventually. Girard is the only one you can expect to get better.

We already went over teammates but it’s still curious to see. Girard mostly played with Ekholm, and then Subban on the second pair. Weber and Bitetto have mostly filled in for each other and so have played consistent minutes with Irwin. What’s funny is that both of their scoring chance ratios are similar, but their zone starts are not. Zone starts can be tricky as it doesn’t account for on the fly changes, but it does help us see how Laviolette is purposefully deploying players. It’s pretty clear that Laviolette trusts Weber way more than Bitetto, as Bitetto starts mostly in the offensive zone. Similarly curious is that Bitetto and Girard have the same deployment, but have totally different chance generation rates.

Chance generation is pretty simple, how many chances for while on the ice versus chances against while on the ice. The ratio is a simpler way of determining player value, seeing as a defender who’s on the ice more will naturally generate more chances while allowing more chances. So far Girard comes out on top by a country mile. And it’s pretty evident in his play as well, he was so good at keeping the play alive at the offensive zone blueline. He created at least two or three chances just by not surrendering to the opposing wingers. It takes guts to do that, although I imagine having Ekholm at your back is a nice safety net. Bitetto and Weber aren’t nearly as aggressive and so surrender more chances than they allow. Because they surrender and make they safe play, they give up fewer high danger scoring chances. It truly is a high risk-high reward situation whenever Girard is on the ice.

The verdict

The verdict is not the same for everyone. Do you think that the “rook hasn’t paid his dues yet” or that he’s “too soft for the big leagues”? Then my stats probably did nothing to sway your opinion. I agree that he could stand to put on some more muscle to help in the corners, although I’m hesitant. Putting on weight means sacrificing speed for strength, not always a great swap for a young offensive defenseman.

If, like me, you believe that numbers (facts) with context never lie, you probably agree with everything I’ve said. But there are still issues with Girard’s game. Can he drive possession on a line of his own? Does he need to ride shotgun to a shot suppressor like Ekholm or Subban? Maybe at this point in his career, he does. But there’s nothing left to learn in the QMJHL. Sheltered minutes with the big boys is the only path to development until the AHL becomes an option. I wonder if he’d consider the Swedish League? I digress, but my point stands.

Next: Five Thoughts For Friday, Oct 20th

In reality, Yannick Weber doesn’t really deserve a spot on the Nashville Predators anymore. Bitetto has performed decently while Weber was injured, and Girard is just a stud in the making. Let Bitetto and Girard work as a platoon for the season until Ellis comes back. Then you can make the real tough decision.