I sat down to write more on the rapidly declining 2018 season. As I did it I realized this was quickly turning into something larger than just one post. Given the nature of the site as constructed I felt like cramming 2000 or so words into one post was absurd. I have no idea how long this series will be.
I handled the forwards yesterday. You can find them here. Plenty of data exists on the defensemen too. Coming into the season my expectations for the defensemen were higher than the forwards. Hitchcock should make them look a lot more…appropriate? Typical? Competent? Defensive? Something.
Overall I think that has happened. I’m not sure it’s necessarily a good thing, but it indeed has happened. Again we’re using data tracked by Corey Sznajder and visualized by CJ Turtoro.
Remember: bigger numbers on the left is good.. Bigger numbers on the right is bad.
One of the successes of this season that has been touted is the development of Klingberg defensively. This chart isn’t going to show us specifically how he plays in the defensive zone, but it does show that he is a hell of a lot better at defending his own blueline.
Despite the uptick in points, his rate of offensive contributions has dropped quite a bit. He’s getting a ton of minutes and playing well, but he put out a consistently higher quality offensive performance when he had fewer minutes.
Lindell is probably the most improved of the Stars defensemen, and he needed to be. He’s an absolute rock at his own blueline, providing the defensive anchor the Stars wanted from another member of our list further down.
Lindell has been better offensively too. The next step, if he can take it, would see him be better at exiting the defensive zone.
Is this improvement because of Hitchcock and his staff? Maybe, but as a young developing player you would expect him to take steps forward too.
Pateryn is an interesting case. Hitchcock fell in love with him quickly and continued to feed him ice time after sticking him into a “defensive/stay at home” type role, but Pateryn did much more than that for the Canadiens.
Pushing him into more of a defensive frame of mind naturally , sadly, would have limited his offensive output, and limit how well he would be entering the offensive zone with the puck. What did surprise me is how much worse Pateryn got at defending his own blueline this year. Opposing forwards are stepping around him like he isn’t even there.
Same story, different player. Hitchcock has pushed Hamhuis into a more defensive role. Every aspect of his game is worse, and some aspects are significantly worse.
Hamhuis is older so it’s entirely possible he is just falling off a bit with age. Could it be because of the role Hitchcock has him playing? Perhaps, but like with the improvement with Lindell, age could be playing in here too.
I really thought Stephen Johns would take a major step under Hitchcock. He has taken hold of a consistent place in the lineup by playing the way Hitchcock wants him to. The familiar marker is there: John is breaking up a lot more plays at his own blueline at the expense of every other aspect of his game.
The Stars gave up a 2nd round pick for a defenseman who was probably, at the time, their 7th or 8th best. He’s also making $4,900,000 and has nine and a half fingers. The idea was to bring him in as a stabilizing defensive force to play with Klingberg, like he allegedly did with Erik Karlsson.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
A familiar trend continues. Methot has tried to be more of an active shooter and has broken up more offensive plays at his own blueline under Hitchcock than he did in 2017. In the case of Methot teams apparently started passing around him to get into the zone. You can see a big drop in his success at minimizing entries of the pass.
We have no data from 2017 for Honka, but I see something here that immediately makes me think “this is why Hitchcock doesn’t use him”. Honka has been the Stars worst defenseman at breaking up plays at his own blueline.
Now, he easily has been the Stars best at exiting the zone with possession and one of the top in the league, but the taint of visibly below par defense has stuck with him. The question I have from looking at the Honka data is how poor and infrequently he enters the offensive zone with the puck and how little he does with it when he has it.
Is Honka really this bad offensively, or is he trying to make his way in the NHL with regular playing time by playing a more conservative style to make his coach happy? It happened with Pateryn, why not Honka too?
I included this one just for fun. Oleksiak was terrible with the Stars this year in all respects except entering the zone, but look at last year. He had a little usefulness over there.
My biggest complaint with Oleksiak is something that only marginally shows up here. This isn’t going to measure how well he played defense in his own zone, but it was pretty hit and miss. It does show that in 2017 he had no idea what to do with the puck in the offensive zone to set up offense despite bringing the puck into the zone at an elite level.
Yeah, that sounds about right. Oleksiak getting trapped up ice then scrambling back to get into the play happened enough for it to stick in my brain.
Is this all because of Hitchcock?
I don’t know, but it sure fits what he wants. The defensemen are less offensive, they’re stepping up at the blueline to stop opposition attacks, chipping the puck out of the zone to reset, and letting the forwards handle almost all of the offensive play. The data seems to show exactly that.