3/6/2018 – John Klingberg and Martin Hanzal: Penalty Killers Extraordinaire

Defense is the stronger form of waging war.

I imagine Carl von Clausewitz didn’t watch a lot of hockey. A great deal of the ideas he laid out in On War lend themselves to professional sports regardless. I think what I’m saying is Clausewitz would have appreciated the Neutral Zone Trap and Left-Wing Lock.

We look at penalty killing as this tenuous situation where collectively fans of any team hold their breath for (hopefully) two minutes until the team gets back to even strength. We do this despite the fact that penalty killing really is easy. The worst team in the league in 2017 still killed off three fourths of their opportunities.

Special teams are about living on the margins and picking up an extra goal here or there to separate teams from their competitors who are all, relatively, good at killing them off.

One of the bigger assumed improvements this season for the Dallas Stars is their ability to kill penalties. The Stars are 7th in the league in penalty killing success at 82.7% a year after finishing last with a stunningly low 73.9 percent. That number doesn’t tell us much other than telling us that the Stars have a better chance of killing off any specific penalty situation, but I wanted to know more about the penalty killing overall.

Let’s start with an overview of where they are using some data from Natural Stat Trick.


The Stars have successfully killed off 82.7% of their shorthanded opportunities according to the archaic way the league tracks the data. Special teams data is tracked based on opportunities. A shot from the point that finds the back of the net within ten seconds is the same as killing off 1:59 of a minor penalty before allowing a goal. During a five minute major a team on the power play can score numerous times and throw the entire system out of balance.

Attempts and chances allowed expressed as a rate in terms of time shorthanded gives you a much better idea of who can do it well.

On a 60 minute basis the Stars are top ten in all shot and goal-related categories. They’re just shorthanded so much that they still give up goals in spite of the improved penalty killing capabilities. The problem for the Stars is how often they are on the penalty kill. Only the Anaheim Ducks have more time shorthanded in 2018.


The Defense

This group looks markedly different from 2017. Jordie Benn, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, and Johnny Oduya are out. John Klingberg, Marc Methot, and Greg Pateryn are in.


What stands out?

  • I know you see who number one is.
  • Greg Pateryn hasn’t been very successful.
  • Jamie Oleksiak was a pretty good penalty killer which makes sense. He didn’t have to move anywhere and could fill space with his 18 foot long stick.
  • The Stars most frequently used duo are their least successful. It would be nice to see more Klingberg/Lindell and Johns/Methot on the kill.
  • RIP Johnny Oduya.

League-wide Klingberg comes in 7th. Lindell (21), Oleksiak (24), Methot (29), and Johns (40) look pretty good too.

The Forwards

The forward group is quite a bit different in 2018 compared to 2017. The Stars have eight penalty killers who have taken over 50 minutes of penalty killing time this year. Seven took more than 30 minutes in 2017.

We can read into that many ways. One of those is that they simply take too many penalties so more guys are involved, but the group is quite a bit different. Adam Cracknell, Lauri Korpikoski, Cody Eakin, and Curtis McKenzie are out. Martin Hanzal, Mattias Janmark, Devin Shore, Tyler Seguin, and Tyler Pitlick are in.


If we only look at the defensive side of things several points stick out.

  • Hanzal is really good.
  • The Stars missed Janmark badly last season.
  • Antoine Roussel’s improvement deserves a medal.
  • Maybe less Tyler Pitlick and Seguin. Seguin isn’t killing them by any means, but if they have better options why not go with them? When Hanzal returns less Seguin would be the ideal change.

I included a league wide chart of forwards with 30 or more minutes of powerplay time sorted by Corsi Against per hour. These are the 30 top forwards in the NHL:


(I’m not redoing that image just because Alexander Wennberg’s name is irresponsibly long.)

Janmark and Hanzal show well. Shore (58) and Faksa (85) look solid too.

Yeah, that’s Roussel at the top spot in the league.


Martin Hanzal

I think people do Hanzal a disservice by focusing on his faceoff ability. The offense largely isn’t there with him, but he does a lot of things really well. One of those things is taking faceoffs. It’s probably the least significant bullet point in his favor.

The more I think about Hanzal the more I truly believe he’s the rare guy who can go do just about anything a coach tells him to defensively. He isn’t skating like Connor McDavid or shooting like Seguin no matter how much coaching he gets. The defensive thought process and hockey IQ to get the play moving the other direction safely are off the charts though.

He needs to stay healthy, and it isn’t his fault the coaching staff keeps making him the net front guy on the powerplay. Hanzal clearly brings something good to the club. I’m still not sure if I would have signed him to that contract though I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as I used to.

Antoine Roussel

Roussel has been bumped down several pegs in the pecking order on the penalty kill, but with him on the ice the Stars have cut their shot attempts against in half. HALF. That’s absolutely absurd.

At times Roussel does some incredibly stupid things. You can’t entirely trust him to be on the penalty kill because he runs the risk of putting you down two men by taking a silly penalty. At some point you want guys like this who can play to realize they can play without all the silly sideshows. Roussel is an NHL player, a good one, and some of this silly antagonistic crap holds him back.

He’s second on the team with 24 minor penalties (behind Radulov), but he has somehow drawn 30 calls. He’s bringing in more than he takes. Imagine if more of the silly penalties he takes for no reason that get stuck in your mind are minimized even more.

John Klingberg

This is the obligatory space where I point out that Klingberg is good everywhere. Hitchcock is trusting him to play on the penalty kill. Given his effectiveness he should get more ice time and probably replace Pateryn.

The central argument put out there against Klingberg’s candidacy for the Norris Trophy is his limited penalty killing time. Well, he’s out there. When he’s out there he’s among the best in the league at limiting shot attempts.

What’s the next excuse that needs to get swatted away? It will be borderline criminal if he isn’t a finalist at a minimum.

The Stars are already a legitimate Stanley Cup contender despite their place in the standings. Some tweaks on the fringes seem likely to make this team perform a bit better. Penalty killing as a whole is much better. If they can do it less frequently and emphasize the guys who have been the most successful at doing it they could squeeze some more out of the unit.

Hey, click these:

3/4/2018 – Optimizing the Defense of the Dallas Stars Using Player Type Data
3/2/18 – Optimizing the Dallas Stars Lineup Using Player Type Data
2/26/18 – Kick The Window Open
The Dallas Stars Need to Trade for Max Pacioretty, and Here’s Why
2/22/18 – David Freese, Brett Hull, and Arby’s

3/4/2018 – Optimizing the Defense of the Dallas Stars Using Player Type Data

Earlier this week I threw a post together trying to optimize the Dallas Stars lineup using Player Type data from tracking and analysis led by Ryan Stimson and Corey Sznajder and based off of this article.

You may have noticed that I didn’t touch the defensemen. If you have enough material to make two movies and double your profits, why wouldn’t you? I know I sat through both Kill Bill movies and I eagerly ate up Back to the Future III as a kid.

So why not dive into them now?

I used the lines from the Stars overtime loss to Tampa Bay for the previous post. We’ll use them again for this post.

The Types


These four types aren’t all that surprising. Stimson found that only 11 fit the All Around type. We should have known defense-oriented guys don’t move the needle much, but there are still many holdouts praying at the Temple of the Derian Hatcher, God of Defensive Defensemen. that this isn’t the case.

It is. Let the healing begin.

Or don’t.


All Around

John Klingberg


I feel like this isn’t going to surprise anyone enterprising enough to stumble across this site because it should be glaringly obvious, but I don’t want to turn away potential new converts to The Church of Bae by being mean. Bienvenidos! Willkommen! Sign the guest book!

Volume Shooters

Stephen Johns


How many times have you seen Stephen Johns absolutely crush a puck this year and thought “shit, he crushed that puck?”

Again, this data is from BEFORE this season. I can only imagine how much more robust this looks now. Johns has been great all year. I keep thinking of the AHL game I watched shortly after the Stars picked him up from Chicago. He was an absolute beast and some of those gifs look a lot like the Johns we’re seeing more and more now.

Greg Pateryn



The Turner to Dan Hamhuis’ Hooch was surprisingly stout in the games tracked prior to this season when he worked his way into a more full time role.


Dan Hamhuis


Yeah, that looks about right. I wouldn’t be shocked if it were a little worse this year given that aging still happens, but as bad as last season was I don’t know. It could be a wash.

Esa Lindell


I have some issues with the Lindell chart. It’s only 200 or so minutes worth of time on ice, and that old eye test of the 2018 season shows a significantly better player. Maybe he still is in the defensive category, but I can’t imagine he fills up so little of this chart now. He and Klingberg have been great together.

Marc Methot


Methot is pretty clearly the Stars 6th or 7th defenseman pending Julius Honka data. Honka has no data tracked.

I’m confident Honka isn’t falling into the Defense-Oriented group. If I had to guess I would guess he falls into the Puck Mover category, but with no data to use it is mostly a guessing game. He’s better overall than Methot though.

Optimized Defense Pairs


The optimized pairings present a bit of a problem for the Stars, but then again maybe not? The Stars have three guys that don’t fall into the Defensive-Oriented pile, and all three play on the right side which means each pair is inevitably going to have a Defensive-Oriented guy on it.

This limits the upside potential of the defense corps, but isn’t that the point anyway? Ken Hitchcock is about limiting mistakes and focusing on a sound defensive approach. Inevitably that is going to limit the top end potential for offensive output so, hell, maybe this is exactly what he wants.

A Klingberg/Lindell pairing gives an xG% of 51.3%, but optimally a Volume Shooter in the mode of a Johns would be with him. Then again, last year this pair had a 49% Corsi  % and 47.55% Scoring Chance % per Natural Stat Trick. This year? 53.47% and 54.83% respectively. Something is working. The team structure as a whole and Lindell specifically deserve a lot of credit.

The Methot/Johns pair and the Hamhuis/Pateryn pair both yield xG% of 49.9 so they break even.

This gets us to the wild card of Julius Honka. You don’t really want to take Pateryn out of the lineup and Johns certainly isn’t coming out. Do you play someone out of position and take Hamhuis or Methot out of the lineup, two defensive defensemen who do fill up their charts a little bit?

Honka is certainly a good player, but I don’t know how you reasonably get him into the lineup more often right now which makes not getting something to help the current roster (Pacioretty?) in a deal for him at the deadline all the more frustrating if you think the Stars can win the Stanley Cup. They can, Brad.

John Klingberg is a Legitimate Norris Candidate

This data isn’t even from the 2017-18 season when he has been otherworldly. The data collected identified eleven players that fit into the All Around category. One of those was Klingberg, and that data is from a time when a significant number of Stars fans continuously ripped the guy or wanted him booted out of town. Some of you still do and you should be run naked through Westeros with a Twitter chorus of Stars fans chanting shame at you.

Blueliners can be hard to gauge without more data available. At some point all of the available data trends to one outcome enough that either you choose to believe it or not. Accept that Klingberg is good and enjoy it. It’s ok to root for a good player who occasionally makes a mistake.

Defensive Defensemen

One of the bigger problems rising from the freely available access to data is a willingness of those interested in the data to draw conclusions that seem supported by the data, but in reality make little sense. Correlation is not causation. If data doesn’t support commonly held ideas the tendency seems to be to say “Eureka!” and jump out of the bathtub like a mad person, put on a bathrobe, and run into the tweets proclaiming the new discovery.

This information doesn’t prove that defensive defensemen are useless and the article doesn’t try to suggest they are. There are a lot of them though. I wonder how much these numbers drag from coaches hard matching guys they feel are their best defenders.

I also think these guys have some value as penalty killers. The skill set necessary to kill penalties doesn’t focus as much on offense, though those skills still have their place. Staying in lanes, reading play progressions, and puck movement are going to be the focus here.

Lindell figures in prominently here. A player like Dan Hamhuis is still going to be useful even though he falls in this category. Methot too, though not as much.


That’s just scoring chances against per 60 minutes using the raw data from Natural Stat Trick. Methot isn’t particularly good at it. They should really get Klingberg out there more. He should be a Norris candidate and he would be an even stronger one if he was given a chance to make an impact on the penalty kill.

How does that look league wide? Here are the top 25 in “scoring chance prevention” on the penalty kill. I arbitrarily cut off the list at the point where Methot slots in to get him involved.


Yeah, that’s Lindell and Klingberg right outside the top ten. In the entire NHL. Defensively. Stephen Johns shows up at 24.

Patrik Nemeth


The Stars could have saved themselves several million dollars and a second round pick had they not soured the relationship with Patrik Nemeth so badly that he requested a move. Nemeth isn’t much different profile-wise from Methot. He could always play, and he still can now. Miss you buddy.

Jamie Oleksiak

The wars are over, they said. It’s time to heal, they said. Let it go, they said.


Never, he said in response as he tipped his cap and rode off into the sunset to return to the rewarding life he built for himself in the Post War Era.

Hey, click these:

3/2/18 – Optimizing the Dallas Stars Lineup Using Player Type Data
2/26/18 – Kick The Window Open
The Dallas Stars Need to Trade for Max Pacioretty, and Here’s Why
2/22/18 – David Freese, Brett Hull, and Arby’s
2/21/18 – Carmax, Priorities, and Ben Bishop

3/2/18 – Optimizing the Dallas Stars Lineup Using Player Type Data

I’ve been beating the drum for keeping Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, and Tyler Seguin apart for a while now to follow in the Pittsburgh Penguins mold. Spread your stars out and complement them with useful players to maximize the offense. It’s an idea that has been out there for a little while now, and I remembered hearing a lot about roster construction optimization when the Passing Project information really started getting out there in force.

Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) has tracked a ton of data: zone entries, zone exists, defenseman touches, and a lot of other important microstats. Ryan Stimson (@RK_Stimp) led the Passing Project to get a better idea of how passing impacts scoring. Both sets of data were put together to give a more complete picture of players across the league.

One of the resulting conclusions drawn from the data was the existence of four “Player Types” at forward. Stimson put this excellent piece together at hockey-graphs.com detailing what he found.

Teams are incentivized to spread their best players throughout their lineup. This is due to a fact that a team can only have so much success with a stacked line (looking at you, Boston). Furthermore, with hockey being a strong link game, ensuring that the best players are on the ice as much as possible at different times gives you an advantage, or at least doesn’t put you at more of a disadvantage. The final piece is identifying which players can complement those elite forwards the best.

Emphasis mine.

He found that the four player types are Playmakers, Shooters, Balanced, and Dependent. Dependent is a nice way to say plugs. The other three showed to be useful, with playmakers being the ones who drive scoring the most which makes sense.

So as we watch the Dallas Stars struggle through a tough stretch I thought “hey, I wonder how optimized lines for the Stars based off of the most up-to-date data available would look.” Let’s find out.

For future reference, this is what the Stars rolled out last night against the Tampa Bay Lightning:

(All data is from 2015-16 and 2016-17 which poses a problem: players age or get worse for whatever other reason. I’ll note where I think this could show itself as a problem.)

First lets see what roles are currently on the Stars roster.

The Playmakers

This group is the guys that move the needle the most. The names mostly aren’t going to surprise you. All the visualizations are from this awesome Tableau.

Jamie Benn


I mean, yeah. Obviously.

Tyler Seguin


I said they weren’t going to surprise you.

Alexander Radulov


This dude was such a bargain.

Jason Spezza


Spezza has had a long career of being a quality player. We’ve seen him struggle to fit into the system under Ken Hitchcock at times, but he’s still Spezza. He still drives the play, but he’s been hampered by an aggressively low PDO driven by a really low on-ice save percentage.

Is it more likely that his numbers have gone down because he’s terrible, or because there has been an inordinate amount of puck luck going against him? I’m willing to let him stay in the playmaker category until data exists to prove it wrong.

Martin Hanzal

I shit you not.


He may not be in the Benn, Seguin, and Spezza category, but over the sample period Hanzal has been really good. You have to ask yourself if he has regressed this year, or if the role he is being asked to fill has killed his numbers off. Like Spezza he is the victim of an aggressively low PDO, but his is driven by both low on-ice shooting and save percentages. He legitimately is a bottom six anchor, but, like, a good anchor.

The Shooter

Brett Ritchie


One thing Ritchie does do is pump shots on net. I’m not going to try to argue that he’s elite or anything, but he isn’t as useless as many would like to think.

The Balanced Guys

These guys don’t fit into the top two categories, but they make useful contributions.

Radek Faksa


I think I would be willing to argue that Faksa is more of a playmaker this year, but without data to support it I want to keep this as fair and realistic as possible. You could make a case for he and Hanzal flipping types here based on a 2018 season eye test and I wouldn’t try to argue against it.

Mattias Janmark


After missing a year Janmark is getting jobbed by PDO like Hanzal and Spezza, but he has been visibly impressive all season.

Antoine Roussel


I’m not going to lie to you, this one surprised me. Roussel is just a good all around depth player. You can see him making solid plays all over the ice, but he doesn’t jump out as this decent. Math is fun.

Devin Shore


Shore has been nothing special, but he isn’t a plug either.

There is currently no data for Tyler Pitlick, Gemel Smith, Jason Dickinson, or Remi Elie. I want to be as fair as possible and assume there are some plugs somewhere on the roster up front, but none of these guys strike me as drains. I don’t think it’s out of the question to suggest that every forward in the Stars lineup contributes something useful.

Optimized Lines

So, how best do the Stars increase their odds of scoring?


Stimson included this expected goal chart in his story. Let’s use it.

The Stars have the ability to use a playmaker on every line, and a second one on one line. Down the middle it makes a lot of sense to go with Seguin, Benn, Spezza, and Hanzal.

If you split Seguin and Benn apart you have to figure out where Radulov goes. I have to wonder if some of the consternation people feel about Benn this year has to do with Radulov. When they’re on the ice together Radulov’s production lags. Seguin and Radulov hum along just fine.

Seguin-Radulov-BalancedF for your first line is the second best combination available at 57.2 xG%.

A playmaker, a shooter, and a balanced forward work well together too. Jamie Benn, Brett Ritchie, and a balanced forward of your choice would slot in at 55 xG%.

The final two lines would each feature a playmaker and at least two balanced guys, with the chance of Janmark or Faksa being in a higher “type cluster”.

Your third line would still be all balanced players which is still effective. A playmaker with two balanced lines goes for 52.2 xG%.

Those Stars lines from the Tampa game? They’re ok, but with all three of the alpha scorers lumped together the Stars minimize their offense to a degree.

Should the Stars ever use Benn, Radulov, and Seguin together?

Yes. Late in games when the bottom of the lineup is generally used less frequently the Stars would increase their expected goal output by throwing those three together. A line of three playmakers could expect an xG% of 58.9%. This is the most deadly line possible, and late in the game you aren’t hurt as much by throwing your top guys together.

Late in the game they could also throw Jason Spezza, Martin Hanzal, and Brett Ritchie together to optimize a second unit. That line would, based just on player roles, look at a 55.1 xG%..

How do you most appropriately use Hanzal?

I think there is a good argument that the Stars already are doing that, but the results aren’t there due to some bad luck. What he is doing isn’t showing up on the standard or advanced stat sheet without more data available, but I’ve seen enough to think he’s more useful than he appears at times.

Now he just needs to stay healthy.

Are the Stars getting the most out of their powerplay?

When Stimson put his story together he pointed out that there were about four playmakers and shooters per NHL club. The Stars have six, and two of them park themselves in front of the net on the powerplay.

This may make sense for Ritchie conceptually since he’s a shooter, but it doesn’t for Hanzal. It minimizes his ability to make plays by reducing him to a glorified crash test dummy hoping to get drilled with a puck. Maybe try to get him more space to make some plays on the second unit, or make him net front on the first unit.

For the record, this is Max Pacioretty.


For those of you who want the Stars to have a shooter, but don’t want Brett Ritchie near the top six, there’s your guy. If only he had been available and attainable at the trade deadline.

Hey, click these:

2/26/18 – Kick The Window Open
The Dallas Stars Need to Trade for Max Pacioretty, and Here’s Why
2/22/18 – David Freese, Brett Hull, and Arby’s
2/21/18 – Carmax, Priorities, and Ben Bishop
2/20/18 – Heiskanen Scored a Goal