Players get stereotyped and pigeonholed into certain classes. Take Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith for example. 72 (Seabrook and Keith) are known as the Hawks’ top defensive pair, playing against the other teams top lines and shutting them down. Brian Campbell, on the other hand, is known for his offensive puck moving game. He was the guy out there when the Hawks were in offensive situations.
And, per usual, the advanced hockey stats used here are 5on5 and come from behindthenet by Gabriel Desjardins. In the chart to the right are the “offensive stats” for Campbell, Keith and Seabrook. They are “goals per 60 minutes”, “primary and secondary assists per 60″ and total points per 60 minutes of play.” Can you put them in the correct order? Without cheating?
The truth of the matter is that most of the stats concerning Seabrook and Keith for this past year were confusing. They just didn’t match up well with the other members of the team. It was so confusing in fact that I actually went into each games results for when 72 was on the ice to figure out what actually happened.
If you look at the forwards and defensive pairs that normally play together you see a huge contradiction. Dave Bolland who is typically matched with 72 against the other teams top lines has a positive Plus Minus. However, 7 & 2 both have negative Plus Minuses even though they did play most of their time together with Bolland.
Brian Campbell and Patrick Sharp (while playing center) typically were in offensive situations against the other teams lower lines. Yet Sharp’s Plus Minus numbers are negative and Campbell’s are dominantly positive.
You would think Jonathan Toews‘ Plus Minus would be similar to Keith’s simply by the similar quality of competition numbers. They had to play a lot together to get those similar QoC numbers.
What gives? I went into the games score by score to find out. And the answers really point to “what happened” for 72 and the Chicago Blackhawks’ this season.
When looking at which forward lines were matched with Seabrook and Keith an interesting observation emerges. 72 was playing all over the place. It wasn’t just the Bolland line and “half” of the Toews line that were paired with the Hawks top D-pair. They played in a lot more situations than you would typically have thought.
Those extra shifts babysitting the bottom lines
The first number that jumps off the chart is the big minus number the Hawks top D-pair had when playing with 4th line players. Why were the Hawks top D-Pair playing that much with 4th line players? There appears to be two reasons for this.
One was the Hawks lack of Defensemen depth that we talked about in the “Fellowship of the D” article. In looking at the chart, you can see that there was an increase in total 5o5 TOI this last season compared to the previous one. In a number of those additional shifts, 72 were playing with the bottom forward lines.
Normally, the Hawks top pair should NOT be playing that much with the Hawks’ 4th line. Getting that much extra time and in defensive zone starts appears to be directly related to Q’s lack of trust in the Hawks 3rd D-pair. So Q tried to use 72 as a “band-aid” to the Hawks lack of depth. And it simply didn’t work.
And coupled to that was Dave Bolland missing time with various injuries. During those stretches the Hawks really had two 4th lines and Q tried to use 72 to protect the Hawks weaknesses there. Again, it appears to be simply too much time on the ice during long stretches of the season for the Hawks top pair to handle.
The other big minus in the 72 chart was with the Hawks’ 2nd line. You would think Sharp (at center) would be playing almost exclusively with Campbell. That was NOT the case. Early in the year when Campbell was hurt, 72 suffered with the disastrous combination of Patrick Sharp at center and Marty Turco in goal.
But that wasn’t all. Sharp would play with 72 in some defensive zone draws and Campbell in more offensive zone draws. So Seabrook and Keith were taking the defensive assignments with Sharp instead of Campbell.
This brings me back to my original question. Looking at my original chart for Seabrook, Campbell and Keith you see that Seabrook actually had a slightly better offensive performance this year. At least when looking at points per time on ice. Yet the Hawks were platooning him and Campbell with Seabrook getting the defensive shifts. Why is that?
Seabrook and Keith tend to be viewed as the best defensive defensemen on the Chicago Blackhawks. Seabrook in particular is viewed as more of a “stay at home” defensemen. In truth 72 are two of the best two way defensemen in the league. They are every bit as good as Campbell in the offensive zone. It is really Q’s distrust of Campbell in the defensive zone, in my opinion, that would make him platoon Campbell and Seabrook. The problem again is that the Hawks appeared to overuse 72. While Campbell did get a lot of ice time and in long stretches, as well. It was in far more favorable situations to the ice time given to 72.
Looking at 72′s performances this year was pretty striking. 72′s primary responsibilities were to play with Bolland against the other teams top line. They seemed to handle that well.
72′s next toughest assignment was to play with Toews in defensive situations, especially when Bolland was injured. They seemed to handle that well.
It was only with the additional assignments that the Hawks had for 72 where they appeared to fail. Patrick Sharp had a tough year at center. 72 was not able to avert problems in the defensive zone when Sharp was at center.
Next year it appears that the Hawks are going to try and use others in that second line center slot. And Nick Leddy and Duncan Keith look like they might be more permanently paired with whoever does play on that second line.
And finally, the Hawks tried to use 72 to cover the Hawks lack of defensive depth. That appears to have failed utterly. Next year the Hawks have a better 3rd D-pair and more defensive minded forwards on the bottom six. This should dramatically help both Seabrook’s and Keith’s performances for next year. We will see if possibly less ice time will also make a difference.
In the Final part of this article, I am going to talk about the possible “Return of the King.” At this point, I think it is pretty easy to figure out who that might be.