Last week the Chicago Blackhawks announced a five-year contract extension with defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Though this signing didn’t garner nearly as much attention as the extension the club gave to goaltender Corey Crawford, ‘Hawks fans know that Hjalmarsson’s impact on the team is only matched by few players on the roster. It is Hjalmarsson’s play on the defensive end that complements the game of those around him, perhaps most notably Crawford.
Let’s take a look at the stats that are most closely associated with top-tier defensemen in the NHL. Hjalmarsson has not been bitten by the injury bug in his career and has played in over 90% of the team’s games since the start of the 2009 season and though he is not known for his offensive prowess, Hjalmarsson was able to post a plus/minus rating of 15 in the lockout shortened season. But to really understand his value to this ‘Hawks squad, we have to dive a little bit deeper into the numbers.
Advanced metrics for statistics are becoming all the rage in sports, especially with regard to baseball and basketball. Hockey has its own sets of advanced statistics that show the value of a player like Hjalmarsson, whose impact on the game may not always show up in the box score. Because Hjalmarsson is known for his defense, it is best to look at his advanced statistics for two situations, five on five ice-time, and when he is on the penalty kill.
In full strength scenarios, Hjalmarsson spent the 3rd most time on the ice out of Blackhawks defenseman, which is no small feat considering Duncan Keith, who was number one on that list, played over 832 minutes. In his nearly 787 minutes on the ice during a five on five situation, Hjalmarsson ranks as a top three defenseman on the team in advanced categories such as quality of teammate rating, the quality of competition he faced from an opposing offense, and the Fenwick system of analyzing a player’s total defensive performance. These results show the valuable defense Hjarmalsson has played against some of the team’s top competition, as well as how much he has been relied on by coach Joel Quenneville in critical situations.
But Hjalmarsson’s most important impact takes place when the team is shorthanded. He was far and away the ‘Hawks best defenseman in these situations, registering the highest score on the Fenwick scale of overall play during penalty kills. Across the board, Hjalmarsson was the Blackhawks most important penalty killer and should play an even bigger role with Michael Frolik switching jerseys, and subsequently, PK units. When all is said and done, the Hjalmarsson extension was just as crucial as Crawford’s and though Crawford’s deal took over the spotlight, Hjalmarsson staying a Blackhawk for the next five years is the best news ‘Hawks fans can read, even if they have to go to the back page to see it.