Blackhawks News

Tolkien’s Take – The Fellowship of the “D”

By Unknown author

Stan Bowman has waived his wizard’s wand and made a number of changes to the Hawks “D” for the 2011/12 season.  And many people have already commented on the possible impact.  Some have stated the loss of Brian Campbell won’t hurt the team.  Others think the changes are a “wash” or will even make the Hawks worse.

“Was Brian Campbell worth the money the Chicago Blackhawks paid him in the 2010/11 season?”  There are fans out there who say “YES” because of how poorly the Hawks played when Campbell was injured.  Others say “NO” for exactly the same reason.

In this article we will discuss the potential impact of the new players and the possible “magic” these changes could have on the players already on the team.  And of course, answer that question about Campbell.

Fellowship of the “D”

They say the “group can be greater than the sum of the parts.”  I’m not sure on that.  What I am sure is that we can use some of the advanced stats to “dig” into the team performance and look at the impact of some of those parts.

In this exercise we are going to look at stats from behindthenet by Gabriel Desjardins; TOI/60 (Time on Ice per 60 minutes), GFon/60 (Goals For while on the ice per 60 minutes) and GAon/60 (Goals Against per 60 minutes).   If you know the “amount of games a player plays” and the “amount of time a player plays per game” you can determine the “percentage of that player’s ice time” when compared to the rest of the team.  If you also know the “rate of goals scored For and Against while that player is on the ice” you can then combine those results to see how those parts do indeed impact the team.

So let’s start with the reality of Campbell’s contract.  The Chicago Blackhawks had severe salary cap issues in the 2010/11 season.  These are well documented with the Bonus Cushion Penalty, the large contracts previously given out to Campbell and Hossa and the new ones given to Toews, Kane and Keith.  Because of these salary cap issues the Hawks did not have the cap space to pay for typical 5th and 6th defensemen.  As a consequence, the Hawks could only afford to bring in Nick Boynton to go along with Jordan Hendry as their 3rd D-pair.  And with our new TOI/60, GFon/60 and GAon/60 stats we can now add those player’s performances together and obtain the “average” rate of the Hawks three D-pairs combined.

First we need to determine how much 5on5 ice time actually happens in an average Chicago Blackhawks game.  We can determine this by removing the known total special team’s time divided by an 82 game season.  When we do this we see the average 5on5 ice time per game is 49.42 minutes.  So for two D-man we need 98.84 total minutes from the combined three D-pairs.  So all we have to do now is plug in our numbers.

The first issue we notice is total average ice time.  Boynton and Hendry didn’t typically play enough minutes per game for the Hawks to even reach that magical 98.84 number.  So earlier in the year, Q was forced to increase the average ice time of his top four defensemen to make up the difference.  That put an additional burden on his top four and in particular, Duncan Keith.

The second issue we notice is that the weakness of the third D-pair costs the Hawks some of the production gains generated from having Campbell on the team.

Quantity over Quality

So the Blackhawks traded Campbell to free up salary cap space.  They used some of this money to “shore up” the Hawks 3rd line.  Now we can compare results.  Are the Hawks better off with Campbell and a weak third D-Pair or with Leddy and a much improved 3rd D-Pair?  Well this involves looking at “projected numbers.”

I’m pretty sure the Hawks have attempted to do this with much better information than we have available to us.  We do, however, have the numbers that the Hawks statisticians would most likely start with.  We can look at how the new players did on their previous teams.  And it really is a fair place to start.  We are looking at the players production on the Blackhawks to be the same as their production on their original team.  These players are generally going to be playing with better teammates and since the Hawks have such a solid core, probably playing lower in the Hawks depth chart than their original team. So their quality of competition levels will probably be lower on the Hawks.  Again it seems like a good place to start.

So I want to emphasize that this is not predictive information but it does illustrate the point.   It is very possible that the improvements on the Hawks 3rd D-pair by themselves will almost entirely compensate for the Hawks losing Brian Campbell.  And that is without any improvement from Nick Leddy.

And that is the point that I think we as fans should be looking at.  The Hawks are not trying to replace Campbell with Leddy or Montador.  The Hawks are replacing Boynton and Hendry with Steve Montador and Sami Lepisto.  And it is that improvement that will offset the loss of Brian Campbell.  And any improvement next year by Leddy will simply be an additional bonus and improvement to the team.

But the Hawks are terrible without Campbell

And while we are on this subject, I really want to dispel the “but look at how the Hawks played without Brian Campbell” argument.   Because of the Hawks salary cap woes the Chicago Blackhawks had NO money for replacement players.  When Brian Campbell was injured the Hawks were forced to play Boynton, Hendry and a player called up from the AHL like Jassen Cullimore.  Using the same technique as before, we see that there is significant dropoff in overall performance when Cullimore replaced Campbell.  And that should be expected on a team with serious salary cap issues.

Now if we were to use the same technique with next year’s team we see that there is NOT that projected drop off if a player like Sean O’Donell were to replace a player like Leddy.  So when you spread the production out there isn’t as big a droppoff when a player is injured. And with the additional salary cap space your replacement players are better.  What this means is that in the salary cap era, Quality of Depth is a much bigger factor in looking at a teams overall performance.

And one more thing, there are diminishing returns when you pay players more money.  A 2M per year player has twice the salary of a 1M player but it is NOT reasonable to expect twice the performance; same with a 4M player over a 2M player.

The one area that generally does give you a more solid return for your money is at the lower end of the pay scale.  There tends to be a much bigger impact between a 750K player and a 500K, or now 525K, player.   Being able to pay players in this range is a much bigger deal in the salary cap era.  And it is probably the biggest potential improvement between the 2010/11 team and the 2011/12 teams.

In the next part of this article, I am going to talk about “The Two Towers,” Seabrook and Keith.  I might even get to the possible impact of “The Return of the King.”