Oduya, Seabrook, and Optimal Defensive Pairings

Below are some questions I received in an email.

Questions: What do the analytics reveal about Oduya?

For that, I would check out Sean Tierney’s breakdown of Oduya for The Athletic.

But I’ll provide some info here.

First let’s look at how Dallas has used him this season via Hockey Abstract’s interactive viz.

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Oduya is one of the farthest to the left. This means he is heavily used in the defensive zone. He often is sent out on defensive zone faceoffs and isn’t used that often for offensive zone faceoffs. (In above chart, defensive zone usage is to the left and offensive zone usage is to the right).

Vertically, Oduya’s position tells us he does not play against the opponents top lines. (Higher equals plays against the best competition. Lower equals plays against weak competition). With Dallas, he was most likely playing against the opponents third and second lines.

The color of Oduya’s circle tells us how his Corsi For % is (which team outshoots the other with this player on the ice). Notice the scale at the bottom? Orange is bad as it means the player is one of the weaker players on the team in terms of Corsi. Blue is good. That color illustrates Dallas has better shot metrics with this player on the ice.

So overall, this viz illustrates that Dallas plays Oduya in defensive situations against average to weak competition and the opponents are dominating play when he’s on the ice.

One other viz we can look at is his HERO chart via Own The Puck.

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With his HERO chart, we can see how Oduya’s individual production and team puck possession numbers stack up with the rest of the league.

He receives the amount of ice time of a typical 2nd pairing defensemen.

He scores goals equivalent to that of a third pairing defensemen, however, he records assists at the rate of a 2nd pairing defensemen.

His puck possession numbers look unpleasant. 17th percentile in shot generation, 44th percentile in shot suppression, and 23rd percentile in shot differential.

23rd percentile means he has better shot metrics than 23% of the NHL. Inversely, 77% of the NHL have better shot metrics than Johnny Oduya.

One could also think of percentiles in relation to league average with 50% being somewhere around average. An orange boxed, below 50% percentile could be thought of as subpar in that stat.

What this all tells me is that Oduya probably needs a reduced role to that of a third pairing defensemen, where he has been looked upon as a second pairing defensemen until now.

If I had a choice between Trevor Van Riemsdyk or Johnny Oduya this season in that I can pick only one player to be on the Blackhawks. The cap and particulars are all equal and I’m just going player for player. I’m taking the 25-year-old TVR over the 35-year-old Oduya.

Van Riemsdyk has been vilified by many in the Blackhawks fan base because he isn’t flashy. Yet, the same people will claim that Chicago needs Oduya because he’s reliable player.

Both are like the same player. Reliable defensive defensemen with not much flash to their game, expect now Oduya has fallen off because of age.

But what do I mean when I talk about age? Why does everyone look down upon aging players?

Here is the NHL defenseman age curve via Canucks Army, written by a person now working for the Florida Panthers.

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I shouldn’t have to explain this one. D-men really drop off when they reach their thirties. One shouldn’t expect 35-year-old Oduya to perform comparable to how you may have remembered him for the Blackhawks in the past because of his age. Older players decrease in talent.

A side note, this graphic is one of the reasons why many say the Brent Seabrook contract was a very poor one. He’s 31-years-old now and the contract runs through his age-38 season. Above, you can see how his performance might soon crater. This obviously doesn’t mean he will follow this exact trajectory. On the other hand, this is most likely what one can expect out of Seabrook for the next eight seasons. Each season a little worse than the one previous.

It’s likely Kempny will sit for Oduya. Would the analytics support this decision?

They would not support that decision, although, one must state that these players are used quite differently. Oduya plays against average competition with defensive usage. Kempny plays against weak competition with slightly offensive usage. However, Kempny has quite excelled at the workload coach Quenneville has given him. This suggests to me that Kempny could take on more responsibility.

The case I will make for Oduya is the Stars are a poor team with what appears to be weak defensive structure. Maybe he excels more in Chicago’s system than he did in Dallas.

What is the best pairing for Oduya?

The Oduya – Hjalmarsson pairing was good in the past, but I’m not sure how it would perform now. Hjalmarsson needs to be facing the top competition. We know that Oduya probably needs to be facing the opponents weakest lines. Also, neither are effective puck movers. This might have been alright in the past when the Blackhawks had ALL the talented forwards on ALL the lines, but I think this pairing could really struggle to get the puck out of their zone. Hjalmarsson has to play on his backhand, and neither are that good in transition.

Seabrook probably has to be with Keith. Opponents outscore and outshoot ever one of Seabrook’s main pairings (Keith, Campbell, Hjalmarsson) this season except for the Kempny pairing. The Kempny-Seabrook pairing has been quite good, outshooting and outscoring opponents by a wide margin.

With the Keith-Seabrook pairing locked up, that leave either:

  • Oduya – Hjalmarsson
  • Campbell – TVR

or

  • Campbell – Hjalmarsson
  • Oduya – TVR

Campbell – Hjalmarsson pairing has been excellent in 40 measly minutes which isn’t enough to go off of.  Campbell – TVR has been okay.

My optimal pairing would be

  1. Keith – Hjalmarsson
  2. Kempny – Seabrook
  3. Campbell – TVR

OR

  1. Keith – Seabrook
  2. Hjalmarsson – TVR
  3. Campbell – An offensive right shot defensemen the Blackhawks should have traded for but maybe wasn’t available.

Has Seabrook’s play improved being paired with Keith? Or, is it better with Kempny?

So So So So So So much better with Kempny.

Okay, the Kempny – Seabrook pairing is obviously not going up against the best competition which benefits Seabrook.

The Keith – Seabrook pairing will face the best of the best, that is not ideal for Brent Seabrook who at this point in his career needs to play easier minutes with less responsibility.

Quick look at the numbers.

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  • Each of these pairing have over 100 minutes together this season.
  • BLUE = Shot differential. Above 50% means Chicago outshoots opponents with that pairing on the ice.
  • GREEN = Shot Quality. Above 50% means Chicago is expected to outscore opponents with this pairing on the ice via shot quality.
  • YELLOW = Scoring Chance differential. Above 50% means Chicago is out-chancing opponents with this pairing on the ice.
  • ORANGE = Goal Differential. Above 50% means Chicago is out-scoring opponents with this paring on the ice.

What is the common theme with this graphic?

You probably guessed correctly that being above 50% is good and below 50% is subpar. That  is why the 50% black reference line is on the graph for convenience.

As you can see, Only the Kempny – Seabrook pairing is above 50% in any of the four stats in the graph. Chicago prospers when Seabrook is with Kempny and they suffer when Seabrook has been with any of his other main partners.

Closing Thoughts

To quickly summarize, optimal defensive pairings would find Oduya on the third pairing playing against weak competition and Seabrook paired with Kempny with less responsibility. Keith – Hjalmarsson can play the tough minutes. Hjalmarsson – TVR has been a historically positive pairing that would allow Hjalmarrson to play on his strong side which would improve his transition, zone exit game.

Seabrook and Van Riemsdyk are the only true right side defensemen. Because of this, things start to get complicated when trying to fit all the pieces together. They might not be able to make the most optimal defensive pairings, but Chicago will have the benefit of quality defensive depth come playoff time.

Last playoffs they had Rundblad, Keith, Gustafsson, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Van Riemsdyk, Rozsival, and Svedberg.

This season, if healthy, they should have Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Campbell, Van Riemsdyk, Kempny, Rozsival. Plus they still have Svedberg, Forsling, Gustafsson, and Pokka in the AHL.