Photo Credit: Brad Mills - USA TODAY Sports

Ben Hutton is Clearly Superior to Michael Del Zotto; Why Doesn’t his Deployment Reflect That?

Canucks Army is talking about Ben Hutton again, big surprise? Well, if it weren’t for painful deployment decisions courtesy Canucks head coach Travis Green, I wouldn’t have to do this!

No matter how you evaluate players, or which direction you want the team to be going, or how you want assets managed, there is no justification for playing Del Zotto over Hutton; it has to stop! Then again, maybe it’s an age thing?

If you’re here, I’m assuming you’re a Canucks fan. There’s a good chance that you want this team to get younger and to continue to build for the future, too.

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So, I can’t imagine you feel terribly enthusiastic about Green opting to play an older defenceman in Del Zotto ahead of the 24-year-old Hutton. And if you are enthusiastic about that decision, perhaps I’ve just the argument to convince you otherwise. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that playing Hutton ahead of Del Zotto isn’t just an age thing either. And I’ve got a wealth of data to prove my point.

It would be easy to jump to conclusions about the two based on counting stats, but I’d encourage you to join me as I dig a little deeper under the hood to see who’s driving sustainable on-ice success for the Canucks in less obvious ways and equally meaningful ways. While you’re doing so, keep in mind that Hutton and Del Zotto have played almost identitical competition according to their underlying metrics. In fact, Hutton has a slight edge in the quality of competition he’s faced.

Blue outline – Advantage

Purple outline – Neutral Zone Defensive (Without puck)

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Green outline – Defensive Zone Transition (With puck)

Del Zotto has the edge in counting stats with his fifteen points compared to Hutton’s six. For some people, that gap in individual scoring production is enough to dismiss any further evaluation — not me. As we begin to dig a little we begin to understand why Del Zotto’s points aren’t enough to outweigh his issues without the puck as the Canucks are only controlling 44.7% of the shot attempts with him on the ice relative to the 48.2% rate the team enjoys with Hutton’s presence.

That’s a fairly sizeable difference, even more so when you’re playing similar competition. When we start to look at their Corsi for and against per 60 minutes, we discover just where that 3.49% is coming from and how much it adds up. The Corsi for/60 edge goes to Del Zotto with 51.87 CF/60 compared to Hutton’s 51.39, meaning the Canucks generate a slightly higher rate of shot attempts with Del Zotto on the ice. This difference isn’t noteworthy, though.

Their Corsi against/60 rating is another matter entirely. This is the beginning of a trend of Del Zotto slightly outperforming Hutton on the offensive side of the puck and getting drastically outperformed on the defensive side. With Hutton on the ice, the Canucks are surrendering about 55.5 shot attempts against each, which is a fine if unspectacular number; with Del Zotto on the ice, that number jumps to 64.20 shot attempts an hour.

That ads up to 8.71 more shots generated against per 60 minutes while Del Zotto is on the ice compared to Hutton. This is tough to overlook when you’re generating the same amount of shots. But maybe Del Zotto keeps the shots to the outside? Lets see:

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Nope, that doesn’t really seem to be the case.

Hutton’s shots against chart, meanwhile, suggests he might be doing just that. Look at all that blue on the left side and in front of the net which is dark red on Del Zotto’s chart.

So with Del Zotto on the ice, the Canucks give up substantially more shots against and they’re of a considerably higher quality.

Even when you take into consideration the shots that Del Zotto blocks, Hutton still has the edge in Fenwick against with the Canucks allowing 44.13 Fenwick Against/60 compared to Del Zotto’s 49.27, a gap of a little over five shots on goal against per hour.

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How about scoring chances generated against the team? Del Zotto is among the bottom five defencemen in the NHL who have played over 500 minutes with a staggering 34.66 scoring chances against/60! While Hutton is trailing only Chris Tanev by .02 for the team lead at 28.65 SCA/60. These outputs really aren’t adding up for Del Zotto, are they? Let’s observe some micro-stats and see if he’ll fair any better.



We’ll begin with controlled entries against. This is a measurement of how many times the individual is directly targeted and a controlled zone entry is allowed against.

Hutton –  15.28 Controlled Entries Against/60

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Del Zotto – 18.07 Controlled Entries Against/60


Now let’s take a look at how many plays each player is breaking up in the neutral zone per 60 minutes played.

Hutton – 6.07 Breaks-Ups/60

Del Zotto – 4.16 Break- Ups/60

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Lastly for neutral zone defence, let’s see how many dump-ins each player is forcing per 60 minutes played.

Hutton – 17.53

Del Zotto – 15.02

As you can see, it’s quite clear that Hutton is a far superior and more aggressive defender in the neutral zone which is likely leading to the much better outputs in nearly every defensive category.

Zone Exits

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Now we’ll take a look at how each defenceman is handling the puck in the defensive zone and generating controlled zone exits.

Hutton – 42.80% Controlled Zone Exit Rate

Del Zotto – 39.49% Controlled Zone Exit Rate

And Fails/60, primarily these are turnovers in the defensive zone but it also includes icings and any play which results in a defensive zone face-off.

Hutton – 9.79 Fails/60

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Del Zotto – 10.18 Fails/60

Just a reminder, the league average controlled zone exit rate was slightly above 38% last year, which Hutton is well above and he’s committing slightly fewer errors than Del Zotto with the puck in the defensive zone.

To sum up the micro quickly, Hutton has a higher primary shot contribution in the offensive zone, better defensive contributions in the neutral zone and a better record in transition out of the defensive zone. There’s a legitimate argument with evidence that Hutton is better in all three zones and that’s not even the most concerning aspect of this debate. What is you ask? Let’s examine.


So it’s clear that Travis Green is trying to accomplish low event hockey (limit shots against at the sacrifice of fewer shots for) as we can see in this chart below.

In short, the chart above is shots for combined with shots against. So the lower or higher you are doesn’t necessarily mean “better” as you have to take into account the type of style each team is playing and what they’re trying to accomplish. With the limited talent on the Canucks, it makes sense that Green is trying to play low event hockey. So where the Canucks are on this chart is, in my opinion, a good sign. You’ll notice the Canucks are running at a rate of just over 95 shots for and against per hour, with Hutton and Tanev combo on the ice, that rate plunges to 87.43.

What concerns me is lately Green has been jumping at the opportunity to play Del Zotto with Tanev over Hutton with Tanev due to his reluctance to scratch the shot blocking, hit dishing veteran. When you look at Hutton and Tanev’s numbers together, they haven’t fallen off since my first article discussing the optimal pairings in mid December. When paired together, they are an elite shot suppression, low event pairing in the NHL — the exact style Travis Green is trying to deploy! This pairing is staring him right in the face, begging to be played nightly, leaned on even. And yet Del Zotto remains not only in the line-up due to his age and newly discovered physical edge but playing ahead of the superior defenceman in Hutton.

I’ll spare you the below league average Del Zotto-Tanev stats, but lets take a quick look at how Hutton and Tanev are performing while paired together compared to other pairings in the league with a minimum of 200 minutes together.

Hutton/Tanev 47.74 CA/60 <— 5th best in the NHL!

Hutton/Tanev 1.28 GA/60 <— 3rd best in the NHL!

Hutton/Tanev GF% 72.22% <— 2nd best in the NHL!


Keep in mind, this is a lottery team and these two are putting up those kind of numbers. Deploying this pairing for 15-20, 5v5 minutes per night is a no brainer! Is there nobody in the organization that is bringing this to Green’s attention? And if they are, are they challenging him enough on this matter?

Pro Del Zotto crowd, tell me what I’m missing, your turn!

  • truthseeker

    More proof of how amazing Tanev is.

    Again, I think it comes down to antiquated “old boys” thinking that results from an apprentice based learning situation that is coaching. Things are very slow to change when coaches who learn from coaches who learn from coaches still value certain “rules” for treatment of players.

    I think Green’s done an excellent job but he’s got the “old boy” blinders on for a lot of things. People here whined about the people who kept calling out Green for that absolutely stupid decision to sit Boeser for the first two games but it was a sign of exactly this type of thinking.

  • Bud Poile

    H/G-.6 Hutton
    H/G- 2.6 MDZ ranks second amongst all d-men
    Hutton is the lowest/last d-man on the hit list.
    Blocked shots per game:
    Hutton ranks last of all d-men.
    Shooting %
    Hutton last again.
    PPG: Second to last.
    SH ice per game:
    Hutton:5th of 7 d-men
    MDZ is 3rd
    ES time per game:
    MDZ ranks second amongst all d-men.
    Hutton ranks fourth.
    Tanev has a lot to do with propping up Hutton’s stats.

    • Freud

      Reading Pud’s rebuttal is like reading one of Einstein’s Field Equations and then going to the Einstein message board and some 5 year old is telling us 2+2=22.

      • Dirty30

        Except the 5 year old understands logic better than Bud whose answer to 2+2=banana.

        What Bud fails to realize/conceptualize with his comparison of Hutton to MDZ is the latter has more hits and blocked shots because he doesn’t have the puck!

        MDZ looks good because he’s flying all over the ice looking busy, but if he’s out of position, chasing the play then he’s not being effective as a D. TG seems to get sucked into the same view of MDZ looking busy and being physical but seems to overlook his team losing more than winning and is getting pushed sround.

        • Freud

          Yes, Pud is too senile to realize he’s confirming what this writer is saying. But in his mind he’s a genius.

          If you lead your team in hits and blocked shots you are bad. If you lead the team in shorthanded ice time and your team is 25th on the Pk, that’s bad. If you are bad and lead your team in ice time, that’s also bad.

          • Fortitude00

            WTF if a defence men leads team in hits and blocked shots he is bad? Perhaps he leads the team because he has the most playing time? Pretty sure blocked shots and hits occur when opposing team coming in on offence. So ya of course the D doesn’t have the puck.

    • Riley Miner

      LOL. Half of your point is that Hutton gets less ice time than MDZ. Uhhhhhhhh, okay? Also, you cited a low Shooting % as a negative against Hutton? Sure, he’s not the greatest of shooters but generally if he’s last he’s due for some shooting luck at some point. The only real point you’re making is A.) Tanev props him up (which is fair, but MDZ was still markedly worse in every underlying stat playing next to Tanev so that doesn’t help your point) and B.) MDZ hits more, which is fair but doesn’t matter when he’s getting absolutely hammered on the score board. Plus/minus doesn’t matter, it’s a crappy stat. You don’t need to look at it to know he’s having a horrendous year.

      • Bud Poile

        All the Norris finalists come off their couches in another attempt to sarcastically respond with irrrelevance.
        Riley,I hate to have to point it out to you but Hutton is propped up with 5v5 minutes.
        While MDZ plays HARD PK MINUTES Hutton is floating while Tanev covers his rear end.
        Hutton’s SH% is 0(ZERO).
        If your young LHD man can’t score,doesn’t defend,rarely hits or blocks a shot you couple him with your best defensive RHD man,prop up his stats for the TDL.
        Juolevi and Holm render Butter Ben as irrelevant as Larsen.

        • Riley Miner

          I seem to remember PITB making a point about how Hutton’s one of our best PK defenders. Don’t you think maybe it’s on Green that he’s not playing more on the PK? — Also, I can’t wait until Holm actually plays and you call him Butter Holm because he’s not playing the PK either. I don’t know what you’re trying to say. The point is that he drives offense and is far better defensively. Sure, it’d be nice if he could put the puck in the net more, but we’re not comparing Hutton to the average top-4 defenseman here, we’re comparing him to MDZ. The point is that he helps the Canucks play hockey better when he’s on the ice when juxtaposed to MDZ. — Also your point about the PK… MDZ is horrible on the PK. Have you watched him? Just because he’s playing PK doesn’t mean he’s good at it.

  • wojohowitz

    It took half a season for Green to figure out what most Canuck fans already knew. Edler and Stecher work well together. Will it be next summer when Green admits he made some mistakes or is he just refusing to take advice from everybody around him.

  • Nuck16

    Makes sense to me to show more respect for veteran on a 1yr contract with a -20 than a young up an comer that you’re hoping will be the cornerstone of your team someday, not unlike Tryamkin…oh yeah, he’s not here anymore, I wonder why?

  • Steamer

    Not a fan of MDZ; have noticed improvement in Hutton’s game, although he may still find himself a scratch. If Chicago or anyone else is interested, a 2nd round pick would be fine with me. Green referenced his hits & blocks & minutes when asked this week about MDZ’s game.

    • Fortitude00

      if he isn’t getting a shot on this club with one of the worst defensive corps in the NHL that should tell he isn’t very good and probably not NHL caliber.

  • bobdaley44

    Have to disagree. Hutton has absolutely no grit. Not to mention his weak gap control. Say what you will about MDZ but at least he competes and throws some hits out there. Could he be replaced? Hell ya. But not by Hutton. He’s gotta go. Trade him at the deadline if you can get something tangible. Guy plays like he’s playing pond hockey. You look at how Doughty competes. Thats what you want.

    • Ser Jaime Lannister

      Our whole team has zero grit. Pouliot, Hutton, Stecher, Tanev, even edler half the time dont provide a physical presence. Not to mention 90% of our forward lineup…This team slow, small, and soft, has been for years this is nothing new. How many times have we seen MDZ throw a hit while theres no back check presence, get caught out of position, and scored on….the guy has the worst plus minus (-45 in his career) not to mention its a shooting gallery for the other team while hes out there. Get rid of this scrub please!

      • bobdaley44

        You telling me Stetcher and Tanev have no grit? They’re not intimidating but they battle hard for pucks whereas Hutton’s always stick checking like he’s playing pickup hockey. I agree they are slow, small and soft hence the Virtanen drafting and Gudbranson trade much to CA’s chagrin.

        • Ser Jaime Lannister

          I love Stecher the kid has heart, but being 5″10 175 pounds soak n wet the “grit” he shows isnt merely enough to be effective. He is struggling out there to win the board battles, teams that like to forecheck and are “Heavy” as TG puts it (which is majorty of the Pacific division) doesnt help his case. Tanev is just fundamentally sound, hes always in the right place at the right time and two steps ahead of the play which is why hes to valuable.

  • The_Blueline

    Great article.
    The problem about questionable deployment is that too many people, even hockey ops look at the wrong stuff to determine success. Grit, compete, blocked shots, hits… it doesn’t matter. We new D hat keep the puck away from their own net and bring it up ice. Hutton does just that very well. You can see that with your bare eyes (for those who don’t trust stats…)

    • No CA Mod

      For those of us that plied their trade on the blueline that’s insufficiently simplistic.The position requires offensive and defensive acumen.
      DZ brings both.
      Hutton brings neither.
      Can’t insert him short handed and has next to zero offensive skill.
      Keep him propped up with Tanev in the hopes some GM likes his smile.

      • Ser Jaime Lannister

        Sure would be nice to have a D man that can exit his zone…instead of watching one cough it up and let it be a shooting gallery when hes on the ice. Maybe we should put Hutton on the PK what are we rigth now 25th in the league? damn thats pathetic! Bud you need to watch the games sober as tough as that can be and youll see why he earned the nickname Del Zaster….

  • Cageyvet

    Hutton is better than Del Zotto by the eye test as well, but not in the early part of the season, it was the exact opposite.

    Either way, it’s not worth the hand-wringing because if Hutton is to be of value long-term, he has to positively eclipse MDZ’s stats, the bar is not that high.

    Basically you scratch Hutton because he’s young, not to fail to develop him, but to encourage the right kind of development. MDZ is the old dog who won’t be learning new tricks, while Hutton (especially baby faced always smiling Hutton) is the puppy you’re trying to housetrain.

    If you make him work for it his value may go up. Right now he’s playing like a bottom pairing guy who is indeed a candidate to be scratched, on a very poor defensive squad, just like Del Zotto.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Every team has a goalie coach, why not a coach devoted strictly to the defensemen? And not some fringe NHLer like Baumgartner. Bring Mathias Ohlund over, or hire Larry Robinson or someone like him to teach these guys how to play NHL hockey. The whole Hutton/DelZotto argument is moot, because they both stink. Hutton has made zero progress since his rookie year 3 years ago, and that is unacceptable.He does not show nearly enough skill to play as soft as he does.DelZotto is ok, but he is a 5/6 guy being asked to do way too much.

  • Wise_Canuck

    Debating MDZ and a fifth round outlier like Hutton really isn’t the issue here… this is about making the right picks to make the playoffs and contending for the Stanley Cup in a parity based league every year ffs.

    The bigger question here is WHY Benning did not draft NHL studs like Sergachev, McAvoy or Chychrin or on the backend… or Larkin, Nylander and Ehlers up front because ALL were available to us and all would’ve immediately changed this club for the better… check the standings for proof and too see how much of an epic fail this clown Benning is – get him out NOW!

  • OMAR49

    I’m neither for Del Zoto or Hutton. Frankly, I would prefer to see them both on some other team. However, the problem I have with these analyses that are based solely on stats is they do not take into consideration various mitigating factors. It would appear to me that it would be easier to have better controlled exists, controlled break-outs, etc. if you are playing against the other teams 3rd and 4th lines, which is the case with the Hutton than if you were playing against the other teams 1st and 2nd lines. In other words, Hutton and Del Zotto are not facing the same level of competition. Hutton’s biggest problem is not a lack of his physical skills but he doesn’t seem to think the game very well and makes a number of mental mistakes.

    • Freud

      All mitigating factors such as quality of competition are taken into account. These questions were settled long ago. Please go do the research first.

      These pieces are written for the informed fan. They writers will lose their core readers if the dumb it down with long winded explanations every time.

  • Burnabybob

    A lot of people talk about MDZ’s hits, and Hutton’s lackthereof. Personally I think hits are overrated. Fans love them, beyond separating a player from the puck is gratuitous. And though heavy hits can intimidate, they also often anger and inspire. The Canucks Hawks series shifted momentum dramatically after Torres hit on Seabrook in 2011. In the final series, Rome’s hit on Horton decisively changed the course of the series.

  • Dan the Fan

    Virtanen doesn’t play a 200ft game… get benched. Del Zotto doesn’t play a 200ft game… doesn’t matter. He’s a defenceman – it’s not like his job is to play defense or anything.

  • Rodeobill

    What concerns me is the sneaky feeling I get about Green’s idea of being “competetive.” I hope he isn’t just asking his players to do everything at a 100mph nonstop with a scowl each shift, this could lead to rushing into poor choices, and I don’t like seeing people play without heart, or just coast around, but some people might be taking a moment to read the play. How it looks and the manner in which people are competetive looks different from person to person. Knowing when to relax is just as important to knowing when to use force in any sport from martial arts to golf and so on. I don’t assume to know, but I hope Green doesn’t think Hutton is noncompetitive because he always looks friendly and doesn’t beserk each shift. As for his value as a d man I definitely don’t think he is the worst of our problems.

  • defenceman factory

    Not sure it makes much difference which of these guys is better, neither have been good this year.I can’t see playing Hutton over DZ all year making more than a 4 to 6 point difference over the season. More likely Canucks lose games by one less goal once in awhile.

    Canucks have 2 bona fide NHL defencemen. Beyond Tanev and Edler arguing which D is better is a bit like getting to choose your method of execution. Tanev can carry any one of the other guys and be a decent pairing. Edler paired with any other of the current Dmen is a somewhat below average 3rd pairing. Canucks need 3 Dmen that are better than any of the rest of the other D on the roster and need a replacement for Edler before long. The forward group is playoff capable within a couple years. Long way to go on D.

  • Sandpaper

    Àrguing over 2 questionable nhl players is pointless. This team will be going through many more of these types of players over the next 2 or 3 seasons, while the new core transitions into the lineup.

  • valleycanuck

    Great article, thanks Darryl. I love the shot-location charts, such an interesting way to track effectiveness in the defensive zone. In this case it’s also very telling. The combined stats of Hutton and Tanev look really promising. Hopefully somebody somewhere in the Canucks organization pays attention to those things and we see more of that moving forward. I was previously on the fence about Hutton, but this article convinced me he’s more valuable to the organization than the late-2nd round pick he might recoup in a trade.