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?
Green on scratching vets: "A lot of times, playing or not playing is based on age & sometimes it doesn't matter & you see a veteran guy sit out, but you have to give those guys the benefit some nights & sometimes you dont. We haven't got to that stage yet. I love MDZ's compete."
— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) January 23, 2018
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.
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)
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:
Shots against with and without Del Zotto on the ice 👀
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) January 24, 2018
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.
Just for you pic.twitter.com/Vj0E7OU8VY
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) January 24, 2018
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Bos and Dal are one standard deviation better than league-avg at shot suppression, which depresses their overall pace in a very good way. pic.twitter.com/tF0zZjX2aQ
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) January 25, 2018
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!