Digging into what the numbers say about how much Quinn Hughes is carrying Filip Hronek

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
5 months ago
After arriving in Vancouver to much hype and then blowing that hype out of the water with his early performance in 2023/24, some of the shine is starting to wear off of Filip Hronek, and fans and media alike are beginning to share some preliminary doubts about the quality of his game.
There’s really little doubt that Hronek is the best RHD the Canucks have had in recent memory, or that he’s the highest quality partner that has ever been provided to Quinn Hughes.
But it appears that there’s room for debate as to whether being the best partner Hughes has had really translates into being a good partner. And it seems there’s especially some room for debate when it comes to how much of the success of the Hughes/Hronek pairing is due to Hronek’s own abilities, and how much is a result of Hughes carrying him along.
It’s not hard to see where the confusion comes from. The Hughes/Hronek pairing has been an exceptionally effective one all season long, easily one of the best in the NHL by virtually any statistical measure.
The success of the pairing, however, comes at the same time that Hughes himself has taken a clear-cut step forward into the very uppermost echelons of blueline talent. It’s obvious to anyone watching that Hronek is at least a step or two behind Hughes when it comes to both offensive and defensive ability, and as the season has progressed, that gulf has become all the more apparent.
But, again, there’s really two different conversations happening here. Folks are correct when they assert that Hughes is the stronger defender of the two, and there’s just no way they’re not correct to suggest that playing with Hughes is better for Hronek than playing with Hronek is for Hughes. But some then take the argument a step further in stating that most or all of Hronek’s success this season is a result of Hughes, or that Hughes is outright carrying Hronek, and that’s a much more contentious statement.
It is, at the very least, a statement that is being shared more frequently in recent weeks, what with the Canucks losing a little more frequently than they had been before, and Hronek’s RFA status and potential arbitration hearing looming ever closer.
Some are going as far as to say that the Canucks need to split Hughes and Hronek now, so as to reveal the “real” Hronek alongside lesser partners and avoid having to pay for the version of him that’s propped up by a Norris contender.
So, we decided to test this notion against some hard numbers.
When folks talk about Hughes’ impact on Hronek and vice-versa, they’re mainly talking about WOWY stats, or “with or without you.” Cue the U2.
Our friends over at NaturalStatTrick are the best source of such statistics, and they admittedly don’t paint a pretty picture of Hronek at first blush.
From NaturalStatTrick.com, representing 5v5 ice-time
The Hughes/Hronek pairing is a dominant one. In 5v5 situations, they’ve played more than 500 minutes together and are a +16 with a 54.65% Corsi and a 53.67% control of scoring chances. All this, with the bulk of their shared minutes together coming against top-six competition.
But once one gets away from the “Hughes+Hronek” column, the image begins to shift.
One might first notice that all of Hughes’ stats actually improve when he’s away from Hronek. It’s only a 162-minute sample size, but over that period Hughes has a higher Corsi, a higher rate of goals for, and a significantly greater control of high-danger chances (to the tune of 48.65% to 60.38%) when he’s not playing with Hronek.
That sounds bad, but there’s a fairly logical explanation. Hughes and Hronek have been paired together in most games, but even within those games Hughes has played a little more at even-strength due to occasional double-shifting. Usually, such double-shifts might come with lesser partners, but they also come either against lesser competition or in situations where the Canucks are pouring it on looking for a goal. Either case is going to skew Hughes’ stats a little upward, and that could be what is happening here.
Of far greater concern is the “Hronek without Hughes” column.
Hronek has played 177:33 of 5v5 time away from Hughes, and in those minutes his statistics have plummeted. He drops from a 54.65% Corsi to a 41.98%. He goes from a 51.30% xG rate to 44.88%. And of particular note is that HDCF, which tanks from 48.65% all the way down to 38.89%.
It’s not hard to see where the “Hughes is carrying Hronek” narrative has sprung from, especially considering that many of Hronek’s “without Hughes” stats are actually weaker than the Canucks’ overall stats without either of Hughes or Hronek on the ice.
But all might not be quite as it seems. It’s all about the context.
The good people over at Dobber’s Frozen Tools conveniently chunk off a player’s performance by linemates, and that’s a better way to get a clear picture of the situation than just raw WOWY stats. And the chart that they’ve produced on Hronek tells a very different story.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools, representing even-strength ice-time
On this chart, we can still see that Hronek’s best time has come alongside Hughes, which should really surprise no one.
But we can also see that Hronek’s second-most-frequent partner has been Ian Cole, and that together they’ve been…just fine. Through 96 minutes of EV time, which isn’t all that significant of a sample, Hronek and Cole have come out even against difficult competition, and are rocking a joint-Corsi of 48.2%, just 5% below the 53.5% Hronek posted with Hughes.
That’s a sign of Hughes being a better partner than Cole, perhaps. But unless we’re going to suggest that Cole, too, is carrying Hronek at even-strength, there’s got to be more too this.
The rest of the chart reveals a lot. It’s a real mishmash of random partners across short time-frames in weird situations, and the results of that have seriously skewed Hronek’s WOWY stats.
After Cole, Hronek’s next most-frequent partner is Tyler Myers, but that’s just 29:46 of ice-time. In those minutes, Hronek and Myers are +3 with a Corsi of 36.2%, which are decidedly mixed results across a miniscule sample size.
Next up is Hronek and Soucy, together for a scant 19:42 of relatively eventless hockey (though it’s worth noting that the two did look pretty good together in preseason.)
And then comes Noah Juulsen. Hronek and Juulsen have been on the ice together for just 15:06 of even-strength ice-time, and they haven’t been scored against in that time, but it has still made a demonstrably negative impact on Hronek’s personal stats all the same.
In those 15 minutes together, Hronek and Juulsen have been outshot 15-0. In terms of Corsi events, they’ve been outchanced to the tune of 26-1.
In other words, of the roughly 200 or so Corsi events against that Hronek has experienced away from Hughes this season, 26 of them came in just 15 minutes alongside Juulsen. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, what with Juulsen being a depth defender and both being right-handed.
But it has deeply skewed Hronek’s WOWY statline as a result. Take away this 15 minutes with Juulsen, and suddenly “Hronek without Hughes” looks a lot more like “Hronek with Hughes.” Not quite as good, of course, but nobody expected that.
Hughes is the better defender of the two, and the one who supports their partner better. That’s never been in doubt. And, yes, there are some warts in Hronek’s defensive game that have become more apparent over time, especially when it comes to those highly-visible gaffes. (Hronek is 31st overall in the league with 30 giveaways as of this writing.)
But that doesn’t equate to Hughes carrying Hronek. Nor does a set of WOWY stats that appear to have been personally tanked by Noah Juulsen.
The Canucks would probably be wise to at least gather a greater sample size of “Hronek without Hughes” over the remainder of the season before committing to a long-term contract. There’s no issue with gaining more evidence.
But there’s also the reality that Hughes+Hronek gives the Canucks their best chance to win on a nightly basis, and that that will take priority over the months to come.
If we don’t get a better view of Hronek without Hughes, so be it. Chances seem good that it won’t reveal anything other than Hronek being a high-quality RHD in most situations, no matter if a few statistical anomalies might try to convince you otherwise.

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