What We Learned: Blackhawks playing dangerous game on defense (Puck Daddy)
- Updated: May 25, 2015
(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.) Prior to Sunday night’s game, very few players were in the same stratosphere in terms of minutes played as the Chicago defense. In terms of minutes per game, Chicago’s top-four ranked second, eighth, 11th, and 14th among playoff players in terms of minutes per game at 5-on-5, which is crazy. . And granted, that comes with the caveat that Chicago is obviously playing a ton of overtime this postseason — 151:38 to be exact, a little more than two-and-a-half extra games — but nonetheless, there’s a lot of work being given to what are, essentially, just four guys. Right now, Chicago has four defensemen averaging at least 25:52 per night, while the other three they’ve used (Kyle Cumiskey, David Rundblad, and Kimmo Timonen) are basically getting the minutes you’d give to a guy you don’t trust to do little more than fight in a game against Arizona in December: 13:37 or less. This is, of course, often commented upon this postseason. Joel Quenneville doesn’t trust his bottom-two defensemen, whomever they may be, to play more than the most sheltered, minimal minutes available. And when you watch Timonen play, you start to get why. But there are two questions that should nag at anyone watching this happen, including Quenneville: 1) How wise is it to deploy defensemen like that? 2) Could the other guys actually handle a little more than, say, 10 minutes a night in most cases? In theory, this is really putting a lot of miles on Duncan Keith (32:23 per night), Seabrook (26:52), Niklas Hjalmarsson (26:37), and Johnny Oduya (25:52). Only two defensemen from 1994 to present have played more minutes in fewer games than Keith’s 453 — Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger both played more than 35 minutes a night in 13 games for St. Louis in 1999 — in the postseason. If we expand that out to cover Oduya’s 362, we find that this has only happened 14 times in that span, meaning just 10 times in the last 21 playoffs has any defenseman played many minutes in so few games. We are, effectively, in uncharted territory. No team in modern hockey has ever used its defensemen like this. Based on that data from Hockey Reference, we know that just 235 defensemen in the past two decades have ever broken 360 minutes of play in the postseason. That’s not a very deep pool from which to draw, and as you might expect, the vast majority of those guys played on different teams. Of course, there may have been many teams in that time that were so top-heavy on defense that this kind of usage was a necessity for the coach, but it destabilized the entire team to the point that they got bounced in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Those teams are of little interest here, because it does not examine the wear and tear that logging so many minutes will eventually rack upon those teams’ top-four defenders. So when examining the teams of defenders that logged at least 360 minutes in the playoffs, the number is whittled down considerably. Only 88 players were on teams for which three other defenders played at least 20 minutes a night. That means it’s only happened 22 times since 1994. Here are those teams, with the average minutes played by the top-four, drop-off in minutes between the Nos. 4 and 5 defensemen on those teams, and where they finished the postseason.