Blackhawks Blue Line Balance Ahead Of The Curve

The subtle science of the Blackhawks draft and trade maneuvers over the last few years is becoming more evident with each passing article involving analytics and position strategy.

Adam Clendening

In his latest post on ESPN.com, Craig Custance discusses how valuable right-handed defensemen are in the league today ($). He notes:

More than ever, the righty-lefty balance on defense is a critical part of the game.

“It’s crucial,” said Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

Babcock articulated the reasons why effectively, which we’ll get to in a moment, and he should be the guy to do it. People around hockey credit him and the Team Canada staff for bringing this roster construction advantage to the forefront. With all things equal, and granted the ability to pick from the deepest talent pool in the world, GM Steve Yzerman and his coaching staff opted for balance on defense. It worked out pretty well.

Custance goes on to quote Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff and GM Jim Nill, and cite the roster put together by Boston GM Peter Chiarelli as being influenced by Canada’s roster. He also points out the blue line of the Rangers as an example of pairing right-handed shots with lefties.

He points out that all of the top defensive pairs in the league have one left-handed shot and the other right-handed, including Chicago’s Duncan Keith (left) and Brent Seabrook (right).

Later in the article, Custance puts the bullet in the chamber for the Blackhawks’ leverage:

In examining the top fours throughout the league, keeping in mind it’s a fluid group because of promotions and injuries, finding the righty remains a challenge. Of the 120 defensemen that populate the top fours throughout the league, only 46 are right-handed.

Supply and demand drove up the interest and price of righties in free agency…

Looking around the Blackhawks organization, they have a nice collection of right-handed shots on their blue line if/when a team comes looking for one. Trevor vanRiemsdyk and David Rundblad are both right-handed shots, while newly acquired Tim Erixon is a lefty.

Consider the roster in Rockford:

  • Adam Clendening – right
  • TJ Brennan – left
  • Ville Pokka – right
  • Klas Dahlbeck – left
  • Stephen Johns – right
  • Kyle Cumiskey – left
  • Zach Miskovic – right
  • Viktor Svedberg – left

Within the college and European ranks of Blackhawks prospects, there are more examples.

  • Michael Paliotta – right
  • Sam Jardine – left
  • Robin Press – right
  • Robin Norell – left
  • Carl Dahlstrom – left
  • Andreas Soderberg – left
  • Luc Snuggerud – left

Also, some of the younger/lower tier prospects in the organization are consistent with this philosophy.

  • Dillon Fournier – left
  • Mathieu Brisebois – right
  • Nick Mattson – left

In fact, the 2014 Draft was the first time since Stan Bowman took over as the general manager in Chicago that the Blackhawks didn’t draft at least one right-handed shot on the blue line.

With Custance so eloquently outlining why right-handed shots are a valuable commodity in the NHL, the Blackhawks stockpiling righties proves they’re ahead of the curve.

48 thoughts on “Blackhawks Blue Line Balance Ahead Of The Curve

  1. Nice article Tab. Very interesting point. FA dmen are expensive and the Hawks need 3 of their young guys to be able to play next year when Rozi and Oduya walk as UFAs. I still think Clendening will have a hard time playing D in his zone as an undersized dman without great wheels. Until he figures that out I see a lot more Connelly or Lalonde in him than I do Leddy or Campbell type player.

  2. Given that lefties are a significant minority of the population, why would righty’s be a precious commodity? If anything, I would think that lefty’s would be a much more rare commodity to stockpile. What am I missing here?

  3. It appears you’ve missed the ever-important “reading” part, Ike. So let’s try again. From Custance:

    “Of the 120 defensemen that populate the top fours throughout the league, only 46 are right-handed.” Right-handed shots on the blue line aren’t as common as lefties.

  4. Ike. Majority of hockey players In Canada and Europe are taught to play with their dominant hand on the top of the stick. There are a few different reasons for this but it is mostly due to the fact that your top hand is used to control the stick. It makes sense that your would want your dominant hand controlling the stick as opposed to being on the bottom. So there is actually an abundance of lefties in hockey when compared to right shots.

  5. It’s interesting that right-handed defensemen are rarer than left-handed ones, given the population mix of righties and lefties generally. Good post Ike. I’m sure you read what was posted, and just thought it was odd as I did in spite of it being posted a second time!

  6. A right handed person, using their dominant hand to control the stick, would have their right hand high and left hand low on the stick: this puts the stick blade on the ice on the LEFT side of the body and is called a left handed shot. So a right handed person would be a left handed shot.

    More righties in the population means more “left handed” shots.

    This is why the so called “left handed” shot is as common as the right handed player.

    So to find a right handed shot you are either looking for a left handed person, or a right handed person who plays with their weaker hand on the top of the stick. Since mostly Americans tend to hold a hockey stick like a baseball ball, they end up with their right hand low and their weak hand high, a right handed shot.

    This means you are looking for either a leftie, or an American righty who holds his stick like he was taught to hold a baseball bat. (Clendenin and johns for example)

  7. wihawkfan is correct about various and “uniquely-hockey” reasons why right-hand dominant people end up with a left-handed hockey shot. I am right handed and I always thought I developed a left-handed hockey shot because I used my brother’s left-curve sticks when learning how to play. It was that and more, actually. Like a great many left-shooting hockey players, I golf righty and bat righty, too. But unlike a golf club or a ball bat, the hockey stick will be used with much greater variance of contact including chips, pokes, and backhands. These require more help from the upper hand (dominant hand) on the stick. Golf and baseball rely on a repeatable, pure swing for best effect.

  8. Tab, did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Seems so.

    Cuz27 and wihawkfan, thanks for the thoughtful responses. I wasn’t aware that most players now use their dominant hand high on the stick. I grew up in Chicago (1960’s) playing hockey as a kid. I’m a lefty, and always used my left hand low on the stick. Shooting a puck the opposite way just feels very unnatural. I don’t think I ever saw left handed kids shooting the opposite way, but hey, it was suburban Chicago park district hockey in the 60’s. Thanks guys.

  9. Mike G- You are spot on with regards to Cden… Will not cut it with Hawks…

    SSHM- what Tab is saying is the Hawks are all over this Right Handed D man thing…
    AND the Hawks are stocking up on this precious commodity… Eventually one or two will pan out (or at least that is the Hope…) Most people before the Season- didn’t see TvR being as ready/mature as he was… I believe you and I bickered about TvR in Camp- I was a believer- and You weren’t sold… TvR has the patience/IQ of Rosey (the problem w/ Rosey is he is on the down side of 30’s and often hurting) at 23 years old.

    I am a believer in Pokka too/ as well as Johns… I hear Paliotta is a smart kid… But I can’t comment on him – cuz haven’t seen him play yet…

    The ironic thing is – it’s the left D man they are short on now…
    But like Tab suggests- RHD are in bigger demand… so should be easy to deal…

  10. Its all in how you’re taught. If you weren’t taught, chances are you had played baseball so you’d probably use a stick like how you bat. Also using the baseball analogy however, we catch with our non dominant hand another reason players shoot opposite of baseball. I suppose if you’ve never played baseball or golf for that matter you’d think those sports would be backwards.

    As it is I noticed the Hawks had made this a point of emphasis when acquiring players whether it be draft, free agency, or trade. As a defensemen playing your offside has unique challenges, but this issue is also apparent when it comes to centers. The only real time this comes into play is on faceoffs, but I could see this becoming a point of emphasis as well when it comes to acquiring centers.

  11. Wihawkfan- it took me a bit but their is a link out there that gave percentages of left shots by nationality and then by position. 63% of Americans shoot left while 64% of Canadians shoot left. The numbers are much more skewed when you cross the pond. Swedes are 84% left shots,Fins are at 81. 73 percent of centers shoot left and 70 percent of dmen are left shots. That article was written in 2011 so the numbers probably aren’t totally accurate. Tab’s numbers on the top 4 d-men have 62% being left shots.

    The reasoning behind North Americans being so far below the average of 90% of the populous being right handed is uncertain, however it seems players who pick up hockey later have a higher propensity to shoot opposite of hockey wisdom. That’s probably due to other sports having an influence first. Now, in Europe its all hockey. I’ve yet to hear of a Swedish or Finnish baseball player.

  12. I think it’s a good rule of thumb type thing because it’s better for the d-man to (1) be on his forehand when playing the puck on the wall (versus having to try to backhand the puck out of the d-zone) and (2) it’s better to have the stick on the outside as the d-man angles the puck carrier to the outside on a rush.

    But it’s not like a d-man can’t be very good on his off-hand – Hjalmarsson is a leftie playing the right sode and he does pretty well.

    But the point being made is a good one. The Hawks have some pretty good righties in the pipeline.

  13. very interesting about the top hand dominance. I am left handed but shoot left in hockey and swing a baseball bat left but learned to play golf swinging right handed (still putt left though). With swinging a golf club right I now can swing the Baseball bat both sides. Being left handed I throw a ball with the left hand and catch right but from playing ball hockey as a kid and taking turns in net can catch with the left hand (glove hand) as well. Great article Tab!!!

  14. The hand dominance being at the top sounds right for a forward but seems the opposite for a Dman. I would think as a Dman you would want the power hand lower to get more flex and power into your shot and to have your power hand free to fight off and finish checks against opponents. I am a forward and don’t play D any thoughts from Dmen on here?

  15. DMen need to be more active with their stick than a forwards. It’s not always about having the heaviest shot. If you can’t get the puck on net, having a heavy shot doesn’t really matter. Another article out there was saying how while its still a swinging motion, the motion between baseball and hockey are just too different to compare. When you use a broom, do you sweep from the left side or the right side? Thats probably a better test. Nobody ever taught us how to sweep. Somone taught us how to bat, or how how to golf (apparently not for goldenbladz, thats just weird), what makes that the proper way and hockey seeming to be backwards in a sense.

  16. Being an ‘Merican and used to the baseball/golf grip, I had no idea the our cousins to the North and across the pond gripped the stick that way. See, you actually do learn something on these boards, aside from how to post sarcastic responses or taking your toys and going home when someone posts something you disagree with. I should probably also not have ended the previous sentence with a preposition.

  17. Ernie I appreciate your comments (and yes the golf is a little weird but its affective). Watch coaches training Dmen when facing an on coming opponent. They have one hand on the stick and the other up in front of them anticipating the oncoming player. I was stating a Dmen would probably want their stronger hand to engage that oncoming checker or when battling or taking a guy wide to the boards or the offensive player simply fights through that check.

  18. Chevrier- The notion that more Americans shoot right than Canadians isn’t correct. 63% of Americans in the NHL are left shots, while 64% of Canadians shoot left. You see a much larger desparity in those numbers in european players. Finn’s and Swede’s are over 80 percent left shots. Now, players that started later in life are more prone to shoot toward their dominant hand.

  19. Thanks Ernie, re-read your earlier post, that makes a lot of sense that NA players would be influenced by baseball, golf, etc. I’ve got to say that I find this fascinating that a natural righty (like myself) would be taught to shoot opposite of how I bat in baseball or stand in golf which seem to be the closest corollary. I suppose that if you start early enough it just becomes second nature. For example, Phil Mickelson is actually right-handed, but golfs lefty because he learned his swing by standing opposite his dad and mirroring the motion when he was little (or so the story goes, I didn’t try to google-verify before posting).

  20. I know Tab will yell at me, but I still don’t understand why a RH Def is such a commodity other than having balance? Is having balance an advantage somehow? Are they able to poke check better from a dominant side or something? I understand in baseball you want balance to match up with pitchers. (You would ideally want your dominant hand on the bottom to pull through in baseball and golf). I also would think the dominant hand on the bottom for a DMan would be an advantage for a harder shot from the blue line. DMen don’t need the stick handling of a Forward. There would be an advantage if a RH Def played the left side to be lined up better for cross-ice one-timers, but the Hawks don’t do this very often. TVR & Runblad play on the left, but Seabrook and Rosival play on the right. I would think you want all the LH on the right side and RH on the left.

  21. Great Article . . . Nilas Hjalmarsson is playing on his “off” side , he leads the league or is near the top for turnovers since he has to rely on a weak back hand to clear or awkwardly move the puck up ice, he’s a great defensemen but why is he always on his off hand? Cant we get him to play to his strong side? Always a mystery to me . . .

  22. Playing on your off hand is a TRAIN WREAK . . . plays to your weakness on back hand and yes even poke checks. That is why Kieth and Brett are so seamless, balance! It makes all the difference in the world, Oduya and Hammer are effective but imagine is Hammer was on his strong side.

  23. Mike, Wall, etc – for those of you that played the game, can you explain what playing on your “off hand” really means? So if you shoot left, is it more natural for you to play right defense since your stick is on the left side to better defend shots (since if you are on the right side, your stick is naturally goal-side)? So Hjalmarsson’s stick is naturally to the board-side rather than goal-side?

    I’m just curious as to WHY it’s more important to have your stick on one side vs. the other if you are lefty vs. righty.

  24. Here’s a link to an article about stick handedness. It adds an interesting benefit for defensemen holding a stick with one hand to lengthen their stick check range. Also, I have heard that children should be observed sweeping with a broom to determine how they should hold a stick. I’m right handed and I swept with my right hand on top of the broom, but when I first played hockey in the late 70’s I was given a right handed stick. Everyone I knew had them. My first stick was an adult’s stick that had the shaft broken but could be cut down for me to use. Ah, the good old wood sticks: Christians, Koho, Sherwood.

    Damn I feel old. My dad and brother and I watched Chelios play at Wisconsin in person.

    Anyhow, the link:

    http://icehockey.isport.com/icehockey-guides/determining-your-dominant-hand-in-hockey

  25. Gravy- My brother and I grew up in the 60’s/70’s playing D in the Chicago area thru various travel orgs, high school, and college (I played club, my bro played at a D-1 school in the east.) Bottom line, we’re both righties, were trained to play with our dominant hands low (shoot as righties), and played the right side of the blue line. Why we weren’t trained in the strong-hand-up technique I’ll never know, but regardless, on the d-side there is an enormous benefit to playing your strong side (strength clearing the puck being the biggest.) On O, you can argue the benefit of an off-hand 1-timer, but I still feel far more comfortable defending the blue-line on my strong hand side. I’m a big enough guy and have always been able to torque the stick with the strong hand down, even in the Koho/Sherwood days- but the guys today are amazing. I will stop and slo-mo shots from time to time and the bend players today achieve is unreal…

  26. That article has CAN with a higher % of left hand shots, like the euro. Is that articles % for all ages.

    Ernie your % had CAN/USA at 64/63 and SWE/FIN at 84/82 (from a few yrs ago)

    Ernie can you find what they currently are. Just curios on the discrepancy of the CAN.

  27. Morrison- couldn’t find a recent article so I went through each roster myself. I might have missed players that were on IR or a scratch. But the numbers should remain close.

    Canada-61% left shot.
    USA- 55%
    Sweden-73%
    Finland-87%

    I did not keep tabs on Russia, Slovakia, Czech etc. Those players were excluded from both of these lists.

    Center-64% left shot
    Defenseman- 62% left shot.

    A couple things I noticed when going through this. Red wings had 1 player a right shot. That blew me away. The Ducks on the other hand had 10 right shots. Islanders have some right shot defenseman on ir but they don’t have a single right shot in the lineup as we speak. A number of teams have left/right d-pairings, but those same teams may not have a single right shot center. The converse is also true, where a team may have 2 right centers, but lack right shot defenseman. I only counted 16 Finns, some may have been injured, some inadvertently skipped, some may have been mis represented (rosterresource was the main source for this info). Also, only skaters were counted.

  28. *Islanders don’t have a right shot on the blue line as we speak. Sorry, been looking at the computer screen too long and didn’t proof read.

  29. I saw that yesterday about Stalberg. I doubt anyone takes on that salary, but then again coaches seem to have the “I can fix him” mentality.

    Regarding Hjalmarsson and giveaways, he is currently 4th with 40. Behind Subban (45), Erik Karlsson(43), and Brent Burns (42). Interestingly, those 3 ahead of him are all right shots. However, those guys are not playing their off side and are paired with a left shot. Hjalmarsson also has a turnover +/- of -16.

  30. left right defense dilemma is mostly about being on your strong side to “exit or pass” the puck out of your zone, poke check, stick on ice are easy to adopt but NO replacing being on your strong side, with your shoulders square and getting a clean pass out of the zone. Plus on your strong side again on “Exit” you pick up like 2 seconds to go with the puck if your on the off hand teams can crash you before you get clean possession. I am a big HAMMER fan but you can look up how many “too many” turnovers he has because of this, he leads the league for defensemen at times, and he’s a ALL-STAR to me. So it matters a lot, timing and time in your zone in those corners with David Backes coming down on you with elbow up is the game, in fact it is the entire game! Timing is everything!

  31. Ernie- Interesting stats by country. My guess is that the vast majority of people are naturally right handed everywhere. If that’s true, obviously in the US far fewer players are therefore taught the strong hand high technique compared to other countries such as Finland (to the extreme end of your stats), where 87% of their national teams emerge as left hand shooting right handed people.

  32. As far as Finland goes, with so few players in the NHL 1 extra right shot changes that percentage pretty drastically. Now from what I gathered, I only found 2 right shot Finns in the league. 1 extra right shot (Selanne was a right shot) brings that number to 83%, where the original numbers were when they were published in 2011.

  33. Many strapping young defensemen coming up thru the system. An overload of elite goal-tending. All is well.

  34. Many right handed hockey players shoot left handed (me included)
    No right handed golfers swing left handed.
    Many right handed baseball players hit left handed
    No left handed baseball players hit right handed

    Wow, life can be strange

  35. Tab a new article -please!

    From Mike—-No right handed golfers swing left handed.??? If this is what I think your saying-not true

  36. Ernie, thanks for doing all of that manually. Stick Taps.

    That even shows that the Finnish right hand shots are even more rare then we originally thought.

    I remember people talking about right hand centers a few yrs ago when we had 10 and 36 at center. There might be something, other then not having 4 pure centers, with 65 at center being right hand shot. (other then faceoffs)

    Its also interesting the USA and SWE went up 10% in right hand shots in just 4yrs.

    Its always fun, when the homework is done, to do things like that. You learn some things you wernt set on looking for and prove whatever it is your doing/talking about. I did the same earlier when I looked up all the 20-8 starts to seasons for each team since the salary cap started. That showed the Redwings and Blackhawks being the two best teams in the salary cap era/second century of hockey. (if you go back a look at the post from the thread earlier in season)

  37. I just want to thank some of the posters here for thoughtfully answering Ike’s question. The righty/lefty analysis did not make sense to me either until those posters explained it. Tab should apologize to Ike for the rude response to his questions.

  38. Interesting thoughts Tab, and it sounds like the Hawks have some definite trade chips.

    Side thought, it talks about Keith-Seabrook as the team’s top pairing, but realistically some combination of Keith/Oduya-Hjalmarsson is really the top pairing. All 3 have more ES minutes than Seabrook.

    Other side note, why don’t the Hawks flip their point men on the PP more often? Just seems like Sharp/Seabrook would be much more deadly from the left side on the PP.

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