Do The Blackhawks Miss Niklas Hjalmarsson?

On Feb. 15, we looked at the impact Niklas Hjalmarsson makes on the Chicago Blackhawks lineup. At that point, he had missed three games (all road losses), and the Hawks had been outscored 11-5 in those three games.

There was a valid argument made at that time that three games is too small of a sample size to determine the legitimate impact Hjalmarsson is making on the Blackhawks.

So, now that Hjalmarsson has missed 11 of 12 games since Feb. 7, let’s look at how the Hawks have done without him.

Do the Blackhawks really miss Hjalmarsson?

Despite losing the first three games Hjalmarsson missed, the Blackhawks now boast a 6-5-0 record in his absence (obviously winning six of their last eight without him). More than one player determines a win or loss, though, so using the team’s record as a benchmark isn’t appropriate.

But there are some telling statistics that paint an interesting picture of Hjalmarsson’s relative importance on the lineup.

  • Shots Against: During the 2011-12 season, the Blackhawks are allowing 29.3 shots on goal per game, which ranks 12th in the NHL. While the assumption might be that removing the team’s leading shot blocker from the lineup would hurt that number, reality has contradicted logic.
    In the 11 games Hjalmarsson has missed, the Blackhawks are allowing 29.2 shots on goal per game. There has been little/no difference in the number of shots getting to the Hawks’ netminders in the absence of Hjalmarsson.
  • Penalty Kill: During the 2011-12 season, Hjalmarsson has ranked second on the Hawks’ roster in short-handed ice time per game, skating an average of 2:29 on penalty killing duty. For the year, the Blackhawks are killing 77.8 percent of their opponent’s penalties, which ranks 28th in the NHL.
    In the 11 games without Hjalmarsson, the Blackhawks have killed 24 of 32 penalties, or 75 percent. The percentage might be lower, but not by enough that there has been an incredible difference in the Hawks’ ability to kill penalties without Hjalmarsson.

Those two statistical categories would figure to be show the greatest difference while a defensive defenseman like Hjalmarsson is out of the lineup.

It is very telling that the Blackhawks have replaced Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador with a rookie (Dylan Olsen), a guy they buried for months at a time this year (Sami Lepisto), an ancient warrior (Sean O’Donnell) and, in the last two games, an acquired veteran (Johnny Oduya) and there has been almost no negative impact on the team’s performance in those two areas.

But there is one more statistical area to look at, and this area the does indicate a significant difference in the Hawks’ performance.

  • Goals Against: In their first 66 games this season, the Blackhawks are allowing 2.89 goals per game, which ranks 22nd in the NHL. However, in the 11 games that Hjalmarsson has missed, the Hawks have allowed only 26 goals, or 2.36 per game. That indicates a 0.53 goal per game improvement without Hjalmarsson.

What’s more, when you place the Blackhawks goals against into the context of the 11 opponents they have faced without Hjalmarsson, the improvement is even more impressive.

Here are the 11 teams the Hawks have faced without Hjalmarsson, their goals per game average and where they rank in the NHL in goals per game this year:

Feb 10 @ San Jose  2.73 12
  11 @ Phoenix  2.55 19
  14 @ Nashville  2.78 9
  16 @ NY Rangers  2.73 11
  18 @ Columbus  2.27 28
  19 vs St Louis  2.49 21
  21 vs Detroit  3.09 3
  25 @ Los Angeles  2.09 30
  26 @ Anaheim  2.48 23
  29 vs Toronto  2.94 8
March 2 @ Ottawa  2.96 7

Four of the 11 games have been against teams that rank among the top 10 in NHL in scoring, and two more have come from the league’s upper-half. Certainly the Kings have had a bad season, but they have scored nine goals in three games with Jeff Carter in the lineup (the first of which was a 4-0 Los Angeles win against the Hawks).

In four of the 11 games Hjalmarsson has missed, the Blackhawks have allowed only one goal, and they allowed two in another (in Nashville). The fact that there has been a significant improvement in the Hawks’ goals against average is a statistic that should raise an eyebrow or two.

When the Hawks lost Hjalmarsson, a top-four defenseman on the roster based on his ice time, many thought replacing both Montador and him would lead to an extended period of defensive problems.

That has not been the case.

The baseline reality that fans, and ultimately Blackhawks management, need to realize is that Hjalmarsson is not a top-four defenseman, and the impact of his absence on the Blackhawks’ performance has been sufficiently compensated for by a 21-year-old rookie. Indeed, the numbers now indicate that the Hawks haven’t missed him at all.

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26 Responses to Do The Blackhawks Miss Niklas Hjalmarsson?

  1. wall says:

    Tab, Agreed-
    He is not worth 3-4 man money we are paying him. Same can be said for Monty…
    Monty has much more Offensive upside… and a little cheaper + I suspect Monty has been injured all year- Hawks would be lucky to dump both.

    The biggest difference of late is not the D that Olsen, and Oduya, Lepisto have provided… but their ability to quickly get to the loose pucks and clear the zone… we have had much better puck possesion w/out O.D., Hammer, Monty… and some of this is w/ out Toews.

    We would b lucky to get rid of Hammer contract and sign Oduya for same money!

  2. Logan Reilly says:

    Lets not heap too much praise on Lepisto. He has been more consistent lately but afaic he’s no better than what Jordan Hendry was.

    As for Hjalmersson. I wouldn’t be opposed to trading him since his only outlet pass is a long stretch pass to a forward trying to break away or to his defensive partner and let him clear it out. I don’t find him that strong in the corners and thats why he seems to be scrambling in the defense zone while the opposing team is controlling the play.

    But if they do trade him…I want something back thats half decent. Not prospects or draft choices.

  3. The Molitor Lizard says:

    Hjalmarsson was a second pair defenseman until this year. His game has took a turn for the worst and he, like Toews, played some games while being concussed. I really don’t think that anyone anticipated NH’s game to drop off so precipitously. From all account, no one had anticipated Steve Montador to fail to bring his game from Buffalo to Chicago. However, reality is what it is and no one really does miss Hjalms right now. The stake he had claimed on the 2nd pairing allowed him to get minutes he didn’t deserve.

    The real failure on defense was the fact that, between Leddy, Hjalms and Montador, none of them are a second pairing D man. Leddy will be in a year or two, we hope Hjalms would be and it would sure be nice if Montador will be. As far as Lepisto goes, Logan, he is better than Jordan Hendry. Not by much but he is.

    After seeing Oduya for two games, he may not be a second pairing defenseman either but his approach is great and he fits into this team like a glove.

  4. Yikes says:

    Hjalms has seriously regressed defensively and has no offensive game. He needs to go. Make Uncle Dale an offer and get something back that can contribute in some way. He can pair back up with Soupy and we lose the cap hit.

  5. pete says:

    I think he is a solid defenseman. When he comes back it will make our defense better.

  6. Pete says:

    I will add that I think too many hawks fans are overly concerned with the “cap hit”. As a fan I am in favor of getting as many good players as possible on the team and that we should spend up to the cap limit to do so. I would rather overpay for a good player than have a bunch of average players. I think Hjarmlson has been and will be one of our better players and we should be happy we have him instead of fretting over whether his salary is considered too high. The Hawks are not at the cap limit this year and until the cap prevents us from signing or keeping someone else who is better than Hjarmlson I am not worried about it.

  7. Tab Bamford says:

    @Pete: I will add that his cap hit had nothing to do with the article….

  8. Pete says:

    I understand Tab, I was responding to a few of the other posts. My question is when Hjarmlson comes back what should the pairings be. It seems that Hjarmlson and Oduya are similar type players. Do you agree with that and should they be paired together and then put Leddy and Olsen together at 5/6.

  9. Tab Bamford says:

    Personally, I would skate Hjalmarsson w/ Olsen on the third pair

  10. Pete says:

    So then Oduya and Leddy in the second pair. What’s your thought process there because I don’t understand how they put those pairings together other than I would assume the best players in the top pairings.

  11. Tab Bamford says:

    Simply, I like what I’ve seen from Leddy-Oduya in the last couple games and think the team is better served w/ Leddy & Oduya skating more minutes right now. Oduya’s better than Hjalmarsson & Leddy moves the puck better as well. Best players in the top four? I guess I agree with you

  12. Pete says:

    I have been a fan of Hjarmlsson, but I can’t argue with your stats. Your article convinces me that if we need to move somebody of value as part of a bigger deal in the offseason then Hjarmlsson should be strongly considered.

  13. Logan Reilly says:

    Just some criticism on Olsen:

    I think he’s got to be more aware of getting caught flatfooted. If I choose one thing for him to focus on its to keep himself moving. I’ve seen too many times where he’s chasing forwards back to the net and you can see he isn’t a fast skater.

  14. Pete says:

    I did notice on a play in a recent game that Olsen wasn’t fast. If people agree on that, how much of a limiting factor is that for him in terms of upside. Also, is there any indication/rumor on when Toews and Hjarmlson will be back playing.

  15. McKay says:

    So our GAA has dropped in the last 11 games… so our goal tending situation has worked itself out too then?

  16. Pete says:

    Also, I know people have been calling the trade deadline a big dud. But I think Oduya is going to help us more than people think, especially when Toews and Hjarmlsoon are back playing because it pushes our depth down one man deeper.

  17. Brian says:

    During his absence though, the Hawks forwards have been committed to playing better overall team defense. Hammer has looked looked lost at times this year being with out Campbell. I think Hammer and Oduya (given his ability to move/pass the puck up ice) would make a good pair. I also feel that when Keith and Seabrook are paired together then can get a bit lazy and have more communication problems then when paired with other skaters.

  18. Tab Bamford says:

    Truthfully, Brian, my observations have been the polar opposite re: Keith & Seabrook. Neither of them looks as comfortable w/ anyone else on the roster – including veterans like Hjalmarsson, Montador – as they do w/ each other. Indeed, the Hawks have looked their best when Keith & Seabrook are together.

  19. wall says:

    Tab- agree about Seabs/Keith

    also- I keep hearing rumors that the Cap may go down… this would make the dumping of a Monty/Hjarm. more desireable. In fact if the Cap did go down…
    the Hawks would benefit because they do have alot of “cheap” talent coming when compared to some other teams.

  20. Tab Bamford says:

    Wall: there is a popular school of thought right now (which I do not subscribe to) that the cap could indeed go down, which would make some sense out of why teams didn’t move many contracts that run into next year before the deadline. My problem w/ the theory is that the cap moves based on hockey related income… And the (enormous) new television deal begins this fall. If the cap doesn’t go up because of the new CBA, though, there are some teams that will desperately need to sell

  21. Joe says:

    Hammer played as a 4 in the cup year and he was paid as such. He has had a big drop off since the cup year and plays more like a 6. I have harping on him since Nov. to anyone that will listen. He seldom ever challenges forwards, simply retreats retreat retreat until he hits the deck in effort to block a shot or pass. If he would challenge more at the Hawks blueline or play the body more to the outside he wouldn’t have to hit the ice to block passses or shots. Top 4 defencemen are hard to come by, Bowman miscalculated and thought he had one in Hjalmy, clearly he does not… should have given the money to Niemi and let Hjalmy don the shark sweater.

  22. Tom Jaremka says:

    Tab, very nice stats, bro. Somehow, I picture you eating your breakfast, probably Frosted Flakes, and you’re scanning through a hundred hockey cards when you suddenly have this “revelation” and these stats just pour out of your brain. This is a numbers game and you prove it all the time.

    My assessment of Hammer is that he is exactly what Bowman and Q want in a defenseman. He is quick in the corners, a better than average skater, he takes the body and he blocks shots. He’s not a fighter or a big “lumbering” defenseman. He’s a number 4 or 5 d-man on most NHL teams. On a good night he is mobile and his first pass is on the tape. On a bad night he turns the puck over too much and is not patient enough with the puck.

    I think what you are seeing with him is a player who is physically getting beat up. He does dish out and take hard checks every game. Plus, he blocks alot of shots with his lower body. Those bumps and bruises take there toll over a year, or two. The kid does take a beating.

    But if you look at the Hawks defense as a “whole”, if there was a major injury to a player, what player would we miss the most? Could we go 5 games without Keith? We’ve been without Hammer and Montador, already. The guy we’d miss is Seabrook, the guy that my wife thinks is the Hawks most “desireable” player…….geez.

    Tab always gets us thinking. Who is the Hawks best defensive, defensman?

  23. MARILYN CALI says:

    I think that after going through the 9-game losing streak, all players, especially the forwards, have stepped up their defensive play. You can’t just blame the defensemen or goalies for poor defensive play. Poor backchecking by the forwards can lead to horrible turnovers, resulting in goals against! It is a team game!

  24. shamrock says:

    This offseason I think the Hawks will move Hjalmarrson. They still need a 2nd line center and Hammer is a tradable assest now the we have Oduya and now that Olsen has laid claim to a roster spot. With still no word about Toews status the need for high quality center who can be a first line center if needed is a priority. I hope that perhaps McNeill, Kevin Hayes,or Pirri is ready for that role its doubtful.

  25. Kyle says:

    I’m begining to wonder if Kane will be our 2cnd line center next year? He said after the last game he likes having the puck more and playing that center role. He’s not bad at the part either. Maybe management will be looking to add a 3 dman this summer instead of a 2c. Or a winger?

  26. Barry Brown says:

    I agree that Hj has not been effective this year, but I don’t think it is completely his fault. As a whole the hawks have not played a good system of team defense, whether it’s from lack of execution or just lack of effort, it is obvious to anyone that the team through most of this season has tried to rely too much on offensive prowess and give too little effort on the defensive side. I mean it is absolutely maddening seeing how much trouble they have had clearing the zone, and as much of this is on the forwards not being in position, losing board battles, or just turning pucks over at the blueline.

    In recent games though this team has taken a 180 in this area. If Hj is back he will help this team. I like what I see from Oduya, but saying that this is better than Hj after a few games is a little presumptuous at this point.

    And why is Hjalmmerson being singled out? Others could be the subject of this article too. It takes all kinds of Dmen to build a good backline for your team, you need a guy who will block shots, which Hjalmmerson does and he does more than that, he is a solid skater , and can also be a reliable ‘stay at home guy’ and to boot he has good character. He probably shouldn’t be paired with another young defensemen like Leddy because they can’t compliment each other given their style of play. I think if Leddy were out and Hj was in, the outcome of the last 11 games would be no different. Leddy has shown some good things, sure, but he has some very rough games also and could just as easily be subject of this specific blog if he were out for the last 11 games. Ditto for Montador who does have a similar cap hit. And as the number 1, I’m not entirely thrilled with Duncan Keith, he does some idiotic things for a guy with his experience and it seems to be getting more prevalent with him.

    So maybe they are not missing him, he’s not going to be the MVP of this team, but I think the hawks are better with him in the lineup. I think if we get rid of Hj, he will play well in this league for many years where ever he goes and the hawks would regret that move.

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