When 2 Become 1: The Dallas Starhawks

With the blockbuster Patrick Sharp trade, and the recent signing of Johnny Oduya, the jokes are pouring in about the new Blackhawks South. Jim Nill has mentioned several times that they’re the organization to mimic, so I wanted to take a look and see – just how alike are the two teams?

Obviously, I don’t have any data with the Sharp & Oduya playing in their new uniforms, but by looking at this past season, we can get a reasonable look at how close these two teams really are.

First, here are the With or Without You charts via @IneffectiveMath. If you want to focus on the individual numbers, go ahead, though I’ll be going through offense and defense separately. What strikes me on a macro level, is just how much more tight the grouping is for the Blackhawks than the Stars, especially defensively (y-axis).

Chicago WOWY 1415

Dallas WOWY 1415

This means that it’s very likely the Blackhawks are all used to the same system of play. This consistency is something the young Stars team, with its big name additions of Spezza and Hemsky, and very young D-core was lacking. In fact, if you look at the Hawks’ charts from their pre-dominance years, 2007/8 and 2008/9, the spread of skaters actually resembles the Stars’ chart more closely. Is this a sign of things to come for the Stars? Hopefully.

But where exactly is this progress needed? I’ll be breaking this analysis down into several parts by role. All numbers are 5v5, score adjusted, and taken from war-on-ice.com unless otherwise noted.

The Forwards

The Blackhawks pride themselves on being able to “roll four lines” but what they really mean is that they have a deep core of forwards that can play almost any position necessary. They only had two lines that really stuck together throughout the course of the regular season: Saad-Toews-Hossa and Versteeg/Sharp-Richards-Kane. Andrew Shaw was the most usual suspect at center for the 3rd line, and Marcus Kruger anchored a very capable 4th line, however the cast of characters changed whenever Quenneville saw fit.

The Stars, however, saw rotating skaters on the top line – the Benn/Seguin duo was paired with Eaves at Right Wing, or had Seguin shift over and plugged in either Spezza or Eakin at center. Adding Sharp, and having a healthy Nichushkin & Eaves next year gives the Stars an opportunity to build a solid top line without having to cycle through endless combinations all season.

Spezza was brought in to be that 2nd Line Center, but spent almost the same amount of time centering Jamie Benn as he did Cole and Hemsky. Part of this was due to Seguin’s injury, but part of it was the Ruffle Shuffle as the Stars found themselves losing games they should’ve won.

Stars-Hawks Compare '15 F

How to read this chart:

  •         All averages are weighted by Time on Ice. This means that higher TOI players like Toews & Benn have more impact on the number, just like they would in a game.
  •         Corsi For % measures all shot attempts (SOG, blocked shots, missed shots)
  •         SCF & SCA are Scoring Chances For or Against. HSCF & HSCA are High Danger Scoring Chances For or Against. These are defined here.
  •         PDO is a measure of “puck luck” defined as Save % + Shooting %. 100 is the mean. Anything above is luckier, below is less lucky.

As you can see, Dallas clearly has the advantage in scoring, while Chicago holds the advantage in possession. However, Chicago’s possession numbers all come from allowing less shots against – and the Stars are very close to reaching those levels. In addition to shooting more often, the Stars forwards have been more accurate (Shooting %), but still managed to post a lower PDO.

What does adding Patrick Sharp do for the Stars that we didn’t have before? Well, it gives us top 6 depth. When Nichushkin went down with injury, the Stars lost a player they had counted on to round out either the first or second line. Eaves, initially thought to be a 3rd or 4th liner, was plugged into his place, but then had two injuries himself. This created a domino effect of pulling skaters out of their comfort zone and creating confusion.

Despite having one of his worst goal scoring years ever, Patrick Sharp still put up 1.84 Points/60 last season, and still ends up looking like an above average passer – something any line can use.

Losing Garbutt, on the other hand, is pretty easy to stomach. As I mentioned in my season breakdown, Garbutt regressed a lot last year, and while his Penalty Killing abilities will be missed, his 5v5 role can easily be given to many other players on the roster.

But how do the dynamic duos compare? As the Stars become real contenders, the inevitable comparisons of Benn & Seguin to Kane & Toews will continue.

Dynamic Duos

Honestly, the Stars come out looking just dandy. While Kane & Toews no longer share a line, it’s again pretty clear that Benn & Seguin have the advantage offensively, despite a lower Shooting %. If you convert it to a percentage, Benn and Seguin both post SCF% of almost 56%, whereas Toews rounds up to 55% and Kane spent last season not quite hitting 51%. The discrepancy in high danger scoring chances is even higher.

All of this tells us what we have already known – the Stars have the offensive capabilities of a Stanley Cup contender.

The Defenders

Remember how this entire off season literally every media person was decrying the Dallas defense and how it kept them out of the Playoffs? Well, Jim Nill not only did something about it, he gave us a huge upgrade both now and in the future by trading away Trevor Daley, adding Johnny Oduya, and grabbing prospect Stephen Johns, too.

The Defense had a similar consistency problem – unless your name was Klingberg or Benn, you didn’t have a set D-partner. By the end of the year, it had shaken out that Goligoski & Klingberg were the top pairing, and Benn & Demers were the bottom pair, but Goligoski, Demers, Oleksiak, Jokkipakka, Nemeth, and Daley all switched partners frequently over the course of the season, with Daley having the least consistency.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, showed a lot more stability, with Duncan Keith & Brent Seabrook holding down the top pairing, and Oduya & Hjalmarsson steady in the 2nd slot. Only 2 other defenders logged over 250 5v5 minutes during the regular season: Rozsival and Runblad.

Stars-Hawks Compare '15 D

How to read this chart:

  •         Everything is almost the same as the Forwards’ chart, with averages weighted by Time on Ice.
  •         FF/60 & FA/60 are Fenwick, aka unblocked shots (SOG, missed shots), For & Against per 60 minutes. This is a better measure for Defenders than Scoring Chances, as it can also be read as “shot suppression”.

Obviously the major differences in this chart are the age of the Stars defenders and the offensive production. While they seem to lose the overall possession battle, for as maligned as they were throughout the year, the Stars’ Fenwick Against & High Danger Scoring Chances Against are almost the same as that of the much “stouter” Blackhawks defense. Again, the Stars posted a higher Shooting % with a lower PDO.

In gaining Johnny Oduya, the Stars added a defender with the second lowest FA/60 on the Chicago roster (his partner was the lowest) who also had a -5.23% Zone Start % Relative (aka he played more in his own zone than his teammates). He’s no offensive powerhouse, but that’s obviously not an issue for the Stars. Oduya also played almost 18 minutes per game 5v5 – beaten only by Keith (duh), and again, Hjalmarsson.

What did we give up in exchange? Offense. Trevor Daley was one of the two defenders with a Shooting % over 10%, and put up 1.2 Points/60. But on the other hand, he was played more offensively than any other non-rookie at 2.2% Zone Start % Relative (and even John “Rookie Sensation” Klingberg was at -3.36%), had the highest FA/60 of any defender by a long shot, and surprisingly, the lowest FF/60.

While Oduya is clearly an upgrade for the Stars defensively, the gap between the two teams wasn’t that far apart already. From the numbers, the Stars D-core compare very well to a Stanley Cup Championship team.

So what else is there?

The Goaltenders

Avert your eyes, Stars fans, it’s about to get ugly. We all knew goaltending was rough last year, what with Kari getting pulled twice as often as usual and not winning a single game with a starting back up until practically the end of the season. But it’s hard to realize exactly how tough we had it until you look at a team with an excellent goaltending roster.

Stars-Hawks Compare '15 G

How to read this chart:

  •         Again, averages are weighted by Time on Ice, which means Crawford & Lehtonen have the greatest impact as the teams’ starters.
  •         Save % should be pretty self-explanatory
  •         Adj. Sv%, aka Adjusted Save %, categorizes shots by Low, Medium, and High danger and is a weighted average.
  •         HD Sv%, aka High Danger Save % is the save percent of High Danger shots.
  •         SA/60 is Shots on Goal against per 60 minutes.

As you can see, Dallas gets shellacked in pretty much every category, except, interestingly enough, shots on goal against.

Kari was easily the best 5v5 goalie on the Stars last season, and that wasn’t a good thing. His 91.4% Save % edges out Enroth’s 90.8%, and is miles better than Lindback’s 88.4%. On the other hand, Corey Crawford’s 93%? Worst of Chicago’s three goalies.

Bringing in Niemi, the Sharks’ former starter, is an unconventional move, but gives the Stars some stability in net. He tends to post similar numbers to Lehtonen, and has shouldered a large workload, so in the event of injury (or let’s be real, another disastrous season from Kari) Niemi should be able to pick up the starter spot without a hitch. Jim Nill also mentioned that the Stars have one of the worst travel schedules, so he’d like to be able to split starts between the two to give them more rest. Studies have shown that goalies tend to improve when they face more shots (aka play more frequently) so this may backfire, but it at least has to be better than where we were last year.

Looking at the three different categories, it’s pretty clear that the one piece holding the Stars back from being championship caliber was goaltending. Now that the Stars have added a goalie with a recent Stanley Cup win, Dallas is closer than ever to being the team they want to imitate…the Chicago Blackhawks.

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