Jason Lewis writes about the Pacific Division for HP and for HockeyBuzz
Kings and Ducks Make Defensive Moves; Is It Enough?
The Western Conference wild card race is currently a battle. With the Los Angeles Kings at-tempting to secure a spot in the dance, they made their play some days before the deadline when picking up Hurricane defenseman Andrej Sekera. On the other side of the coin, the Ana-heim Ducks are a for sure playoff participant, but are looking to strengthen up for a deeper post-season run than recent years. With that in mind they made a few depth moves like picking up Simon Despres, Tomas Fleischmann, and Korbinian Holzer. However, arguably their most im-pactful deal came with the return of James Wisniewski from Columbus. With each team in a vastly different position in the standings, did they do enough to push themselves into better re-spective positions?
The Ducks parted way with the fiery puck mover James Wisniewski back in the 2010 offseason, when he was moved to the Islanders for a conditional 3rd round pick. At the time, there wasn’t really a place for him on the Ducks defensive depth chart with a young Cam Fowler looking primed to replace his minutes.
Now, however, Wisniewski is a stellar addition to the Ducks defensive group.
If you take a quick glance at the Ducks roster and pick out weaknesses, their defensive depth is definitely a relevant thing to bring up. Anaheim has had inconsistent production from the backend outside of Sami Vatanen, who is likely out until at least the very end of the regular sea-son. They have also been giving a ton of minutes to rookie Josh Manson, and depth guys like Clayton Stoner and the now departed Ben Lovejoy and Eric Brewer. The 31-year old Wisniewski can instantly step into the Ducks roster and effectively stabilize and replace the missing 20-plus minutes of ice time of Sami Vatanen. Along with that, he can effectively boost their 21st ranked power play and more than likely play first unit minutes. When the Ducks lost Vatanen, they lost a player with 17 power play points. That number is twice as many as the next closest Duck de-fenseman and ninth overall in the league.
Take a look at the Ducks most recent even strength defensive pairings for a second and you can see why the additions of Despres and Wisniewski are also huge at 5-on-5.
(Pairings from most recent game, provided by Left Wing Lock)
What the former Jacket can do is help push the Ducks possession numbers, which have been floundering around the middle of the league pack for the majority of the year.
Using Stephen Burtch’s dCorsi and dCorsi impact ratings found on War-on-Ice, you can see that Wisniewski has been beastly in driving possession with the minutes he is given in the last several years.
This year with Columbus he has been just above breaking even, but that can come with the ter-ritory of playing on a team that struggles as a whole with possession.
This is part of the reason why it can be a bit misleading to run Wisniewski’s numbers against that of his new teammates in Anaheim. If you are going pure Corsi Against per 60 minutes versus Corsi For per 60 minutes, it looks ugly. He couples an extremely high Corsi For per 60 minutes, one that would be first overall amongst Ducks defenseman, with an equally poor Corsi Against per 60 minutes.
One explanation for this is his partnership with the young and inexperienced Kevin Connauton. While Wisniewski is definitely no stalwart in his own end, having someone that isn’t able to handle his offensive rushes and aggressiveness can really hurt his overall defensive numbers. Think of the Muzzin/Doughty pairing, and how one helps stabilize the other. If the Ducks can find a partner for him that is willing to play a more defensive role then it could allow the puck mover to unleash his aggressiveness going forward without too much risk defensively.
The most important thing for the Ducks is that he is an offensive force in terms of possession, depth, and is also a significant addition to a struggling powerplay that has recently lost a jugger-naut producer in Sami Vatanen. Those three things are very important moving forward. With a completely healthy blueline, Anaheim has a formidable back end now. In theory, these could be the pairings come playoff time:
Lindholm – Beauchemin
Fowler – Wisniewski
Despres – Vatanen
Instead of looking at a back four that includes Manson and Lovejoy, you have Wisniewski and Despres.
It may hurt to lose a promising center in William Karlsson, but this is a very astute “Win now” move from Bob Murray. The Ducks may be looking at one of their better shots at a deep run in the playoffs this year with the Pacific division being more questionable than usual. The additions of Wiz and Despres give them a much better team today than yesterday. Wisniewski in particu-lar gives them another top four option and a firs unit power play quarterback. Those two things could be invaluable. You could say there are still some questions remaining about the forward depth and goaltending. However, defensively it seems like they have done enough for one deadline.
Finally a Top-4 Replacement?
Despite being in vastly different styles of playoff fights, the Ducks and the Kings both searched for the same thing at the deadline. That search was for a top-4 defender to help stabilize and evenly distribute ice-time. Oh yea, and chip in offensively as well.
While the Ducks solution came in the waning hours of the deadline, the Kings’ move came sev-eral days before March 2. Pending free agent Andrej Sekera was acquired from Carolina for a 1st-round pick and the promising young puck-mover from the Kingston Frontenacs, Roland McKeown.
It seems that the Kings defensive group has been something of a question mark almost all sea-son with the offseason departure of Willie Mitchell and the suspension of Slava Voynov. With Sekera, the Kings are hoping he can step in to a top-4 role and finally balance out what has been some very top-heavy ice time distribution amongst the Kings blueline.
Take a look at the rolling 10-game ice time distribution of the Kings thus far:
The gap between Doughty, who is pressing 30 minutes a night, and the next closest defenseman is huge. Those numbers are vastly different to the distribution of the 2013-14 season.
(All graphs provided by War-on-Ice.com)
No. 8 was playing far fewer minutes, there was not a massive gap between he and the rest of the pack, and they had nearly every defensemen playing a reasonable mid-range of minutes. No man was playing much over their respective average or severely under it.
Doughty is playing some of the highest average ice-time of his career. As is Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and even Robyn Regehr. In fact, at times Regehr has been playing his highest aver-age ice time since about 2010. If you take a look at his HERO chart on Own The Puck you can see that he probably shouldn’t be playing anywhere close to that many minutes.
With Regehr playing as a questionable second pairing defenseman and Darryl Sutter refusing to allow more minutes to the improving and effective Brayden McNabb, the Kings have hope that Sekera is at least one answer to many questions. While he isn’t going to play minutes equivalent to Slava Voynov, he will be a huge relief to what has been an overworked defensive corps. With this move Dean Lombardi is trying his best to imitate the 2013-14 blue line with his 2014-15 blueline.
Sekera, at his best, will also bring an element of production that hasn’t been present on the blu-eline this season for Los Angeles.
The Kings have just 23 goals from their defenseman this year. They also have only five total power play goals and 31 power play points from regular defensemen.
For the sake of comparison, the Ducks have 32 total goals, San Jose 37, Calgary 35, and Ari-zona 32. Only the beleaguered Vancouver defense (22) and the questionably manned Oilers (18) have less production from their defense in the division. With Alec Martinez being out with a concussion, and Brayden McNabb not showing any signs of life in terms of offense, the Kings needed someone to occupy the second power play unit.
While the Slovak isn’t necessarily a goal machine, he is a solid facilitator and play driver. Much like Wisniewski, Sekera will take his knocks defensively but if he is paired up with the right part-ner he can be incredibly helpful in starting the offense up ice. As of right now though, he has taken a few punches in the first couple of games paired up with Robyn Regehr.
(Note his strong Corsi and Fenwick for numbers)
Breakouts are paramount on many NHL squads, and the Kings are no different. There has been a notable lack of overall crispness in LA’s outlet game this year. They are hoping the addition of a seasoned puck-mover with good possession numbers will improve that down the stretch and into the postseason. Is it enough though? While Lombardi got his man for the defensive questions at least.
Both teams had similar needs and both teams made moves that, on the surface, made them better teams. As a general manager that is really all you can do. Now you have to hope that it works out as well on the ice as it did in your head. It is safe to say that both teams better today than they were before the deadline. However, only time will give the answer as to whether or not these were penultimate moves in achieving the ultimate goal.