Analyzing the New Look of the Anaheim Ducks Blueline

With the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk, the Anaheim Ducks have a lot of faith in their blueline. Could they fall flat or be a sweet surprise during an odd season?

Anaheim Ducks’ Twitter continues to show its differing opinions and fluctuating excitability in an alarmingly thorough way. Over the past few seasons, our play on the ice has succumbed to near Red Wing-status, and as a result, our confidence in the front office has dwindled and we are now forced to cling to any glimmer of hope we have left.

In comes Trevor Zegras; heir-apparent to our captain, Ryan Getzlaf. By now, we all know the story of how Zegras injured his back at the World Juniors. Carrying a team will do that to you. He almost feels like too big of an entity at this point in his career to be calling Anaheim home. Understandably so, Ducks’ Twitter was in awe of his WJC performance and was calling for him to supplant Derek Grant as #Elite1C.

We enjoyed this newfound relevancy for what seemed like a week until hockey-guru, Bob Murray, and noted prospect-developer, Dallas Eakins, decided it was too early for him. When you #FlyTogether, you expect a certain degree of prospect-related disappointment. But after receiving this most recent piece of news, I wanted to write an optimistic piece.

Retooling Defensive Core

It is generally understood that a team can’t financially deploy 6 play-driving defenders. Given this, NHL teams have generally been known to place an emphasis on their top-4 defenseman. And recently, much has been made about the Ducks’ “revamped” top-4.

In what feels like lifetimes ago, the Anaheim Ducks boasted an enviable defensive corps with depth to back it up. After losing players like Marcus Pettersson, Brandon Montour, Shea Theodore, Sami Vatanen, and others, they’ve endured a rough patch in the last two years, give or take.

To the ire of many fans who want the chance to draft a high-end player such as Brad Lambert (looking at you Ben), the Ducks invested 3 years in Kevin Shattenkirk. Like I said earlier, much has been made of this signing; many experts and analysts are wondering what direction the Ducks are headed in.

Signing a player like Kevin Shattenkirk indicates that a team intends, and expects, to compete for a championship. The Ducks’ roster just doesn’t seem like it has what it takes, and I don’t even know if I need to back that up at this point.

Still, people have good things to say about Shattenkirk, and he does make our top-4 look much more attractive. I’ve heard a range of reactions to the Shattenkirk addition, the lowest opinion of which being that the Anaheim Ducks’ D-core now slots somewhere in the middle of the league. With that being said, I wanted to dive a little deeper into how the Ducks’ top-4 defenseman actually compares to the rest of the league.

Analyzing New-Look Top-4

As much as I would like to use the eye-test to “analyze” and rank players, I have once again chosen to allow Dom Luszczyszyn’s GSVA (game score value added) model to do the work for me. An explanation of said model is seemingly in store. And Dom goes in-depth here.

In laymen’s terms, the GSVA model blends standard box score statistics with advanced statistics in order to derive a number indicative of a player’s contribution to his team’s success. Big numbers equal big success. Auston Mathews lead the league last year at 4.93 while Jack Johnson came in at last with a GSVA of -0.92. Alright, with that settled, let’s get into my calculations. Keep in mind, I intended for this piece to be optimistic.

I used The Athletic’s team previews to predict who each team would deploy as their top-4 defenders. For the Ducks, I chose the obvious: Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Kevin Shattenkirk. After applying each player’s GSVA, I was able to derive a league ranking.

This graph depicts the total GSVA of each teams’ top-4 defenseman. Safe to say, it was not as promising as I had hoped. You can see the Anaheim Ducks, on the far right, with a 3.6 rating, slotting in at 20th place.

Now, as Dom explains in his article, there are flaws to his model, one of them being that offense is weighted heaviest. You can’t easily quantify defensive contributions. And with that, the offensively inept Ducks understandably sacrifice some points.

What I keep coming back to is the fact that the Anaheim Ducks want to compete this year. Their forward group doesn’t jump off the page by any means, so one can assume that Murray wants the defense to be the backbone of the team. And in Dom’s widely renowned model, the Ducks fall flat in dramatic fashion.

This all begs the question, “How does the front office envision this team competing with the rest of the teams in the ‘Honda Division’?” And to that, I don’t have a definitive answer. All I can offer is hope. I hope that Shattenkirk will either boost us enough to push for the playoffs or that he makes no difference whatsoever and we secure a lottery pick. Realistically, I believe we will fall somewhere in the middle.

Eye Test

On a more positive note, perhaps too positive, the Anaheim Ducks adding a valuable piece in Shattenkirk will likely improve the play of others. It’s not as though the trio of Manson, Fowler, and Lindholm is on the back-nine of their careers. Assuredly, they have more to give.

The Kings’ total GSVA for their top-4 came out to 3.1. Relatively close given the 1.2 – 7.2 range for all teams. Applying an admittedly biased eye-test to their top-4 of Drew Doughty, Matt Roy, Sean Walker, and Tobias Bjornfot gives me more confidence in the Ducks’ group.

Take the Capitals’ score of 3.9. Consider first, that Zdeno Chara is approaching one million years old. After that, outside of John Carlson, the rest of that group doesn’t inspire much confidence either.

All this to say, the Anaheim Ducks defense does show promise. No longer can we consider it to be a weakness. Now, the focus solely turns towards our ability to put the puck in the net. And we all know who would presumably have helped out with that.

Again, a variety of factors influence each teams’ scores. And I don’t mean for it to be the only metric with which I judge players. However, I believe that each of the Ducks’ top-4 defenders’ scores will increase this year after adding that missing piece. Hopefully, they will provide a much-needed boost from the back end.

Alright, I think I got a sufficient amount off of my chest. Regardless of anything else, it’s hard not to be excited about the beginning of a brand new Anaheim Ducks’ season. I hope all of our readers are just as excited as we are!

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