In their predictions for the 2016-17 season on NHL.com, only two of their twenty “experts” penned Detroit into a playoff spot. If you had asked the majority of the Red Wings fan base, they would have said that the boys in red would secure a Wild Card spot, but fall once again in the first round. The season so far has been much, much worse than anyone had anticipated.
This awful start to the season has been somewhat of a puzzle. Their possession is the worst it’s been in years. They’re not getting shots off and when they do, they are low quality shots. Their scorers are not scoring. Their powerplay has been abysmal. But what’s driving all this poor play? There are many players underperforming on the team and they’ve all received their fair share of critique. Some of it has been well-earned, but most of it is purely an emotional response.
So instead of rattling off an angry hot take supported by surface numbers that don’t say much, I’d like to take a deeper look into one of the team’s players who had some of the highest expectations placed on him: Danny DeKeyser.
DeKeyser signed a shiny new contract with the Wings in the offseason that was worth $30 million over six years. This was a show of confidence by the team that DeKeyser would be their number one defenseman going forward. So far, he’s off to a rough start.
Before really jumping into the thick of DeKeyser’s play this season, let’s look at some comparables so we know what we should be comparing him against. Here are four players on similar contracts:
These are all top-2 defensemen already on each of their teams. At twenty-one and twenty-two years old, they also have very high ceilings so it’s important to note that these are not their “big boy contracts”, whereas DeKeyser is likely at his peak and his next contract likely won’t be more than where he’s currently at.
So how is he holding up against these guys on the stats sheet this year?
I’ve sorted the above graph to rank by iCF60 so that we can see that DeKeyser is the worst possession player of the group. He’s got the lowest ixG60 and the lowest iSF60, despite having played the most amount of minutes.
Now, it wouldn’t be fair to judge DeKeyser’s contract based solely on thirty games of play, so I pulled the data from the last three years:
Even over the course of the last three years, DeKeyser has the worst iCF60 and iSF60. He’s smack in the middle when it comes to P60, though, which is attributed to his elevated iSh%. These graphs clearly show us that, unlike these comparables, DeKeyser is not a puck-moving defenseman. He’s such a stay-at-home defenseman, in fact, that he ranks 134th in CF% among all league defensemen who have played more than 300 minutes this season and 19th in shots blocked with 58.
All this to say that contracts like DeKeyser’s are generally handed out to puck-moving defensemen with a high offensive upside. DeKeyser is not that and never has been. The contract looks especially bad right now that DeKeyser is having the worst season of his career so far.
A Present With No Hint Of The Past
DDK is on pace to score 13.6 pts this season. This would be the lowest point tally of his NHL career. Every other full season that he’s played, he’s broken twenty points.
DeKeyser’s CF% this season is also the worst of his career. And it’s not only bad for him. He’s making the players around him worse too.
Since DeKeyser has only played with Mike Green this season, I pulled data from last year too for this graph. Look at the red bubbles here. That is the defenseman’s CF% when he’s not playing with DeKeyser. Notice that it’s higher for almost every player than the blue bubble. This means that DeKeyser’s defensive partners have a better CF% when they are playing without him than when they are paired with him. In the case of Brendan Smith, him and DeKeyser post better CF%s when they play together than when either of them plays without the other. I’ll be coming back to that.
What really needs to be driven home here is that DeKeyser relies heavily on his D-partners to drive the play in the right direction. Mike Green’s stats take the biggest hit because of this. DeKeyser seems to be holding him back offensively.
So DeKeyser is not a great possession player. This has been evident in his numbers for the last four years. Except for one season. As the table above indicates, in the 2014-15 season, for the first time in Danny DeKeyser’s career he posted positive possession numbers.
What Happened in 2014-15?
In 2014-15, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist led the team in goals (with 29 and 27 respectively), the Wings took the Tampa Bay Lightning to seven games in the first round of the playoffs (but ultimately lost), and Danny DeKeyser played most of the season with Kyle Quincey as his defense partner.
Clocking over 800 minutes together, this pairing had a CF% of 53.08, a positive shots per 60 differential of 1.15, a Sh% of 8.94, and a positive goal differential per 60 of 0.68. This pairing worked.
But Kyle Quincey isn’t around anymore, so what’s the point of me showing you this data if there’s nothing it can do for DeKeyser’s play this year? Well, DeKeyser had one more partner in 2014-15 who he played more than 100 minutes with and they actually recorded better stats than what I’ve stated above.
Brendan Smith had a great season in 2014-15. He played over 100 minutes with five different defensemen and recorded a positive CF% with each of them, including a 60.33 CF% with Xavier Ouellet (!!!). In fact, the only defense pairing that recorded a CF% of over 50 that season that didn’t have Brendan Smith on it was DeKeyser and Quincey.
Anyways, I digress. This is not an article about Brendan Smith. The reason I show this though, is because one of the two players who DeKeyser recorded great stats with in his best season is still on this team. Why not try to pair him with Smith for a couple of games and see what happens? Blashill seems willing to juggle the forward lines every game to try out different combinations. Why not try something different on defense, too?
What Does This All Mean For the Red Wings?
Plain and simple, it means they haven’t found their number one defemseman yet.
The Wings have a lot of money tied up in Danny DeKeyser. It’s enough for them to expect more from him, but I’m not sure they’re ever going to get it. At least not to the point that they want. DeKeyer has been having an off-year, but even the numbers through the rest of his career aren’t anything close to elite. He can be a good second-pairing stay-at-home defenseman, but he’ll never be the number one that they want him to be.
And that’s okay. The expectations that DeKeyser can be our number one guy on D have to be lowered. Otherwise, we’re in for a long six years.