With training camp just three weeks away, we are continuing our look at the player evaluations for the 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What can they improve upon for next season?
We continue those evaluations today with one of the team’s best defensemen, as Johnny Oduya goes under the microscope.
Oduya’s season represents one of the few times where the eye test and the stats test both yield the exact same result. The perception all season long was that Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks were using Oduya and linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson against the toughest competition on a nightly basis, and the numbers bear that theory out.
If you want a really good comprehensive look at what Oduya was able to do during the season, you can check out the work Second City Hockey did on the subject. For those looking for a Reader’s Digest version, this paragraph will suffice:
“Oduya and Hjalmarsson pulled off some of the toughest zone starts relative to their teammates of the defensemen in the league facing the toughest competition. The really impressive thing about that is that they have suppressed their opponents’ shots very well. Only Andry Greene of the Devils has shown better shot suppression among this group of defensemen in comparable relative zone starts. Drew Doughty of the LA Kings is the only other defenseman in the same category of shot suppression but with less difficult zone starts relative to his teammates.”
Basically, Oduya’s success can be summed up like this: when he and Hjalmarsson are on the ice, not only do they prevent the other team from getting shots on goal at an elite level, but they also are capable of generating offense of their own, meaning that their possession metrics are even higher. They are truly in elite company in this regard, and they really helped the Blackhawks in a big way last season.
Is there really anything bad to say about Oduya’s game? Sure, you can complain that his offensive numbers aren’t great (three goals, 13 assists in 77 games), but when you look at his career numbers, there really isn’t much of a drop-off from past seasons. Other than occasional silly penalties (he averaged a minor penalty every two games during the regular season), there really isn’t a lot to critique about Oduya’s play.
Best Game of 2013-14:
Oduya only had two multipoint games on the season, and one of them came in a critical contest for the Blackhawks, as the defenseman scored a goal and added an assist in a 5-4 double overtime victory over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final. He ended up playing 29:01 in that game, and his plus-2 rating emphasized just how good he was defensively in the contest as well.
Outlook for 2014-15:
Before we can really get started on what the outlook for him is, we have to add the caveat that he might not be with the team when the season begins. The Blackhawks are currently a little over $2 million over the NHL’s salary cap, and because of that they will likely have to trade away a player or two to make room.
Oduya’s contract is very tradeable because of the $3.3 million cap hit that he carries, and he’s only signed through the end of the season.
If the Blackhawks do decide to keep him (which they would frankly be smart to do, given his defensive prowess and chemistry with Hjalmarsson), then you can expect more of the same kind of deployment from Quenneville. Keith and Seabrook will continue to get slightly easier assignments (with some tough ones thrown in), but the primary shutdown pairing for this team would continue to be Hjalmarsson and Oduya.
They’ve proven they can handle the strain, and they both were at the top of their game last season. That is a huge asset for the Blackhawks to have, and they would be in a great position to make another Stanley Cup run with that kind of support on the back side of things.