The Isles Broke Up Their Best Defensive Pair Because of Advanced Stats

Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:

When it comes to hockey teams and advanced statistics, the former are not very forth coming with how they use the latter. In fact, most teams don’t admit whether they use advanced stats in their analysis of players at all. We know some of them do because some unnamed teams have hired the creator of BehindtheNet.ca, Gabriel Desjardins, which is probably the premier resource for advanced hockey statistics (and a good place to start if you’re unfamiliar with the genre). Three years ago, Desjardins was on the payroll for three NHL teams, seemingly as a consultant for advanced stats decision making.

Today, Arthur Staple writes that the Islanders do employ some kind of advanced statistical analysis — or at least did over the summer — and that the team’s conclusion was to break up what was their first defensive pairing in 2012-13, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald. Staple writes:

For those fans interested (as I am) in advanced stats, the Isles are using them to assess defensive pairings, and they came away with the idea of splitting Andrew MacDonald and Hamonic. Neither defenseman seems terribly excited by the idea — he never said so, but I presume MacDonald’s being against it partially stems from the fact that this is a contract year for him, so the more quality minutes for him the better — but we’ll see if analytics pay off.

MacDonald likely will start Tuesday night and be paired with Matt Donovan, who has the inside track for earning a top-six spot.

The reason this is important to note is that this is the first time that the Islanders have acknowledged any kind of advanced analysis when it comes to their personnel moves. It’s probably particularly helpful when evaluating defenders since there aren’t really any traditional statistics that are good at evaluating defense. Or maybe, they’re reading Lighthouse Hockey. Here’s resident stat geek guru Garik writing about the pairing on July 19 and being fairly prescient: 

What we have here is a pair of D men who faced top competition and failed to contain them. Now this wasn’t an every game thing – it seems like the D pair had a very up and down season, with the downs (games they failed to do their job) being more numerous than the ups (games they contained). Does this mean the pair isn’t capable of handling this role in the future?

For me, this suggests that the Isles might want to try and alter this pairing. AMac is a UFA in a year, and while he’s unlikely to be super pricey, this does suggest that he might not be a 1D for the future whom is a bargain, despite how the Isles are playing him. Perhaps flip AMac and Hickey? Hard to say.

This does deserve some heavy observation as the upcoming season goes forward, however.

What MacDonald’s true value is as a defender has been an on-going question for quite a while. He’s a ninth round pick that has vastly overachieved compared to his draft status, but he’s also not Nicklas Lidstrom. The short answer is that while he is talented, he’s probably not top pair caliber. That’s not to say he’s not a good defender, it’s to say that he’s not an elite defender.

So far in the pre-season the Islanders have split up MacDonald and Hamonic with Hamonic skating alongside Brian Strait. Staple notes that MacDonald is likely to pair up with Matt Donovan, who has all of 3 NHL games to his name. The defense pairs are likely in flux right now, so I wouldn’t really set any combination in stone just yet, but it’s certainly interesting to see how the Islanders have gone about some of the decisions.