Today we'll finish up evaluations on the people who played a healthy number of games on the blue line, as we dig into three youngsters with something to prove. Each of these players was essentially coming off a season which set new expectations for them. For DeKeyser and Kindl, it was based on the hope that what we had seen late in the previous season would continue along an upward trajectory. With Lashoff, the hope was that he could remain a solid 7th D-man.
So how'd they do? Let's find out.
Lashoff came into this season on a deal that pays him like a #7 defenseman and that's what he's supposed to be. Unfortunately, by the time all was said and done, only two players on the roster got into more games than he did thanks to injuries.
Here's what I wrote about his expectations in preseason:
I expect Lashoff will often be the odd-man out on the defense this season in favor of the six guys above him on the depth chart. When he does get on, he'll likely get somewhat more-sheltered minutes, but he'll also fill in on the penalty kill to provide that big-bodied grit and snarl he's good at.
I'm certain that the Wings would have liked to have made him the odd-man out had they been given the chance, but they rarely got that opportunity. Lashoff was scratched for the first five games, but between coming in for other underperformers and being in due to injury, he only got two more scratches the rest of the season. True to expectations, Lashoff was the single-most sheltered defenseman the Red Wings employed for any respectable stretch.
Possession-wise, the Wings had 50.4% of the Corsi events with Lashoff on the ice, but overall, that's quite damningly low when factored against the 3-to-2 offensive-to-defensive zone start ratio. For the defensive portion of his game, Lashoff took penalties at the third-highest rate among defensemen (Quincey and Smith were above him). He played more total minutes on the PK than all but Kronwall and Quincey, but his rate of shorthanded goals against wasn't any more terrible than the pack. CSSI tells a different story. Lashoff probably got more chances to fail as the net-front guy, but he paid those chances off by earning minuses on goals at the 2nd-highest rate/60, behind only Quincey in that regard.
Overall, Lashoff was essentially deployed in a way to slow down the fact that he wasn't defensively good enough to make up for the near-total lack of offensive production. In many ways it worked, but you'd rather not have to deploy a stopgap measure for 91% of the season. The fact that he wasn't supposed to play this many games curves his grade up a bit, but not severely.
Jakub Kindl turned a good performance in 2012-13 into a brand-new four-year deal worth $2.4M annually. The promise he showed in finally using his offensive instincts combined with more solid-physical play earned him a deal that would pay him like a guy who could be comfortable on the 2nd pairing.
This season was a step backwards for him.
Kindl should get low 2nd/high 3rd-pair minutes this season and will likely help alongside Danny DeKeyser. He likely won't play much penalty kill, but will find himself as the QB of the 2nd power play unit where he'll have more than enough forward skill in front of him to make a difference. He should be able to set career highs in both goals and points this season.
Per-game, Kindl ended up getting just the 3rd-pair minutes. He started the season with more ice time, but saw that gradually taper off as his failure to use those extra minutes effectively grew more evident. Kindl did put up a career high for both assists and points, showing flashes of his offensive instincts, but a drop in both his shooting rate and his shooting percentage left him with only half as many goals as his career high of four. Had he continued to shoot at what now looks like an aberrant 5.3%, he would have scored 5 on his 93 shots and perhaps would have gotten more opportunities.
The problem with the low offensive output is that nobody was given more opportunities to create goals. Kindl's deployment and competition sheltering was extremely close to Lashoff's and he was also handed the reigns to the point on the 2nd power play unit. With these advantages, Kindl's inability to make an impact on the scoreboard slowed the team down.
Defensively, Kindl mostly avoided mistakes that led to goals against, holding the 3rd-lowest CSSI mistake rate among D-Men. This is partially a factor of his offensive zone starts and partially a factor of his role on in-zone defensive coverage (he was more the outlet option for the puck-retrieval defenseman and did much less battling in front of the net, where minuses happen more often). However, where Lashoff's deployment simply slowed the tide toward his own net, Kindl had the expectations (and pay-grade) to warrant an expectation that he push the tide down the ice, something he didn't do.
I saved this one for last because I wanted to end on a high note. Here's the near-embarrassing shit I wrote about preseason expectations.
While DeKeyser is the easiest player to send down because of his waiver status, I think he'll be on the roster for most of the year and in the lineup for a great portion of it, taking occasional rests to watch from above and take stock of the game from a different angle. He'll likely get easier assignments and he'll be expected to take advantage of those, but will also find time on the penalty kill.
In my defense on the waiver thing, the cap crunch at the beginning of the season was stupid.
I also think that if things had gone WAY differently, the Wings would have liked to have given DeKeyser a chance to watch a game or two from the press box. Fortunately, he didn't really need that. The "easier assignments" thing fell apart pretty quickly and, by the time the season had ended, DeKeyser was solidly THE 2nd pairing defenseman on the squad. Only Kronwall and Ericsson drew tougher personnel assignments and DK even had the toughest zone starts among everybody.
What's more is that his even-strength point production drove him to get time on the power play, which made him just one of two blueliners who got meaningful time playing two-way special teams. Unfortunately, he struggled even more than Kindl to put up points on the man advantage.
Possession-wise, DeKeyser was actually the only defenseman to have less than 50% Corsi and he did enjoy an even-strength save percentage that drove his PDO (luck) up. It wasn't all rainbows for him. The luck of the save percentage could also explain why he had the 2nd-lowest CSSI mistake rate, but in a system designed to punish players who consistently get luckier than they deserve, DeKeyser pulled a low number of adjustments of that nature.
DeKeyser came into the season with the expectation that he build positively off a promising-but-short performance in 2012-13. He was expected to perform defensively well. Any offensive upside would be gravy for him. Turns out, he brought a sizable gravy boat.