Today's look back at the 2010-11 season that was keeps us in the defensive corps and focuses on a couple of low-paid guys near opposite ends of their career arcs but with similar expectations going into the season. Ruslan Salei and Jonathan Ericsson came into the season as two of the bottom-three defensemen on Detroit's depth chart and finished in the same spots. Let's take a look at how they did compared to what we hoped for.
Preseason Expectations: In my Preseason Expectations Post, I laid out a 20-point season for Jonathan Ericsson from sharing time with Salei to helping to try to be the "experienced" guy next to Kindl. I expected that he would remain in penalty trouble, but that his previous year's -15 rating would improve dramatically thanks to his own growth as a player. For Salei, I expected no more than 65 games out of the aging veteran who was coming off of back issues. I set his bar for points to a minimum of 10 and an amazing max of 20.
Follow us through the jump for the season recap and to see how well they matched up to the expectations given.
#52 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings
Mar 02, 1984
|2010 - Jonathan Ericsson||74||3||12||15||8||87||1||0||0||89|
Jonathan Ericsson skated into his contract year with a chance to step into a big role and earn himself a big payday. He played in 74 games for the Wings during the regular season and put up 15 points. His plus/minus did improve by leaps and bounds over the -15 he had the previous season, but much of that came from being sheltered behind some of the Red Wings best players.
What he did well: For what was defined (by playing time) as a #5 defenseman, Ericsson had two stretches in the season where he looked to be a downright dominant top-four guy. He would get into grooves where he used his body, focused his vision into good outlet passes, and used his judgment to join the rush in smart and effective ways. He also had two fights this season in defense of his teammates that are exactly the kind you like to see the big guy jump into now and again.
What he did not do well: Yeah, those dominant stretches? They lasted a grand total of about 8 games. The remaining 66 games he played this season, he looked like a newborn giraffe trying to stand up. If you take out the penalty minutes for fighting, he still leads all defenders on the team by a wide margin. As the biggest defenseman on the team, he was exactly in the middle of the pack for hits delivered and, much much worse, Nick Lidstrom blocked 2.5 times as many shots as Ericsson did. 37 blocked shots is fewer than goddamn Brian Rafalski. This just goes to show that if you challenge a professional hockey player to miss a pylon with a shot, he's going to succeed extremely often.
Overall Grade: Even as much of an Ericsson supporter as I have been and continue to be (based on what's starting to look like stupid hope that he has potential still), I can't in good conscience say that he played at an acceptable level. All of my analysis of the Red Wings' season leads to the conclusion that Ericsson had a bad year. His grade for this season is an F.
#24 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings
Nov 02, 1974
|2010 - Ruslan Salei||75||2||8||10||0||48||0||0||0||75|
Ruslan Salei came to Detroit with a chance to prove that he could still hack it as an NHL defenseman, despite his injury problems. He was expected to fill a hole in the roster left by the departure of Andreas Lilja. He wasn't brought on for his offensive prowess, but managed to hit the baseline acceptable figure for 10 points in a season and he played in 75 games, missing about as many to injury as he did due to the birth of his daughter late in the season.
What he did well: Salei took on the role of the quiet defensive defenseman very well. Second only to Brad Stuarts in hits and with an expected amount of blocked shots (109), Salei patrolled the Wings blue line, battled around his own net, and was always the first to back out of the zone when it looked like the pressure was breaking down. Aside from that, he showed some prety good offensive instincts several times during the season in choosing to jump into a play. He didn't convert enough of them, but the confidence he showed in doing so was inspiring.
What he did not do well: Salei faded later in the season and he faded hard. Whether it was the rigors of the long season getting to him or the distraction of the birth of his child, Salei found himself battling for his own spot going into the playoffs. He ultimately won that spot, but played near-awful in the series against the Sharks. When he was doing his job, he was mostly invisible in a good way; when he wasn't doing his job, he was very visible in a bad way.
Overall grade: Salei did not have much for expectations going into the year. He put up about as many points as expected and played in more games than I thought he would. His late season and playoff problems were a disappointment, but do not completely overshadow the good first half he had. Unfortunately, the good first half that he did have worked to partially raise expectations. Taking the entire season into context, I'm going to give Salei a C.