2015-2016 Detroit Red Wings Grades: Justin Abdelkader
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Selfish Penalty
Born: February 25, 1987 (29 years old)
Birthplace: Muskegon, Michigan
Acquired: 2005 Entry draft: 2nd round (42 overall)
Contract Status: Signed through 2022-23 (4.25 annual cap hit)
Justin Abdelkader had a career year in 2014-2015, and going into this year, the hope was for him to improve on that, or at the very least prove it wasn't a fluke. He entered the season in the last year of his contract, and wanted to prove himself worthy of a long-term deal. The team looked to him to provide a physical presence and continue to put points on the board.
Abdelkader showed that last season was not a fluke, but he didn't improve on last year's numbers. His point total was only 2 points off last year's total, but he played 11 more games this year. On the plus side, he remained healthy enough to play in every game.
In this year's BOLD predictions, Christian, Joseph, and Kyle were all proven incorrect about Abby's upcoming year.
He ended up with 23 goals, not a Maple Leaf, and cost the Wings $29.75 million for the next seven years.The general feeling was that the contract was not a good one, both due to the length and the money committed for one solid year of production. Statistically, those people making the second argument were validated by Adbelkader's drop off from last year. Their case is further solidified when taking into account that Abdelkader played about half of his 5 v 5 time with Henrik Zetterberg and Dylan Larkin.
Most of the rest of his time not playing with Larkin was with Zetterberg and either Pavel Datsyuk or Gustav Nyquist. Even though Zetterberg and Nyquist did not put up the points that fans hoped for, Abdelkader played with the type of linemates and in the type of situations that it's hard to blame his usage for his statistical drop off. That being said, his skill set seems more suited to a second line player than the first line player he was asked to be for most of the season.
The one specific area that Abdelkader could be used differently is on the power play. He's willing and able to throw his body around, but he is not as good at playing net front on the power play as he needs to be to contribute there. JJ suggested in a recent Winging it in Motown podcast that #8 would be better used as a down low, get the puck out type of power play member, which makes a lot of sense.
What He Did vs. Expectations
Abdelkader did not perform up to expectations this season. His offensive stats were lower across the board, despite playing in 11 more games. Here is his 5 v 5 With or Without You chart from Corsica.hockey:
In nearly all cases, Adbelkader does worse without each teammate than they do together, with his teammate doing better without Abdelkader. This is also reflected in his CF%RelTM of -2.7 and GF%RelTM of -7.4 during the regular season (both of which are second lowest among forwards playing over 400 minutes).
Overall Abdelkader had an up and down year. There were times of the year in which he played very well, and it seemed like he could build on last year. Unfortunately, he still has instances in which something in his brain says "Abby Smash!" and he does something incredibly reckless.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Game 2 of this year's playoffs. Abdelkader slewfooted Tyler Johnson, on a play that he was never going to get away with, leading to a long Tampa Bay 5 on 3. He then went on to lose his mind in a pile up near the end of the game.
The frustrating thing is that Abdelkader has shown he is capable of being an important contributor to the team; he played very well in Game 3. You can't go far in the playoffs without some big forwards who throw their body around and produce offensively. Abdelkader is capable of doing that. But when will he learn where the line is between playing physical and playing stupid? Hopefully this coming season.
Overall Grade: C
On the one hand, his stats took a step back from last year. On the other hand, there were stretches of the season that he was very helpful in keeping the team in the playoff hunt. On the one hand, he sometimes takes selfish, boneheaded penalties. On the other hand, he showed signs of growing into a leadership position. Hopefully next year, he can do more of the positive and less of the negative.