Last season, Luke Glendening tallied a career high 12 goals, good for 8th on the Red Wings. He earned a reputation as a no-nonsense, hard-working player that was capable of shutting down the opposition's top-line. No forward in the entire NHL played more minutes on the penalty kill than Glendening last year. It was clear that Glendening had earned former coach Mike Babcock's trust as the go-to defensive forward. That's why this past season, Glendening played 14.9 minutes a game, more than Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen, and Stephen Weiss. Hell, he even drew a "hipster" vote from TVA's Frederic Lord for the Selke Trophy.
Many were quick to anoint Glendening as the second-coming of former Grind Line member Kris Draper, a Selke Trophy winner himself. However, I'd like to challenge the notion that Glendening is a top-tier defensive player by himself. In fact, I'd like to posit that Glendening's role is far too large and if the Wings are to take the next step this season, it will involve Glendening having his minutes dramatically reduced as well as adapting his role with the team.
Glendening The Bad
I could show this about 15 different ways, but I'll try and keep this as succinct as possible. Since his arrival in the NHL, Glendening has been one of the worst possession/offensive forwards. Now, I'm sure many of you will point out that the guy is coming off a 12-goal season. While the raw number looks decent, check out this series of graphs illustrating Glendening's possession numbers, usage-adjusted statistics, and passing ability.
Chart from hockeyviz.com
From this first chart, we can see how Glendening played without each player, how each player played without Glendening, and how each player played when on the ice with Glendening. As you can see from all of the blue boxes, it didn't matter who Glendening was away from, he was always a possession black hole. You can also see how far he dragged down each player when they were on the ice with him. Look at Brendan Smith, who goes from more than 60 shots/60 min and less than 40 shots against/60 mins to less than 40 shots/60 and roughly 47.5 shots against/60. It's a dramatic change.
Visual from Own The Puck
This HERO Chart depicts Glendening's usage-adjusted statistics since he entered the NHL. By usage-adjusted, this chart is intended to account and adjust for a player's zone starts, quality of competition, and quality of teammates. Essentially, it shouldn't matter how many times you start in the defensive zone, how bad your teammates are, or how tough of a competition you face as this chart is adjusting for that. We can see that Glendening's individual production isn't that bad relative to his ice-time, however his impact on his linemates shot attempts is laughable. The impact on goals against/60 is very very interesting and I'll touch on that in a bit, but for now what I want you to take away is that Glendening and his linemates have not been able to suppress shot attempts against or generate shot attempts for at any reasonable level.
Chart from In Lou We Trust
This last chart brings in data from the recently conducted Passing Project. What I want to point out are the two bars on the far left - CC% Rank and CC/60 Rank. CC stands for Corsi Contribution which measures individual shot attempts, primary passes leading to shot attempts, and secondary passes leading to shot attempts. From this graph you can see that very little that Glendening does results in any semblance of offense. However, is all of this his fault?
Glendening's Poor Usage
Quick show of hands - how many 25-year old undrafted NHL free agents get signed to an NHL contract and in their first full season receive the toughest minutes on their team and the 10th toughest minutes of any forward in the NHL? If any of you raised your hands, I highly question your knowledge of the game of hockey. However, that's exactly how Glendening was used.
Chart via War-On-Ice
As you can see, from the time Glendening was called up full-time (December 14th, 2013), he's started just 39.89% of his shifts in the offensive zone and a whopping 36.6% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Not only is he starting his shifts in the defensive zone, but you can see that he's faced a tougher level of competition than Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, and more. Essentially, former coach Mike Babcock took the young undrafted forward, threw him on the ice in the defensive zone, and asked him to shut down some of the top lines in the NHL. Sounds like a fair challenge, right?
I know earlier I showcased Glendening's HERO Chart which accounts for zone starts, quality of teammates, and quality of competition and it showed that Glendening's usage-adjusted numbers were very poor. One thing that this chart does not account for is the coaching system. I think a large part of Glendening's poor numbers has to do with what Babcock instructed Glendening's line to do. In watching the line, there were instances where they had the opportunity to start an offensive chance but instead resorted to dumping the puck in. I got the idea that Glendening's line was instructed to be a "bend-but-don't-break" line. Check out some of the gifs I created from the Tampa series.
In this video clip you'll see Glendening get the puck and be able to cleanly skate it out of the zone with minimal pressure. Tampa's D have turned and are starting to skate back so this was the perfect opportunity to push the puck. Instead, you can see Ferraro and Miller both turn and look at Glendening, expecting him to dump the puck in which is exactly what he did, resulting in an icing. I almost get the impression that this line was instructed to take very minimal offensive chances and thus this is what resulted in their poor offensive output.
As for their poor defensive output, I think this next clip might be able to shed some light on tendencies that I picked up on while re-watching game film.
In this last clip, pay close attention to all five Red Wings players. You can see that for a majority of the shift, all five players were collapsed beneath the faceoff dot. What this does is allow Tampa's D-men to have a cleaner release on their point shots. I noticed that Tampa fed a lot of pucks back to their D-men and allowed them to fire away. This resulted in a lot of shot attempts against. However, a shot attempt from that far away generally has a lower percentage chance of going in which may explain a little bit of why Glendening's line got destroyed in terms of shot attempts but not in terms of goals. They were protecting the most dangerous area of the ice which is the front of the net and staying in shooting lanes.
All in all, I think that if we have to evaluate Glendening based on the data at hand, you wouldn't be wrong to question whether or not he sticks in the NHL for the next five years. However, few players would be able to rise up to the challenge provided by their coach so early in their careers like Glendening has done. I think if new head coach Jeff Blashill allows his fourth line to use their speed to pressure opposing D-men more, I think they have a real potential to generate a lot of odd-man rushes. By forcing this line to play conservatively both offensively and defensively, you're putting them in a lose-lose position where eventually their luck will run out. Moving forward, I'd like to see Glendening's line get sheltered a bit more, with more neutral zone starts and fewer defensive zone starts. Play Glendening's line less than 10 minutes a night at 5v5 and use their speed and fresh legs to generate odd-man chances against tired legs. It's too early to make the call on Glendening's career, but if he's used right, he just might become an integral part of the Red Wings future.