So the worst-kept secret in free agency since...well, there were actually quite a few worst-kept secrets in free agency this year...happened. The Red Wings signed defenseman Trevor Daley.
Let’s take a closer look at how Daley could fit in the Red Wings lineup next year, and evaluate the signing.
Last year, Daley didn’t perform as well as he had in years past. He was injured for part of the season, which likely contributed to his lower stats.
The chart below uses data from datarink.com to look at how Daley compared to other NHL defensemen last year.
The “Group” column indicates where each number fell in terms of the top 60 in the NHL (1st pair), 61-120 (2nd pair), and 121-180 (3rd pair). We can see that his power play performance was strong. At first we might say “oh well, that’s because of Pittsburgh’s stars, but keep in mind that typically Kris Letang was the lone defenseman on Pitt’s “All-Star PP).
We can also see that his Corsi Against was very low, which is something we’ll see again later.
We can see that he played about 20 minutes a game and produced at a rate you would expect from a second pair defenseman. Looking at the middle-right box (5v5 Goals/hour), we can see that the team scored more when he was on the ice, but also allowed more goals. Where he struggled was 5v5 shots/hour (middle-left box). This is consistent with his very low Score Adjusted Corsi Against that we saw in the chart above.
(The red line is the 50% line (2.5 for/ 2.5 against, etc), and the box with NHL is the league average. The blue box is the team with Daley on the ice, and the red box is the team with him off the ice.)
Let’s take a look at the same chart for Daley, but for the last three seasons:
His shots against is still below the league average, but his shots for are further ahead of it. He’s just below the 50% mark, but much closer than this past season.
Daley’s best production in primary points (goals and first assists) per hour was easily 2014-15 with Dallas, when he was 31 (Year 1 of the 3 year sample).
Daley’s lower minutes in Chicago are not surprising, since he did not seem to fit into that lineup, leading to his trade to Pittsburgh. Other than that, he’s played minutes consistent with a first or second pairing defenseman his entire career.
Daley didn't get off to the greatest start last year. I think a big part of that was trying to rebound from the broken ankle he suffered in the conference final the year prior. Another part of it was the injury bug running its way through the Penguins roster, forcing Daley into some deployments that aren't really suited for him at his age. I think there's no cause for concern among Detroit fans as long as the coaching staff realizes his limitations in terms of QoC and TOI. If they give him a reasonable workload, they'll be able to reap benefits from it.
Value to the Team
So just what value will he bring to the team? Since our power play has been so dreadful, adding a defenseman with offensive upside should help improve that aspect of our play. Here’s what Marshall had to say about Daley’s ability on the power play.
In addition to providing puck support along the wall, Daley's skating and reverse pivot on the blueline are as good now as they've ever been. That kind of mobility from a defenseman on the man advantage is absolutely huge. His footwork on the blue line is a throwback to a guy like Sergei Gonchar. He doesn't have the booming shot, but his vision and mobility are a great asset for a 2nd pairing. I don't think there was ever a time that anyone bemoaned Daley's presence on the power play in Pittsburgh.
Having Green and Daley on the points of the power play (assuming 4 forwards) keeps players like Kronwall off it. If Nick Jensen is going to continue to improve, Daley should act as a good mentor in that aspect of the game.
I also asked Marshall what is something the average Red Wings fan wouldn’t expect about Daley:
I think it's his ability to keep the play alive in the offensive zone. In the recent Cup run, the Penguins were not a good puck possession team. They struggled against Washington and Nashville to elongate shifts in the offensive zone and maintain possession of the puck. Daley was an immense help in that regard. Any opportunity he had to jump into the play along the wall, he took it. He takes a lot of risks, and they don't work out in his favor every time, but when they do, your group of forwards gets a ton of puck support that can help keep the play alive.
Since Detroit had a maddening inability to keep the puck in the zone at the blue line, this is great to hear. The aspect of risk-taking that Marshall discusses is something I’ll talk about in the next section.
So where should he play?
That’s the last question I asked Marshall. Daley played the lion’s share of his minutes last year with Olli Maatta, but how did that work out?
Daley takes risks. That's what makes him so successful. Last year on The Pensblog, we spent a lot of time diagramming how often Daley was joining the rush as a sort of pseudo 4th forward. For that reason, he's best paired with a defenseman that's not as offensive minded as he is; someone who you can rely on to sit back and take care of business in the defensive zone. I think the struggles of the Daley-Maatta pairing had a lot to do with Olli Maatta. He's not known for his ability to recover or play odd man situations very well and he got a bit victimized as a result of that pairing. In terms of QoT, that pairing also ended up taking on some deployments with forwards who weren't really known for their puck possession abilities. I think Sullivan tried to use Daley to sort of jump start those units and it backfired on him.
I think the best fit would be with Xavier Ouellet. I know Daley is a left shot, but he played RD in Pittsburgh, and all of our right shot defensemen are offensive minded players (Green, Jensen, Russo, Sproul).
My projection for Daley is second pair with Xavier Ouellet and either 1st or 2nd unit powerplay. Based on what Marshall saw from Daley in Pittsburgh, playing Daley with an offensive defenseman would likely lead to far too many odd-man rushes. So basically last year.
Players you acquire through free agency often come with contracts that have more term than you’d like, more money, or both, not to mention no-move or no-trade clauses. It’s a product of the system, and it’s a good reason why free agency is not the best way to build a team, but rather to add complementary players to get you over the finish line as a contender.
Matt Cane (@Cane_Matt), who runs the analytics site Puck++ and writes for Hockey Graphs, constructs a list of free agent projected salaries each season. The model projects what each free agent should cost (obviously some teams will overpay a player).
Here is this year’s list (it’s updated as players sign new contracts).
According to the model, the Wings should pay about 3.3M for Daley. Term and AAV are often inversely related (to take a shorter deal, a player will want more money each year, so keep that in mind as well.)
Three years at 3.178 AAV is a fair market deal for Daley. But.....
The contract aspect is the reason why I am against this signing. This might surprise you as up until now I’ve been laying out why Daley will make the team better. With our current situation on defense, I would have been fine with a free agent defenseman signing for one year that we could flip at the deadline.
I don’t want to take on more term than that.
Here’s the way I look at this. Trevor Daley was never going to sign a one year deal with Detroit. That was a pipe dream. It was slightly more likely, but still very unlikely, that he would sign a two year deal.
So, your choices are:
- Sign Trevor Daley to a 3-4 year deal
- Do not sign Trevor Daley.
I like Daley. The Penguins fans I’ve talked to the last few days are going to miss him both on and off the ice. But this isn’t a deal that makes sense for where the team is currently at.
The deal is better than I thought it would be, since the AAV is lower than I thought it would be, which should make the contract more tradeable in a year or two. But, “Better than I thought” does not overcome the term.
Trevor Daley the player: