Jeff Blashill Will Give Defenseman Jakub Kindl a Chance to Revive his Career

Yesterday Kyle took a look at Jeff Blashill's quotes on Brendan Smith, and today we're here to take a similar look at Jakub Kindl to examine why Jeff Blashill has made the same positive remarks about him. I remember the moment where I thought Jakub Kindl took the leap, and it was during the Chicago playoff series two years ago. Kindl was a force during that series, and I remember every time Detroit got a period of sustained offensive zone pressure, it seemed it was always when Kindl was out there blasting shots from the point and moving the puck skillfully. He also had that fairly memorable power play goal. It earned him a deal that seemed reasonable at the time - 4 years at $2.4M. Somewhere along the line since then it all fell apart for Kindl under Babcock. He's spent large chunks of the last two seasons in the Leino Lounge, and it got to the point where the Wings repeatedly tried (and failed) to move him but were unable to find any takers.

Kindl's NHL career genuinely seemed destined to be over the minute that $2.4M contract ended (if not sooner), but now in a recent excellent post by Ansar Khan, Jeff Blashill has indicated that he may yet get another chance to prove he belongs. I highly recommend you click that link and read the whole thing. The highlight is these words by Blashill:

"His strengths for me are he's good on the power play; he's another guy that's going to compete for power-play opportunities," Blashill said. "When he's playing his best he's a great puck-moving defenseman.

"He's going back for pucks. He's seeing through the forechecker, making the proper passes. I think for me that's the No. 1 ingredient for defensemen to be great, their ability to break the puck out of their own end so you're not playing in the D-zone and you're playing in the other team's end. That's a formula for winning.

First off, he mentions Kindl's PP ability, something I think most of us have seen already. When Kindl did get into games, he often ran the second power play unit. He's done a pretty solid job of that, but perhaps a better place for him might be on the right side wall where he can take full advantage of his lethal one-timer - this for example:

More important to me, though, is Kindl's contributions at even-strength. For whatever reason, he just wasn't good enough for Mike Babcock, but the more you dig into Kindl's underlying numbers, the less this makes sense. Here's a nice sampling:

This chart may seem a little confusing initially, but it's actually pretty simple. This takes the top 210 defensemen of the last two years in ice time, and it rates how effective each player has been in real goals, possession measurement, and linemates goals impact. Kindl's impact in every phase here is pretty much top-tier, especially since all Red Wings defensemen are below-average at individual production (likely a symptom of the way Babcock used them). Kindl hasn't had tough competition or usage, but when he DOES get into the game, his underlying numbers says he's been great at keeping the puck out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone. We can't necessarily assume he would just do the same to tougher competition, but we also don't really know because all he's been given the opportunity to do is outplay 3rd pairing competition, and he's done so convincingly. Last season Kindl put up a team-leading 58.2% CF, which is pretty hard to do on a 53% CF team. As a reward for all this, he's been stuck watching as many games as he plays.

As you can see in the chart above, this has translated to a real goals advantage, and even a corsi skeptic can appreciate the boost he's brought to the ice. Did you know that in the last two seasons when Jakub Kindl was on the ice at 5v5, Detroit scored 55% of the goals? Did you also know this was the best mark for a defenseman on the team? He gets knocked by critics for making too many defensive mistakes, but this supposed avalanche of mistakes sure doesn't seem to show up in shot attempts or goals. It sure seems like the opposite is actually true.

The reality is that the weakness in this Detroit blueline has been the mediocre top 4 for quite awhile now, not the bottom pairing where Smith and/or Kindl have routinely out-possessed the softer competition. Why is it Jakub Kindl's fault that Detroit's top-4 haven't gotten the job done? Kronwall and Ericsson were both below 50% CF this past year on a strong possession team. Maybe breaking up that pairing would be more productive than trading the guys getting the job done on the bottom pairing. Trading Kindl right now would be like trading away your 4th line winger because your scoring lines aren't putting goals in the net. Would Jonathan Ericsson put up the above numbers if he was the one getting heavily sheltered on the 3rd pairing? I'm skeptical. Would Kindl's numbers really fall off a cliff if he got top-4 minutes? I'm also skeptical of that, but we really don't know because we haven't had the chance to see either possibility. The reality is that Kindl has all the signs of a guy who could very well resurrect his career under a different coach, and it just so happens he's going to get that chance this year. That alone is a very good thing, and now it's up to him to deliver.

Maybe Kindl will still fail to crack the lineup or be anything other than a bottom pairing guy. Or maybe a new coach that's more willing to let an offensively gifted defenseman breathe will be the key to unlocking Jakub Kindl. We'll find out soon enough, but it's encouraging to know that Jeff Blashill is willing to shake up the status quo in the name of getting better. Jakub Kindl sure looks to me like a guy who might benefit from that.