Matt Niskanen has been considered Washington’s number-one defender for years, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
|21.9||time on ice per game|
|47.7||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|45.8||5-on-5 expected goal percentage, adjusted|
|47.4||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the season. A short description of each chart:
A couple seasons ago, Matt Niskanen was without a doubt Washington’s best defender. He played a huge share of the team’s five-on-five minutes against the toughest opponents possible and kept play out of the team’s zone exceedingly well.
A hand injury early in the 2017-18 season cost Niskanen a month of play, and he really hasn’t been the same since. Here’s how the Caps have performed at various five-on-five metrics over the past three seasons. Above 50 percent is good.
The middle part of the 2018-19 season was a fiasco as Niskanen continued to play big minutes against tough players but for some reason had trouble stopping their attack and transitioning back to offense. And while Niskanen improved, along with the rest of the team, after the trade deadline, I’m still more than a bit worried about him.
The simpler version of Niskanen’s trend is told tidily by these Evolving-Hockey numbers:
What Niskanen once did very well – take the puck away from attackers and then break the puck out for offense – he no longer does. The result is long sustained shooting sessions in the Caps zone (what Mike Babcock would call a “heavy shift”) without much offsetting offense. The shorter and sadder version of that: Niskanen is no longer Washington’s number-one defender.
As early as January, the Caps have been rumored to be interested in trading Niskanen, who will earn $5.75 million in the next two seasons. I have no idea how plausible that trade would be, but we shouldn’t think of Niskanen’s possible exit as the death knell for Washington’s Trotz-era defense. It’s already dead.
Niskanen is a low-key player who doesn’t generate a ton of of RMNB stuff, but here goes.
Do you think it was the injury that changed NIskanen’s game, or has he just aged poorly? And if the Caps trade him away, what do the defensive pairs look like?
Read more: Japers Rink
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