Vancouver fans aren’t really used to noticing Dan Hamhuis. The blueliner is hardly a flashy guy — when he’s at his best, which he usually is, he doesn’t stand out.
But he’s been impossible to miss this October. Far from his steady self, Hamhuis has been as error-prone as we’ve ever seen him. Turnovers. Penalties. Missed checks and assignments. And, on Saturday night versus Montreal, an own-goal — a moment one can only hope was the Community Man’s rock bottom.
As Daniel pointed out Tuesday morning, the own-goal wasn’t entirely Hamhuis’s fault. It was a team effort, really. But the lasting image of a stunned Hamhuis standing over a fallen Roberto Luongo, his shoulders slumped in frustration as Montreal fans in the front row cheered his blunder (above), was pretty much all we needed to assign blame to this incident.
It didn’t help that Hamhuis had been a walking calamity prior to that play. Even if it wasn’t his fault, it just seemed like the sort of thing that would happen to him nowadays, which is about as damning an indictment of the blueliner’s play as there could be. The last defender to surrender an own-goal in a Canucks uniform: Shane O’Brien, and no one was surprised by it. How far has Dan Hamhuis fallen that he’s in Shane O’Brien territory?
The sentiment from a lot of fans seems to be that Hamhuis is John Tortorella’s Keith Ballard, a good defenceman that’s lost himself under a new coach. But that’s not the case (and really, it wasn’t the case with Ballard either). By the underlying numbers, Hamhuis is playing fantastic hockey.
His on-ice even-strength corsi is 16.97, the best of any Canuck not named “Sedin”. (The next guy is Kevin Bieksa, with a 5.68, and everyone else is in the minuses.) In other words, when Hamhuis is on the ice, the Canucks are usually peppering the opposition with shots. From a puck possession standpoint, he’s been Vancouver’s most effective blueliner.
Of course, while these numbers point to excellent play, anyone that’s been watching the games knows that these numbers aren’t accounting for all the moments of crappy play between them. How to explain that?
Bad luck. Really bad. The worst luck. According to PDO, the hockey stat that effectively measures luck, Hamhuis is the unluckiest Canuck on the team right now.
PDO, at a team-level, is the simple addition of shooting percentage and save percentage at even strength. If a team’s save percentage is .927 and they’re shooting at 8.0%, their “PDO” could be counted as 1007, 100.7% or 1.007. If a team’s save percentage is .900 and they’re shooting at 9.4%, their “PDO” would be recorded as 994, 99.4%, or 0.994. There’s no standardized notation for a PDO number.
[...] ‘Regression’ here is the theory that since every shot taken in the NHL must result in a save or a shot, the mean PDO in the NHL is 1. The longer a player or team plays, the closer its PDO will get to 1. A player with a “hot start” that “cools off” is likely experiencing regression, because they can get wildly out of hand if a player has only played an hour of ice-time or so. One weak goal against the goalie and an unlucky bounce that results in a 2-on-1, and all of a sudden a player is minus-2 without really doing too many of the wrong things.
Through six games, Hamhuis sports a PDO of 885, the worst of any Canuck outside of Alex Burrows, who’s only played one game. (Also sporting low PDOs, by the way: Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins, both of whom are beginning to get it from the fans for their lack of goal production.)
The bulk of Hamhuis’s ugly PDO is the team’s .810 save percentage when he’s is on the ice, the eighth lowest on-ice save percentage in the league among players with at least 5 games. Four of the players with worse on-ice save percentages are on the Edmonton Oilers — that’s how bad it is for Hamhuis right now. This doesn’t mean that Hamhuis isn’t making mistakes in the defensive zone, it’s just that those mistakes are leading to goals against far more frequently than they normally do.
In other words, while Hamhuis has had some bad moments, there’s no need to panic, let alone label him the next Keith Ballard. What we’re seeing is misfortune highlighting his errors and obscuring all of his excellent work.
There’s a bit of a vicious circle involved here. That kind of bad luck tends to eat into one’s confidence, and we’re seeing that with Hamhuis. Rather than playing his simple, controlled game, the blueliner has gotten himself into more trouble at times by being overeager or overthinking plays in an attempt to dig himself out of this hole. He needs to settle down and simplify his game or the blunders are just going to keep coming.