When the Dallas Stars hired Charlie Huddy to preside over their young defense in early August of 2009, it was generally lauded as a solid hire. Our friends over at The Copper & Blue mentioned his 'tremendous track record', while Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News said Huddy had "all of the things Marc Crawford was looking for" to run his defense. Huddy has won the Stanley Cup 5 times as a player. He stressed defensive puck movement, and the team was expected to grow leaps and bounds under his watch.
Fast forward a few months, to March 2010. The defense is in shambles. The team ranks in the bottom ten in multiple defensive categories. Matt Niskanen has regressed to the point where some fans use him as a punchline. Trevor Daley has yet to tap into the offensive talent he supposedly has. Night after night the goaltenders are left out to dry with poor defensive coverage in front of the net.
So how can we explain this?
I took some time looking through the stats of Edmonton for the 9 years he coached for the Oilers, and it turns out there aren't very big differences between the two Charlie Huddy-coached defenses.
After the jump, a look at how the current Stars team and the past 9 years of Edmonton Oiler defense compare.....
To compare the teams, I focused in on goals against per game and shots against per game rankings:
|GA/G||Shots Against Per Game|
(Note: In this case, the teams are ranked from lowest GA/G and SOG/G to highest. So being ranked 25th is not a good thing.)
Overall, the Huddy-coached Edmonton teams were inconsistent at best. Notice, though, the steady drop in ranking in both categories for the last three seasons. That is a bit concerning to me.
One thing I kept reading about when I was researching Huddy was that he works great with young defensemen and brings out the best offense in them, stressing puck movement and an aggressive offensive game. So far that hasn't been the case.
I would be less worried about the bad defensive numbers if the Stars could generate any scoring from their defensemen. Trevor Daley gave us a great example of that last night when he assisted a great Toby Peterson goal minutes after scoring a goal on Marty Turco. It's easier to forgive a player's lapses in judgment when they can produce on the other end.
But for whatever reason, we haven't seen much improvement offensively while the defensive play has regressed.The top three offensive defensemen from last season:
|'08-'09 Matt Niskanen||80||6||29
|'08-'09 Stephane Robidas||72
|'08-'09 Trevor Daley||75||7||18||25||2
Now the same three this year:
|'09-'10 Matt Niskanen||62||2||11||13||-12||16||0||0||2||0||96||2.1|
|'09-'10 Stephane Robidas||66||10||25||35||-9||43||7||0||1||0||153||6.5|
|'09-'10 - Trevor Daley||61||4||10||14||-7||17||2||0||1||0||81||4.9|
Robidas' improvement offensively can be traced to his role on the power play early on in the season, and is one positive improvement from last season. But the diminished offensive output from Niskanen and Daley is almost scary. Huddy was brought in specifically to help those two hone their offensive talents. And this is what we get? Nisky's assists and goals are way down even though he is on pace for the same number of shots as last season. And I'd rather not talk about his plus/minus. Meanwhile, not only has Daley's defense plummeted but he is not even going to match the number of shots as last season. He'll need ten more points to reach the 24 he posted in '09, and that's highly unlikely at this point.
Is this the fault of Charlie Huddy? Looking at the stats above, you could point a finger his way. The last three seasons under Edmonton saw a clear drop in defensive ranks, and eventually led to Huddy's departure from the Oilers. Teams don't just give up on a guy after 9 years without reason. Eventually his defense didn't produce.
And so far that's the case in Dallas. Granted, it's only one season. But the regression of the unit has been so sudden that it's hard not to wonder if Huddy's philosophy is behind it.