Greg Pateryn was supposed to be just another guy; one of those prizefighters in boxing called a “professional loser” — fighters whose role is to be invisible. You can win all you’d like, but lose when you’re supposed to.
Pateryn didn’t get this memo.
There’s no use making this about anyone other than Pateryn, and so I won’t (not until paragraph eight or nine anyway; well, that and the poll). On the ice, Pateryn was legitimately a solid defensemen for Dallas this season.
Drawing from Natural Stat Trick (as usual), his role as a shutdown defenseman was well-earned. Looking purely at shot rates per hour in his own zone, he was second on the team in shot attempts against and first in unblocked shot attempts against. He was third in shots on goal against, second in shot attempts against in the homeplate area of the ice (or SCA60), and well, you get the idea.*
When Pateryn came in late in October, he had a clearly defined role. Dallas began the season with very good underlying stats, but they weren’t winning. Part of Pateryn’s inclusion was to play a more conservative style; no more foot races or reckless energy. Just play to gain and then preserve the lead.
If there’s “hate” against Pateryn, it came less from his performance and more for what he represented in a failed season. Ken Hitchcock deployed him as Dallas’ defacto shutdown defenseman, per Micah McCurdy:
If Dallas was tied, Pateryn would get top four icetime. However, when Dallas would lead, Pateryn was trusted as much if not more than anyone — sometimes out on the ice more than John Klingberg. This pattern of riding the shutdown pair, and sacrificing offense for better defense began early in the season and didn’t let up until its failed end.
Offense starts in the defensive zone, and this generally conservative philosophy revealed how indirect mistakes (like icings) could be just as costly as direct ones (like turnovers).
Sean Shapiro had a great film room breakdown of Dallas’ defensive zone breakouts covering this aspect. By this point you’re probably tired of hearing my constant, borderline whinging about Hitchcock’s system and philosophy, but it’s impossible to understate. One of the great things about Sean’s article (which you should read here in full), is his breakdown of how the forwards were affected. In response to a curious icing of the puck (despite options back at the blueline) from Alexander Radulov, Shapiro had this to say:
He has an open defender that can control the play and allow for an easy change. But Dallas seemed conditioned to ignore using the defenders as an outlet to relieve pressure, and with the exception of Klingberg, they were rarely the recipients of passes back from forwards.
...when you become married to one system of breaking out, it becomes both easy to defend and it creates a situation where the forwards almost became programmed as hard workers rather than creative hockey players.
Unfortunately for Pateryn, I suspect fans will remember his season more for the Boston game. With the season on the line, his icing kept him and Dan Hamhuis hemmed in. Once they were hemmed in after losing the faceoff, a turnover in the corner gave Boston the win, along with Dallas’ season with 11 seconds left in the game. Again, the criticism came more from what Pateryn represented (preserving the lead and hanging onto it without any creativity exiting the zone) than Pateryn himself (who wasn’t responsible for the system itself, or Dallas’ lack of secondary scoring).
That’s the bittersweet component of Pateryn’s season. He played well within the system, but an otherwise good story was stuck in the shadow of Dallas’ draft and development ghosts inside of a questionable, tactical approach. Pateryn himself can boast a successful season. It’s the kind of season that should earn him a quality raise as he enters free agency as a newly minted top four shutdown blueliner.
But that’s the tough part for fans. Why was a UFA who isn’t a part of Dallas’ immediate future (or immediate roster if the organization’s talk about giving prospects playing time is any indication) given the benefit of the doubt over prospects without similar opportunities? He played well. But was it because he was legitimately good? Was he legitimately better than his floundering years with Montreal indicated?
Probably. At minimum, he was a good player for a type of system. But he also had a steady, veteran partner. He was also given enough minutes, allowing him to learn from game to game. And his mistakes also didn’t cost him time on ice in the eyes of the coaches.
In full fairness to Pateryn, he earned those minutes. For vocal critics like myself, that’s pretty tough to admit. Pateryn may represent mistakes made by others, but he also represents achievements he built on his own. And that’s something players looking to fill his roster spot can learn from as well.
*The defenseman who bested Pateryn in shot attempts against per hour, shots on goal against per hour, and scoring chances against per hour? Julius Honka.
Grading Greg Pateryn’s 2017-2018 Season
This poll is closed
A - Hamhuis was the Yoda backpack to Greg’s Jedi swamp drills.
B - He was effectively invisible on a team that visibly underperformed.
C - He was effectively invisible on a team that needed blue line visibility.
D - He took the spot of superior players and was the source of their icing woes.
F - Good story? If I wanted a good story, I’d watch Scorsese instead of that Boston highlight.