Grading the rotating cast in the bottom defensive pairing is an interesting task. For the purposes of this grade, the bottom pairing players are going to be Taylor Fedun, Jamie Oleksiak, Ben Lovejoy, Joel Hanley, Dillon Heatherington, and Gavin Bayreuther. It’s especially hard to grade Hanley, Heatherington, and Bayreuther with the handful of games they played, but we’ll do our best.
Expected goals-for, a stat tracked by Emmanuel Perry at corsica.hockey, looks at the number of goals expected for or against while a player is on the ice. In assessing a defenseman’s usefulness, looking at the expected goals-for and against is a pretty useful measure. As you might imagine, the bottom pairing had varying results.
Fedun came to the Dallas Stars in November on a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for a conditional 2020 seventh round pick. The conditions were that Fedun had to play 25 games and since that was definitely achieved, the Sabres will have that pick next year. After coming onboard in November, Fedun was the most steady member of the pair on the third line, only missing a few games down the stretch this spring.
Dallas won’t be missing that seventh round pick though, because Fedun was exactly what they needed on that third pairing. In 54 games played, he made every single one of his teammates better when he was on the ice.
This graph from hockeyviz.com just shows shots for and against (helpfully labeled with good/bad/dull/fun) but he also had a positive expected goals-for, which is also helpful. If this grade were for Fedun alone, it would be an A, as the man did everything asked of him by his team. But this is a group project, so on to the next player.
If you need a refresher, Jamie Oleksiak was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in December 2017 for a 2019 fourth round pick. In January 2019, Pittsburgh and Dallas busted out a deal eraser, bringing Oleksiak back to the Stars for that same conditional fourth round pick, as if the whole thing were some weird fever dream.
This means that Oleksiak’s stats for the season are padded by his time on the Penguins, with their defensive systems and their puck-hogging forwards. If you isolate just his time with Dallas, Oleksiak’s numbers aren’t quite so rosy, but they definitely aren’t all bad. He ended the season with negative possession, but a positive differential in expected goals-for.
He didn’t play enough minutes with his teammates to have the same with or without the chart that Fedun has above, but his shots heat map is rather positive.
The map without Oleksiak has a lot more red right in front of the goal. Oleksiak still couldn’t crack the full-time roster though and sat out quite a few games in the spring in favor of the next defenseman.
Lovejoy was an acquisition at the trade deadline for Connor Carrick. He played 51 games for the New Jersey Devils before playing 20 games for the Stars. At acquisition, Lovejoy was sold to the Stars as a penalty kill specialist, but that isn’t what he ended up being for the team.
In 49 minutes of penalty kill time, he never really managed to help suppress shots.
Just for comparison’s sake, this is the team penalty kill without him. His 5-on-5 shot map is worse. For a stay-at-home defenseman, he wasn’t very good at suppressing shots in front of his own goal. He had a negative impact on possession for the team when on the ice, and had a negative expected goals-for differential.
In every way possible, the team was worse when Lovejoy was on the ice. Twenty games is an incredibly small sample size, but Lovejoy is an unrestricted free agent this summer and it isn’t likely that the Stars will see more of him in victory green.
Bayreuther’s sample size is smaller than his cousin Lovejoy’s by a single game, but he’s also a decade younger. Bayreuther signed as a free agent in March 2017 during his senior year of college and came up to Dallas from the Texas Stars when it was announced that Marc Methot would be missing most of the season.
Bayreuther played most of his games on a pair with Roman Polak, and wasn’t in the rotation at all after the Stars brought Oleksiak back to Dallas. Still, there were things to like about his game while he was here. He had positive possession and expected goals-for numbers. During those 19 games, the Stars took more shots with him on the ice than off.
Still, small sample size is small, and it just gets smaller from here.
The Other Guys
Joel Hanley and Dillon Heatherington played 21 games between them (16 and five respectively), and not a lot can really be said with that small a sample size. Hanley is a good AHL defensemen that has proven he can hang with the Dallas Stars when necessary. Heatherington was on a bridge contract this year and is a restricted free agent this summer, but he does have one more NHL point this season than Hanley does.
Bottom Defensive Pair, End-of-Season Grade: B-
The game is rarely won or lost on the third pairing, and for the most part, this group did what was asked of them. Sure, some of them did it better than others, and bigger sample sizes are needed to determine the usefulness of some of these skaters. With the albatross of Ben Lovejoy weighing them down, the group as a whole gets a B-.