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  • Addison's Struggles Are Normal. His Upside Isn't.

    Tony Abbott

    This piece starts out with a simple question that might need some quick background. It's gonna be short.


    Like baseball, hockey has a "Wins Above Replacement" stat. A few, really. In our case, it will start with Evolving Hockey's "Expected Goals Above Replacement" (xGAR), and it combines impacts on shot generation, shot suppression, and penalties to produce an "all-in-one" stat. You can convert that into Wins or Standings Points.


    See? Short. If you want to read more about GAR models, you can. But for the rest of you, that's all you need to know to understand the following question:


    Can you name a defenseman who has more xGAR per hour (that is, contributed to their team's chances of winning more on a per-minute basis) than Calen Addison in his age 21 and 22 seasons?



    The stats we use to determine that only go back to 2007-08, but there are a lot of impact defensemen who came up over that time. Norris Trophy winners like P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. Stanley Cup Champions like Alex Pietrangelo. Players who took both honors, like Victor Hedman and Drew Doughty. Up-and-coming young stars like Aaron Ekblad and Quinn Hughes.


    What do all those players have in common?


    Two things: Readers put forth their names in response to the question. And none of those names were more impactful on a per-minute basis than Addison.


    That's shocking.


    It's also true. Combine Addison's 207 minutes from last season and 850 minutes from this year, and he has 8.7 xGAR over 69 games and 1057 minutes. That's significantly less time than the top defensemen get, especially over two years, but that's still enough to rank 82nd among defensemen since the start of last season.


    Put it this way: In just over 1000 minutes, Addison has brought as much value to the table as big-name defensemen like Seth Jones or Colton Parayko, despite them playing about twice the games and three times the minutes. On a per-minute basis, he's neck-and-neck with Carlson and Rasmus Dahlin in the NHL's Top-20.


    That's great on its own, of course, but let's look again at what this means for his potential in the NHL. There are 185 defensemen who've accumulated 1000 or more minutes between ages 21 and 22. If we even out their ice time and look at their xGAR per hour, Addison ranks 29th among them all.


    1000 minutes is a smaller sample size, and there are a couple of flukes that appear in the Top-30. But for the most part, the Top-30 is stacked with strong defensemen. Norris winners Cale Makar, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Adam Fox. No. 1 defensemen like Charlie McAvoy, Dustin Byfuglien, Mike Green, Jakob Chychrun.


    Even the names that ended up a tier below the big ones are very good. Ryan McDonagh is a two-time Cup winner. Torey Krug, John Klingberg, Tyson Barrie, Chris Tanev, Hampus Lindholm, Nick Leddy, and up-and-coming Vince Dunn either have or are carving out solid careers.


    Heck, as mentioned earlier, Addison is right behind Dahlin's age 21 and 22 seasons. And yes, that's a time span that includes this year's incredible breakout season.


    That should matter to the Minnesota Wild. Forget per-minute value. Addison's 8.7 xGAR these past two seasons is basically identical to Jonas Brodin (8.9) and Matt Dumba (8.8) at the same age. And again, we're talking about players with roughly three times the minutes that Addison has.


    Yet, it doesn't seem to matter much to the Wild at all.


    The Calen Addison Saga is going from simmering in the background to boiling over to center ice. The Wild announced today that Addison will spend his fourth-straight game in the press box, and this is threatening to get ugly.


    Trade rumors have bubbled around Addison since before the season, and it's looking like the defenseman is falling out of favor. It's not necessarily the healthy scratches in themselves, but what's being said.


    His defense is the culprit behind the healthy scratch. When it first happened, Dean Evason told the media, "This league is too hard to be a specialist. You have to play in all areas and you have to play the game five-on-five as well."


    Addison spoke with the media after the first healthy scratch, and he disagreed with his coaches telling him he was "playing scared." He responded: "I'm not scared out there. But I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing." He also expressed frustration even while acknowledging he could tighten defensively.


    The Athletic dropped a report yesterday that looked like the situation might be deteriorating. The outlet asked Evason what Addison needed to do to get back into the lineup. His response? "How you act, how you conduct yourself. Are you working? Are you doing everything to get back in the lineup as far as practice and off the ice? Are you pouting? Are you being a bad teammate or good teammate? There are a lot of factors that go into getting back in the lineup."


    It's a lot more pointed than something like we're winning right now, or it's a numbers game. Certainly more than Evason is usually willing to offer. And the fact he said that yesterday and Addison isn't playing tonight... You don't need a monocle to read between those lines, do you? Do you need to read Michael Russo speculating that Evason is frustrated with Addison's response and going public with his displeasure at being scratched?


    There's a lot going on here, to the point where we haven't really even talked about Addison's defense yet. Is it that bad?


    Looking at traditional stats, you're going to go "Yikes." Addison is a minus-18 for the season, and that's a kiss of death to hockey lifers. At 5-on-5, he's been outscored 22-36, which is very much underwater.


    He's also second-to-last on the Wild when it comes to giving up expected goals. Addison's allowed 2.36 expected goals per hour this season, which only Dumba (2.37) has been worse at in Minnesota. He's also having some trouble with generating expected goals (2.32 per hour, 49.6% of the overall share) which isn't great, either.


    xGAR rates his defense this year as below replacement level, which to be clear, that's pretty bad. But if any team can hide a poor defender while he figures out the NHL game (and remember, we're talking about a 22-year-old with 69 games in the past two years), it's Minnesota.


    Here's where Addison allows shots to come from, compared to the rest of the league:




    That isn't to say that Addison is a good defenseman, or 11% better than league average. He's not. It's clear that he's carried by his team's defensive structure. What I'm saying is he's bad at defense right now. So what?


    If the Wild are more-or-less breaking even with the expected goal share at 5-on-5, and the rest of his team can cover up his defensive lapses, who cares? After all, hockey is a team sport, as we're reminded of repeatedly. If Addison's flaws aren't collapsing the team's structure, then why not let him take his (relatively mild and normal) lumps at 5-on-5, while he does his thing on the power play?


    The answer comes back to his minus-18. That might be, whether either Addison or Evason are aware of it, the heart of the conflict between the two.


    If the process is what matters to you, then Addison is right. Addison may not know that he's in the bottom-10 in the league in PDO (a stat combining both shooting and save percentage, often used to measure "puck luck"). He may not know that xGAR rates his offensive impact more than outweighing that of his teammates (excluding Spurgeon) or his flaws.


    But it appears that, perhaps instinctively, Addison knows this team is better with him on the ice than without.


    If the results are what matters, then Evason is right. He correctly sees Addison is his worst defender, and his goalies having an .882 save percentage with Addison on the ice reinforces that. A player can not allow all that many shots, but if the shots that go through become goals, you're going to be scrutinized.


    That happens even with good defenders, so Addison's struggles are going to be magnified all that much more when his goalies can't make a save.


    Whatever the disconnect between player and team is, though, Evason and the Wild have to find a way to repair it. It's hard to put up the kind of underlying numbers Addison has in his last 70 games by accident. He also has the pedigree and a strong AHL track record to back up his small-ish NHL sample.


    And as much as the Wild love to tout their upcoming crop of prospects: Carson Lambos, Brock Faber, Ryan O'Rourke, Daemon Hunt, Jack Peart, David Spacek, and the like, they need Addison. His skills on the power play are unique among not just Minnesota's prospects, but also the organization.


    He's essential personnel, not just for this season, but the future, too. They need what he brings to the ice, and if they have to stomach his flaws as he develops, so be it. There's a way to make it work, and the right way to do so might even be what they're doing now. But if the path they take leads to them jettisoning a talented young defenseman, then it's absolutely the wrong road.


    All stats via Evolving Hockey unless otherwise stated.

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