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What’s next for Carl Dahlstrom, Gustav Forsling, Slater Koekkoek with Blackhawks?

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Analyzing the performances of the three defensemen and their future with Chicago.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

One preeminent issue plaguing the Blackhawks is their defensive depth chart. During the course of the 2018-19 season, the Blackhawks gave up the second most goals at 5-on-5, led the NHL in scoring chances and high-danger chances against and finished with the worst penalty kill success rate (72.7-percent). All of the onus should not fall on the defensemen’s shoulders, since the forwards’ forechecking, defensive zone coverage and neutral zone positioning affected those aforementioned statistics.

Nonetheless, it is clear there needs to be personnel changes on the blue line if the Hawks are to get back to the playoffs. Far too often there was a turnover on a breakout pass that led to a goal, a poor pinch in the neutral zone that caused an odd-man rush or a blown assignment in the defensive zone that left a wide-open opponent near the crease.

According to evolving-hockey, the Blackhawks led the NHL in expected goals against per 60 minutes at 2.84. The next closest team was the Ducks (2.75 xGA/60). Expected is a loose term, since hockey can be completely random and one bad bounce that leads to a goal can change the course of a game. Analytics can’t predict when that will happen. Yet, this chart paints a picture of the current state of affairs on Chicago’s blue line — too many scoring chances against, especially high-danger quality chances that inevitably led to an abundance of deficits to overcome.

Erik Gustafsson, Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy and Brent Seabrook don’t seem to be going anywhere next season. After those four, the rest of the depth chart is a bit murky. Let’s focus on Carl Dahlstrom, Gustav Forsling and Slater Koekkoek.

Dahlstrom

Acquired: 2013 NHL draft, second round (51st overall)
Age: 24
Shoots: Left
Contract: Signed through 2020-21 ($850K per year), waiver exempt
Stats: 38 games played, 6 points (0 goals, 6 assists), plus-9, 6 penalty minutes, 35 blocks, 33 hits, 29 giveaways, 18:36 time on ice.
Advanced stats*: 37.9 HDCF%, 0.84 oiGA/g, 49.9 CF.QoC, 62.2 dZS%
Favorite highlight from 2018-19 season

Verdict: Dahlstrom does not offer much offensively. He only had six assists and often turned the puck over in the neutral zone, after a poorly placed rim around the boards in the defensive zone or on breakout passes.

Defensively, his ceiling seems to be as a third pairing or seventh defensemen. Dahlstrom had the highest dFS% out of all defensemen meaning he was regularly placed on the ice for a defensive zone faceoff, usually with Murphy. However, he had the worst high-danger chance allowed rate and the highest even strength allowed goal rate when juxtaposed with Forsling and Koekkoek. Stretch these numbers out for a full season and Dahlstrom likely has a negative plus/minus and an even higher oiGA/g.

Dahlstrom will likely be used as a depth option moving forward unless he can significantly reduce turnovers and strengthen his defensive zone positioning to limit high-danger chances allowed.

Forsling

Acquired: Jan. 2015 trade with Vancouver for Adam Clendening
Age: 22 (23 in June)
Shoots: Left
Contract: Restricted Free Agent, $872.5K cap hit in 2018-19, waiver exempt
Stats: 43 GP, 9 points (3G, 6A), minus-9, 30 PIM, 38 blocks, 38 hits, 23 giveaways, 17:05 TOI.
Advanced Stats*: 41.8 HDCF%, 0.67 oiGA/g, 50.0 CF.QoC, 47.0 dZS%
Favorite highlight from 2018-19 season

Verdict: Forsling is still young, even though it seems like he’s been around forever. He has showcased a booming shot at times and an intriguing ability to rush the puck when he plays with confidence. He still has lots of work to do defensively before he gains more ice time and defensive zone starts.

He likely will get re-signed with a minor pay bump giving him another chance at developing his defensive skillset at the NHL level. If he does not show improvement with his gap control (spacing between him and the puck carrier) when defending rushes by the opponent and with his defensive zone decision making, he could be a prime candidate to be traded.

Koekkoek

Acquired: Jan. 11 trade with Tampa Bay for Jan Rutta
Age: 25
Shoots: Left
Contract: RFA, $865K cap hit in 2018-19, not waiver exempt
Stats: 22 GP, 5 points (1G, 4A), plus-4, 10 PIM, 36 blocks, 46 hits, 6 giveaways, 16:27 TOI.
Advanced Stats*: 52.5 HDCF%, 0.77 oiGA/g 48.7 CF.QoC, 51.4 dZS%
Favorite highlight from 2018-19 season

Verdict: Although it’s only a 22 game sample size, Koekkoek had some of the best possession and defensive metrics on the team. He had the best high-danger chances allowed rate out of all Chicago defensemen, second best Corsi-For rate at 52-percent and joined Henri Jokiharju as the only defensemen that were on the ice for more scoring chances for than against.

The metrics point to Koekkoek being a viable option on the bottom pairing. He will likely be re-signed and given a chance to extend those positive metrics over a larger sample size. Plus, Koekkoek is not waiver exempt, which means he would have to go through waivers if he were to re-sign and be sent down to the AHL. Right now, he has the upper hand on Dahlstrom when it comes to expected playing time next season.

*Advanced stats glossary - All advanced stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference and Corsica-Hockey

HDCF% - Percentage of total high danger scoring chances, while Player X is on the ice, that are for that player’s team.

oiGA/g - Goals against at even strength per game when Player X is on ice.

CF.QoC - The average Corsi-For rate of an opposing player that Player X has to defend.

dZS% - The frequency that a shift for Player X starts in the defensive zone.