Andrew Desjardins struggling to justify roster spot on Blackhawks

Since returning from a foot injury, Desjardins has struggled in almost every game. The Blackhawks may need to find another option soon.

In Andrew Desjardins’ first game of the season back on Nov. 11 against the Capitals, the Blackhawks got outshot, 9-5, during 5-on-5 play, which was good for a 35.7 percent Corsi. At the time, it was one bad game for the veteran, coming off several weeks on the mend due to a foot injury suffered in the preseason.

But now it’s been 10 games, and things haven’t really gotten any better. When Desjardins is on the ice during 5-on-5 play, the Blackhawks have a Corsi of 40.2 percent. Nobody on the team — not even rookies Gustav Forsling and Tyler Motte (both around 45 percent) — comes close to that.

Among NHL players to play at least 90 minutes this season, Desjardins has the fifth-worst venue- and-score adjusted 5-on-5 Corsi in the league, per Corsica Hockey. Only Eric Fehr, Oscar Lindberg, Chris Kelly, and Korbinian Holzer have posted worse numbers than Desjardins’ adjusted 39.2 percent 5-on-5 Corsi.

And while you can note the small sample size, I think it’s fair to ask at this point exactly what Desjardins brings to the table. Since joining the Blackhawks in 2015, he’s played 100 regular-season games with the team, and recorded just 15 points. He doesn’t shoot often (1.09 SOG per game in his career) or at a high percentage (5.7 percent career rate). In fact, that shooting percentage is abysmal for a forward.

Now, the easy answer is defense. He is positionally solid and can kill penalties. In very limited time this season, he has in fact been one of Chicago’s better penalty killers, allowing just 103.1 shots per 60 minutes (which is still not good, the Hawks’ PK is a mess).

But Desjardins doesn’t play much on the PK, and his 5-on-5 minutes — which is pretty much all of the time he’s on the ice — are just terrible. Take a closer look, and Desjardins has been an anchor on everyone’s statistics since returning from a foot injur a few weeks ago.

Here are the top 10 guys to play with Desjardins in terms of 5-on-5 minutes this season, per Natural Stat Trick:

Player Corsi w/ Desjardins Corsi w/o Desjardins
Richard Panik 48.0% 53.4%
Brent Seabrook 35.7% 61.5%
Michal Kempny 38.4% 62.5%
Niklas Hjalmarsson 46.5% 51.0%
Brian Campbell 40.7% 49.4%
Duncan Keith 43.1% 51.7%
Nick Schmaltz 33.3% 52.0%
Marcus Kruger 53.3% 59.9%
Tyler Motte 30.2% 53.3%
Dennis Rasmussen 38.5% 55.8%

Notice that literally every single one of them does better away from Desjardins. For some of them, like Niklas Hjalmarsson, that benefit is minor. But if you look at guys like Brent Seabrook, Michal Kempny, Nick Schmaltz, and Dennis Rasmussen, it’s a tale of two worlds. When those guys are with Desjardins, the results have been terrible. Otherwise, they’ve been quite good.

And possession-driving is a key part of Desjardins’ game given that he’s a poor finisher, as anyone could tell from his career 0.17 points per game average. He’s always been a fine defensive player who fits best on teams already loaded with offensive talent like the Sharks and the 2014-15 Blackhawks.

But this edition of the Blackhawks doesn’t have nearly as much offensive firepower up and down the lineup, and it makes it harder to justify playing Desjardins. It’s one thing to have Desjardins in the lineup when the bottom six also includes Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrew Shaw. It’s another when those guys are replaced with Dennis Rasmussen, Jordin Tootoo, and a couple rookies.

That’s simply too many players who don’t want the puck on their stick, or don’t have the skills to do much once they get it. Chicago is 20th in score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5 shots attempted for, per Natural Stat Trick.

Chicago needs guys on the bottom six who can do more than play solid defense. It needs players who can finish the opportunities created when Marcus Kruger tilts the ice despite a barrage of defensive zone starts. It needs more players like Ryan Hartman, who can do lots of good things in the neutral and defensive zones, plus fire off a pretty sweet shot, too. Even Tootoo has been noticeably better than Desjardins so far.

Maybe he’s shaking off the rust from that foot injury, and he’ll get a little better. There aren’t a ton of alternatives, either, especially with Jonathan Toews sidelined and Nick Schmaltz in Rockford. But in some ways, this is just a matter of fit, and right now, Desjardins’ lacking offensive game isn’t really what Chicago needs.

While all that gets at a larger issue for the Blackhawks — their major lack of scoring depth at forward — it’s become clear that Desjardins is anything but a solution. He’s been part of the problem, and hopefully Joel Quenneville will recognize that sooner than later.