Finding the value in Ryan Carpenter’s contributions to the Blackhawks

His offensive numbers may be limited but he can still be an important piece to the Hawks — or any team.

Stanley Cups are not won on star power alone.

Yes, it’s anecdotal evidence, but it’s worth remembering that the Cup-clinching goal in 2013 was not scored by Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa or any of the other studs from that loaded roster. No, it was scored by Dave Bolland, who was skating on a fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Michal Frolik in that postseason.

But that trio was a rock-solid defensive outfit in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, providing the prototype for fourth lines going forward: players who can handle a defensive role, contribute a goal here and there and eat up minutes with effective play on the penalty kill.

That’s the ideal landing spot for Ryan Carpenter, who’s proven to be a capable fourth-liner in his NHL career. He missed 16 games this season due to stints in protocols for COVID-19 and a concussion, scoring four goals with one assists in the 40 games he did play. But at an affordable $1 million cap hit through next season, Carpenter seems like a lock to be a member of the ‘21-22 Blackhawks.

Since defense is the primary focus of his role, let’s explore his contributions in the defensive spot with the highest stakes: the penalty kill.

Last season, Carpenter average 2:13 of shorthanded ice time per game, second only to David Kampf (2:19). Chicago’s penalty kill had a miserable start to the season and never really recovered, finishing 28th in the NHL at 76.82 percent.

To find conclusions from his individual numbers, let’s take a deeper look at Chicago’s team stats on the penalty kill, using data from Natural Stat Trick. The numbers below are expressed as a rate of per 60 minutes of shorthanded ice time, with Chicago checking in at:

  • 19th in shot attempts against (94.12 per 60)
  • 25th in shots against (56.93)
  • 22nd in expected goals against (6.71)
  • 22nd in scoring chances against (50.73)
  • 18th in high-danger chances against (19.28)/

Carpenter’s numbers are above the team rate in terms of quantity:

  • 97.52 shot attempts against per 60
  • 61.12 shots on goal against per 60/

But he’s below the team rate in terms of quality, suggesting that Carpenter did a better job of containing opposing power plays:

  • 5.72 expected goals against per 60
  • 43.95 scoring chances against per 60
  • 13.74 high-danger chances against per 60/

Natural Stat Trick data from the 2021 regular season had a pool of 153 forwards who logged a minimum of 50 minutes of ice time. In the stats above, Carpenter ranked 46th, 48th and 19th, respectively, which puts him in the top-third of the league for the first two categories and just outside the top 10 percent of the league for the third category — a pretty good value considering Carpenter’s $1 million cap hit.

Carpenter was brought to Chicago for this specific reason, too. In the ‘18-19 season, the Blackhawks penalty kill was historically awful, finishing dead last at 72.73 percent. In ‘19-20, it jumped up to ninth place at 82.13 percent — although those numbers were buoyed by stellar PK goaltending from Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. Chicago’s PK save percentage in ‘19-20 was No. 3 in the league at .889 and fell to 21st at .859 behind the trio of Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia.

Despite the mild drop-off in play behind him, Carpenter’s numbers didn’t take a significant hit:

  • His shot attempts rate dropped from 99.09 in ‘19-20 to 97.52 this season
  • shots on goal against rate went up slightly from 56.88 to 61.12
  • expected goals against rate dropped from 6.37 to 5.72
  • scoring chances against rate plummeted from 52.58 to 43.95
  • high-danger chances against rate also went way down, from 20.03 to 13.74/

Though Chicago’s team PK percentage took a significant hit in 2021, the numbers suggest that Carpenter was not part of the problem there. In fact, the now-departed Mattias Janmark is at the bottom of most possession-based data for the Blackhawks penalty kill last season, in terms of both quantity and quality of shots, chances and goals against.

Carpenter has been exactly as billed since signing a three-year contract on the opening day of free agency in 2019: a defensively sound center who may not contribute much offensively but will log crucial minutes in his own end, especially on the penalty kill.

While he likely won’t ever be the type of player that leads a team to a Stanley Cup victory, having a few guys like Carpenter dotting the roster in the appropriate spots is an important piece of the overall structure of a contender.