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A Case for Re-Signing Scott Hannan

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As we approach the July 1 start of free agency, the likelihood of the Caps re-signing defenseman Scott Hannan is becoming more distant. Of course, that doesn't mean that it's a done deal that #23 will not be back in the red, white and blue. Perhaps the Caps and Hannan are currently in negotiations; perhaps Hannan has a decent offer from the Caps but wants to test the market to see if he can do better; or perhaps the writing is indeed on the wall: Hannan is simply not in the Caps future plans. We won't know for another few days what the verdict is, but here is a case to keep the durable, defensive-minded blue-liner.

Below is a list of 2010-11 regular season even strength performance by Capitals defensive pairs who played more than 40 minutes together (but excluding Tyler Sloan; click on a column header to sort by column).

Defensive Pair    TOI   Avg Shot Dist Allowed (ft) Shots Differential/60   +/-ON/60  
Hannan - Wideman

58.0

39.2

16.6

5.17

Hannan - Alzner

41.1

37.1

13.1

-1.46

Green - Alzner

46.6

33.0

12.9

2.58

Carlson - Erskine

115.6

33.0

10.9

1.04

Hannan - Green

159.1

33.0

5.7

0.75

Hannan - Erskine

204.9

37.2

5.0

0.00

Schultz - Carlson

41.5

29.9

4.3

4.34

Alzner - Carlson

891.3

33.7

2.8

0.74

Schultz - Green

419.6

32.4

-1.7

-0.14

Schultz - Alzner

51.3

36.6

-2.3

-3.51

Schultz - Hannan

203.3

36.0

-3.5

0.30

Schultz - Wideman

106.6

34.9

-3.9

0.56

Poti - Erskine

83.8

33.3

-4.3

1.43

Schultz - Erskine

49.8

38.8

-6.0

0.00

Schultz - Poti

74.8

31.9

-15.2

-1.60

Green - Erskine

40.4

34.0

-19.3

-4.46

Note:  Minutes played courtesy of Neil Greenberg. Shots Differential/60 = rate of shots for less allowed over 60 minutes; +/-ON/60 = difference between goals for less against over 60 minutes.

Let's discuss some takeaways:

  • John Carlson is a positive player regardless of who he playes with. Pair him with anyone and he makes it work. (And to think, he was just a rookie.)
  • Like Carlson's defensive partner of 891 even strength minutes, Karl Alzner is also the real deal. The only player who Alzner does not have a positive shot differential with Alzner is Jeff Schultz. What makes Alzner and Carlson's work more impressive was that they were routinely matched up against opponent's best lines.
  • Speaking of Schultz, he was awful last season. He was on the negative side of the shots differential list with everyone but Carlson. In his defense, he logged a lot of time with seven different defensemen, but he's being paid as a top 4 defender and needs to perform as such.
  • Scott Hannan is a positive player regardless of who he's with (except Schultz of course). He's in four of the top six defensive pairs in shots allowed, including the top two spots. He in three of the top four pairs for farthest shot distance, including the top spot. Hannan's even made it work partnered with John Erskine, compiling a +5.0 Shot Differential per 60. Very impressive.
  • To continue the Hannan lovefest, Hannan possessed chemistry with Dennis Wideman (in an admittedly small sample). While their +16.6 shot differential over 60 minutes and +5.17 +/-ON/60 won't hold up as their TOI grows, it's safe to say that these two were a good dominant pair together.
  • Seeing this data makes you wonder why Bruce Boudreau skated Schultz with Hannan and Green with Erskine in the playoffs. The data shows that it would have made better sense to skate Hannan with Erskine and Schultz with Green.

Ideally, the three best pairs the Caps could ice on a nightly basis would be Carlson-Alzner, Hannan-Wideman and Green-Schultz (with Schultz getting the nod over Erskine because Erskine's numbers with Green are horrendous). The question becomes: is it worth tieing up $4M annually to re-sign Hannan? Let's try and answer that by looking at what happens across a season - more specifically, 800 even strength minutes - if Erskine (or Sloan, Collins or Fahey) replaces Hannan as Wideman's defensive partner. Let's also assume that the Hannan-Wideman pairing is really worth +10 even strength shots per 60 (not the inflated 16.6) and a Wideman with Erskine/Sloan/Fahey/Collins combination is worth net zero even strength shots per 60. (Admittedly, that may be generous).

 

Defensive Pair Expected Shot Differential/60 Expected Shot Differential/800 EV Shooting % Goals Impact
Hannan - Wideman 10.0 133 8.5% +11.3
Erskine (or Sloan/Collins/Fahey) - Wideman 0.0 0 8.5% 0

 

When you translate that +10 shot differential per 60 over 800 season-wide even strength minutes, Hannan's worth to the team is a 133 improvement in shots per season over the alternative. At an 8.5% shooting rate, that means Hannan's worth roughly 11 more goals scored or preserved for the Caps, which equates to roughly four standings points. (This analysis doesn't factor his worth on the PK, where he's an above-average skater.)

Some will argue that tieing up $4M for four standings points isn't worth it, that the Caps should bank the cap space and improve their flexibility for the trade deadline. It's a valid argument. But adding Hannan is not for the regular season. It's a move with an eye towards the playoffs and building a team that can compete for and win the Stanley Cup. For the impact Hannan brings when paired with Wideman, it justifies the cost. They were excellent in their time together and they make the Caps defense deep and dominating. (Think about it...if Green-Schultz is your weakest link, you have an extremely good defense.)

The wild card in this situation is someone barely mentioned: Tom Poti. if Poti, signed for the next two seasons, indeed comes back from his career threatening groin injury, then the Caps cannot conceivably keep eight everyday defensemen under contract. As all other defensemen are signed (or in RFA negotiations), Hannan would no doubt be the odd man out. But if Poti does not return, George McPhee has an interesting decision to make with respect to #23. And if my reading of the tea leaves is accurate, I sure hope McPhee reconsiders.