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Dallas Stars: Martin Hanzal will return to the Dallas Stars lineup in an interesting role

Martin Hanzal isn’t as bad of a player as he looked throughout most of the 2018 season. The Dallas Stars signed him to a 3-year, $14.25 million contract prior to last season hoping to have him help stabilize the bottom of the roster, hold the fort down in tough defensive minutes and be an ace penalty killer. 

Like so many other things about the 2018 season, this detail of the script went up in flames pretty quickly. Hanzal isn’t known for his speed, but he had an incredibly tough time getting up the ice. He may have still been just as good defensively. The data would have had a hard time showing that though due to the amount of time he had to spend defending.

Using Hockeyviz’s data for defensive efforts with Hanzal on the ice the past two seasons it does appear that the Stars were quite a bit better with Hanzal on the ice last year than the Arizona Coyotes/Minnesota Wild were the previous year. The 2018 data is on the left and the 2017 data is on the right.

His defensive ability and Corsi stats are going to look terrible given how he was used under Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock buried him in the defensive zone and essentially said “figure it out.” The strategy is fine as a concept, but with a player who could barely skate at times playing the results were ugly. 

It’ll be interesting to see how Jim Montgomery uses Hanzal with the forward primed to enter the lineup tonight for his season debut against the San Jose Sharks.

The lines in practice suggest that Hanzal is going to start centering a line with Devin Shore and Jason Spezza on his wings. Montgomery gets Jason Spezza into the offensive zone with 61 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone. When Shore and Spezza are on the ice together 70 percent of their faceoffs are in the offensive zone per Natural Stat Trick. Putting on a deducing hat, it seems that Hanzal is going to get more of an offensive opportunity this year. Or, at least, initially.

Hanzal has shown over the course of his career that he can be a guy who gets the puck up the ice as a useful passer and shot generator. From 2014-18 Hanzal graded out well in a number of passing and zone entry and exit stats as visualized by Ryan Stimson. If he’s playing with Spezza he should have the opportunity to get to the net for offensive opportunities if his back is well enough to allow him to skate effectively. 

The Martin Hanzal the Dallas Stars had last year isn’t the Historic Hanzal. He was a guy who gave the Stars fits when he was a Coyote due to his size and ability in close to the net. Defensively he was a pain too. The emergence of Radek Faksa means he doesn’t need to be that shutdown guy for the Stars. He needs to go out and play his game. He may not live up to the value of his contract, but what matters is that he should be able to give the Stars some value if he’s healthy in the role that it appears Montgomery is slotting him.

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