Aaron Ekblad and the Florida Panthers Will Miss Brian Campbell

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The Florida Panthers signed defenseman Keith Yandle to a long-term deal last week after trading for his negotiation rights. Tying up $6M+ a season in Yandle until 2023 decreased the Panthers likelihood of bringing back impending unrestricted free agent Brian Campbell and signing him to a multi-year deal. The Yandle deal combined with speculation that Campbell is interested in returning to Chicago means his days in Florida are numbered..literally as Free Agent Frenzy starts this Friday. The Panthers are on the verge of losing a very effective player whom replacing will be crucial to their success moving forward.

Campbell HERO Chart

Campbell may be 37 years old but is still a very impactful top pairing defenseman. His production has slowed down a little bit over the past half decade but is still good for a handful of goals and around 30 points per season. His production metrics rank him as a second pairing defenseman but his shot attempt metrics stand out and qualify him as a top shutdown defenseman. Combining his production and shot numbers, he is a complete top-pairing defenseman. Durability is an important factor when considering aging defensemen and Campbell passes with flying colors as he hasn’t missed a game since the 2010-2011 NHL season.

Known as a shutdown defenseman, Campbell allowed the sixth least number of shot attempts against him per 60 minutes, posting a 46.14 CA/60 (of qualifying defensemen with 1000+ TOI). In addition, his +6.0 CF%Rel ranked fourth in the league (under the same parameters). The Panthers didn’t generate much offense with Campbell on the ice, posting just a 51.04 CF/60 but took advantage of their opportunities scoring 70 5v5 goals. 70 GF at even strength placed Campbell fourth in the league among defensemen. With Campbell on the ice, the Panthers had a 10.16 SH% and finished the season with a 102.13 PDO. This is likely unsustainable going forward as Florida had a 48.7% CF% this season and were the benefactor of luck. While their goals for may not be repeatable, Campbell should still be very successful next season because of his ability to prevent goals. Last season, Campbell lead the league with a 65.4% GF%, was second in the league with a +14.8% GF%Rel, and was fourth in the league with a 1.59 GA/60 (of qualifying defensemen with 1000+ TOI in all three categories). In addition to his play at even strength, Campbell plays almost two minutes per game on the penalty kill and positively impacts his team on both shot attempts and goals against. This last season wasn’t a fluke either as Campbell has posted similar numbers and has been ranked at the top of the league for the last three and five seasons.

One player in particular that will miss Campbell is his most common defense partner over the past two seasons: Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad’s HockeyViz diagram paints this picture that we can easily dissect. During Ekblad’s rookie season, he was paired with Campbell for 77 of the 81 games he played in. Together, they were spectacular, posting GF% and CF% over 56% and the league’s third highest expected goals for percentage (xGF%) (of defensive pairings that played 750+ TOI together). Their success is shown on Ekblad’s HockeyViz diagram with a majority of grey shade on both the Smoothed %5v5Shots/60 and Smoothed Goals/SOG charts (3rd and 4th charts from the top). The season was capped off with Ekblad capturing the Calder Trophy for the league’s rookie of the year.

Ekblad Pairings

As one would expect, Ekblad’s sophomore season continued where his rookie season left, alongside Campbell. But around the season’s quarter mark, the Panthers coaching staff switched the pairings and Ekblad was alongside Steven Kampfer for the next seven games. Kampfer and Ekblad struggled to find chemistry (3 GF, 2 GA at 5v5 yet only a 41% CF%, broken down to 40.0 CF/60 and a 57.6 CA/60) and the pairings changed again. This time, Ekblad found himself with Dmitry Kulikov. They spent the next forty games paired together. While they had a slightly positive GF% (23 GF, 22 GA for a 51.5% GF% in 569 5v5 TOI), they struggled to produce offensively and spent more time in their defensive end (44.3 CF/60 compared to a 49.0 CA/60). For the final eight games of the season, Campbell and Ekblad were reunited and instantly found success together again (shown on the HockeyViz diagram via the change from red to black shade on the Smoothed %5v5Shots/60 and Smoothed Goals/SOG charts). Together over the course of the season, Ekblad and Campbell had strong goal (26 GF and only 13 GA) and shot attempt (56.6 CF/60 and only 41.2 CA/60) statistics in almost 500 5v5 minutes. The above graph shows the clear difference between Ekblad pairing with Campbell and his other two main defensive partners. Separating Ekblad and Campbell likely cost the Panthers several points in the standings but in the end didn’t matter because they won the division by six points.

Florida WithWithout Campbell

Not only did Campbell have a positive impact to Ekblad, but the Florida Panthers as a whole. Looking at Florida’s Corsi percentage with and without Campbell on the ice over his based on a 40 game moving average, his positive impact is very obvious. There hasn’t been one stretch over the past five seasons where the team has performed better with Campbell off the ice compared to on. More importantly, Campbell’s CF% has dipped below 50% just a handful of times and only for very short stretches. He can be counted on to drive a positive number of shot attempts in any given game.

F WOWYs

Looking at Campbell’s nine most common forwards over the past years, they all see a higher percentage of shot attempts go in the Florida’s favor when they’re playing with Campbell. Campbell’s presence turns five of the nine forwards from having negative shot attempt percentages to positive shot attempt percentages. On the offensive side, it’s split about 50/50 (five of the nine) whether the forward’s CF/60 is higher with or without Campbell but the major impact comes in CA/60 where all nine players have a significantly lower CA/60. This is no different than earlier in Campbell’s career when he was playing for Chicago.

CampbellVsYandle

While losing Campbell will be a tough blow for the Panthers, the signing of Yandle makes things much more manageable for the team. The comparison of Campbell and Yandle’s HERO charts shows that they aren’t to different of players. They score goals at about the same rate but Yandle playmaking is much higher than Campbell’s. Looking into shot metrics, Campbell is considered elite in shot suppression where Yandle is elite in shot generatation. Yandle has also been able to  impact his teammate’s shot metrics while playing for multiple teams. He should be able to slide into the team’s top pairing alongside Ekblad and give him the support he needs as a young, developing defenseman. Florida will definitely miss Campbell’s shot suppression but with the signing of Yandle, the team shouldn’t regress too much.

Follow Steve Ness on Twitter: @QuickkNess

All data from Own the Puck, Corsica, Puckalytics, Stats.hockeyanalysis.com, and HockeyViz.com, .

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