When Matt Hunwick signed with the Leafs last summer, that raised some eyebrows. Hunwick, an NHL journeyman, was trumpeted by Leafs brass as a “Pro’s pro” and “Guy who does it right.” He might be that, all signs point to him having a really good work ethic, which is a good example for the young core. Hunwick, has also never played an 82 game season and has not played more than 60 games since 10/11 (60 games in 15/16).
However, it is possible to be a mentor and leader, while not playing on a nightly basis, or at all. See Stephane Robidas, who has been spotted in a player development role with the team. The problem with Hunwick is his negative impact on the ice, in terms of ability to help a team win a hockey game. Forget the “intangibles” for minute and look at his numbers.
This season, while less than 10% played, Hunwick’s possession numbers and WOWY cannot be ignored. The chart (provided by hockeyviz) tells a very alarming story. Every Leaf is above 50%CF without Hunwick and every Leaf except 4 (Rielly, Gardiner, Martin & JVR) is below 50%CF with him. If every player is above 50% without him, and he is below 50% with every player, he is the common denominator.
Using stats from this season is a very small sample size. Let’s take a look at his WOWY and Replacement charts from the 15/16 season, where he played 60 games.
Every player is better than 50%CF without him, except 4, by a slim margin. Not to mention, those 4 players saw limited time in the Toronto lineup to begin with, so their sample size is not as large as the others. Hunwick’s CF% remains in the same area, lending credence to the fact: he is not a good possession player. Another trend: only 6 players have a CF% of 50% or better while he’s on the ice.
Looking at his replacement chart from last season, the trend continues. The 3 players who are less than 50CF% without him are players who saw limited action because they played in the AHL for the majority of the season. Looking strictly at players who spent the majority of their time in the Leafs lineup, every single one has a positive possession rating. As a team, Toronto is significantly better without Hunwick on the ice. While it is unfair to say he single-handedly brings the team’s possession down, it is not that far fetched, either. Look at Corrado’s replacement level, surely he was a better option, and he sat in the press box until December 15th.
Well, maybe he needs a different defence partner (other than Zaitsev)…
Take a look at the D-pairings below the red line. Notice a common denominator? Every one of them except 51+52, has Hunwick. The only pairings with a positive rating, are with Rielly & Gardiner (Gardiner rating is marginal), and they have played 3 minutes together each. That is not enough for any data to be conclusive. Not only that, every pairing (except Rielly) with Hunwick in it, performs less effectively than Toronto, as a whole. With the exception of Polak, Hunwick has played the least amount of minutes and yet his shot differential is the worst. He has also played 15 minutes/game this season against opponents’ third/fourth lines because Rielly and Marincin have taken over the shutdown roles.
The biggest difference is with Zaitsev, again. At 44 minutes this season, the pairing is -11. While Zaitsev has only played 10 minutes with Rielly or Marincin, the differential of +16 and +14 is large. Granted, he is -7 with Gardiner, but more often than not, Zaitsev is a positive in other pairings.
There is a potential solution.
Frankie Corrado has been in the press box to start the year. Last year, his possession stats were significantly better than Hunwick’s. Perhaps, giving Corrado a chance in the lineup would provide some improved possession in the #6 hole. Not only that, Zaitsev’s numbers would likely improve as Corrado is a positive possession guy. I am not saying it is foolproof, but I am saying that Hunwick does not look good. The stats say it and the eye test says it, too.
Toronto’s back end is thin. They are young, very young. A veteran presence is important, but not at the expense of the level of negative impact Hunwick has when he is on the ice. Carrick has been better than expected. For a kid who’s having his first cup of tea in the NHL, he has not looked out of place. Toronto could use some help on the back end, but it starts with sitting Hunwick down and going from there.