After a hit that went wrong in Saturday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, Noah Hanifin‘s season is officially over. The 24-year-old defenceman will need season-ending surgery to repair his shoulder.
Needless to say, losing Hanifin is devastating for the Flames as they continue to hunt for the final playoff spot in the North Division. Hanifin’s game took an enormous step forward this season while partnered with Chris Tanev. Even when the two were separated of late, he has continued to be an incredibly effective defenceman this season. Let’s break down just how big of a loss it is.
Hanifin by the numbers
Prior to his injury, Hanifin had four goals and 11 assists, good for third among Flames defencemen. Looking at 5v5 data from Natural Stat Trick, Hanifin has been one of the few bright spots so far this season. For a more detailed breakdown of what these statistics mean, check out our primer here.
|Rank among Flames defencemen||1st||1st||1st||1st|
|Rank against defencemen league-wide||9th||6th||12th||12th|
By the numbers, Hanifin hasn’t just been good, he’s been excellent. He has been far and away the Flames’ best defencemen in terms of offensive production, and has driven play up the ice. And these numbers are not close. He has 22 more scoring chances than Mark Giordano at 5v5, and his 10 high-danger chances are more than double the next closest Flames defenceman. His numbers across the whole league are also incredible. It is saying something to be among the top 10 defencemen league-wide while playing for a team sitting outside the playoff picture.
As good as Hanifin has been on his own, where his value really shines is in his ability to drive offence and play defence. Looking at charts of Hanifin’s performance from HockeyViz.com, his impact is incredibly clear.
The numbers on this chart speak volumes. When he is on the ice, the Flames expected goals for per 60 minutes (xG/60) is boosted. While the raw rates are close when he’s on versus off the ice, the Flames actually seem to produce more effectively when he is on, particularly when it comes to generating chances right in front of the net. When he is not on the ice, the Flames have severely struggle at generating net-front chances.
Let’s take a look at his defence.
This is where Hanifin shines even more. When Hanifin is on the ice, the Flames’ defence gets much much better. Teams struggle to get as many chances in front of the net when he is on the ice. When he is not on the ice, the Flames are far less clinical in front of their own net, seemingly good but not nearly as good. The team this season has been decent defensively at 5v5, with an expected goals against of 2.24 when Hanifin is not on the ice, but when he is on, those numbers get substantially better by dropping down to just 1.96. Not a bad impact for just one player.
What do the Flames do now?
As good as Hanifin has been, the Flames will need to find a way to operate without him. Unfortunately, the Flames dropped one of the most important games of the season and are now on the brink of elimination, short of a miracle run that seems far to unlikely.
However, the team has been clicking offensively, with their best players finally getting into a groove with the new look lines. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have both improved of late, and Andrew Mangiapane has had a standout year for the Flames. Losing Hanifin on the offensive side definitely hurts, but the offence is at least more present now compared to how they played earlier in the season.
On the defensive side, the Flames are going to need more from their middle pairing. The pairing of Mark Giordano with Chris Tanev has been the team’s best pairing since Head Coach Darryl Sutter was brought on, leading the way in scoring chances for percentage and high-danger chances for percentage. The pairing has found a rhythm thus far, and unless the second and third pairings really struggle, expect this duo to remain.
The Flames are going to need Rasmus Andersson to step up if they expect to make the playoffs. The Swedish second round pick has been good but not brilliant this season, and he will need to take a step forward in the last stretch of games if the Flames are expecting to win. He has been paired with Nikita Nesterov. No offence to Nesterov, but his usage isn’t exactly how you want to round out your top four defencemen.
Long story short, Hanifin has struggled to really become the player that scouts expected of him when he was drafted fifth overall, but this season saw him turn an enormous corner in his development. Not only did his defensive play improve, an area of major concern for him going into this year, somehow his offensive zone play has gotten even better. He has made huge strides forward across the ice, which will hopefully continue into next season after his recovery.
The Flames are going to have to find a way to win without him. If they are going to have any shot at making the playoffs this season, the team is going to need to put everything that they have into it from here on out without one of their best players this season. Here’s to hoping.