I’ll admit we’ve done something of a bridge-pose, if not an outright wheel, trying to justify our Connor Murphy affection. We didn’t think trading Niklas Hjalmarsson before he became…well, Brent Seabrook, was a bad idea. It’s actually the kind of thing the Hawks probably should have done more of. Except the only other time they did it, giving up on Brandon Saad the first time, only netted them Artem Anisimov. But just because you didn’t execute a good idea properly doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea. And Hjalmarsson got them Murphy, and let’s just say that he has yet to convince all Hawks fans it was worth it. It also doesn’t help that Hammer continues to play well in Arizona, as you’ll soon see.
While I remain a metrics-heavy analyst, one of my main problems is that no one, as far as I can tell, has weighted the rates or possession-numbers to account for where a shift starts and whom against. We have it adjusted for score of the game, time, and venue, but not for the individual shifts. So one person’s 52% share might be awfully different than another’s. For example, Duncan Keith‘s metrics, a 50.1 CF% aren’t horribly out of line with what he used to put up, but 60% of his shifts starting in the offensive zone is. So you have to account for that.
So with Murphy, we have some unique circumstances. First off, only Patrik Nemeth of the Avalanche starts less shifts in the offensive zone than Murphy does, at 27%. That accounts for shifts that start on faceoffs and on-the-fly. If you go by simply faceoffs, Murphy has the fifth-lowest percentage in the offensive zone. So either way it’s obvious to see he’s being buried in the dungeon by place on the ice when he gets on the ice. .
The names around him are the aforementioned Nemeth, Hjalmarsson, his partner Dahlstrom, Andy Greene, Roman Polak, Ben Lovejoy (and those two names are going to make you shudder so hard your chiropractor will be rubbing his/her hands), Damon Severson, Alex Edler, Andrew MacDonald. Among those bottom-10, as it were, Murphy’s 45.1 CF% is about average. The outliers are, of course, Hjalmarsson and Andrew MacDonald (what?). So he’s not standout but he’s not dragging behind.
Of course, on this list, that doesn’t cover it. Most all of these guys are third-pairing players not playing the competition that Murphy is. Greene and Severson are an exception, and so is Hjalmarsson. However, Hammer is paired with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, whereas Murphy gets Dahlstrom and his 80s hair. That was cool for like 10 games. It has not been lately, and very much so.
On the scoring-chance side, it’s a little less encouraging. On that list of those who are buried, Murphy’s 45.3% mark is on the lower side, though hardly the lowest. Again, Hjalmarsson stands out at above water and significantly so, as does Nemeth’s 52%. Though one wonders in a Dahlstrom-Murphy pairing that’s either been mostly behind a defensively declining Toews or David Kampf, who exactly is going to create chances. But here we are.
It’s hard to get a read on, and Murphy hasn’t been bad, but it’s hard to conclude he hasn’t been behind his counterpart in that trade that forever broke the Quenneville-Bowman relationship. Last year, Murphy’s metrics were actually really good with Brent Seabrook, other-worldy with Michal Kempny (fucking fuckin’ fuck!), and pretty good with Erik Gustafsson as well. In each case, he was getting at least double the offensive-zone starts than he is this year, though, and in two of those examples he was partnered with at least an offensively capable/mobile partner. I’m not convinced Dahlstrom is either. But we also know it did not go so well with Duncan Keith, where the competition kicked up. But was that Murphy or Keith? It seems impossible to tell.
It would behoove the Hawks to get Murphy a real partner for the rest of the year, and one who has hope of getting the Hawks up the ice at any point. Jokiharju is the first name that comes to mind, but would you be doing him any favors to almost never start him in the offensive zone? Big ask. Gustafsson is not equipped to handle that zone-start task or the competition. And that’s basically it. And until Murphy gets someone like that as a partner, it’s going to be hard to tell what the Hawks have here.