Living Dangerously With John Klingberg
DAL's declining (?) Dman & the risk in playing safe
Is John Klingberg broken?
Since the Dallas Stars defenseman broke into the NHL, he’s been one of the league’s best Ds as measured by Wins Above Replacement, a catch-all statistic that takes into account a player’s ability to influence play at 5v5 and on special teams.
In 2018-19, playing alongside Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen, Klingberg produced 5v5 and 5v4 points at a top rate while helping DAL dominate at even strength.
Since then, Klingberg’s WAR has been in freefall.
According to Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz.com model, Klingberg has gone from an elite two-way defenseman who is especially strong offensively (2015-19), to a leaky offense-first D (2019-20) to a drag on both end of the rink (2020-21).
InStat Hockey player tracking data paints a more detailed picture of DAL3’s recent form.
DAL3 remains an outstanding puck carrier and OZ passer. However, he struggled completing DZ passes, winning puck battles and defending the blue line.
JFresh hypothesizes that DAL coach Rick Bowness’ system ruined Klingberg.
Is he right?
1) DAL’s Disjointed Offense
Dallas’ breakout is straightforward: Fs stretch out of the zone on possession and Ds play the puck up the strong side.
When the Strong Side Push is employed against disorganized or over-aggressive forechecks, it leads to quick breaks and Grade-A chances.
When it is used against structured, patient OZ FCs, however, it looks as if no one is open.
In the clip below, FLA uses a passive 1-2-2 OZ FC.
DAL3 Klingberg almost beats FLA’s F1 by carrying behind the net, but sees F2 closing and turns back to reset.
DAL’s Fs fly the zone and are caught off-guard by Klingberg’s audible.
DAL3 goes D-to-D but his partner doesn’t want the puck.
FLA out-mans DAL 3v2 in the zone and wins possession.
Same thing in the neutral zone. Against a structured forecheck, DAL’s forwards seldom look like they’re open.
Below is a clip from 2018-19, when Klingberg was paired with rookie Miro Heiskanen.
DAL3 carries into the middle but is forced to turn back.
He delegates to DAL4 Heiskanen.
DAL4 is immediately pressured but uses his skillset to make a continuation play.
The forwards are nowhere to be seen until Heiskanen’s pass connects.
In this aggressive but disjointed offensive system, DAL players struggle to gain the OZ with control. A lack of controlled entries and plays off the rush lead to reduced zone time and fewer opportunities for Klingberg to tap into his offensive abilities, especially when he is playing with a punter like Lindell instead of a playmaker like Heiskanen.
Notice how Klingberg still thrives alongside skaters who can play off the pass (Radulov, Pavelski, Benn, Robertson etc.) and selectively step outside DAL’s system.
2) DAL’s Passive Defense
At various points DAL uses a 1-2-2 and a 1-1-3 NZ forecheck. Both schemes focus on protecting the middle and preventing big chances against, rather than denying the line and creating turnovers.
In the clip below, DAL sort of shows 1-1-3, with a F skating backwards to help the Ds take on the FLA rush.
At the offensive blue line, DAL3 turns back and retreats instead of stepping up to kill the play early.
At the defensive blue line, DAL has a 4v3 advantage but allows FLA to enter the zone and create a shot.
DAL errs by not being more decisive. As a rule, one should aggressive when defending with a numerical advantage. A 4v3 on the puck means that there’s a 1v2 off the puck, and that’s where the danger is when you are falling into DZ coverage after conceding an entry.
Individually, Klingberg is an excellent backward skater, but at 6’1” 176lb per EliteProspects, he is not overly interested in taking the body and forcing puck battles along the wall. Instead, DAL3 looks to match speed with the carrier, then guide him toward a teammate.
In the clip below, DAL3 concedes an entry, funnels the play to the wall, then lets DAL21 come in for the hit.
DAL’s passive NZ FC and Klingberg’s meek 1v1 defense = more time spent in DZ coverage.
Klingberg, Future Cup Champ?
Despite Klingberg’s two-year slump, I still think he has the game to be a difference-maker on a strong team. At a $4.25M cap hit on an expiring contract, Klingberg may well be the missing piece to put a contender over the top.
Is your team deep on talented Fs and left-handed Ds, but thin at RD?
Are you looking for a top-end PP1 point man?
Is your system predicated on stretching the ice east-west (on offense) and killing plays early in the NZ (on defense)?
Do you habitually swarm 2v1 to stop the cycle and recover the puck in DZ coverage?
If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, then:
You have a pretty good team
Klingberg is the man for you
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