The bottom six has been getting a lot of flack for their overall play lately. Anton Lander and Mark Letestu haven't produced at a level most of us were expecting. Lauri Korpikoski has been inconsistent. And the rest of the group has been a revolving door as the team deals with injuries and call-ups.
But one player who should not be lumped with the depth players that are struggling this season is 34 year old Matt Hendricks.
I'll admit, I was very critical of the move when MacTavish acquired him for Devan Dubnyk in January 2014. Really, the Oilers should've sent Dubnyk to the minors on a conditioning stint, similar to what the Leafs recently did with Jonathan Bernier. Instead, they sent away a player that they had spent years developing, and who posted very good numbers in the three years leading up to his struggles, for an aging, over-priced winger. I still hate this trade. But I have to admit, Hendricks has shown well this season and remains the lone bright spot in the bottom six.
I did a quick review of Hendricks' performance metrics to confirm what I've been seeing, replicating something Bruce McCurdy did over at The Cult of Hockey recently. I looked at Hendricks' rate scoring and relative-to-team metrics, and compared his career average to the numbers he has posted this season (even-strength).
Not too shabby for a 34 year old. Forwards typically deteriorate with age, especially those that play a physical style. But Hendricks has started this season well, improving on many fronts compared to last season and his career average. He's typically been a negative player in relation to his teammates when it comes to possession and scoring chances. But this season, he's had a positive influence, with the team having slightly more success when he's on the ice. It's worth noting that Hendricks is getting more offensive zone starts compared to last season and the season prior. But he still starts far fewer times in the offensive zone compared to his teammates.
And here's how Hendricks has done with and without his most common linemates this season at even-strength. The below graphs compare the Corsi For and Goals For percentages.
Hendricks has been a good influence on Mark Letestu this season and appears to be better away from Korpikoski. He hasn't been a major positive or negative influence on Yakupov, which I think is a good thing for a depth winger. I can definitely see why McLellan paired him with recent call-ups like Andrew Miller and Jujhar Khaira. He's been reliable and doesn't drag down linemates.
Hendricks' contract expires at the end of next season, which will pay him $1.85 this season and next. He's obviously nearing the end of his career, but it's nice to have a player that's exceeding expectations this season. It's troubling to me that the other, younger wingers like Korpikoski or Pakarinen haven't pushed Hendricks out of the lineup. Instead the 34 year old has been a valuable asset to the coaching staff, providing reliability and versailty playing up and down the roster, either on wing or center. I don't expect Hendricks to continue on this pace, but if he does, it would be huge for the Oilers who are carrying way too many passengers in the third and fourth lines.