In Detroit’s last two games against the Ottawa Senators, Andreas Athanasiou found himself on the fourth line with Tomas Nosek and Ben Street. While his linemates have actually been playing pretty well, Athanasiou gets minimal ice time playing with them. In Monday’s game, AA played a total of 7:51. In Tuesday’s game, he played 9:55, which was the least amount of ice time of any Red Wings player.
It’s a confusing move by Jeff Blashill because Athanasiou has recorded an average time on ice of 13:31 this season (per hockey-reference.com). Plus, in the five games prior to the Ottawa matchup, Athanasiou had three points and eight shots. Two of his points were overtime game winning goals. So why drastically cut his ice time?
Jeff Blashill tonight: Andreas Athanasiou hasn't recently played at a level to warrant more mins. "Has to win more one-on-one puck battles."
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) April 4, 2017
Wait, seriously? Is this some late April Fool’s joke? I mean, maybe he didn’t have the best games against Tampa Bay and Toronto, but you’re going to cut his minutes for not winning enough one-on-one battles? As I watched Tuesday’s game, I realized that this was not some sick joke and Athanasiou was actually being benched. Frankly, it’s the wrong decision and he doesn’t deserve it. Here’s why.
Let’s have a look at some of his season stats:
Those last two stats come with a bit of a caveat: I used Corsica’s default filter of 50 minutes played. The only player above Athanasiou in iCF/60 and SF/60 on the team is Tomas Nosek, who has only played in nine games this season.
Athanasiou already gets limited minutes, but he makes the most of them. He leads the team in G/60 and is top-5 in P/60. You just don’t bench one of your most potent offensive threats. He’s fast, he’s dangerous with the puck, has an eye for the net, and is passionate about this team as evidenced by the two fights he’s gotten himself in this year. He may not be too gritty in the corners, but that’s why guys like Sheahan, Helm, and Abdelkader are on the roster, right? But apparently Athanasiou is too much of a defensive liability to be on the ice (even though his on-ice goal differential is literally zero).
This isn’t the first time this season that AA has paid for a perceived lack of defensive effort. Back in January, he was a healthy scratch on the team’s West Coast road trip. The benching then was a good wake up call for him as he came back and went on a bit of a tear.
Still, at this point in the season, the playoffs are gone. When there’s five games left in the season and no hope of a playoff berth, why wouldn’t you play your young players – especially those who are proven point producers – and let them gain some more NHL experience? Teach them not by benching them, but by letting them experience the game.
Based on his level of production this year, Athanasiou does not deserve this benching. He has earned his right to play and prove himself on this team. After all, he is part of the future that we hear spoken so highly of. Let’s see it in action.