Justin Abdelkader is a bit of a polarizing player. Some love him for his grit and tenacity. Others hate him because they don’t think he deserves the contract that he’s on. And while Abdelkader’s contract is problematic to the Wings’ long-term salary cap health, there’s no denying that he’s a leader on and off the ice for this team.
In 2017-18, Abby took a step forward from last season, outperforming his goal and point totals. Let’s dive in a little deeper.
Abdelkader’s deployment is kind of neutral, with more shift starts in the neutral zone and defensive zone than the offensive zone. He’s leaned on more defensively than anything, as himself Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm formed a kind of “grind line 2.0” for Jeff Blashill this year.
This meant that Abby was facing a lot of tough competition, but he managed to maintain positive defensive stats according to the PET chart above. His shots against are particularly interesting as he plays a close game to his opponents, playing strong against their bodies and forcing them to the outside.
To say that the Wings only relied on Abdelkader’s defensive game would not be fair, though. He was counted on all year for secondary scoring and put up a favourable 11.8 shooting percentage. The goals that he scored were pretty much in line with was he was expected to score.
He’s never been much of a playmaker, though, even in the days when he played with Datsyuk. This is reflected pretty clearly by his assists and shot assist metrics, both of which are below average. Abdelkader’s got some stone hands. He’s great for planting himself in front of the net and banging home rebounds. Not so great with entering the zone and setting up a play.
As I mentioned above, Abdelkader had a bit of a bounceback this year in his total game. He missed less time to injury and was more productive, putting up 0.46 points-per-game versus 2016-17’s 0.32 points-per-game.
He’ll never return to the 40-point form that he was in when he played with Datsyuk, despite those years earning him his contract. Datsyuk used to say that Abdelkader was the guy who pulled the piano. Abby still pulls that piano, but he doesn’t have a magic man to make it play anymore.
Still, 35 points is a good outing for a veteran third liner. It would actually be good depth scoring for a team who has elite scoring on their top two lines. Unfortunately, Abdelkader’s contract makes him unmoveable, which is too bad because I really do think there are teams out there who would be interested in his services.
Abdelkader’s Cosi-For percentage is pretty in-line with the team average. What is kind of sad is that his relative Corsi-For is positive. That doesn’t speak highly for the rest of the team.
One thing that’s worth pointing out about Abby’s Corsi is that he really doesn’t attempt too many shots. His 830 shot attempts at 5-on-5 is 12th on the team. Every one of the Red Wings regular defensemen had more than that. This is likely due to Abdelkader’s defensive responsibilities and role he plays in the offensive zone. He’s normally in front of the net or down around the goal line, two locations where you don’t really get to attempt too many shots.
While Abdelkader’s defensive game is pretty good, there’s only so much you can do against the league’s best. He was on the ice for 41 goals against at 5-on-5. This equaled 2.69 goals against-per-sixty, which was better than fourth liners Martin Frk and Luke Glendening, but worse than his most frequent linemates, Nielsen and Helm.
Again, Abdelkader wasn’t expected to generate a bunch of offense while he was on the ice, but his offensive stats were actually favourable this year.
I would expect more of the same from Abdelkader next year, if not a bit of a regression. With a big body like Michael Rasmussen likely in the winged wheel, Abby could see a diminished net-front role both at 5-on-5 and on the powerplay.
Abdelkader will continue to be leaned on in a defensive role, along with Nielsen and Helm. Don’t expect him to be moved. His contract all but prevents it, but the Wings also value what he brings to the team. He’s a big voice in the room and a good mentor for young players on and off the ice.
Love him or hate him, Justin Abdelkader is here to stay. His grit and hard work have earned him a permanent spot on this roster. He knows The Red WIngs Way better than anyone and he’ll be expected to pass it on down to the new kids.