When Esa Lindell signed his new six-year, $34.8-million contract extension in May, it was met with groans. His $5.8 million cap hit now makes him the Stars’ highest paid defenseman. One of the concerns raised in the Twitter and blog worlds was that it was too high a cap hit for a defensive defenseman who can’t move the puck.
That’s true, partly. Lindell isn’t the most skilled player when the puck is on his stick. He recognizes that there are players on the ice with better hands than him and he uses that to his advantage. Last weekend he had this to say about his breakout pass that led to Jamie Benn’s overtime goal against the Edmonton Oilers: “I gave it to the forwards because they’ve got better hands than me.” Simple enough.
This is a great snapshot of the type of player he is. He stays defensively in position to take the puck from Connor McDavid. On the rush he has a lane to skate with the puck but instead gives it to Benn for the zone entry, and when the forwards attack the net, he skates back to support instead of advancing to look for a rebound. If you’ve ever played a video game with designated roles, Lindell plays the perfect support.
Penalty Killing King
Where Lindell’s abilities shine brightest is killing penalties and, boy, does he do a lot of it. He leads the league in shorthanded time on ice with 104:16, 20 minutes more than the second-most used player, Travis Hamonic of the Calgary Flames (80:40). This isn’t a one-off, seeing as Lindell was second in the league last season. His gap control, defensive positioning, board play and physical battles are where he excels and which allow him to play well on the PK to earn the trust of the coaching staff and to give him incredible shorthanded minutes.
Lindell is averaging 4:57 of shorthanded time per game and is on pace to break 400 minutes on the penalty kill for the season. There are multiple times when he’s played the entirety of a minor penalty. To give you an idea of the pace he’s on through 22 games, here are the top-10 penalty killing minutes since 2007-08, including Lindell:
- Esa Lindell (2019-20): 406:16 (on pace for)
- Scott Niedermayer (08-09): 382:45
- Duncan Keith (07-08): 376.18
- Chris Phillips (07-08): 367:34
- Barret Jackman (07-08): 360:16
- Hal Gill (07-08): 358:25
- Kimmo Timmonen (08-09): 357:36
- Willie Mitchell (08-09): 353:06
- Francois Beauchemin (11-12): 345:45
- Andy Greene (18-19): 335:28
If the Stars keep up their delinquent ways and continue to take penalties, Lindell could see his name on this list at the end of the season. Last season, he logged 265:03 and this season he could fly right by that.
Not only does Lindell play a ton on the penalty kill but he has also been very effective while doing so. Below I’ve charted how he ranks in various ‘against’ metrics compared to the 50 most used defensemen in the league on the PK:
|TOI||Shot Attempts||Shots||Expected Goals||Scoring Chances||HDCA|
Compared to the league, Lindell is efficient at negating high quality chances while maintaining a lot of pressured minutes. He makes sure that the crease is clear and does an excellent job of using his body and defensive stick to disrupt any high-quality passes or second opportunities. For a team that allows a lot of shots against, being able to stay in the teens on shot quantity is a good statistic to have in your top penalty killer.
The Stars are playing excellent hockey right now with 11 wins in their last 13 games; a record that has propelled them into a playoff position. They’re doing so in conjunction with a top-10 ranked penalty kill in the league. Special teams are important in hockey and especially so in the playoffs.
For a team that has taken the third-most penalties in the NHL, it’s important to have players the coaches know they can send out to kill them off, especially in the dying minutes of a long game. The Stars have that in Lindell.
Cody was born and raised in Texas and graduated from Dallas Baptist University in 2014 with a BA in Marketing. He began his sports writing for SBNation’s “Defending Big D” in 2018 and is now a Dallas Stars Contributor for The Hockey Writers.