Joel Hanley was quietly effective for the Calgary Flames in a small sample size in 2023-24

Photo credit:Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Lacoste
1 month ago
The Calgary Flames claimed defender Joel Hanley off of waivers on Mar. 5 from the Dallas Stars. The Flames had just traded Chris Tanev and swiftly proceeded to trade Noah Hanifin just after claiming Joel Hanley, so acquiring a veteran defender via waivers to play NHL minutes rather than throwing prospects like Ilya Solovyov to the wolves seemed like a smart idea.
The team proceeded to run the following pairs the most at 5v5 after acquiring Hanley (according to NaturalStatTrick):

Joel Hanley’s audition

Joel Hanley played 10 games for the Flames this past season, playing 10 of the possible 13 games before he suffered an undisclosed injury on Apr. 3 and missed the rest of the season. In his 10 games with the Flames, Joel Hanley had 1 goal, 1 assist, 1 minor penalty, and 1 fight. It’s important to note that Hanley fought Nathan Walker on Mar. 28 after being healthy-scratched for the Flames’ previous game against Chicago. In that moment he demonstrated a willingness to battle and ‘fight’ for a role in the Flames’ D core, which he earned back full-time following that game until his aforementioned injury.
Furthermore, Joel Hanley’s on-ice play was quite good for a bottom-pairing waiver pickup. According to NaturalStatTrick, here are Joel Hanley’s 5v5 advanced stats in 132 minutes, as well as where each stat ranked among the Flames’ 7 regular defenders during his audition:
  • Fenwick For % (Unblocked Shot Attempts): 53.1% (3rd)
  • Goals For %: 50.0% (3rd)
  • Expected Goals For %: 58.8% (1st)
  • High-Danger Corsi For % (High-Danger Shot Attempts): 73.0% (1st)
These are all significant stats from a meaningful sample. Joel Hanley was a strong net-positive defender during his 10 games with the Calgary Flames, helping the Flames suppress high-danger and high-value shots, which is one of the best attributes you can have as a defender. If Hanley’s Fenwick For % or Goals For % were similar but his Expected Goals For % and High-Danger Corsi For % were low, we wouldn’t be talking about his brilliant stint with the Flames because having weak numbers in those two shot-value stats likely implies great goaltending or luck that saved Hanley from being a net-negative defender. However, seeing that Joel Hanley led the Flames’ D core in both shot-value-related stats above while having good standard on-ice stats and a below-average PDO (the ‘luck stat’) demonstrates Joel Hanley’s underrated value as a steady and affordable veteran option.
Keep in mind that Joel Hanley was also not dealt a fair hand, as he started only 38% of his shifts in the offensive zone (2nd-worst among Flames Ds), meaning that 72% of his shifts began in the defensive zone. This further supports the case that Joel Hanley was an impressive defender during his brief Flames audition.

Hanley’s Calgary future

Looking ahead to next season, I could see the Flames bringing back Joel Hanley, should there be mutual interest, given that he has a contract for 2024-25 with a $787,500 cap hit (per Cap Friendly). The Flames did not give up any assets to acquire Hanley, meaning that the relationship could end without any lingering trade tree baggage. However, with assumptions of a swift retool and a team-wide urge to compete next year, players like Joel Hanley would be reliable keepsakes for coaches to deploy when simplicity needs to be stressed during the ups and downs of a season. It would be interesting to see if Hanley’s stats worsen in a larger sample, but in his current bottom-pair role, Calgary is quite successful as a team when he’s on the ice. The Flames may also need to hold on to players like Joel Hanley as they begin to facilitate the development of their D prospects and build a new defensive identity next year. Few defenders at Hanley’s price point would provide such positive on-ice impacts and surplus contract value.
All the best to Joel Hanley.
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