Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
MacKenzie Weegar has been a big help to the Calgary Flames defence
10 months ago
The Calgary Flames trading Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers, with the two main pieces of the return being Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, sent shockwaves through the hockey universe. All three players are well-known assets, with Tkachuk and Huberdeau being the offence-first players with lots of point production. Weegar, however, was not that on the back end, and in 2022-23, he has proven that fact.
No one was coming into this season expecting Weegar to produce a ton of offence from the backend (although he is perfectly capable of doing so, and he has shown it in Florida). He had 44 points in 80 games last season but only has 25 in 71 games in 2022-23. However, even though he hasn’t done as much offensively in the box score, his production on the defensive end has been some of the best in the NHL.
To start, his expected goals for percentage (xGF%) is excellent. He has a 57.6%, which sits 24th among all players with at least 900 minutes of time on ice at 5v5. Among defencemen, it’s ninth-best in the league. However, most of that value is coming from his defence. His expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60) is 49th among all defencemen at 5v5 and 105th among all skaters. But on the other end, his expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) is third among all defencemen and fifth among all players.
To show more of his overall value, Weegar is tied for fifth on the Flames in goals above replacement (GAR) with 7.1, and his expected goals above replacement (xGAR) is second on the team with 12.9. But his expected even-strength defence goals above replacement (xEVD) is first by a large margin at 11.1. The next closest is Chris Tanev at 6.4.
To show you, readers, something a little more visually pleasing than numbers among words, here’s his regularized adjusted plus-minus from 2022-23 in 71 games:
And here are his heat maps at 5v5 in both the offensive and defensive zones.
Obviously, no defender is perfect, and there are times when Weegar can make some pretty demonstrative mistakes in his own end. But the Flames are much better with him on the ice on defence than they are without him, and plenty of these defensive numbers are career-highs as well. He breaks up passes extremely well; he can move the puck well enough on defensive zone exits, which helps his value plenty, and he’s one of the best in the NHL at not allowing shot attempts and high-danger shot attempts.
The Flames are very good defensively at even strength as a team. Their xGA/60 is eighth best in the NHL, and Weegar is a huge reason for that number being so high. It’s not surprising that a Darryl Sutter team (even for all the problems that have arisen) is very good defensively, and a player with the two-way ability of Weegar is thriving on the defensive side of the game.
The Flames aren’t out of the playoff race yet after earning a big win against the Anaheim Ducks, and even though the season is almost over, Calgary is going to need a player with the ability (and contract) of Weegar to keep playing this way and help on the offensive side too. However, no matter the result at the end of this season, fans should look back and view this as a relatively successful first season for number 52.
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