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On Moritz Seider, becoming dominant, and the importance of Ben Chiarot
Calder Trophy in hand, on the next steps for the Red Wings next franchise defenseman
Let’s talk about plus-minus and Moritz Seider.
I know, plus-minus is a flawed stat, there are much better overall metrics to judge a player.
But when it comes to wins and losses, and a franchise defenseman, plus-minus can be a strong indicator of whether a team will make the playoffs or not.
Hear me out.
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Last season, when Roman Josi and Cale Makar went head-to-head for the Norris Trophy, the individual plus-minus of either player often accurately reflected whether their team won or lost that night.
In games where Josi was a plus player (plus-1 or higher), the Predators had a 22-7-1 record. In games he was a net-zero, the Predators were 17-7-1, and in games where Josi was a minus-player, Nashville had a 6-15-3 record.
For Makar, games with a plus-1 ranking or higher featured a 38-2-4 record for the Avalanche. Zero games featured a 13-5-0 mark, while games where Makar was minus-1, or lower, the Avalanche were 5-9-1.
You could argue causation either way, but there is a correlation between top defensemen’s plus-minus and wins.
For Seider, his Calder Trophy-winning season featured 35 net-positive games, in those contests, the Red Wings went 26-6-6. In games where he logged a zero, Detroit had a 5-9-2 record, and in games where Seider was -1 or worse, Detroit had a 4-25-2 record.
Early in the 2022-23 season, things followed that trend. In both games Detroit has won, Seider was a net positive when it came to plus-minus. In the first loss of the season, a 5-4 setback in overtime, Seider was minus-3.
And that makes sense, top defensemen that play more than a third of the game, are often going to determine whether a team wins or loses. When Seider has a plus night, the Red Wings will likely have gained a point, when he doesn’t, it’s tough sledding to overcome for the rest of the roster.
This brings us to Ben Chiarot and the responsibility Detroit entrusted to the 31-year-old with a four-year, $4.75 million contract in the offseason.
Chiarot’s job is to help Seider become a more consistent plus-player, if he’s able to achieve that, Detroit will be able to deliver on Derek Lalonde and Steve Yzerman’s mandate of playing meaningful games in March and April.
It’s a key balancing act for a coach and franchise, how do you allow “Mo to be Mo” offensively, but also refine his defensive game without stifling any of that crucial creativity?
That’s where Chiarot plays a key role in acting as a safety net when Seider jumps into the play on the ice, and also provides institutional knowledge off of it that for most players can only be learned with experience.
Another key to that relationship is that Chiarot also has the green light to jump into the play. It’s a symbiotic defensive pair, where Seider is more of the point man, but he also understands he needs to serve as the safety net as well.
“It’s situation by situation,” Seider said. “I think that’s important, that both (defensemen) can go.”
As evidence of that, Chiarot is outscoring Seider early in the season with a pair of points, while Seider is still looking for the scoresheet. Something that veteran forward David Perron said isn’t a bad thing for a young defenseman.
“I actually think it can help at times when you battle through to get that first point, not too long, but a little bit and you are finding your game the right way, even before the points come,” Perron said. “And I think he’s found a good (pair) with Ben, they play well together, you like being with them on the ice as a forward.”
Chiarot said communication is key, but there’s also an unspoken element for the duo — “chemistry” — that comes with time for a pairing.
“I think you just kind of have to get to know the way a guy plays,” Chiarot said. “We had a long training camp and that helps, but we’re into the season and you get a better idea of what that actually means with real games.”
As an older player, Chiarot also understands the timeline in Detroit. His four-year deal with the Red Wings was a commitment by both sides that he would still, ideally, be part of the payoff when a young core takes the next step.
And part of that will be watching Seider evolve through both teaching and his own experience. Lalonde compared it to watching a young Victor Hedman in Tampa Bay, a player that evolved from potentially elite to one of the best defensemen on the planet.
“Victor Hedman, he's grown into such a complete game now, where that wasn't the case for him early in his career,” Lalonde said. “The league is very hard on young D and Mo is going through it right now.”
How well Seider gets through that, now with Chiarot’s support, will be a litmus test of how close Detroit is to true, playoff-level, relevancy in the NHL. Hockey is a team game — more cliches, right? — but team success still hinges greatly on finding a true No. 1 on the blue line.
And it’s still a small sample size, just three games, but Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin spoke glowingly of Seider’s progression after practice on Tuesday.
“He's taken a step … obviously, people know is his big reverse hits and that, but just going into corners is much harder, much more physical,” Larkin said. “I know as a forward, going in with a big defenseman when when you're getting slammed into the boards all night, it's a hard night. I've seen him explode into battles not shying away, at all. So I think, to me, it's looked dominant and will only get more dominant.”
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