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The Hunwick-Holøs Conundrum

There has been much discussion of late about Matt Hunwick and coach Joe Sacco’s reasons for continuing to put him in the line up despite what appears to be less than acceptable play. Compounding that issue is the belief that Jonas Holøs has, in his limited appearances, done a better job than Hunwick, thus deserving the ice time more than his counterpart. As often is the case, however, it’s impossible for the fans to know why the coaches are making the decisions they are; still, that doesn’t lessen the frustration.

In order to attempt to understand Sacco’s position, it’s important to know some basic information. Hunwick (Warren, MI) is considered a fast, puck moving defenseman - something any fan can tell you is a priority with the Avalanche organization. Holøs (Sarpsborg, Norway), on the other hand, focuses more on positionally sound defense with the ability to jump into the play as needed. As professionals, Hunwick and Holøs averaged 21 and 15 points per year, respectively. Hunwick has appeared in playoffs for the past 3 years for a total of 24 games; Holøs has been in the playoffs for 10 consecutive years, playing 51 games, in addition to 4 Olympic games.

Both players are relatively the same size: 5’11" and approximately 190 lbs. Hunwick is 25 and is in his fourth year at the professional level (1 in AHL), while Holøs is 23 and is in his first year in the NHL. However, he played two years prior to this season in the Swedish Elite League and has Olympic experience. In 2004, Boston drafted Hunwick in the 7th round (224th). Holøs was taken by Colorado in the 6th round of the 2008 draft, 170th overall.

So there are the fundamental stats for the two players. Essentially, their backgrounds present fairly evenly: Hunwick has averaged more points, but Holøs has more high pressure experience. As Sacco tends to favor offensive-defensemen, it seems apparent why he values Hunwick over Holøs. When it comes right down to it, though, the most important thing is which player has been best for the Avalanche this season.

Thus, here are some "fun" facts to consider:

Hunwick Holøs Better Performer
Games Played 21 16 N/A
Points Total 0g/2a 0g/3a Holøs
PP points 0g/1a 0g/2a Holøs
ES points 0g/1a 0g/1a Even
+/- -9 +5 Holøs
PIMs 8 (0.38 per game avg) 2 (0.13 per game avg) Holøs
Average TOI 18:58 17:51 Hunwick
Max TOI 21:57 27:22 Holøs
Min TOI 8:47 6:42 Hunwick
Short-Handed TOI per game 2:14 2:01 Hunwick
Power Play TOI per game 1:57 2:11 Holøs
Shots 29 (0.72 per game avg) 20 (0.80 per game avg) Holøs
Give Aways 14 (0.67 per game avg) 6 (0.38 per game avg) Holøs
Take Aways 7 (0.33 per game avg) 3 (0.19 per game avg) Hunwick
Games with positive +/- 4 (0.19 avg) 6 (0.38 avg) Holøs
Games with negative +/- 12 (0.57 avg) 3 (0.19 avg) Holøs
Games won when on the roster 9 (0.43 avg) 8 (0.50 avg) Holøs

Based on the raw data, Holøs is better in 11 main areas of on-ice performance to Hunwick’s 4. Interestingly, Holøs is better than Hunwick in all offensive areas except even strength points, which is even. In fact, for a puck moving defenseman, you would think Hunwick would see more time on the power play and have more shots on net. However, Holøs beats him in both those areas. An important stat in which Hunwick is better is in the area of take aways. He is out-performing Holøs nearly 2-to-1, a troublesome figure. However, looking at the rest of the data, it’s clear Holøs has been the better player for the Avalanche this season. In fact, the most obvious support for this is that his +/- is so grossly superior to Hunwick's.

It’s a known fact that coaches and GMs look at this kind of data when evaluating their players. It’s disconcerting that, in the face of it, Matt Hunwick continues to play and does so at the cost of Jonas Holøs . Greg Mauldin once said, "(The NHL) is a league of 'what have you done for me lately?'" It’s a place where, if you don’t play your best, you’re not going to stick around very long. No one can really say what’s going on in Sacco’s head, nor why he is choosing one player over another despite the glaring differences in quality of play. Perhaps, then, there’s only one thing left to say:

Hunwick, what have you done for us lately?