When the Detroit Red Wings signed Riley Sheahan to a two-year, $4.15 million dollar contract last offseason, they did not expect him to go scoreless for more than a quarter of it. But after 53 games this year, Sheahan has failed to score a goal and only recorded eight assists.
Riley Sheahan Still Searching For His First Goal Of The Season
Despite this lack of offense, Sheahan has been playing an average of 14:27 minutes per game, which is only 13 seconds less than Thomas Vanek (who leads the team in points per 60 minutes, and primary points per 60) and 1:56 more than Andreas Athanasiou (who leads the team in goals per 60). If this sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Sheahan seems to have captured the trust and belief of the Red Wings coaching staff. They have been giving him every opportunity to light the lamp. At this point, though, more than halfway through the season, it’s detrimental.
Sheahan’s Time On Ice Is A Mystery
Comparing Sheahan and Athanasiou’s individual stats yields some astounding results. Athanasiou’s on-ice Corsi-for percentage is 48.62%. Sheahan’s is 45.49%. Athanasiou’s individual shot attempts per 60 is 17.75. Sheahan’s is 10.71. Athanasiou has 2.43 points per 60 and 2.15 primary points per 60. Sheahan has 0.70 and 0.30 respectively. And Sheahan’s time on ice per 60 minutes is 11.52 while Athanasiou’s is only 10.75.
The fact that Sheahan is stealing ice time from someone who is producing points at more than three times the rate is unforgivable. Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill is notoriously hard on his young players. He frequently critiques their backchecking and lack of motivation.
Earlier in the season, Athanasiou received a wake up call in the form of being a healthy scratch. The tactic worked as the speedy winger returned full of fire and ready to produce, netting nine goals and 12 points in the 18 games since the incident. Only three games later, Blashill tried the same technique with Sheahan, scratching him for an away game against the Dallas Stars. Unfortunately, it did not yield the same results. Sheahan has only recorded two assists and registered 12 shots on goal in the 13 games since he was scratched.
Sheahan Needs His Teammates, But They Don’t Need Him
So if Sheahan’s individual stats for the season are this bad, surely his generous amount of ice time is due to him propping his teammates up. Unfortunately, this is not the case either. Most players that Sheahan has recorded more than 30 minutes of 5v5 playing time with perform better without him. Nearly every forward included in this chart has a higher 5v5 on-ice Corsi-for percentage when they play without Sheahan than when they play with him. There are two exceptions to this in Luke Glendening and Dylan Larkin.
In a January 7 interview with Ansar Khan at MLive, Blashill shed a little light on his favorable treatment of Sheahan. He explains that he likes Sheahan’s compete level and net-front presence:
“We make decisions to maybe healthy scratch somebody based on process. That’s defensive process, that’s battle level, that’s compete level, that’s effort level. Just because the puck hasn’t gone in for him this year, it’s unfortunate, but I think his game lately has been good, to be honest with you. He’s doing lots of things that help us.”
He goes on to explain that Sheahan is “a natural net presence guy” and is good at getting himself and pucks to the net. Blashill’s right in his thinking that net-front players are valuable and every team needs one, but Sheahan has only recorded 14 shots in the 14 games played since the date of that interview. That’s third-worst among team forwards.
So Sheahan does not have good individual stats and he holds his teammates back when he plays with them. What other reason could Blashill and his staff have for playing him to this extent?
Sheahan Benefits From Team Loyalty
This team has always rewarded hard work and loyalty. The Red Wings drafted Sheahan in 2010 and he came up through the Red Wings system. This is the “Red Wing Way.” They stay away from the trade market and they cultivate their own talent in their farm system. Then, when they feel they are ready, they award their prospects the honour of putting on the Winged Wheel.
With the way the Red Wings have played the last couple of seasons, it’s easy to forget how prestigious playing for this team is. No doubt that in Grand Rapids and through training and prospect camps, management drills the idea into the heads of these kids that if they work hard and respect the logo on the front of their sweater, they will get their chance on the big stage.
For the most part, team management holds up their end of the deal. The loyalty that this team shows to its players is unlike any other in professional sports. The amount of faith and value that is placed in players such as Luke Glendening and Justin Abdelkader is indicative of their commitment to their players, no matter how good at playing hockey they are.
Don’t get me wrong – Sheahan is not a bad hockey player. He was, after all, a first round pick and has been an active contributor to the team’s offense in previous seasons. But he’s snake bitten this year. His on-ice goal differential is atrocious. His Corsi rating is among the lowest on the team and in the league and his shooting is lagging, which is especially disappointing for someone who has done this to Carey Price.
IT’S ALL MENTAL
When a player’s slump gets to be this bad, it’s all mental. Sheahan is in his own head, the media reports are getting to him, and he’s sick of his teammates telling him that tonight is the night. He is very aware that he hasn’t scored a goal yet this season. Thinking about it every time he steps on to the ice means that his head isn’t in the game and focused on winning for his team.
Rising above this isn’t a matter of his coach giving him more ice time to get him going. This is where Blashill is showing his inexperience. While it’s nice to have your coach’s confidence, Sheahan’s problem is that he doesn’t even have his own confidence. He needs for someone to sit down with him and work on helping him trust himself, finding his focus, and letting go of the pressure. It starts with brutal honesty. Then, he can start to work on the parts of his game that need it. This takes dedication and a lot of hard work. The truly great players live and breathe this game, logging extra hours on and off the ice until it comes to them naturally.
But Sheahan just looks and feels defeated.
The Red Wing Way
They should ban this type of attitude and demeanor from the locker room. The Red Wings do not admit defeat. They are not losers. They may not always win, but they show up and play their hearts out. There’s a quote in the tunnel to the locker room in Joe Louis Arena that reads, “Greatness is a Daily Choice,” and before that, it was “To Whom Much is Given, Much is Expected.” Coaches expect Sheahan to be a big net front presence. They expect him to win puck battles in the corner and pull his weight defensively. But they should also expect him to score goals and contribute to the team’s offense. Maybe the coaching staff and his teammates need to raise their expectations of him, because this team is expected to score goals and be competitive. They are expected to win. That’s the Red Wing Way.
The Red Wings have given him a lot and it’s long past time for him to hold up his end of the bargain.