Adam Clendening is not a name that you'd ever consider among the NHL's most underrated players. You definitely wouldn’t consider his name among the most important free-agency signings, nor among the best defensemen in the NHL either.
For the Arizona Coyotes, though, his free-agent signing on the first day of the Free Agent Frenzy was an under-the-radar pickup that could be looked back upon as one of the cleverest of the free-agency period.
But who is Adam Clendening?
Clendening is a 6 foot, 196lb, right-shot defenseman from the town of Niagara Falls, NY. He's something of a rarity in the league, in that at the age of 24 he's already on his seventh NHL team in Arizona. His NHL resumé reads like that of a long-time veteran.
Drafted by Chicago Blackhawks
Traded from Chicago to Vancouver Canucks
Traded from Vancouver to Pittsburgh Penguins
Traded from Pittsburgh to Anaheim Ducks
Waived by Anaheim, claimed by Edmonton Oilers
Signed as FA by New York Rangers
Signed as FA by Arizona
All of this has happened in the space of six years, with a total of 81 NHL games played during that time.
Normally, when a player is moved between seven teams in six years, he's the very definition of a "fringe" NHLer. Clendening, though, is a much rarer case: a very good player still looking for his "ideal" home. In Chicago, he was unlucky enough to be brought into a defense at the peak of its powers and was squeezed out more by depth and coaches not giving him a chance to show what he could do than anything else. In Anaheim, he never even got the chance to play a game for the organization before being waived.
So why should Arizona be so excited?
Essentially, because they're getting exactly the type of defenseman the modern NHL needs. He's a smooth-skating, positionally responsible NHL defenseman who is able to strongly contribute at both ends of the ice, when given the ice time. As shown in his four years at Boston University and perhaps, most notably, in his years with Rockford in the AHL, he contributed 105 points from the blueline in his first two AHL seasons before making the step up.
It's difficult to find many NHL highlights from his 81 games in the NHL, but a measure of his ability can be seen from these (three seasons old) highlights from his breakthrough AHL-to-NHL year, which show evidence of his very useful shot, skating, and passing ability:
More importantly, perhaps, is what can be gained by looking at his playing statistics and analysis of "fancy stats". Here is a comparison of Clendening against the "archetype" template for a top-4 defenseman in the NHL:
What can be gleaned from these stats is this: while Clendening has traditionally received hardly any ice time (less than half that of an average top-four D) he's still performing at a top-4 level in all areas apart from playmaking, which isn't really his role anyway.
The implications of this are both simple and staggering in terms of their value-for-money implications and those they have for the implications of data analysis of a player evaluation tool.
Essentially, what the Coyotes have managed to achieve with the signing of Adam Clendening is obtaining a 24-year-old, top-4 defenseman for a cap hit of less than $700,000. That's insane value for money.
More to the point, they've managed to do it from right under the noses of 30 other NHL teams, 6 of whom already had the chance to evaluate Clendening and missed his potential.
Speaking of value for money, let's compare Clendening against a player that "traditional" hockey thought has been saying is more than worth the money they're being paid. That player is Kris Russell, who just received a $4 million/year contract in EDM for the next 4 years and is six years older than Clendening. So, logically, with a contract four times as lucrative and the NHL media telling us he's an "elite" top four defenseman, this is the level Clendening should be aspiring to, right?
Don't forget, EDM is one of the teams who rejected Clendening and his $650k contract, too.
What that chart shows is that Clendening is equal in goalscoring and better at both attacking and defending - in every category except the amount of time on the ice - than what NHL conventional wisdom says was arguably the "top" FA defenseman last year and one paid 4 times more than he is. Considerably so. For just over an eighth of the money.
This signing, assuming it works out, could be one of the most important FA pickups any NHL team will make this offseason in a lean FA market. It's an excellent example of John Chayka's talent for finding diamonds in the rough, and it makes the Coyotes better.
Welcome, Adam. Everyone in Arizona should be excited to see you on board.