With the NHL trade deadline approaching and plenty of rumors buzzing around, no Pittsburgh Penguin has been subject to more trade rumors this season than veteran blue liner Ian Cole.
The 28 year-old defenseman is on the final year of his contract and is one of the best pieces the Penguins have available to trade to improve the team due to their strength with left-handed defenseman. Cole, who joined the Penguins in 2015 in a trade with the St. Louis Blues, was a part of two straight Stanley Cup wins. After losing many key players last summer, trade talk regarding Cole has got people talking a lot about how much he’s contributed to this team.
Ian Cole was a member of a ‘rag tag’ defensive core in the 2016-17 Stanley Cup playoffs. When people talk about the importance of Cole on this team, they point to this stint of games. Ian Cole averaged 18:50 (15:47 at 5v5) of ice time in 25 playoff games – he was sixth in terms of TOI for defenseman. He managed to get 9 assists (all at even strength), which was good for second in terms of defenseman scoring.
It does not sound too bad until you take a bit of a deeper look at Ian Cole as a defenseman at 5v5. Cole had 49% of his starts take place in the offensive zone – only Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley had a higher rate of offensive zone starts for regular starting defenseman. Despite this favorable deployment, Ian Cole let up the highest amount of high danger chances against per 60 with 11.55 and had a team leading 1.82 high danger goals against per 60. Cole was considered one of the Penguins’ top defenders in the playoffs, but he really let up a lot of good scoring chances by the opponents.
Taking a look at Ian Cole’s 2017-2018 campaign has been more of the same.
Cole has averaged 17:33 (14:32 at 5v5) of ice time as of today. Only Chad Ruhwedel (the Penguins 8th defenseman) plays less time on average. He has 7 points so far, including 2 goals, putting him 4th on the team for defenseman scoring. Ever the persistent glutton for pain though, Ian Cole leads the team with 75 blocked shots. His ‘warrior’ status definitely is not earned without sacrifice – Cole took a brutal shot from Nashville defenseman Roman Josi earlier this season.
Getting down to the advanced metrics, Ian Cole is still where he was in the playoffs. He’s still at 49% offensive zone starts. Only Schultz has more high danger chances against per 60 – Cole is sitting at 13.3 for the year so far. He also has the second highest high danger goals against per 60 with 1.83, only trailing Jamie Oleksiak.
What does this mean regarding Ian Cole?
It means despite some believing him to be a top 4 defenseman, that just is not the case. Cole is a good role player – someone you want in the locker room, on the bench and on the team. But he is not an irreplaceable player on a contending team’s NHL roster.
The numbers indicate that Ian Cole is a bottom pairing guy capable of putting up a respectable point total, blocking shots, killing penalties and playing bottom pairing minutes. Moving him to improve forward depth would not be the end of the world – Schultz could benefit from less time with Cole and more time withOlli Maatta and the statistics show Matt Hunwick, Ruhwedel and Oleksiak can fill the hole left by an Ian Cole departure.