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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the Edmonton Oilers to move on from good soldier Matt Hendricks

2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 23 LW Matt Hendricks

Matt Hendricks is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it seems likely that his NHL playing days will come to an end when his current contract expires on July 1. If that happens, he’ll be able to look back at an incredible career which started in the ECHL and ended only after more than 500 games at hockey’s highest level.

A sizable portion of that career was spent with the Edmonton Oilers. Hendricks has played 214 games in an Oilers uniform, including 42 this past season.

Forty-two is a telling number. In addition to being the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything, it’s the lowest number of games played by Hendricks since 2008-09, when he first found his way into an NHL uniform. None of those 42 games came in the postseason, where Hendricks was replaced by Anton Slepyshev, the bigger, faster Russian winger 13 years his junior.

In addition to hitting a low point in games played, Hendricks saw his nightly ice time fall as well. He averaged 10:45 per game this year, more than two minutes less per night than he played in 2015-16. Additionally, his coach used him less as the year went on; after averaging 18 shifts per game in the early season, Hendricks was down to just over 15 shifts on average by the end of the year.

This decline in usage reflects an erosion of the player’s skills.

Offence isn’t the issue; Hendricks has never really contributed much in that department during his time in Edmonton. In fact, he took more shots/hour than he did in 2015-16 and (thanks to secondary assists) actually posted his best annual 5-on-5 points/hour rate of his time with the Oilers.

The decline in Hendricks game shows up elsewhere. He had the worst on-ice goals number of any Edmonton penalty killer this year, and while that number should be taken with a massive helping of salt, a review of the video of those goals is not comforting, showing a lack of mobility despite an intelligent positional game. This becomes particular noticeable when he’s responsible for challenging the opposition point men, as he was on goals by Sebastian Aho and Martin Hanzal. Rather than push, he’s content to collapse.

Hendricks’ linemates mostly did better without him at even-strength, too. His two most common collaborators were Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian, and the Oilers’ hourly puck possession results diverged markedly for that line with and without Hendricks:

  • With Hendricks: 46 shot attempts for, 53 shot attempts against (-7/hour)
  • Without Hendricks: 51 shot attempts for, 50 shot attempts against (+1/hour)

That’s an eight-shot swing every hour for Edmonton’s fourth line, and a clear indication that the unit was more effective with younger legs (Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, Tyler Pitlick, even Anton Lander) in the left wing slot than it was with Hendricks there.

None of this is a big surprise. NHL depth players fall out of the league all the time; most of them don’t stick around much past their 30th birthday. Hendricks turns 36 this June, and has had an unbelievable career for a player who never quite managed to hit the point-per-game mark in college, the ECHL or the AHL. Maybe he’ll beat the odds and sign another major-league contract, but even if he doesn’t it’s been a fantastic career.

Bottom line: You’re unlikely to hear a bad word about Matt Hendricks in Edmonton, but time catches up to everyone eventually.

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