I'm not sure if it's just this generation of fans and media, perhaps driven by EA Sports' NHL series dividing defensemen into offensive or defensive categories, but the average fan has no clue what they're talking about when they talk about defense.
Raphael Diaz came to Montreal from the Swiss National League A already cast as an offensive defenseman due to a relatively slight frame at 5'11" and 197lbs, with a history of good offensive production. Because of this casting, Diaz's lack of goal production over the last two seasons has seen people constantly attacking him, but here's the problem with that, he's better defensively than offensively.
In fact, he's better defensively than almost every player on the Montreal Canadiens, including the guy Marc Bergevin handed a $4.1M/year extension to before he laced up a skate this season.
Of all defenseman to play 300 or more minutes last season, Raphael Diaz ranked third in the NHL in fewest goals against every 60 minutes of play with 1.128. This season that number has risen to 1.719, but remains the best mark on the Canadiens by a significant margin.
The fact that Diaz was kept out of the lineup in favour of Douglas Murray, who is on the ice for 2.703 goals against per 60 minutes is a farce to begin with, but when you consider the difference in the minutes the two play, it's even worse.
Murray plays against the weakest competition of anyone on the Canadiens, not any defenseman, any player, and is the most zonally sheltered player on the team. In spite of this extreme level of protection, he's been outscored 25-5 on the season, and is Montreal's worst possession player.
Diaz on the other hand, has seen extremely tough deployment, with just 28.4% of his total shifts beginning in the offensive zone, playing against reasonably tough competition, and playing with awful teammates.
In fact, when given a chance to play with a good partner in Josh Gorges, the Canadiens experienced a goals for percentage of 57.1% while the two were on the ice together, and they were playing extreme tough minutes while P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov mopped up offensively.
The only time Diaz struggled this season was while paired with Douglas Murray. While the two of them together the Canadiens had a share of just 14.3% of goals scored.
According to Boucher Scouting, only Subban and Gorges had a higher defensive zone success rate than Raphael Diaz through the first 30 games this season. He was also the 3rd most successful defenseman at clearing the defensive zone after Subban and Gorges.
Every single statistic that can be found will tell you that for the last two years, Raphael Diaz has been the 4th best defenseman the Canadiens have had at their disposal. Better than Alexei Emelin, and so much better than Murray that they belong in different leagues.
Even if Marc Bergevin decided that Diaz wasn't worth retaining as an unrestricted free agent, the management of him as an asset is embarrasingly poor. Scratching him repeatedly in favour of inferior players is bush league. Any smart management team would have been playing the pants off of him in the easiest possible situations, minutes like Murray gets, and watch his value skyrocket.
Instead we see a competent second pairing defenseman traded for a fourth line grinder.
Raphael Diaz is not a world beater. He is not a top pairing defenseman either. What he is, is a puck mover who plays smart instead of physical.
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