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Dante Fabbro has his flaws but isn’t a bad defenseman

The newly re-signed defenseman continues to draw the ire of fans - but is it warranted?

Nashville Predators v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Nashville Predators announced that they signed defenseman Dante Fabbro to a one-year, $2.5 million extension, which sent Predators Twitter into a frenzy and separated fans who believe he is an effective defenseman and others who think he’s a liability.

It’s been a poignant debate on the Predators' side of the internet for a while now, and considering the occasion, I figured, why not look at this and decipher it once and for all?

First, it’s important to understand that, no matter what, Fabbro has not lived up to his expectations when he first appeared in the NHL out of college in 2018-19. The hype around him revolved around his potential offensive upside, and it’s safe to say that he has not met that, having scored only 12 goals and 56 points in 232 NHL games. In 2023, he has only eight points in 59 games.

However, the real question is, is the belief that Fabbro is a bad or useless defenseman backed up by the numbers?

Well, it’s hard to tell, but my conclusion would be no. Obviously, we know the box score numbers are not there. And this season, the offensive analytics haven’t been there either. However, the defense has been some of the best on the team.

First, let’s start with his regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) chart from Evolving-Hockey.

Dante Fabbro RAPM Chart 2023 (59 Games Played)

The offense has not been good, but the defense has been excellent, with his expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) over one standard deviation, which represents about 68% of the sample. He actually ranks 28th in the entire NHL in that statistical category (even strength xGA/60).

To go into more Evolving-Hockey numbers, Fabbro’s even-strength defense goals above replacement (EVD) and expected even-strength defense goals above replacement (xEVD) rank first and third, respectively, among players on the current roster.

But let’s dive further. What about 5v5 defense when he’s on the versus when he isn’t? It’s more of the same. First are his heatmaps for the Predators’ 5v5 defense when he’s on the ice.

NSH 5v5 Defense with Fabbro (59 Games)
HockeyViz/Micah McCurdy

And here’s the defense when he's not on the ice.

NSH 5v5 Defense with Fabbro (59 Games)
HockeyViz/Micah McCurdy

Before going any further, for those who may not know exactly what this chart means, a number in parentheses with a plus next to it is not good, whereas a minus is. The red means that the team is giving up chances consistently from those areas, while the blue means they are not.

So, when Fabbro is on the ice in the defensive zone, there is a drastic difference in the kind of quality that the Predators are giving up. That can also be noted in the RAPM chart above. The Predators may be giving up a lot of shot attempts with him out there, but they aren’t of much danger, which is especially important.

Now, the offense could use work, but at 24 years old, I find it hard that that is going to change drastically. However, the defense is good and is of much use to John Hynes and his coaching staff. He can also move the puck well enough not to be a liability every time he’s on the ice, which is also important coming from a depth defenseman.

So why might fans consider him to be a bad defenseman, especially if they don’t look at analytics often? Well, when he does turn the puck over, the mistakes are obvious, and he can also be the recipient of some bad luck, as he’s had multiple goals go off him and into his own net this season alone.

As humans, we remember obvious mistakes more than little ones. If Fabbro turns the puck over in the middle of the ice and the other team comes in on a 2-on-1 and scores, then that is an obviously huge mistake with the worst outcome and easy to remember. However, if another defenseman were to lose a small battle along the wall and then not play the 2-on-1 correctly, that would be far less memorable.

I think that Fabbro has some major flaws. He is a strong puck mover, but he does turn the puck over, and that, combined with the lack of production, is a perfect recipe for fan backlash. However, he does provide value to the team defensively and even offensively as well in 2021-22. Fabbro had 24 points in 66 games, 8.5 goals above replacement (GAR), which was seventh on the team, and an expected goals above replacement (xGAR) of 4.3, which was ninth. So he has had a season before that, by the analytics, has been what we all expect of him.

Everyone who watches Fabbro play knows that the bad comes with the good. You’re going to get bad turnovers. At this stage of his career, it feels inevitable. However, the Predators also get a player that can move the puck well, be physical in battles and in front of the net, and, most importantly, limit high-danger chances and block shots.

So, is Fabbro as bad as some want to say he is? No. Does he come with flaws that make themselves known in very obvious ways? Yes, and fans have every right to be frustrated with them. However, he is still producing positive results most of the time despite the flaws, which is important.