SWOTing the Jets Defense: The Big Buff Theory

MC Hockey
October 03 2011 11:04AM

 

 
In a series of 3 articles, I will undertake a SWOT analysis on the Winnipeg Jets players. SWOT is a process utilized in business which entails an analysis of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of an organization or project. It is typically done to plan for the future activities and hopefully for success. So let's get it started noting that most statistics below come from either the official NHL website for the regular stuff (goals, assists, plus minus) while advanced statistics (you will know when you see them) come from www.behindthenet.ca unless noted:

Strengths

1. Offensive Prowess from the Back-End:
 
No silly male joke here, it is just obvious that having Tobias Enstrom and Dustin (Big Buff) Byfuglien on the Jets squad will help in goal-scoring with those men scoring 51 and 53 points respectively last year. Also, smooth-skating young Zach Bogosian has not-fully-tapped potential while Ron Hainsey has enjoyed 30 point seasons 3 times in the past and thus can still contribute. Further, Byfuglien had an amazing On-Ice Corsi number of 10.54 and Hainsey's was a respectable 2.25 meaning a lot more possession and scoring chances happen for their team versus against their team when those players are on ice. This is because a highly-positive Corsi number basically means that the number of shots going in/toward/near the opposing team's net are far greater than the same number going towards your own net.
 
2. Age and Size:
 
Using the Winnipeg Jets own website and viewing depth chart and roster, the average age of the top 6 defensemen is a relatively youthful 28.2 while the size is impressive at average of about 6 foot 2 (73.8 inches to be exact) and 212 lbs - that is if you believe Big Buff is only 265 lbs. Regardless, what these measures could mean is that hopefully young legs led by 21 year old Bogosian can mean outskating other team's players to the loose pucks and have more stamina for the long season. Meanwhile good size cannot hurt in the intimidation factor (I'm scared just looking at Dustin Byfuglien in the newspaper) and more vitally, having the size to rub out or effectively bodycheck the opposing players theoretically allows a team to prevent scoring chances and turn over the puck.

Weaknesses

1. Defensive-minded Play:
 
An aggregate minus 41 on the 2010-11 regular plus-minus scale does not bode well and it thus baffles the Jets lauding the fact they have "six returning veteran defensemen" but forgetting they were "terrible in goals against last year with those same guys". And if you use the more useful advanced statistic of On-Ice Team Plus-Minus (for players with 30+ games in 2010-11), even the top Jets D-man, the offensive-possession-driving Mr. Byfuglien only ranks 66th in the entire NHL at 0.28 behind such top stars as Clayton (I'm Not A) Stoner, Matt (Not Sure) Smaby, and even the amazing Ben (The Reverand) Lovejoy . So yes (!), the team does have 6 returning veterans but can new assistant coach Charlie Huddy turn defensive-lapsers like Enstrom, Johnny Oduya, and Bogosian into the Montreal Canadiens defense of the late 1970s.... or just a shadow of himself when he played? I bet Larry Robinson would have something to say about this...
 
2. Expensive For What They Bring:
 
While you can arguably say Big Buff is a superstar with some strong defensemen behind him, the Jets top 2 defenseman do not compare in stature to a tandem of Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen in Philadelphia or Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty in Los Angeles. Those two pairs happen to be the only two teams more expensive than the Jets in terms of average salary for defenseman signed to one-way contracts - this according to capgeek.com. So while a GM likes defenseman with greater-than-normal ability to drive possession and offense, you also need dough left over for paying top forwards and goalies, right? This is where the imbalance is seen in terms of spending on players...too much money on the defense as 43.8% of the salary dollars paid is being used on 7 defensemen which make up only 30.4% of the 23-man roster. Perhaps bringing in another strong forward or even a better experienced goaltender would allow the Jets to w a better distribution of dollars and presumably talent, and thus ultimately improve the team's overall play.

Opportunities

1. Improve on Defensive Play:
 
While this same item is also in the weakness category, getting better defensively can actually happen if Mr. Huddy's teachings stick and the team adopts something like the Calgary Flames mentality of "good defense leads to turnovers which leads to scoring chances". But, again this will be a difficult task given the preferred up-tempo style of play of this mix of defenseman and the fact they handily finished 29th in Goals Against in 2010-11. Perhaps the lesson wilk be realized over time that allowing 2 or less goals means the pressure to score so many is reduced.
 
2. The Newness Effect:
 
In various hockey-related TV and radio programs, the theory has been discussed and lightly proven that teams who move cities have a better first year in terms of standings performance in the new city versus the last year in the old city. Given Atlanta's performance of 12th place in the Eastern Conference you can't quite say there is nowhere to go but up, however, the anticipated vociferous fanbase may "rocket them" to an improvement  (notice the flight analogy for a team called Jets). Also, the effect of players new to the team such as Eric Fehr (via trade), Tanner Glass (via free agency), and hopefully the retention of young scoring stud Mark Schiefele (1st round draft choice) may be positive in that their energy, possible chemistry with teammates, and desire to prove themselves may see the Jets fly higher (woah....cool....another flight analogy). 

Threats

1. Travel schedule:
 
In 2011-12, we already know the Jets are playing in the SouthEast division as Gary Bettman decided realignment on short notice would be confusing if the old Jets (of the Arizona desert) need to be moving East after this year and it may not be good for his "Eastern-bloc" owners if Columbus instead of Detroit moves to the Eastern Conference. Whoops, sorry, I meant to say is that Team Gary thought it was difficult to change things and prudent to wait and see how the first year goes for the Jets....yah that's it! Anyways, the point is the Jets will travel more than anyone this season just to play their divisional games, meaning less practice time and fewer hours of rest. This cannot help but affect the team's play so hopefully the relatively young team understands the value of rest and laying off the booze on quick turnarounds between games. In other words, let's hope the Big Buff Theory (calmly smoking your downers vs. crazily drinking them) applies here.
 
2. Buffing it Away (?):
 
With a court date in a few weeks, Jets fans hope that the initial court proceedings regarding the Minnesota boating adventures of Big Buff will be ably handled by his lawyer who will likely represent his client alone and simply ask for a court date in the future - as in after the end of the season. So that the problem magically but temporarily disappears like that key scratch on your Corvette you had buffed out. Given that sports personalities often get preferential treatment or the ability to use their fame to do good penance such as speak to kids about the dangers of (fill in the blanks that I did but you should NEVER EVER do), Mr. Byfuglien may be OK to continue his hockey season. However, the idea that a judge in Minnesota, perhaps reflecting on the NFL's Vikings boating antics of years back, could punish the star defenseman and not account for the importance his NHL employment is a real threat. Scary thought that jus before Halloween the Jets could be out a top player if the judge dons his vampire teeth and acts like a Buffy-slayer (ouch, that was bad).

 

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MC Hockey (Marty Clarke) is a born-and-raised-and-educated Winnipegger. He is now a long-time Calgarian and attends many Flames games. With the triumphant Winnipeg Jets return, he will figure out how to split his loyalties over time while covering the Jets with some positive energy and critical analysis. Follow him on Twitter at Real_MC_Hockey
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