Early Returns: Defence

Kevin McCartney
October 19 2013 03:04AM

"Seriously, Mark?"

Up and down, up and down. The Jets have completed just a tenth of their schedule, sitting 4-4-0, and I'm already exhausted.

On Thursday we looked at how Claude Noel is deploying his forwards and the success they're having with their assignments. Today we turn to the defence group. 

We only have so many ways to evaluate coaches, and one of them is how they use their players. We'll look at another player usage chart, and the hope is to see both the success of indivduals and pairings as well as the success of Claude Noel in putting his players in a position to succeed and responding to their performance on the ice. 

Defence Usage

Just as on Thursday, we'll look at a player usage chart from Ninja Greg (original here). Again, we're looking at Corsi on per 60 minutes and relative quality of competition. You can see the reasons in the post from Thursday linked above, but it comes down to how the small sample size plays with our figures. 

 

The chart is pretty easy to read, honestly. Each bubble is a player. Blue bubbles are positive corsi (good), orange is negative (bad), larger bubble means bigger number. Higher the bubble is on the chart, the harder the competition they face. The further left the bubble is, the more often their shifts start in the defensive end. For example, Jacob Trouba is facing relatively soft competition with middle of the pack zone starts and has 13 more shot attempts against than for per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time.

The stats are dead simple too: Corsi-on is just like plus minus but for shot attempts (on net, missed, or blocked). In this case, we've normalized for ice-time by expressing that number as per 60 minutes of five on five ice time. Relative QualComp is just how good the opposition is as judged by their corsi success, relative to their teammates. And zone starts is how often a shift starts with an offensive zone faceoff versus a defensive zone faceoff. Changing on the fly and neutral zone faceoffs are taken out to see how the coach is using a player.

Analysis

Let's start with Postma: his bubble is a bit of a fiction of his very small sample. He's not facing tougher competition than all the other Jets' defenders (including his partner), but he is getting shelled a little harder in few minutes.

The range of quality of comp is small in this group, meaning the Jets aren't matching defencemen against specific lines. That said, the coach clearly is using zone starts intentionally, and you can see that his best offensive defencemen and the two top scoring players on the team are being put out in an up-hill battle more often then any of the other Jets' defenders. 

They are also very close to Stuart in quality of competition, and the three of them are being used to shelter Trouba, Clitsome, and Bogosian just slightly. Enstrom and Byfuglien are the only positive corsi players and they're doing it from the toughest assignment on the team. Their +5 and +6 respectively are not terribly impressive until you compare it to Bogosian's -11, which is third best. And you might have noticed he's doing it with a 18% zone start advantage. 

Clitsome is not the problem he appears to be on this chart (though this chart isn't measuring turnovers, so there's still room for criticism). Two of his games were the Anaheim and Minnesota games where everyone's raw corsi was abysmal. His RelCorsi (corsi on minus corsi off) is actually pretty reasonable at just -4 in those two games. He has his problems, but outrageous shot counts against are not truly a problem unique to him.

A few notes on Trouba and Bogosian. First, they are wildly better together than apart. WoWY numbers point to ~15% increase in corsi % when together instead of apart. They gotfrom 7 out of every 11 shot attempt going against the Jets when on the ice separately, to a little better than breaking even when on together. So these bubble only tell a partial story. Still, it's hard to see how Trouba and Bogosian is an upgrade on Hainsey and Bogosian so far. The team badly misses a tough minutes pairing, with their lesser defencemen struggling in the face of just medium opposition. They need sheltering, but Trouba and Bogosian can't offer it as a pair. Still, it is nice to know that they can hold their own when together.

Serious Problems

There are a few serious problems, and they are not dissimilar in nature to those seen in the forward group.

  1. Mark Stuart is a problem all to himself. At -19 corsi on, and -17 relative corsi (corsi on minus corsi off), he's a personal disaster. Worse - the team is trying to use him to shelter others. The experiment can't last if the team wants to win, as his personal corsi % is 3rd worst among defencemen in the entire NHL. He drags people down around him, and stabs at pucks like he's armed with a rapier. 
  2. Depth defenders. Goodness. Paul Postma is a disaster. Stuart is worth mentioning a second time. Clitsome is not as bad as he looks here, but his turnovers are a problem and there is no one to help him because the team has two excellent defencemen who are better together than apart, Bogosian who has never been a positive corsi player despte a wide range of skills, and a rookie who we all think can be really great some day. And somehow after that the talent falls off a cliff.
  3. There is a tough-minutes defender missing. Ron Hainsey wasn't the guy for the job, obviously. But he did the job better than anyone the Jets currently have. Without someone to take those tough minutes, the team is wasting offesive zone starts on players with less offence than Enstrom/Buff, and failing to shelter those who need it - which is everyone else.

Early Returns

Claue Noel is clearly aware of the problem he faces. He's sheltering Trouba slightly, giving Bogosian and Clitsome advantageous zone starts, and using his best defenders in the toughest spot. But that's hardly playing those players to their strengths. 

Meanwhile, Mark Stuart and Postma are making a mockery of NHL defending, and the team is showing a need for a defender (or two) who can play above Trouba/Bogo in the lineup, take the poor zone starts and tough competition, and give Enstrom and Buff more scoring opportunity. The team just doesn't have that player right now. It's hard to blame Noel for that. 

Due to injury in St Louis, the team ended up playing two periods with 5 defencemen and an entire period with just 4 defenders - Enstrom/Buff, Clitsome/Bogo. This team isn't bad when their top 4 plays 27-30 minutes. Once again, depth is the issue. 

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Kevin is the Managing Editor of Jets Nation. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, The Sporting News, and around the Nations Network. An enthusiastic over-analyst, his background and interests are diverse, but you might notice he's obsessed with hockey. Track him down on twitter @kevinmccart or @nhljetsnation
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