Friday Five-Hole

Rhys Finnick
October 04 2013 03:21PM

 Photo by Chris Devers

Jets, though not from Winnipeg.

This weekly column looks to discuss a certain number of relevant Jets topics on a certain day of the week. That certain number? Five. That day of the week? Friday. Also, hole. This is the Friday Five-Hole.

"HE'S GOING TO DO THE LITTLE THINGS THAT HE NEEDS TO STAY IN THE LINE-UP."

How many times have we heard this said about an enforcer in the NHL? Variants of this cliched phrase pop up anytime an announcer or coach need to justify a player who doesn't score goals (or really do anything to stop them either). 

This version of the quote belongs to bandana-fan Kelly Hrudey, who applied it to long-time Jets enforcer Chris Thorburn after his scrap with Edmonton's Luke Gazdic this past Tuesday night. Both Hrudey and announcing partner Mark Lee made a point to stress Thorburn as a popular player in Winnipeg, listing his willingness to fight as one of the "little things" - the "intangibles", if you will - that Thorburn brings to the table. 

And Thorburn brings it. A lot. He brought it nine times in the shortened 2012-13 season. In fact, fighting seems to be the main "little thing" the 30 year old brings to the Jets line-up. Here is a visual representation of what Thorburn brought to the table last year:

Games

PIM

Fighing Maj.

Punches Thrown

Jets Record when Thorburn fights

42

70

9

77

4 - 5

 

Huh. The Jets actually win slightly less when Thorburn fights. There must be some reason the Jets keep Thorburn employed though, right? Let's take a look at Thorburn's "tangible" stats from last season (things, you know, related to scoring):

Games

Goals

Assists

Shots

TOI

42

2

2

13

265:36

 

Well, a fourth line player isn't really expected to score too much, right? It ain't called an "energy line" for nothing. They're supposed to "get out there" and "make something happen".

Sorry about all the passive-aggressive quotations marks. Let's see how those two stat lines compare to each other on a single game basis:

 

PIM

Punches Thrown

Shots

TOI

1.67

1.83

0.31

6:10

 

This gives a more accurate view of Chris Thorburn's effect on the Winnipeg Jets. Coach Noel can only trust Thorburn with a minimum amount of icetime. He takes too many penalties and is six times more likely to throw a punch than a shot. This is a calibre of player we hate on another team - a guy who spends more time looking for a partner than the puck. Chris Thorburn, Tom Sestito, Colton Orr, Mike Brown, John Scott, Jared Boll...I could go on for like a dozen more 7 point seasons.

For years, players, management, and fans alike have jumped to the defense of this type of player. It's still commonplace for somebody as experienced and knowledgable as Kelly Hrudey to spout this kind rhetoric on national television. They often have likeable, big personalities on and off the ice. It's easy to like a guy who is willing to stick up for your star player - especially if you are the star player.

But it's time to admit that we call these qualities "little" and "intangible" because the Chris Thorburn player archetype's effect on the game is diminishing. It's getting harder and harder to define how it's useful to employ a guy who can't contribute on the scoresheet. A player can do all the "little things" in the world, but if they generate one shot on net every three games, they don't belong in the NHL. 

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR; 1 GP

Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press planted his tongue firmly in cheek this week in an article claiming Jacob Trouba's impressive NHL debut on Tuesday has already earned him Calder consideration.

Nate MacKinnon aside, Trouba indeed looked very impressive in his debut. The rookie saw more ice than anybody else on the Jets Tuesday night - although fellow defender Dustin Byfuglien had 3 points to Trouba's 2 points, so it's tough to say which of them will win the Norris and/or Art Ross and Hart trophies this year.

In an unrelated note, be sure to keep checking Jets Nation this week for my next article: "Michael Frolik: Your Next Rocket Richard Winner".

COMEBACK KIDS

The Jets overcame the Oilers in their season debut this past Tuesday night in Winnipeg. Both teams showed a lot of fire all game long, but the Jets overcame a 4-3 deficit in the third after goals from Trouba and Frolik less than five minutes apart.

In today's NHL, many games are over after the second period. The prevalence of defense-first philosophy has shown that the bulk of teams taking a lead into the third period are more than willing to hunker down and play some version of the trap. It's understandable - a boring win is always better than an exciting loss. Most teams would be estatic to comeback and win two games out of ten after trailing through the first two frames. 

Over the past two seasons, nobody comes back to win less than the Jets, managing to do so only once in fifteen tries last season. There are many different ways one could try to explain this - conditioning, team attitude, a difference in systems, etc. - but something I keep coming back to in this ol' weekly column o'mine is the importance of depth players. In recent years, the Jets have had a dearth of effective bottom six forwards and not-Byfuglien-or-Enstrom defenders. Lo and behold, a rare comeback Winnipeg win was made possible by adding such players this year.

 

More Jets of the non-Winnipeg variety.

WORDS OF WISDOM 

The Jets spent the days leading up to their season opener on a team-building retreat in Banff, reports the Winnipeg Sun's Ken Wiebe. Captain Ladd and the boys allegedly had an open and honest discussion, making a verbal pact amongst each other to be more accountable for the team's success. This is good news for Jets fans, who remember a much more bleak team message coming out of last year's preseason.

Ladd summed it up by saying, “we need to be accountable to each other.” This is in stark contrast to what he said this time last year, "we don't need to be accountable to each other". Young winger Evander Kane added, "we need to play with emotion right off the hop" - the opposite of what he thought last year, "we'll get emotional when we have to." Even big man Dustin Byfuglien changed his tune this year, saying, "we’re here to win, bottom line". Byfuglien was infamously quoted last year as saying, "we're here to win, or you know, whatever".

Hopefully this isn't a bunch of idle chatter and they mean what they say this time.

MEETING TEEMU  

To end, I'd like to try something a little different this week. For all the old Jets fans out there, this is the story of the day I met Teemu Selanne.  

It was 1994 and I was eight years old.

Teemu Selanne had come to town to sign autographs and I wouldn't miss it for the world. It had only been a year since his remarkable rookie season. A season where he scored 76 goals, good for fifth all time. That was the first season I remember watching NHL hockey. I'll never forget sitting next to my Dad on that awful beige floral print couch, eating Kraft Dinner with ketchup, watching Teemu machine gun his glove out of the air after scoring his 54th goal, breaking Mike Bossy's old record.

So there I was. In the front of the line. About to meet my hero.  

To be honest, I barely remember what happened. My Dad tells me he was very nice, but for me, it was kind of like Christmas morning. Sometimes you're so excited about something, you forget to slow down and appreciate the experience. I don't really remember meeting Teemu, but I'll never forget the day I stood in line and the autograph I still have to show for it.

(For a more true version of this story, replace all that stuff about watching Teemu's rookie season with the Canucks' 1994 playoff run and Teemu himself with Gerald Diduck. I don't remember meeting him because he's Gerald Diduck, and I also don't actually have the autograph anymore.)

 

Thanks for reading!

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Rhys is an aspiring stand-up comedian and put up 29 points in 18 beer league games last year. He enjoys hockey, twitter (@Rhysus_Christ), and pretending like someone else wrote his bio for me.
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#1 Kevin McCartney
October 04 2013, 05:45PM
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You put Teemu the Great in the place of Gerald Diduck in that story?! For shame, Rhys. For shame.

Enjoyable read. Thanks Rhys.

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