July 23 2014 12:09PM
In the bizarro-season that was, a common theme was the refusal by Claude Noel to ice a 'common-sense' lineup. This was evident everywhere, including on the blue line where Bogosian started the year on his off-side even before the blender was turned on. By the end of the year, Mark Stuart was playing over 20 minutes a game in a defined top-4 role under Maurice, Byfuglien was playing the wing, and a handful of would-be Jets defenders were injured, absent, or pushed down the depth chart.
The team passed on various waiver wire defenders (Alex Urbom twice, Corey Potter, and Mike Kostka among them) while bringing in Keaton Ellerby. Adam Pardy graduated back to the NHL in an extremely limited role, and the Jets revealed their lack of depth with call-ups for Ben Chairot and Julian Melchiori while Zach Redmond played most of his year in the minors.
Despite the mess brewing in the 4 through 8 slots, on-lookers were hard pressed to focus on anything but Jacob Trouba. (After watching him in a tune-up tournament, I wrote that I didn't think he was ready. I mention that as often as possible because I obviously deserve the public shaming.) His breakout rookie campaign was perhaps a tad more exciting than effective, but the kid showed he belongs beyond a doubt.
With the biggest minutes contributor and the team's top right handed defender moved to forward, Trouba will be an even more integral part of the Jets' fortunes this year. With some questionable moves over the past two seasons, Trouba doesn't have a lot of help either. The team is still waiting for Bogosian to live up to his potential, and now they need him to live up to his contract as well. On the left side, the team needs an Enstrom clone - frustratingly, Grant Clitsome didn't do much to suggest he's up to the task during an injury-filled season.
The primary questions we ask ourselves in this series are how many goals we can expect and how the depth chart measures up to the rest of the Division.
The Depth Chart
Enstrom is the team's undisputed top defender. His decision making is exceptional. There isn't anything to dislike about the way this man plays hockey. Still, last year was his first as the team's tough minutes eater and his scoring suffered. Typically a 50 point player, Enstrom had his first healthy season of the last three and only managed 31 points (of which only 17 were at even strength). You might also notice above that he took more penalties relative to years past. Enstrom was the only Jets defender to play all 82 games. In fact, the only one to play more than 70 from the blue line. But if we were looking for the 'Ron Hainsey' effect, this is it.
Expected goals: 9. We can see his percentages jumped a little last year, and his shots decreased as his assignment got harder. Still, the team will be using him extensively on the powerplay where he made most of his hay last year.
After Enstrom and Byfuglien, the Jets used a cluster of players against the second toughs. Bogosian played stretches with Trouba with a relatively easier assignment and visibly excelled. He also played some tough games with Enstrom on the back half of the year and we can see it in his totals. A prominent penalty problem, another injury filled season (making that 6 for 6 as a pro), and limited scoring were the most obvious problems. He's never lived up the hype from 2009 when he scored 10 goals as a Sophomore. Now 24, the team has put him in a position to be a top pairing defender for lack of better options.
Expected goals: 3. He has every ability to score more (and he continues to get more than 6 shots per hour), but injury and assignment will limit his output again this year.
The wunderkind made an emotional impact on the fanbase on October 1 when he fired a knuckler past Dubnyk in the 3rd from outside the blue line. He arrived in a big way in his rookie season, carrying Mark Stuart through games and getting scoring chances from the goal line on the rush after laying his check out at the other end. An ugly neck sprain cost him some games. He was already trying to do a lot in year one, and a sophomore slump wouldn't be out of the question on that basis alone. The team hasn't exactly surrounded him with veteran support.
Expected goals: 9. His shooting percentage was high, but I'm giving the kid another 10 games played.
It wasn't long ago that Mark Stuart was further down the depth chart. The team seems to feel that since being paired with Trouba, Stuart has taken a step forward. In reality, as I examined earlier, last year was literally the best season of Mark Stuart's career. Sadly for us, players almost never become genuinely better in the middle of January of their 30 year old season. And honestly, even his best wasn't exactly amazing. He spent most of it in his own end and was a frequent target for abuse from this writer. He was protected by Ron Hainsey, and now he is Ron Hainsey. Get out your pitchforks.
Expected goals: 2.
Clitsome, meanwhile, was a serviceable player when paired with Dustin Byfuglien two seasons ago but never found a rhythm upon returning from injury early in the year, only to lose the majority of his season to a second injury. He was a waiver addition and even in his very brief 'peak,' he was a limited tools defender with questions about his defensive zone play.
Expected goals: 4.
Postma hasn't been able to force his way onto a shallow defence group in past seasons and has suffered significant injury troubles. Zach Redmond passed Postma on the depth chart during the lockout year, but it was Postma that was given the two year contract. This season, the spot has been all but handed to him for lack of other options. This is his showcase season, but unless we see significant improvements in his defensive work, it's likely his last.
Expected goals: 2. He needs PP time to get goals, and there is a lineup for that party.
(Together, this pairing shall be nicknamed Gap Tours. I expect opposing forwards to get a thrilling and detailed tour of the offensive zone while Clitsome and Postma are on the ice, and it will be thanks to their relative inability to manage the neutral zone, or 'gap' in defensive transition.)
Last season, amid injuries and position changes, the bottom pairing of reclamation project Pardy and waiver wire addition Keaton Ellerby was one of the best third pairings the Jets have seen in their limited history. They got offensive zone starts and easy competition, but they hit people and moved the puck efficiently. They even broke up the cycle and did some shooting. Analytics people knew that Ellerby was driving the bus, as Pardy was given easier minutes than even the rookie call-ups. As well, it was Ellerby who played both sides - a unique skill for a 7th defender. The team let go of Ellerby, however, and brought back Pardy. He's already fallen off poor versions of the Flames, Stars, and Sabres. Expect the same in Winnipeg. This isn't a reasonable veteran option and is quite frankly a mystifying re-signing by the Jets.
Expected goals: 0
Brendan Kichton (Rookie)
Kichton had a thrilling season for the IceCaps: 48 points as a new pro, named to the All Rookie team, led scoring among rookie defenders, appeared in the Calder Cup, and generally made Garth Snow look a little foolish for low-balling him on his ELC. All that for a 5th rounder re-drafted in the 7th. He's already beaten his draft bet by a wide margin before stepping into the NHL game. He also appears to be the team's best call-up option after Redmond moved onto Colorado and Melchiori and Chairot gave extremely poor showings last season. The Jets are not a team that tends to promote their best - instead choosing players by role typically - but if they do, that's Kichton. With extended playing time and some powerplay minutes, Kichton could kick out the jams on the goals-for expectations.
Expected goals: 0
Together, I've given this defence group 29 goals. Obviously, Byfuglien will score a number from the backend on the PP, but we've counted his goals in RW. A year ago, the Jets defence group scored 31, and Byfuglien another 20 himself. My slight step back comes from losing Ellerby (a heavy shooter) and assuming tougher minutes for all the defenders due to the loss of Buf.
The main question on this group is health. We can fret about the forwards being injured because of the lack of depth (and I have!), but NHL defenders get hurt every year from every team. As well, the Jets are employing 7 defenders with recent injury problems. It's a safe bet these players miss time.
Julian Melchiori and Ben Chairot were extremely poor in their respective one-game debuts. It's possible Morrissey makes the team out of camp, or that the team adds some bodies before October. If not, Pavelec is going to have a lot of people to point blame at in his post-game interviews.
Around the Division
Chicago: Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Leddy, Oduya, Roszival, Rundblad
Dallas: Goligoski, Dillon, Daley, Gonchar, Benn, Connauton, Oleksiak
Minnesota: Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon, Scandella, Ballard, Blum, Prosser
Nashville: Weber, Jones, Josi, Ekholm, Volchenkov, Ellis, Bartley
St Louis: Pietrangelo, Bouwmesster, Shattenkirk, Jackman, Gunnarsson, Leopold, Cole
Uhh... yeah. The Jets aren't in good shape. Minnesota has a suspect bottom-3, but with world's more experience and success than the Jets' bottom group. Dallas lacks a right handed shot, but their group can really skate and manage the flow of the game. Nashville has a lesser known group, but it's quite impressive and like Minnesota, the presence of a 25+ minute defender makes a big difference. Chicago and St Louis are obvious the gold standards in this Divisional breakdown.
There is still help available. Michael Del Zotto is waiting for a job and is just one season removed from being considered a high-end prospect. He's still just 24 and a solid bet to compete for a spot on the left side.
Joni Pitkanen is coming back from a brutal heel injury, but at just 30 years old, might still have a few years of high-level play left. (Apparently he still can't skate!) Without added bodies, it seems obvious the Jets will be scraping the IceCaps barrel for someone to hang a jersey on this winter.