(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski)
The Jets up-and-down season has frustrated attempts at clear finger pointing. Lack of scoring depth, inconsistent goaltending, very poor special teams, and some odd (and stubborn) line combinations have made it challenging to see the problem(s) very clearly. I’ve discussed Olli Jokinen as a problem here, the need for a RW here, and the problem of the fourth line the last time we looked at forward usage charts back in mid-February. Today we re-visit how the forwards are being used to see if we have any further clues about what went wrong in the forward group with a particular eye toward who should be back next year.
(Right click and ‘View Image’ to see a bigger version, or find it here. Thanks to Ninja Greg for the awesome tool!)
In this version of the chart, orange is a negative Relative Corsi, blue is positive. Size of the bubble = further away from zero. Quality of competition is on the y-axis (higher = better opponents), and zone starts are on the x-axis (further right = more starts in the offensive zone). Find full a guide on how to read the chart here (PDF warning).
The story of this chart has become more clear since February and we can start to see how Noel uses his lines shake out. Considering the lines have been fairly consistent, there are some surprising differences between supposed linemates.
- The five players who have spent the most time on hte Jets’ 4th line are the bubbles below the 0-mark of Quality of Competition. Slater has started just 30% of his shifts in the offensive zone and is used in the most defensive role of any forward by far. Cormier, on the other hand, started over 60% of his few shifts in the offensive end while facing exclusively 4th liners despite ostensibly being Slater’s replacement. Thorburn, Wright, and Tangradi fall in between with Wright’s large negative corsi sticking out as a point of frustration given his occasional promotion up the lineup.
- The top line, on the other end of things, has faced the hardest competition in what’s referred to as ‘power vs. power.’ The value of Andrew Ladd is shown very clearly here. Despite the toughest competition and roughly even zone starts, he’s a solid positive in shot advantage, and of course, the boxcar leader of the team as well. His linemates struggle slightly more at possession, but are far from the problem.
- The middle two lines are the blender of bubbles between the heros and goats. Back in February, Antropov was in roughly the same spot – tough comps with positive zone start. Only then, he had his head above water. I suspect if we looked closely, we’d find his shot advantage dip in concert with his linemates changing from a mix of Wellwood, Burmistrov, and Kane (all in the positive on a poor team deep into April) to being flanked most commonly by Wellwood and Wright.
- Olli Jokinen’s assignment has stayed consistent through the season and his shot advantage has slowly declined from even (prior to game 1) to not encouraging (every game since).
- You might have jumped to this already, but I saved it for last. What is wrong with Antti Miettinen? And why has Noel continued to use him this way?! He didn’t make the ‘Games Played’ cut off in February, but playing the 5th toughest comps among forwards to date – even with great zone starts and Kane as a linemate (which we know by eye) – he has the worst relative corsi on the team. Can we PLEASE get a new RW and put Mittens on the fourth line? It is a thoroughly failed experiment.
I can’t pin the whole season on Antti Miettinen. He’s not historically bad at hockey, or scoring on his own net. But that hole at RW has likely cost us more than we realized. The opportunity cost of lost offence was known, but I didn’t expect to see such poor possession and territory numbers from a guy I thought of as a two-way player of above-replacement-level quality.
It’s maybe no surprise, then, that the win streak has seen Wellwood slide into that #2 RW role and Miettinen move down the lineup. Wellwood isn’t a perfect player, of course, but he seems to succeed by these numbers every year, and, as many readers remember, scored 47 points a year ago (4th among Jets forwards) – a total Antti Miettien has never achieved in a single season despite playing on Minnesota’s top line for several winters.
The recent slump of the top line was well publicized during the Jets’ losing skid. I wonder if having more depth at forward – not scoring depth so much as players who can saw-off against top NHL talent – could have given Noel more options to give the top line some room. As it was, they had to continue their role as the team’s top checking line as well as top scoring line.
What about next year?
It’s clear this team needs a bundle of new forwards for next year. UFAs will be Antropov, Miettinen, Wellwood, and now Santorelli. RFAs include Wheeler, Little, Burmistrov, and Tangradi. Looking at this chart, the Jets should consider letting Miettinen walk. Wellwood continues to shine in any position on the lineup, and until the team finds some more scoring talent, Antropov is also needed despite his deficiencies. Burmistrov continues to be under-appreciated by Claude Noel and may be traded in the off-season after such rumours floated at the deadline. Looking at his possession and usage chart above, the fact that Noel doesn’t like him is a mystery. Re-signing him would seem to be a priority for a team with so many orange circles down the middle. As for Tangradi – he’s shown himself to be a better option than James Wright, though not a solution for much objectively. He likely comes back for his size if nothing else.
Sadly, the Jets are still more than one or two effective forwards away from being a dominant possession team in the Southeast, and are entering a division with teams that specialize in territorial hockey such as Chicago, Minnesota, and St Louis. In particular, the team badly needs some checking help to get the top line away from the Toews-Hossa, Koivu-Parise lines in 2014. Those aren’t power-vs-power matchups the Jets can win.