Back in February, we had a look at how the Jets defence group was being used and their success in those roles. Today we re-visit how the defence has been used to discuss their individual and collective effectiveness with a particular eye toward who should be back next year.
As fair warning, the player usage charts for the Jets defence so far this year are frustrating to read. I’m a strong believer in fancy stats, and accept shot attempt advantage as an indicator of possession and territorial advantage. Still, the importance of applying some context to corsi numbers (discussed exceptionally here) has never been more obvious than when looking at the Jets defence. At first blush, the chart tells us that Big Buff is our best defenceman this year. Though I do cherish this moment, I respectfully disagree. Let’s see what you think.
(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).
When we looked in February, small samples played havoc on the scope of our graph – our quality of competition axis ran -6 to +6 (extremes that are triple what we see in a full season), and our zone starts axis ran from 40 to 64%. More data shows a more meaningful picture, and at first glance, shows some obvious pairings as well.
- The Jets defence pairs have been relatively stable all things considered. Redmond didn’t make the games played cut off (he only played 8), making 9 total defencemen used in-season.
- That said, this chart presents what I’m calling ‘the Clitsome Problem.’ It would appear that the defencemen are in three neat groups, with Meech and Postma filling sheltered roles in limited games. But we know that Clitsome was Byfuglien’s partner for the 19 games missed in February/March by Enstrom, and is in that role again the last couple games that Enstrom has been out with his hip injury. Over half Clitsome’s season with Byfuglien, and yet their quality of competition seems starkly different. We’ll revisit this issue.
- One line that has stayed relatively constant is the Hainsey-Bogosian pairing – and their tough minutes assignment in the chart below (hardest competition, worst zone start) matches well to my sense of their role this year.
- What’s interesting to note is the difference in Hainsey’s performance when Bogosian was hurt. Back in February, Hainsey was playing in a similar role (remember the chart has a different scale), at that time with Mark Stuart as Bogosian started the season on IR. He got killed, and I suggested he needed to be moved back to LD and get a right-handed partner. Though Hainsey’s shot attempt numbers are not positive, Bogosian’s impact on Hainsey and relatively better outcome so far this season suggests to me that Bogo is running that line. That matches to eye fairly well in my opinion.
- Postma has received the very most sheltered minutes available and was back in February too. Not shown here is that his 63% zone start turns into a 53% zone finish. And he’s -4 in just 15 minutes a night. By eye, he’s made some mental blunders that are stunning for his age and professional experience. His on-ice save % is low so maybe we can forgive him some bad bounces, but in Postma’s case, I think we have to ask ‘is this enough given the push he’s getting from the coaches?’
- Derek Meech is easy to cheer for, but his big orange bubble in the middle of ‘sheltered minutes’ territory matches to the chaos we often see him creating.
- Returning to the Clitsome Problem – it’s sadly a sordid tale. Enstrom has likely been playing hurt this season, as his WOWY (With or Without You) stats are way off this year. I mean, without Byfuglien, his corsi % is 42.5! Compare that to last year when he was 10 points higher (52.5%) when away from Big Buff and almost 4% better with him compared to this season.
- Meanwhile, Clitsome is better away from Byfuglien than Byfuglien is away from him. Enter the curious situation of Enstrom dragging him down, tougher assignment for Buff without Clitsome than Clistome without Buff and we get a partial solution to our Clitsome Problem. Sadly, we’re left scratching our heads as to whether Clitsome is a valuable part of this defence group, or just the guy that served as an excuse to get Byfuglien against easier opposition.
I warned you it was frustrating. In the forward installment we discussed how bad Antti Miettien has been. I noted the following:
[Miettinen’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.
I think we can say a similar thing on defence for this team. Bogosian is great and gets better all the time. Hainsey is doing yeoman’s work, and with Bogosian as his partner and a weak forward group, being a little below even (48.6% corsi % with Bogo) seems reasonable. Enstrom has had a rough season with injury and a brutal assignment. Byfuglien remains an offence-pushing mistake-machine. But the team lacks depth on defence, and while Clitsome and Stuart may be doing fine given their sheltered assignment, the opportunity cost of not having either more productive specialists or a more capable third pairing may show in the challenging assignment given to the other four defencemen.
What about next year?
Hainsey and Clitsome are UFAs this year, as is Meech. Bogosian, Redmond, Postma, and the unused Kulda are all RFAs. Bogosian is a critical part of this franchise, though may cost the team dearly despite not scoring much. His pedigree is too good and the team is too short on options for Bogo to sign for less than full value. The team has no replacement for the PK minutes Hainsey plays, or his tough-minutes assignment. They need him back for now, and can hope that over time his role becomes less critical to team as Trouba learns. Clitsome and Stuart have done well for themselves, but strike me as the kind of defencemen bad teams have a lot of. If they’re the press box warriors rather than the third pairing, maybe that’s enough. In order to do that, a lot of bodies have to move out.
It’s unfortunate what we didn’t get to see more of Redmond, but his early usage chart suggested a player similar to Clitsome in results, and his step forward this year was unexpected, giving me little confidence that he’s a solution rather than just another body. If I were Cheveldayoff, I would consider all of Postma, Meech, Redmond and even Kulda as AHL options primarily – meaning we need another quality top-6 defenceman.
That returns a top 8 of Enstrom – Bufuglien / Hainsey – Bogosian / Trouba – ? / Clitsome / Stuart. I have dreams of Mark Streit in that question mark, but more than likely, we’ll see a less decisive summer from management and a shuffling of the named 7 and an early call up for one of the former 7th round picks I’m so eager to keep on the farm.