So close, yet so so far away. Finishing with a record of 24-21-3, the 2013 Winnipeg Jets ended the season with 51 points – a mere four short of the New York Islanders and that highly coveted playoff spot. Unfortunately those four points have changed the tone of Jets fans everywhere from glee and hope to reflection and questioning, and thus here I am writing a review on the season rather than a preview of the newly-branded Winnipeg Jets first playoff matchup.
Buckle up, folks. Throughout this week I’m going to work my way through the forwards, defensemen, goalies, and finish with a summary and my opinions on this season. Today, I go over the Winnipeg Jets defence.
(Big thanks to behindthenet, nhl.com, stats.hockeyanalysis.com, capgeek, and leftwinglock.com for all the upcoming numbers)
The Jets defense has been quite the story to follow all season long. Injuries continuously opened the door on the blue line, leading to players slotted in positions with which they weren’t comfortable or capable.
The Top Pairing?
One injury that created opportunities was that to Tobias Enstrom. After signing a 5 year extension worth $5.75 million/year in the offseason, Enstrom looked like a magician to start the season. He opened the year with 12 points over an 8 game point streak, leading the Jets power play to an explosive start alongside his partner Dustin Byfuglien. Then for a second season in a row, the injury bug set in. He would only end up playing 22 games all season and record only 3 more points for a total of 15, still leaving him third in defenseman scoring. On a team that relies heavily on the blue line for offensive production, that’s not exactly what you like to hear.
The trickle down effect of Toby’s injuries really showed in two places. First was the power play. After a strong start, it became absolutely stagnant and the Jets ended the season with a power play clicking at a horrid 13.8% for 30th in the league. Second was the effect on Dustin Byfuglien’s season. Buff had a very “Byfuglien-esk” season offensively this year, finishing with 8 goals and 20 assists for 28 points. This placed him 7th among the league for defensive scoring, but on pace for 13 points less (over an 82 game season) than he would have accumulated last year (if not for injury). The true problems arose in his defensive responsibilities. Although he finished the season with a positive corsi rating (4.7), his 5-on-5 goals against per 20 minutes (GA20) jumped from 0.834 with Enstrom to 1.016 without him, and his corsi for percentage (CF%) dropped from 52.1% to 49.4%. Not to mention he was often irresponsible by eye. He often missed assignments, struggled in front of his own net, and just never seemed comfortable with Grant Clitsome.
Gary Lawless recently wrote an article in the Free Press expressing how it may be time to move Byfuglien, especially if he doesn’t truly commit himself to becoming a superstar. Buff is currently locked in with the Jets through the 2016 season with a modified no trade clause (the Jets can request a list of 5 teams), but I’m still not convinced that moving him is the best option. With the Jets moving into the West next season, they are going to need big physical bodies to be able to compete with teams like the Blues and Blackhawks. Getting Dustin a full season with Enstrom may see him regain some of his missing defence, and the Jets truly rely on his shot from the blue line on the power play. That being said, the Jets cannot wait for his value to diminish completely. Therefore, should things not go well up to the trade deadline next year, it may then be the time to consider moving him. He could be a valuable piece for a lot of teams looking to make a run and the Jets could really get a lot for the big guy.
Was there a single player on the Jets this season hated more by fans than Ron Hainsey? Maybe it was his face being plastered all over the lockout as the face of the NHLPA, or maybe it was the occasional gruesome turnover, but Ron Hainsey served this season as the Jets fans whipping boy. Personally, I do not think it was entirely deserved. Was he overpaid? At a $4.5 mil cap hit, probably yes. Did he have some horrific moments that resulted in goals? Definitely. Was he forced to play in positions that he may not be suited for any longer? I would think so, yes. Yet with all that being said, people refuse to notice the role that Ron Hainsey played on this Jets team. He may have had the worst relative corsi among the Jets defense at -8.7, but he also had the lowest offensive zone start percentage at 44.2%, and faced the toughest competition night in and night out with a relative corsi quality of competition (Corsi Rel QoC) rating of 1.144. Despite all of that he wasn’t last in on-ice save percentage. In fact, he was sixth of nine, finishing ahead of Bogosian, Enstrom, and Redmond. Now admittedly, that may mean nothing. But, it could also point to the fact that more often than not he keeps opponents (mostly top line guys) away from a rather shaky goaltender. He clearly earned Claude Noel’s trust and was one of the most stable defensemen, as he was the only one to play at least 45 (he played 47) of the 48 games.
A lot has been spoken of Hainsey’s expiring contract this offseason. Fans were rather distraught at the fact that Hainsey was not moved at the trade deadline, and in most cases rightly so. Teams were overpaying for defensive defensemen and should he leave the team for nothing, it will sting long term. That being said, I would not be surprised if Ron Hainsey returns next season in a Jets uniform. Assuming he faces reality and accepts less money (I would be okay with a max of $2 mil) Hainsey can provide another reliable body for the Jets, and if needed allow a player such as Jacob Trouba to develop in the AHL for a year. It will be something worth watching for sure.
Big Bad Bogo
Zach Bogosian started this season on the IR following off season wrist surgery, but came back and didn’t really seem to miss a beat. He spent most of the season paired up with the much-despised Ron Hainsey, and quite frankly had very similar looking stats. He finished 7th of 9 in relative corsi with a -5.0 rating (Derek Meech was between him and Hainsey at -7.1), while facing almost identical competition with a Corsi Rel QoC of 1.115. Bogosian does make some of the same mistakes as Hainsey, pinches at inopportune moments and has the occasional giveaway. Yet, people love Bogo. Why? Well I can think of three main reasons. First, Zach’s age. He is only 22 years old, and is still learning and developing as a player. He has shown at times that he can and will be an amazing defenseman and at such a young age, his potential is still huge. Second are his offensive skills. For the mistakes that Bogosian does make, he proved the ability offensively to make up for it. He finished this season with 5 goals and 9 assists for 14 points in 33 games, ranking him fourth among the Jets blue line. Not great, but considering he was coming off of wrist surgery and was constantly being placed in defensive situations they are solid offensive numbers. FInally, Bogosian’s dominance on the ice. He may be young. but he carries himself with an aggressive, experienced attitude. He will make that big hit, stands his ground, and although he may not fight often, he does when he feels it is needed. Personally, I would much prefer he be wearing the ‘A’ in replace of Byfuglien, as I think he truly deserves it. He always shows up to play and the team looks to him for that needed spark and dependability.
Bogosian is another defenseman in need of a contract this offseason as he enters RFA status. When you look at the foundational pieces for the Jets future, he is a major pillar, and I believe that he deserves to get paid long term. I would expect the Jets to want to give him similar term and dollars to Toby Enstrom, but the fear of his late season concussion and the reduction of the salary cap may result in a smaller overall dollar amount.
The Star That Never Was
Further along the “injured player” storyline, it would be impossible not to mention Zach Redmond. Following the injury to Toby Enstrom, and before Zach Bogosian returned from his off season wrist surgery, the Jets brought up little-known Zach Redmond, and boy, did he ever explode onto the scene. He was very sheltered by Coach Claude Noel in that he tended to only match up against bottom line guys (Corsi Rel Qoc of -1.443) and split his zone starts 50-50 offensive to defensive, but he truly took advantage of that role. Over eight games he tallied a goal and three assists (including an assist on an overtime winner), and had a staggering relative corsi rating of 21.3 (Yes, I realize it’s a small sample size, but it is impressive none the less). Then, tragedy struck. He had his femoral artery severed during a morning skate in Carolina. An injury that almost took his life, and was sure to have him away from hockey for a good 6+ months. Yet somehow, someway, he managed to get himself healed and healthy before the end of the year, and spent a few games with the St. John’s Ice Caps to close out the season. If that doesn’t show something of his work ethic, determination, and just passion for the game I don’t know what does. It is seemingly a miracle and by far the best “feel good” story of this season.
Redmond is another guy in need of a contract for next year, but it would be hard to argue giving him similar dollars (~$875,000) for one or two years to see if he can do it again for real. He may not be a to pairing guy, but with Jacob Trouba coming up, and with players such as Bogosian, Enstrom, and Byfuglien, a strong third pairing guy alongside Mark Stuart may be exactly what the Jets need.
The Jets really do have a lot of players to look and at to consider keeping or letting walk going into next season. The Jets finished 25th overall in goals against this year, 21st in 5 on 5 goals for/goals against ratio and despite a lot of that falling on Ondrej Pavelec’s shoulders, they have to be better as a group. Outside of those players previously highlighted, Grant Clitsome (UFA), Derek Meech (UFA), Paul Postma (RFA), and Arthurs Kulda (RFA) all require contracts for next year. Grant Clitsome played much better down the stretch this season and has overall been an interesting case as outlines by our own Kevin McCartney here. I don’t feel as if he works well with Dustin Byfuglien, as they both are way too offensively focused, but he does provide some benefit in the right positions (power play, second or third pairing), and should warrant a resigning. Especially if Chevy cannot wrap up Hainsey. Derek Meech and Paul Postma are both players that are not going to make much money, and players that I wouldn’t be too worried about losing. If they are willing to sign AHL level or two-way contracts, that’s great. If not, I think it is the time to let them walk. Arthurs Kulda was brought back to the Jets from oversea’s midway through the season, and most likely due to a lack of practice time was never given a chance in a game. I don’t see the point in paying him this year if the Jets did not have intentions of bringing him back next year for a shot during a proper training camp, so I’ll reserve my judgements for a future date.
You cannot forget players Mark Stuart, who provides an abundance of grit and aggression on that third pairing, and the young gun Jacob Trouba who Jets fans are anxious to see make the team next year. Training camp next year will be a competitive one, and that may be something this team really needs to take a step forward on the blue line.