# What is the Mark Scheifele Problem?

"I don’t want to go back to the bench again."

Scheifele is going through a challenging season, but his coach isn’t helping things. Inside we’ll take a detailed look at what’s wrong with the rookie centre’s season.

Mark Scheifele was the focus of some negative criticism during the team’s recent road trip. Coach Claude Noel reduced his minutes considerably – playing less than his season average 14:54 in each of the four games, including just 7:39 in the win against Dallas, and 10:31 against St Louis. Another four games without a point leaves him with a single assist and a -4 rating in his last 12 games.

Media people are starting to wonder aloud if he should be sent down to the AHL, and both coach and manager have had to deny the possibility.

But even with increased scrutiny, the definition of the problem is still missing. What is Claude Noel watching to determine whether Scheifele gets 7:39 or 22:40, as he did in the game before the road trip? General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been clear that we can and should expect an up-and-down process of development for Mark Scheifele. But apart from ice time, what exactly is ‘up and down’ about Scheifele’s game?

In viewing the data, I’ve come to the conclusion that Mark Scheifele is definitely inconsistent this season, but that Head Coach Claude Noel is not giving him minutes based on his performance and it might be hurting his development. Let’s review.

# Scheifele’s Performance

Scheifele has not been the model of consistency to date. For those who have watched the games, we’ve seen a budding power forward in one moment become lost and look out of his league entirely. His scoring has dried up, and so have his scoring chances. He struggles with defensive zone containment, man-on-man play, and has drawn penalties by falling randomly.

The math tells us a similar story, and thankfully I can put math in a chart. Case in point, below is a chart of Scheifele’s even strength corsi % by game, along side that of veteran Andrew Ladd for context.

His even strength corsi percentage is volatile. We use corsi for the simple reason that it tells us about possession, and possession inside the opposition’s zone in particular. It’s not a magic formula, but instead describes a truth we all know about hockey – it’s better to have the puck than not, and it’s better to be in the scoring end than your own end.

His even strength corsi percentage is a poor 46.8%, 11th among Jets forwards. We know there are some score effects in there, because the Jets have spent more than a few games chasing while other teams protect a lead. If we restrict ourselves to just 5 on 5 close (within a goal) ice time, he’s 5th among forwards at 46.4%.

You might notice those two numbers are almost identical and wonder how he might rise up the ranks from 11th to 5th without changing his number. We’ll get to that in due time.

We will also see below that his scoring chance numbers are not quite so up and down as his corsi, but only because they’re missing the ‘up’ part.

Perhaps worst of all, he drags down most of his linemates. Below are his "With or Without You" numbers.

## WoWY On Ice Together Scheifele When Apart Teammate When Apart Player TOI GF% CF% TOI GF% CF% TOI GF% CF% Mark Scheifele 141:13 50 49             Evander Kane 79:05 60 49.4 62:08 0 48.5 92:13 55.6 58.3 Michael Frolik 48:43 0 50.9 92:30 60 47.9 88:17 55.6 52.7 Devin Setoguchi 46:47 66.7 46.5 94:26 33.3 50.3 63:21 50 59.1 Andrew Ladd 42:12 0 48 99:01 60 49.5 94:56 77.8 49.4 Blake Wheeler 33:44 50 54.2 107:29 50 47.7 113:53 50 47.9

Everyone but Blake Wheeler sees their corsi % (their rate of possession) drop when paired with Scheifele.

In a word, his season is disappointing.

# Claude Noel’s Evaluation

That Scheifele is struggling is not in doubt. Yet, his ebbs and flows in minutes do not correspond with his ebbs and flows in play. In fact, it appears that Claude Noel is not adjusting Scheifele’s minutes according to his performance at all.

There are any number of factors involved in evaluating a player, of course, from positioning to errors to overall results (itself a contested concept). As well, a player might lose or gain minutes on his own merit, or due to injury or inconsistency among his team mates. But for a rookie skater to have his ice time fluctuate so much, and for the coach and general manager to label it as the inconsistency of youth, we might expect to see some evidence of a player ‘earning’ his minutes.

We know that Claude Noel and his staff use scoring chances to evaluate their players. We begin our investigation there.

What we would expect is some sort of pattern moving from bottom left to top right. Bottom left would be fewer minutes on the ice and more scoring chances against than for. Top right, of course, would be many minutes and a positive scoring chances differential. Such a diagonal line would tell us that when Scheifele is playing in a way that might lead to more chances against than for, Noel is picking up on it and benching the young man.

Instead what I see is a blob.

We also see 4 of the 13 games of data with a positive scoring chance differential at even strength. (That’s not good, in case you wanted some instant analysis.)

There are other ways to look at this data that might tell us more – 1st period chances vs 3rd period shifts, for example. I’ve chosen to use whole games, and so below is a chart of the ice time Scheifele received the game after the scoring chance differential shown. In other words, the chart shows his scoring chance differential from game one matched with his time on ice from game two.

It seems Claude Noel is giving Scheifele a clean slate every game. The home game against Nashville, Scheifele was -5 in even strength scoring chances, and he still received almost 23 minutes against Washington a game later. We also don’t see evidence of ‘confidence building’ as an approach, where a -3 goal differential preceded his season low 8 minutes.

I submit to you that there is no relationship here.

So we turn our attention elsewhere for another marker of success in process. We know Pascal Vincent uses shooting rates in his evaluation of the powerplay. We also know that Claude Noel talked about possessing the puck early in the season, and that corsi correlates well to possession and having the puck in the offensive zone specifically. So even if Claude Noel isn’t counting corsi from the bench, he might notice something in Scheifele’s play subjectively that we can see through corsi %.

It’s a… blob.

Again, we want to see that diagonal line from bottom left to top right. I’m sure you’ve noticed a straight line pattern in one series of dots that looks a little like that. But in sum, it looks kind of like a ‘cross’ shape, which suggests Claude Noel is not giving minutes based on possession play.

So how is he making this decision? Why such a swing from 8 minutes to 23?

I can’t suggest that the chart below is the actual reason, but I noticed it when I was putting together the data and it blew my mind.

Is it possible Claude Noel is giving him ice time based on his faceoffs?

Again – it’s also a bit of a blob, and the pattern we do see is just correlative. So maybe Scheifele does better in faceoffs when he gets more minutes, and not the other way around. But it was the strongest relationship I found for any aggregated data.

## Powerplay Time

The Jets powerplay is extremely poor this season again, currently sitting at 11% and down from a league-worst 13% last year. Scheifele has just a single powerplay goal this season, and so can’t be said to be a saviour in the discipline. Still, as Scheifele struggles with confidence and scoring, and the team’s powerplay flounders, consider this basic chart:

Sure seems like the coach might find some minutes for his struggling scorer on the team’s struggling powerplay.

## What is the Mark Scheifele Problem?

Mark Scheifele as a player is in over his head. His physical balance, his defensive reads, his inconsistency are enough to show it. Added to his fluctuating possession numbers and his lack of scoring, the season is not going well.

But the problem is not Scheifele’s alone.

Claude Noel does not appear to be restricting Scheifele’s minutes during games in which he plays poorly, or easing him into games after playing poorly the game previous. Equally, when Scheifele plays well, he does not seem to be rewarded for it with minutes at even strength or on the powerplay, where his minutes have decline consistently.

Scheifele has not been put in a position to succeed. He played well with Blake Wheeler and so was put with Frolik and Halischuk almost immediately. When the team is looking for offence while down, Scheifele isn’t given those juicy minutes in the opposition’s end, with their defenders in a ‘prevent’ shell. He played well in 23 minutes against Washington, even scoring an assist, only to get a total of 46:42 over the next four games.

Coach Noel said before the season that he wanted Scheifele to learn several roles on a hockey club, but that he would get his offensive chances. So far, neither appears to be happening with any consistency. For a young man struggling with confidence, having new line mates, uncertain expectations, and changing roles is a recipe for disaster.