Why the Jets don’t have a left-side defensive depth problem (yet)

It does not take much digging to see the area most fans of the Winnipeg Jets view as the largest hole in their roster. A legitimate left-side top-four defender has been needed since the Ron Hainsey walked in free agency and has been requested by fans since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg.

You can see it with the majority of proposed Jets trades over at HFBoards, or chatter on Twitter with whom the Jets should select with their top pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Jets fans want a young left-side stud and they want it now.

But that hole may already be filled with a defender named Jacob Trouba.

With the Jets’ struggling to prevent goals this season, Paul Maurice made a shift. He went all in, placing the Jets four best defenders together on the top two pairs. This meant one player had to play on the left side, and Maurice chose young Jacob Trouba.

This was Trouba’s first time playing on his off-handed side. We know for a fact that placing a player on their off-handed side has a negative impact on player results, and there is likely a large learning curve for a player new to the position like Trouba. Optimally you want to separate your similar handed players apart, but this is not the case when you have as large of a contrast in talent in each side as the Jets do. The Jets cannot survive without their big four defenders in the top-four for ice time.

Despite all the potential hurdles and disadvantages, the Jets still did exceptionally well with Trouba on the left with almost equal sample size last season:

TroubaLSRS

The Jets controlled a far greater share of all shots (goals, saves, misses, and blocks) with Trouba on the left side as seen with Corsi%. Fenwick% removes blocked shots and tends to evaluate defensemen slightly better due a stronger relationship with goal differentials as defenders blocking shots is a repeatable skill. Expected Goal% takes these shot metrics and adds a shot quality element with adding factors like shot type, location, etc. We also see that Trouba’s point production per sixty minutes improved on the left side as well.

Regardless which way you look at it, Trouba and the Jets did much better with the young defender on the left. Now, obviously a lot of this is due to the fact that when Trouba plays on the right he is predominately with Mark Stuart, who arguably isn’t even a bonafide NHL player anymore.

If we isolate to just when Trouba plays with Enstrom and expand the sample to multiple seasons, we see the gap in results disappear quickly.

We can then pull up a few numbers to work out which pairings would be optimal for the Jets:

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 11.49.46 AM

Players ordered by Fenwick% as best predictor for defenders for future success at this sample.

By and far, the Jets garnered their best results with the Trouba-Byfuglien pairing on the ice. The pairing overwhelmed their opponents with offensive generation. The team prevented unblocked shot attempts at a similar rate with the pairing on the ice versus on the bench, but they generated a full 10 shots more per 60 minutes of ice time with the two on the ice.

Maurice eventually broke up the pair, due to the Jets third pairing of Chiarot-Stuart being heavily exposed, and carried a 42 per cent Corsi%, 44 per cent Fenwick%, and 43 per cent expected Goal%. The numbers show, though, that the Jets could still dress a capable third defensive pair by sitting Stuart in turn for Paul Postma. They would need to play sheltered minutes, just like Chiarot-Stuart did, but at least they would not be buried by such minutes.

We can take this one step further by taking the shot differential rates of each pairing, use the average TOI spread for first, second, and third pairs, and estimate the Jets’ performance (assuming no change in forward performance):

optimal

The results we get from optimizing the Jets’ pairings would have ranked the Jets second in Corsi%, eighth in Fenwick%, and fourth in expected goals. The model does however have issues with assuming perfect health on the defenders, and assumes the Jets forwards would be exactly the same.

It’s understandable why most wish for the Jets to acquire a left-shot defender.

The Jets only carry one bonafide top-four left-handed defender with the underrated Tobias Enstrom. After that the defensive depth falls a steep cliff in talent with fringe defenders Ben Chiarot and Mark Stuart (and calling Stuart a fringe NHL player may be an overvalue). On the farm the team carries a legitimate potential NHL-calibre defender with Josh Morrissey, and Julian Melchiori who is not. The prospect cupboards are also bare with only Sami Niku playing in Europe.

However, the Jets could easily fill in the gap by simply moving Trouba over. This could help in the short term until Morrissey is NHL ready, and in the long term as Enstrom falters with age.

  • Robert Cleave

    Nice theory until one guy (especially if it’s Enstrom) gets hurt, then you’re in a pickle. Postma is the best of the rest as of today, and he’s another right shooter, so your top 4 in that scenario would be all RD or you’ll end up using a 7th D caliber guy like Chiarot in that role. That doesn’t strike me as wise.

    I have no issue with playing the current best 4 as is, but at the very least the Jets should find a legit 4-5 LD to partner Postma, at least to start the year. If Morrissey is really ready at some point in 16-17, all the better, but that seems like a bit of a risk, and going status quo invites a Stu-Postma 3rd pair. That’s a bad idea. I like PP just fine, but he’s incapable of carrying Stu against any level of competition.

    • Chiarot was a completely passable top 4 LHD *when with Byfuglien*. As was Clitsome. As was Pardy.

      You may see a trend here.

      In the short run, with injury coverage, they are fine putting someone like Chiarot with Byfuglien.

      Besides, no one is saying don’t look at getting an upgrade on Chiarot or Stuart. In fact, I’d recommend it. The Jets do not need to spend assets and cap space to acquire someone like Vatanen, but more likely a (healthy) Clitsome-type.

  • Robert Cleave

    Vatanen’s another right shooter, he’s not really on my radar unless they swap Myers for him in some way, just like maybe looking at Hamonic. Same with Tyson Barrie. Like all three of those guys, but you’d swap Myers for them to make that work.

    All that noted, man, there’s a hell of a difference between “passable when dragged around like a stoneboat by a top end guy” and “legit on his own NHLer”, and not seeing that as a fairly significant issue is slightly myopic, imo. It’s not as glaring as getting a proper NHL goalie in the net the majority of nights or fixing special teams, but I think you’re underestimating the toll carrying bad players around has on guys.

    We just witnessed a good example of how even a top team can be vulnerable with LA once they lost Martinez, and I’m mindful they have 2 elite players and a fantastic team structure that allows them to cover holes. The Jets aren’t quite in that league as of yet.

    I think my biggest concern is that absent a serious upgrade on LD, we’ll see good old number 5 become the default choice the second anything goes wrong. We’ve seen Maurice go to him and Thor as if they were security blankets, and I’d like KC to give Mo a better option that he can’t easily ignore in times of strife.

    • Oh come on… LA mostly lost that series because Quick didn’t stop the puck.

      I didn’t realize Vatanen was a RHD as I didn’t look, but knew people talked about the Jets acquiring him. My point in that comment though being is Jets don’t really need a #3/4; the Jets need a #5/6.

  • ground control

    I know it’s not the way the Jets way of doing things, but there are a few free agents that could shore up the left side in the short to medium term.

    Campbell, Brian Canada 37 FLA D UFA 7.140
    Goligoski, Alex United States 30 DAL D UFA 4.600
    Hamhuis, Dan Canada 33 VAN D UFA 4.500

    Are any of these guys worth a look?

  • #12MorrisLukowich

    Jets NEED Morrissey to be ready….only legitimate LH Dman in the fold…Niku is next but isn’t signed…hard to believe this team just keeps drafting RH Dman when LH apparently are more common…and yet, why there are mule refusals as to why we haven’t traded for 1 yet…

    Buff – Chairot

    Myers – Enstrom

    Hamonic – Morrissey

    Stuart – anyneckrope

    that top 6 looks incredibly fast, capable of a shutdown, or paired on a PP, not to mention….somewhat punishing…Morrissey would certainly learn from 1 of the NHL’s best…