The Winnipeg Jets missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons since the move to Manitoba, and the 14th time over 16 seasons over franchise history. The season does not end for us though at Jets Nation.
Welcome to our series where we take an analytical approach, dissecting what went wrong with the Jets 2015-2016 season and how to improve the team for next year.
This time for our series, we look at the Jets performance for special teams..
Saying the Jets struggled at special teams would be a fairly large understatement. The team posted a league worst power play (by PP%) while posting the sixth worst penalty kill (by PK%) in the league. Combining the team’s PP% and PK% (which I sometimes coin ST%, and where league average is 100), the Jets’ 93.2 ST% only out-performed the Calgary Flames and the Ottawa Senators.
Shot metrics do not suggest a much better story either. The Jets were 21st in 5v4 shot generation per minute, and 26th when removing blocked shots. The team was 28th in 4v5 shot suppression per minute, and 27th when removing blocked shots.
It’s not just in shot volume, but the Jets have been poor in shooting up close on the power play or keeping the opposition outside on the penalty kill:
One consistent issue that has plagued the Jets’ special teams is a sore lack of skilled-player depth.
For almost every season, the Jets have struggled to carry a full complement of bona fide top-nine forwards and top-four defenders. In addition, the Jets have dressed some of the worst performing fourth-line and third-pair regulars. The Jets have also regularly dressed the worst performing penalty kill regular in the entire NHL.
These factors combined cause the Jets to over-rely on their best players: Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, and Toby Enstrom. Outside of those individuals, the Jets have carried very few players that have been adept performers for both even strength and special team minutes: Kyle Wellwood, Michael Frolik, Evander Kane, (2011-13) Alexander Burmistrov, and Mark Scheifele. The blue line has only really had Jacob Trouba, plus Grant Clitsome when healthy.
After those lists of individuals, the rest of the roster has been extremely limited.
But things have not always been the same. The team has carried some acceptable years in special teams performance.
Here we see the Jets’ ranking versus the 180 teams to play over the past six seasons (so including the final Atlanta Thrasher season as well):
*2013 is shortened season due to lockout and experienced larger variance
The Jets have never dominant on special teams, but they have been above average four times in either penalty kill and power play performance. It is not surprising to see the Jets performed well in both the only season the team went to the playoffs.
Another major factor in special team performance is a team’s penalty differential. Two equally teams who strive on the power play but struggle to kill penalties will have very different impacts on their goal differentials if one team is constantly drawing more penalties than they are called for while the other team does the opposite.
To account for this, I present a graph showing the Thrashers/Jets short handed and power play running shot differentials, which are impacted by both opportunity and performance:
To fix the Jets’ special teams will take multiple steps, as there are multiple factors going on to the team’s performance.
The Jets need more skill and less “grit and leadership” at the lower end of the roster to both provide alternative value and alleviate some of the pressure on the team’s top players. The team also needs to adjust their systems switch their shot volume between the perimeter and the low slot. The team could also use to be more disciplined, especially with stick and holding penalties, to improve their penalty differential. Not previously discussed but also important, the team could also use better goaltending in penalty kill situations.
The good news is some of this may be addressed as the Jets impressive prospect group begins to graduate into the NHL and have an impact. That said, it’s still a long ways to go and how much the youth movement offsets the aging performances of players like Byfuglien, Enstrom, and Wheeler remains to be seen.
All numbers are courtesy of corsica.hockey and are adjusted for score, venue, and faceoffs, unless otherwise provided.