The Winnipeg Jets’ 2016-2017 disappointing season finally ended. While the extent of disappointment may be subjective from individual-to-individual dependent on expectations, fans without a single franchise playoff win prefer their seasons to carry some post-season excitement.
So, what went wrong? What went well? How do the Jets measure up against their competition? Which areas actually require improvement relative to others?
If your car breaks down, you need to know what is wrong with it prior to dropping cash to fix it. With that in mind, we continue our in-depth investigation on the Jets’ performance this season with looking at the team trends and whether or not they are headed in the right direction.
A quick intro
I was hoping to start breaking down the Jets roster player-by-player this week. However, this will be delayed one week. The reasoning why is because I’m waiting for some data and work to come through.
I work for a hockey tracking and analysis company called HockeyData, but all my data, algorithms, and work there is proprietary to that company. They are really nice though, so the allow me to do this public work for fun. This “forces” me to use the public data and work of others, but I have no problem with this because I really do enjoy and respect the public work that is out there.
The focus of my work on the Pilot’s Logbook series will come from the work of people like DTMAboutHeart, Ryan Stimson, and Corey Sznajder. If you do not know their work and do not already follow them, I suggest you do so.
This article will look a lot at WAR from a team level, to see if and where the Jets are improving. I’ve previously shown examples of how WAR data can be used at a player level. Feel free to go back if you need an explanation on WAR and how it is derived.
Jets are a likely rebound case
I cannot and will not give anyone here gambling advice, but that said most of the evidence I have looked at have the Jets as a team ripe to bounce up the standings next season…
The above graph shows us that team performance in points garnered per the 82 game season has strong relationship with the team’s overall WAR. The coefficient of determination is 0.51, which suggests that the variation of WAR explains about 51% of the variation of point percentage.
There are missing variables: luck (natural variance), penalty kill performance, coach’s system impact, goaltending, schedule, the human factor, and things we do not know about. That said, the graph should account for most of the unlisted variables, including injuries and their replacements, which is why we see such a tight-knit relationship.
So, what does this tell us?
It tells us that despite injury issues, the Jets on paper are a fairly strong team. A team that most often would do better.
This should make sense. For one example, fix the goaltending, and the Jets likely are a much different team. This does not even necessarily mean change the goaltenders, although I’m not opposed to introducing new help. Connor Hellebuyck, Michael Hutchinson, and Ondrej Pavelec all performed worse than they ever have before and worse than they typical would be expected to do. Without even making changes, odds are the Jets goalies as a whole would stop more pucks next season.
There is a domino effect. More saves means more leads and fewer trailings, which causes players and coaches to act differently, which may further introduce positive results. Offensive players like Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler are burdened with a smaller workloads, reducing injury chances, and also risk less, reducing chances and penalties against.
The “winning cures a lot of ailments” trope isn’t just in regards to the human psychology and factor.
How good was the Jets 2016-17 WAR?
There are two potential issues with this graph. 1) Byfuglien is listed as a forward for every year aside from 2016-17 which dramatically decreases his results. The average top pairing defender scores similarly per hour as the average fourth line player. 2) The translation of goals to wins differs depending on the season as teams score goals at different rates year-to-year. DTMAboutHeart says his goals:wins translation is still in progress, and the 2016-17 season is in many ways still a guess (and likely overvalues the current team).
I made this graph quickly to give a sense of the Jets’ progression since their arrival to Manitoba.
When the Jets first arrived, the team was extremely top heavy. The top-five of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Tobias Enstrom, and Dustin Byfuglien (LLWEB) were young, talented, and could match up against the best of any other team in the league. They did so often, and usually held their ground or did better. But, there was not much after that. Evander Kane performed like a bona fide first line player, and Kyle Wellwood was extremely underrated, but the Jets were so weak they regularly ran a Tanner Glass, Jim Slater, and Chris Thorburn third line.
The Jets improved on this depth over the next two years, adding players like Olli Jokinen, Michael Frolik, Devin Setoguchi, and Mark Scheifele. They did lose depth at times, but the overall progression was slightly positive. The issues were that the top-five group of LLWEB were starting to age.
2014-15 started quite rocky; Byfuglien started at at forward and Bogosian struggled to be a top-pairing defender. The only real positive really was the addition of Mathieu Perreault.
With the aging of the older core, the Jets decided to go all in. The team made some dramatic changes partway through the season. They brought up Ben Chiarot from the farm team, while trading for Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty. There was a huge trade with the Jets exchanging an injured Kane (who was provided very little value with being out) for capable but flawed Drew Stafford. The exchange of Tyler Myers for Bogosian was also a huge plus. The biggest exchange was a third-line forward for an elite defender: Average forward Dustin Byfuglien for All-Star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.
The Jets were eliminated in four games despite being an elite 5-on-5 team by season’s end.
The elimination brought a change in direction and a shift in gears. The team let Frolik, Stempniak, and Tlusty all walk to free agency, carving out a huge chunk of the team’s depth. The Jets only real improvement came from the addition of Nikolaj Ehlers, the development of Mark Scheifele, and the graduation of Mathieu Perreault into a top-six forward. Jacob Trouba improved and Mark Stuart was given way less ice time, but the Jets saw declines elsewhere at defense.
This brings us to our current year. The Jets overall look like a better team, although there are mixed reasons why.
In terms of top-six forwards, the Jets were one of the best teams in the league. Ehlers, Scheifele, Wheeler, and Perreault all played like bona fide first line forwards. Patrik Laine gave a second line performance at only 18-years of age. Byfuglien took a step back due to age and overuse, but Trouba literally was the third best WAR defender in the NHL, while Morrissey posted the 4th highest WAR for rookie defenders.
The Jets improvement on the bottom end came less from adding strong players in their bottom lines, like Perreault, Stempniak, and Tlusty in 2014-15, but rather just lack of usage from below replacement level players. The Jets had their fair share of below replacement level players, with Stuart, Chris Thorburn, Brian Strait, Julien Melchiori, and company, but never before have the Jets used any of these players less regularly. Stuart’s and Thorburn’s ice time had been dramatically stripped.
WAR moving forward
The Jets will likely lose a capable player, and that will hurt depth. Whether it’s Myers, Lowry, Perreault, Armia, or someone else remains to be seen. The team also has some aging players.
The good news is that the Jets have some depth in the prospect cupboards (well, at least at forward). Most of the aging skaters are either really good so they have a long way to fall, like Wheeler and Byfuglien, or their roles are being severely diminished as would be the case when you talk about Mark Stuart projected to be spending more time in the pressbox and Chris Thorburn likely not likely returning at all.
Being a young team means more of the players are likely to improve more than deteriorate. Plus, the Jets should expect greater returns from their skaters with the team likely being relatively more healthy next season than this last one. In addition, even without any changes, the Jets goaltneders are likely to do better.
Will it be enough and where the Jets will ultimately land next year are big questions, however.
We will continue looking at the Jets as a team this Wednesday and Friday. Next week we’ll start a Monday, Wednesday, Friday series breaking down each player, one-at-a-time. All numbers courtesy of Corsica.hockey, @ShutdownLine, or @DTMAboutHeart unless otherwise noted.