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Photo Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Pilot’s Logbook: Mark Stuart

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 breaking down the team player-by-player from worst-to-best according to statistical impact, with some adjustments made by my own, personal analysis.

Up next: Mark Stuart.

Basic Statistics

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG PPP SHG SHP GWG OTG S S%
42 2 2 4 4 27 0 0 0 0 1 0 24 8.3

Like with Chris Thorburn, Stuart started the season as a healthy scratch but still managed to dress for more than half the team’s games. Unlike Thorburn, the Jets’ actually had an excuse with the excessive amount of man-games lost due to defensive injury and the lack of superior alternatives with only carrying Julian Melchiori or Brian Strait as replacements.

With only two goals, two assists, and 24 shots on net, Stuart definitely did not provide much help to the team offensively.

While Stuart dressing as much as he did would suggest some trust from Paul Maurice, Stuart rarely played more minutes in a game than anyone not named Paul Postma.

Goals Above Replacement

Goals Above Replacement data courtesy of @DTMAboutHeart.

Goals Above Replacement (GAR) combines multiple statistics in terms of one currency, allowing one to estimate a player’s overall impact. It is imperfect, as it combines many imperfect statistics, but it is also a severely useful tool.

According to the model, Mark Stuart was bad, but he’s been worse… far worse. Some of his “improvement” simply comes from the team playing him less than ever before. Stuart moved from 1056 even strength minutes in 2014-15 to 825 in 2015-16, and then only 403 in 2016-17. With less ice time comes fewer opportunities to hurt the team.

Another major skewing point I believe is the extreme amount of replacement level defenders the Jets dressed this season. The Jets continually throwing out defenders like Strait, Melchiori, and Nelson Nogier, who are all below true replacement-level and could be even worse than Stuart, likely confuses the model on how bad these bottom defenders actually are.

The biggest improvement, though, simply came from Stuart taking fewer penalties than past years.

Like Thorburn, Stuart has characteristics that lends himself to be a coach and locker room favourite. Again, the human effect is real and he likely has some positive value due to his “gritty play” and character. It is also possible that his poor play that causes goals against has a negative effect on team morale as well, causing a cancelation in intangible effects.

What is not unknown is the impact Stuart had on ice results, and they have been bad.

Unlike Thorburn, Stuart has never really been useful in the NHL, at least in producing positive on-ice results. His first three seasons as a Jet cost the Jets 5.1 million dollars, while performing about -15.72 goals (about three wins or 6 points in the standings) worse than the average AHL call-up would provide.

Somehow the Jets extended the contract of and gave a raise to a player who hurt them more than a league minimum salary defender. He played another three seasons, cost $8.75 million in salary, all while “providing” the Jets with 16.3 goals worse than league replacement level value.

Here’s the real kicker, these values ignores penalty killing (an area that needs more research), where Mark Stuart has arguably been one of the worst players in the league over his tenure.

I have no problem with Stuart accepting the contract he did and playing the minutes provided to him. That is all on the Jets’ coaching and management groups.

 

Advanced Metrics

TOI Corsi% Rel Corsi% xGF% Rel xGF% G/60 A/60 P/60
403.01 45.47 -4.09 50.33 +0.93 0.30 0.30 0.60

Stuart on ice does not provide much value. He can hit and block shots, but utlitmately the opposition controls most of the shots (Corsi) and the Jets do much worse in Corsi with him on the ice versus on the bench (rel Corsi). He actually had a positive impact on shot quality, although we know that historically this is not the case with Stuart and that Corsi tends to be more predictive of future performance than raw expected goals.

The defender’s production pace relative to ice time was actually better this season than most years, but this likely has more to do with sample size than improved performance, with only four 5v5 points.

In the end, Stuart was not a NHL caliber player when he moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta, yet somehow the team decided to extend his services for four years.

Microstatistics

Microstatistics provide a window into the actions that players take that create the results they do in the previous sections.

As we discussed with Thorburn, the game has evolved past Stuart and other similar players. Stuart can block shots and defend the crease, but his utility ends there and it is not enough to offset his weaknesses. Stuart often defaulting to “safe” plays, after handling the puck like a hand grenade, that look harmless enough when watching but end up hurting the team overall.

Stuart’s contributions through gaining the offensive zone are essentially non-existent. He carries the lowest rating in both zone entries and zone entries with possession. Despite rarely attempting to get the puck past the opposition’s blue-line, he still has the lowest percentage of zone entries with control, with only a staggering 13.3 per cent of entry attempts being with possession. The Jets’ have also generated their lowest number of shots per entry from Stuart’s entries.

In other words, he rarely helps the team gain the offensive zone, and when he does there is not much coming from it.

In terms of exiting the zone, Stuart does not fair *as terrible*. There are some that have been notably worse, like Ben Chiarot, and Julien Melchiori, but that is a low hurdle to jump over. He has been relatively good in preventing opposition zone entries with possession. These two factors may add up in part to why Stuart fairs better than replacement level defensively consistently despite being overall negative impact on the team.

Cluster playing style denotes Stuart as a defensive-orientated: he does not provide much offensive value, so he must be a defensive defender by default. He does not help transition the puck forward, he does not set up players with shot passes, and he does not generate shots himself. The only thing he ranks here as okay in is through building up play, which comes from his passing to those not in shooting position.

Please follow and support @ShutDownLine for his contributions in manually tracking microstatistics.

Final Thoughts

Like I said with Thorburn: all criticism of Stuart is directed squarely at the faulty managerial processes and decision making that places Stuart in situations where he’s fighting far above his weight class.

Mark Stuart should never been offered that four-year contract extension, but no one should blame Stuart for accepting it.

Again, Stuart represents another microcosm within the Jets’ organization and their choices. The teams around the Jets remove their enforcers, adding skill to their bottom lines, as Thorburn sat on the roster. The teams around the Jets replace net presence, shot blocking, defensive defenders, as Stuart sat on the roster (although to be fair, the league has been replacing these with defensive defenders who can skate but not do much else, like Ben Chiarot, and are not much improvement).

The Jets often seem to be the last movers.

It’s sad that a small market team like the Winnipeg Jets has been one of the last to evolve here and has not been willing to take risks, push the status quo, and be the first to revolutionize how rosters are constructed. The lack of ingenuity in roster formation and team building damages an organization with internal budgetary constraints and sits top of the “do not trade to” lists in the NHL.

The team wants to be competitive and win as a small market, yet it shovels out money to players that have a notable negative impact on the ice in terms of shots, scoring chances, goals, and, ultimately, wins.

Once again, it saddens me that the Jets have not tried to be innovative in the same way. It is not enough to try and be the better draft and development team. The CBA, with long term team control and salary cap structure, does increase the marginal gains through draft and development, but Mark Stuart (and others) end up being a microcosm of the Jets’ failure in ingenuity to be the first movers in dressing skill over unknown factors like grit, enforcers, and intangibles. A team like the Jets should try to garner wins at every market inefficiency available.

This breakdown has been very similar to Chris Thorburn’s, and with good reason; however, unlike Thorburn, Stuart still has one year left in contract.

All numbers courtesy of Corsica.hockey, @ShutdownLine, or @DTMAboutHeart unless otherwise noted.


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