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: Drew Stafford.
In our last Pilot’s Logbook instalment, we talked about how Shawn Matthias scores goals. Drew Stafford’s outputs through his career are statistically similar in style as Matthias: he’s weak defensively, hurts shot differentials, but puts the puck in the net… just to less extremes.
So what happens to a goal scorer when they stop scoring goals? Well, if he’s in the last year of his contract as Drew was, he gets traded.
Stafford was a bit unlucky, putting up a 5.9 shooting percentage, almost making up for his inflated shooting percentage in 2014-2015. (Luck doesn’t work that way, but it is “funny” when it happens!) The issue is that his shot per hour rates have been steadily falling since the 2011-2012 season, suggesting that Stafford’s collapse has long been forecasted.
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.
Stafford’s GAR numbers do not seem that bad at first glance. It includes his time in Boston, where Stafford played well in the only role he still can: a finisher for a team that out-shoots the opposition, but struggles to put the puck in the net.
Honestly, Stafford should have been the guy the LA Kings went after at the trade deadline, not Jarome Iginla.
While Stafford struggled this season, there were some players who performed marginally worse: Alex Burmistrov, Chris Thorburn, and Brandon Tanev to name a few. Still, most of the Jets skaters played exceptionally worse when they skated on a same line with Stafford,
As noted earlier, when a guy who rarely helps the team aside from scoring goals stops scoring goals, he loses all of his utility. The Jets were out-shot a lot more with Stafford on the ice than when he was on the bench, and this has been his historical norm. Expected Goals suggest that shots slightly exaggerate the difference with ignoring shot quality impacts.
At 5v5, Stafford’s point production pace was somewhere between an average fourth and third line player.
Visual is for minutes played in 2015-16 and 2016-17 combined.
Microstatistics provide a window into the actions that players take that create the results they do in the previous sections. They allow us to see why Stafford performs in the manner he does.
At one time, Stafford would have a strong presence in shot volume and dangerous shot contributions. These were the two areas he provided value to his teams, but that is no longer the case. He still provides some value offensively, but not like he did as a top-six forward of old.
The veteran winger posted fairly average defensive zone exits per puck touch numbers, but was second only to Thorburn in lowest possession exits per exit attempt. Stafford carried out the puck only 17 times, yet dumped or cleared the puck a total of 59 times!
Stafford, like Matthias, Tanev, and Thorburn, had some of the fewest carry-in entries per entry attempt; however, the Jets created fewer shots per entry or carry-in entry than either of the other three skaters. The only area Stafford performed well was in shots per dump-in entry, where Stafford posted numbers similar to Matthias. I will note that Stafford seems to try and game his entry numbers, often dumping the puck immediately after gaining the zone, which could be the cause of his low shots per entry statistics.
Please support Corey Sznajder (@ShutDownLine) for his contributions in manually tracking microstatistics. He has a Patreon page where you can make a donation for his tireless work supporting the community. Also, give Ryan Stimson (@RK_Stimp) a follow.
I thought Stafford was a great piece for the Jets to get back from Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane, and Jason Stafford trade. He was a piece to help the team win games that year, while most of the long term utility was in Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux, and the first round pick (that became Jack Roslovic). The Jets were at the time one of the best shot differential teams in the NHL, but could use some more firepower. A finisher like Stafford found the perfect home in the Jets…
… but with the team being swept in the playoffs, Kevin Cheveldayoff and TNSE decided to shift gears, commit to a quick retool, and focus around the Jets younger core. This resulted to Michael Frolik, Lee Stempniak, and Jiri Tlusty all walk to free agency (and traded their captain Andrew Ladd the following season). Instead of letting Stafford walk, he was re-signed for two more years, and even give a raise.
This was a mistake, and one that I foretold. (Not hindsight)
A shift to youth and fewer grind-type, two-way forwards meant the Jets’ previous biggest strength had left them. No longer was the team the perfect home for Stafford that accented his strengths and hid his weaknesses, but one that accented his weaknesses and hid his strengths.
Drew Stafford provided the Jets with 2.18 goals above replacement for 8.7 million dollars. Meanwhile, Stempniak (who, if you remember in an interview pointed out he wished to stay in Winnipeg) provided 7.94 goals above replacement for 3.35 million dollars over the same seasons. Frolik has provided 5.87 goals above replacement in Calgary for a similar 10 million dollars, and he’s still younger than what Stafford was when the Jets extended him.
The Jets spent 13 million dollars between Stafford, Thorburn, Mark Stuart, and Ondrej Pavelec; that’s a lot of money spent for some quality players at market value, but it felt even more costly for under-performing players. Stafford barely gave the Jets above replacement value, while Thorburn, Stuart, and Pavelec have all been markedly worse. These were all players that the numbers suggested at the time the Jets should have walked away from or paid a lot less for.
We have already talked in this series about how the Jets are not taking advantage of trying to be first movers in a lot of areas; nothing ventured, nothing gained. That said, the Jets also would be wise to value analytics a great deal more. It won’t guarantee them a cup, but it would allow them to win more and spend less. Why wouldn’t a small market team wish to do that?
A lot of Jets fans worry needlessly about paying their good players, but the Jets have a lot of free space if they stop wasting ownership’s money on avoidable mistakes like Drew Stafford.
All numbers courtesy of Corsica.hockey, @ShutdownLine, or @DTMAboutHeart unless otherwise noted. Please follow them all.
This series was intended to be a Monday/Wednesday/Friday post, but with unforeseen circumstances, I will be accelerating posts and changing the schedule to be Monday-Friday posts for the duration of the series.