By The Numbers: Jets have holes to fill on the blue line

USATSI_9840998

© Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets are losing more games than they win. They sit third-last in standing’s points per game played. Some models show the Jets having a greater shot at first overall than making the playoffs. (Let’s ignore the models have Jets with a near 50 percent chance of neither playoffs nor top five pick)

Not everything is going as planned.

Just like one must know what broke before repairing a car, we must analytically dissect the Jets and see where the help is needed. Let’s look at the Jets’ holes and discuss some solutions on fixing the team, with keeping in mind the up coming trade deadline.

Current State

XPM

Using a similar method to last week, I combined the Jets’ defenders in XPM and their five-on-five weighted point production per minute pace. DTMAboutHeart‘s XPM is simply an expected goal model, that adjusts a player’s shot differentials for shot quality factors (shot distance, shot angle, rebound, etc.) and then adjusts a player’s performance due to usage factors (linemates, linematching, zone starts, etc.).

Combined, these two statistics should account for about ninety percent of the factors that go into a players overall on-ice value, or WAR. It won’t be their true ranking in WAR, but should get the general placement right.

I have ranked where each of the Jets defenders fit among the top 180 most used defenders. Optimally a team wishes to carry as many defenders as possible with as high as rankings as possible. I will note that the above rankings are relative to ice time. If we look at overall impact regardless of ice time, the players shift.

Dom Luszczyszyn developed an alternative holistic model to DTM’s WAR, called Game Score.

Untitled

Game Score is more heavily weighted towards a player’s overall production. The statistic was initially developed to estimate who had the “best game” in terms of helping a team win. It is agnostic to usage, not as ice time sensitive, does not try to be predictive in the same sense as XPM, and lacks in properly evaluating defensive impact (note: defensive impact not defensive position).

While not completely the same statistic, Game Score does paint a fairly similar picture to XPM. It at least lends confidence that XPM is on the right track and being honest on the Jets performance depth.

The Problem

While most of the complaints are typically aimed at the third pairing, the Winnipeg Jets do not have a good enough top-four. I know there are many who like to feel better about their own players, but you don’t slide to near bottom of the standings merely for one or two holes in the roster.

Jacob Trouba has been developing into a legitimate elite defender. While Dustin Byfuglien has not been as dominant as historical norm, he is still performing like a legitmate number two defender.

Optimally one would not want Byfuglien taking as much ice time as he has done this year; he currently ranks third in the NHL in five-on-five ice time per game. Still, it is understandable given the struggles for the remaining non-Trouba Jet players. While Byfuglien is receiving more ice time, Trouba is still playing like a top defender, ranking eighth overall in five-on-five ice time per game.

Neither Toby Enstrom nor Josh Morrissey have been good enough.

One underperforming player in the top-four is non-optimal, but two is a severe issue. Morrissey is only a rookie; we expect that his performance will improve in time and he has been on an upward trend. Enstrom, though, is much older and at the age we should expect his performance to deteriorate over the years.

Paul Postma has been an above average third-pairing defender, but he may be gone next season. The above model does overly rate Postma, but only slightly due to his crazy high point production per minute of ice time right now. The right-shot defender is a Unrestricted Free Agent this summer and has been highly under utilized. He literally ranks lowest in five-on-five ice time for the 180 defenders with the most games played.

Finally we have Ben Chiarot and Mark Stuart. While Mark Stuart has been below replacement level over the past few seasons, Chiarot is almost the textbook definition of replacement level.

To be blunt, we could summarize the Jets problems being that the entire left side has not been good enough.

The Future

Farm

The Jets farm and prospects does not hold a lot of upside for the blue line.

Brian Strait was only a one-year NHL contract, will likely be seen somewhere else next season, and was no where near above NHL replacement level anyways. Brenden Kichton, while only a Restricted Free Agent, could potentially be headed to European leagues next year where his puck handling to skating skills difference is not viewed in the same manner.

Overall there is not much NHL hope in the Jets’ cupboards.

Tucker Poolman could be a NHL regular, but that would likely be as a Postma replacement. The possible marginal gains on the team in improving Postma is likely fairly low with the already high ice time taken by the Jets other right-side defenders. There is no guarantee Poolman signs or is NHL ready, nor is there a guarantee that Postma does not extend with the Jets.

Sami Niku could come over from Europe and have a Markus Nutivaara like impact, but he is more likely needing some AHL time than being the Jets solution in the top-four.

Logan Stanley meanwhile was shutdown not long after we talked about his season being an improvement over last year but not by much.

Required Solutions

We will ignore the possibility of Trouba leaving, as he would most likely garner a similar calibre defender in return if Kevin Cheveldayoff gets his price (and appropriately evaluates said defenders capabilities).

Josh Morrissey developing should hopefully solve one of the Jets two holes in the top-four. It’s possible he does not, but Morrissey has looked strong in his rookie season. He has the smarts and the skill to conceivably be a legitimate top-four defender.

While there is a chance that Enstrom rebounds, we do not know if it will be enough. More likely than not Enstrom should be the answer to Chiarot and Stuart not being strong enough NHL skaters than playing as the Jets number four defender.

There is the possibility of Tyler Myers returning to health, but Myers has never been a strong player in overall statistics like WAR or Game Score. He is more of a potential replacement for Postma than a filler for the top-four. Last season he ranked 124th in WAR and 121st the year before that.

So, the Jets need to add a legitimate top-four performing defender, preferably a left-handed shot. With already one of the higher defensive Cap Hits when looking at Byfuglien, Enstrom, Myers, and Trouba, they will need to be on a cheap contract.

Otpimally the player would preferably be expansion draft exempt as well, as the Jets are already forced to protect Byfuglien and Enstrom due to their Non-Movement Clauses.

Closing Thoughts

It is not surprising the Jets have struggled this season. Half of their top-six defenders have performed below average for their position in the depth charts.

The Jets need to shore up their entire left side. Morrissey should improve next year and I expect some slight bounce back from Enstrom. If they could just add one more piece, and if Postma leaves Myers comes back healthy, the team should be good to go.

Easier said than done…


MORE FROM GARRET

  • Dr. Rocktopus

    Indeed “easier said than done”. Without a trade, best case I can imagine is that Niku comes over to the AHL next year, and at some point gets called up and stays with the big club (this is already his second season playing with men). So top-4: JoMo-Buff, Niku-Trouba? Then Enstrom can be on the 3rd pairing with Myers/Postma. But that’s a far from ideal state of affairs if, say, it doesn’t happen until we are 1/4 or 1/3 into the season.

  • Dr. Rocktopus

    If Chevy can somehow pick up a Decent top-4 LHD to bump Enstrom down, it could solve a lot of problems all at once. A 3rd pair of Enstrom-Myers next year could be superlative for a 3rd pair. Any noteworthy FAs coming up this off-season? Anybody that could be gettable through trade?

      • Dr. Rocktopus

        True. But isn’t that the benefit of having so much youth in the F corps? It frees up a ton of cash to spend on D. We’re paying for both those guys already, and we’re no where near the cap. Next season, especially once Pavelec and Stafford are off the books, there’s a ton more room still to work with. Why not spend it on one more good D to fix the problem?

  • Dr. Rocktopus

    The closing thoughts section make for a concise summary on a well thought out piece. Curious about Trouba though, are you inferring an equal trade should be made there to get the lefty D needed by this club?

    The curious case of Paul Postma I wonder if is he played out of necessity this year more than anything else, those low minutes this season, and press box time last season never seemed to make a lot of sense to me…Is the number #4 on his back a bulls-eye for a coach looking for one half of a pairing to display solid stay at home D play (okay I’ll stop with the conspiracy theories;-)

    Still as you say the cupboards are bare on the blue line and the lone possibly ready for prime time player #71 cleared waivers…what’s a GM to do, dithering is not a solution…