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Photo Credit: © Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s Clear The Air About Brendan Lemieux

There might not be a more polarizing player on the Jets than Brendan Lemieux. Old-school hockey fans love his attitude and his rough and tumble style. New age fans are critical of his play because the Jets seem to get out-shot every time he touches the ice. People looking for immediate results are ecstatic as he’s scored six goals in 32 games on the fourth line, yet other people think he’s only scoring because of pure luck.

So who is the real Brendan Lemieux and what does he provide for the Winnipeg Jets?

With any player, there is much that can be unpacked about their play. We will trudge through Lemieux’s season and look at the positives and negatives that he provides. The goal is to provide a more informed look at one of the newest players on the roster.

The Good

One of the most defining traits of Brendan Lemieux is his natural ability to agitate the opposition. He plays the game hard and is always in the middle of a scrum or fight. Like most agitators, Lemieux is very effective at drawing penalties because of his great ability to get under the opponent’s skin. This is a big positive for Lemieux as he currently sits fourth on the Jets with 13 penalties drawn.

The obvious argument against Lemieux is that he also takes plenty of penalties. According to Corsica, Lemieux has only taken ten penalties which means he’s plus three in regards to penalty differential. This plus three mark is sixth among all Jets players, an impressive feat for a grinder who supposedly takes plenty of stupid penalties. (We will get to the stupid penalties in the ‘bad’ section). Because the Jets powerplay has been so dominant this season, the ability to draw penalties is worth more than it has been in past seasons.

Evolving hockey has Lemieux at two goals above replacement due to his penalty differential and his scoring at 5 on 5. This puts him slightly under the average for the Jets roster.

Lemieux has shown the ability this season to score goals. Although he’s shooting at an otherwordly percentage (23.1%), he is finding the back of the net better than most people expected. He has the ability to score given his historical numbers from junior, but I wouldn’t expect his goals to continue at the NHL level until he gets more shots and opportunities. Even Patrik Laine can’t shoot above 20%, it’s just not sustainable in the long run.

Another positive aspect of Lemieux’s play is his natural fit on the fourth line. Paul Maurice appears to like a conventional fourth line that brings energy and toughness to the lineup rather than skilled players who try to make more advanced plays. Lemieux’s simple style lends itself perfectly to this mentality as Lemieux can use his speed and toughness to forecheck hard and make the opposition’s life difficult. If the goal of the fourth line is to be aggressive, strong, and fast, Lemieux is the right choice.

It can be argued that Maurice’s mentality is wrong and it’s more beneficial to include skilled players on the fourth line. This is a valid point and something that should be considered. However, it’s also possible that a up-tempo, energetic line can spark the team in ways other than scoring a goal. Sometimes it’s the little things that can swing momentum in a game. A hard hit, a strong forecheck, or a solid fight has the ability to shift momentum when things aren’t going the right way. Most importantly, it’s not Lemieux’s fault that Maurice is playing him over other players. Some people seem to think that Lemieux isn’t good and should be benched, and somehow it’s Lemieux’s fault that he gets to play. This is totally on Maurice and his mentality of what he wants for his fourth line.

A great example of Lemieux changing momentum in a game was against Dallas in the last game before the All-Star break. The Jets were getting wildly out-shot against the Stars in the first period so Lemieux got into a fight to try and change the momentum. The attempt failed miserably as Dallas kept pouring it on in the second period. Finally, in the third, it was Lemieux again who made a great play and shoveled in a goal. This got the team rolling as they scored another quick goal and made the game much more interesting in the closing moments. Seeing a fourth line player like Lemieux fight and then score a goal was what the Jets needed to get them out of the funk and turn the tide of the game.

The last positive thing to mention about Lemieux is that he appears to be getting better, albeit slightly, as the season progresses.

I created this graph by taking Lemieux’s CF% since the start of the season (my graph making skills are mediocre at best). As you can see, his CF% by game has been wildly erratic, going from 100% in game four to 12.5% in game five. These swings are wild but show a distinct upwards trend since game one.

There are a few caveats with this graph. First of all, it appears that Lemieux had one really good stretch in games 14-24. This likely skews the trendline because it’s still pointing up despite Lemieux having a few rough games between number 25 and 30. The other issue with this chart is the sample size. With such small amounts of ice-time in some games, there are going to be times that the CF% does not reflect the overall trend of the game.

The purpose of this chart was for people to see a visual representation that Lemieux hasn’t been terrible all season and might be trending upwards to the point where he has more good games than bad ones.

To recap, Lemieux has a few things going for him. He draws penalties, he fits Maurice’s fourth line mould, he’s scoring well, and he seems to be getting slightly better than what we saw at the beginning of the year.

The Bad

There are some definite positives to Lemieux’s game, but he isn’t without negative aspects as well. The largest criticisms come from the advanced stats for Lemieux. As mentioned above, although he currently has six goals this season, he is getting really lucky in regards to shooting percentage. Once that percentage drops, Lemieux’s goal pace will certainly drop with it.

We can expect the goals to slow down partly because of his shooting percentage but also because of his negative impact on shot metrics. The Jets struggle to generate any type of offense when Lemieux is on the ice. The giant sea of blue in the chart below means the Jets are getting far fewer shots in the offensive end when Lemieux is on the ice compared to league average.

This problem also shows up in terms of shots allowed. When Lemieux is on the ice, the Jets tend to give up more shots from in close compared to league average. The red spot in front of the crease in not a good sign for Lemieux.

We can see that Lemieux gets fewer shots than league average, and they tend to be less dangerous as well, so how does impact his shot metrics?

Lemieux has the third worst CF% of the entire Jets roster with 46.63%. Only Sami Niku and Patrik Laine have performed worse this season. Lemieux also ranks third last in scoring chances for % with 44.16% and second last in high danger chances for % with 43.24%. These all contribute to Lemieux having the second worst xGF% on the team with 42.93%. Essentially what all of these metrics mean is that the Jets tend to get badly out-shot and out-chanced when Lemieux is on the ice.

These stats blend well with the eye test as the fourth line often gets stuck in their own end of the ice for an entire shift at a time. When they do gain possession and have time in the offensive zone, they find it difficult to work the puck towards the net and are currently relying too much on luck when they score their goals.

People may argue that Lemieux is likely to get out-shot because he plays on the fourth line with sub-par linemates. Andrew Copp is certainly not sub-par given his history with the dominant TLC line, but Appleton is largely an unknown because of his sample size. One thing we can look at is Lemieux’s WOWY chart to see how his teammates perform with and without him.

This chart is not very encouraging. Every single player that has played with Lemieux this season gets fewer shots when paired with Lemieux compared to when they play away from him. Intuitively, Lemieux is also worse when separated from each of his linemates. This would make it seem that Copp and Appleton aren’t the problem, rather it’s Lemieux who tends to drag people down with him. The lone exception appears to be Joe Morrow who gives up hardly any shots when playing with Lemieux while giving up tons of shots away from him. There will always be outliers in stats and the strong trend remains that players get fewer shots for and more shots against when paired with Lemieux.

The last negative aspect of Lemieux’s game is his tendency to take plenty of bad penalties. As mentioned above, Lemieux has a plus three penalty differential, but it could be much higher without some of the bad decisions on the ice. Lemieux has also been suspended this season for a terrible hit earlier this year when he picked Trochek’s head with his elbow. It’s that type of bonehead move that doesn’t belong in the NHL. If Lemieux can cool his temper and find a way to not take penalties during the heat of the moment, his production will likely increase. Until that time, he always has the chance to be a liability for the team.

There you have it. Hopefully everyone is a little more informed on what Brendan Lemieux is doing for the Winnipeg Jets this season. While some people are quick to point out the negative aspects, there are some good things Lemieux is doing on the ice as well. Like any player, there are both good and bad trends that follow their play. If Lemieux can continue to improve his shot metrics and tone down his temper, he could very well become a valuable depth piece for the Jets in the future.


Stats courtesy of Corsica.hockey and naturalstattrick

Charts and graphs courtesy of  evolving-hockey and HockeyViz