FanPost

Summer 2012: Rebuilding the Bottom 6

With the season coming to an end it's time for the Winnipeg Jets to start thinking about changes for next year's lineup. As it stands now, Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Alex Burmistrov and Antti Miettinen are all under contract for next season. Evander Kane, a pending RFA, will surely receive a qualifying offer (and then some). The top half of the forward lineup seems more or less locked in. One area with a lot of room for change though is the bottom half of the Jets' forward lineup. Virtually the entire bottom 6 will become free agents this off-season.

After the jump, the chart displays the Jets' free agents in the bottom 6. In addition, there's a brief analysis of each player's work this season, my opinion on the best course of action to pursue with each of these players, and suggestions for some players to target in their place.

Player

Salary

Status

GP

5v5 Goals

5v5 Assists

5v5 Points

Corsi Rel QoC

Corsi On

Corsi Rel

Off Zone Start %

5v5 TOI/60

Fehr, Eric

$2,200,000

RFA

35

2

1

3

-0.364

1.49

3.3

55.8%

9.20

Glass, Tanner

$750,000

UFA

78

5

11

16

0.892

-17.7

-24.0

34.1%

11.48

Machacek, Spencer

$575,000

RFA

13

2

7

9

-0.058

-4.33

-10.1

59.1%

7.46

Maxwell, Ben

$715,000

RFA

9

1

4

5

-1.328

-8.58

-14.4

65.7%

6.53

Slater, Jim

$1,000,000

UFA

78

13

8

21

0.900

-20.11

-27.9

28.5%

12.32

Stapleton, Tim

$525,000

UFA

63

7

9

16

-0.549

-6.41

-7.6

56.7%

8.32

*Thanks to Gabriel Desjardins, Behind the Net and Capgeek for the numbers.

Spencer Machacek: I figured I'd start easy. Machacek led the IceCaps in scoring this season and put up 9 points in 13 games with the Jets, albeit with unspectacular Corsi numbers. Is his scoring rate sustainable? No, of course not. His on-ice shooting percentage was 26.3%, his PDO was 1213 and his 5v5 P/60 was an absurd 5.57. To put that in perspective, Sidney Crosby's on-ice shooting percentage was 15.17% and his 5v5 P/60 was 4.73. Whether Machacek's NHL numbers are percentage-driven or not though, it's hard to argue with production and Machacek has certainly produce.

Summary: Machacek's production has earned him an extension - likely on a two way contract - and a shot in camp at a spot on the team next season. I think he's probably good enough to play in the bottom six if given easy minutes, but the team should have a plan B in case things don't go well. Machacek makes a nice low risk, high reward option.

Ben Maxwell: Like Machacek, Maxwell has simply produced. His production has been helped by percentages and zone starts too, but 5 points in 9 games with the Jets (albeit in very sheltered minutes) is hard to argue with and a 50 point pace in the AHL isn't bad either. Again, unimpressive Corsi numbers.

Summary: Production's hard to argue with so he seems deserving of a contract extension and a chance to make the team in training camp. It's unlikely he'll be more than a borderline NHLer/AHL call-up but I think he's played well enough to earn the chance to prove otherwise in camp.

Tanner Glass, Jim Slater: These two make up two thirds of the GST line along with Chris Thorburn, they of the local hype, bad boxcars and atrociously bad underlying numbers. As they play together, I figured I'd evaluate them together. All three members of the GST line rank in the bottom 10 forwards in the league in Relative Corsi and bottom 20 in Corsi On. To be fair, this line plays the toughest 5v5 forward minutes on the team and starts in the offensive zone just 30-40% of the time depending on which linemate you use. However, when the playing field is leveled to only players with 20+GP, a Corsi Rel QoC of .600 or greater and those who start a maximum of 40% of the time in the offensive zone (17 forwards meet this criteria), they still rank dead last in both Corsi Rel (by an extremely wide margin) and Corsi On. All three rank in the easier third in terms of quality of competition, yet they get out-chanced relative to their peers playing similarly tough or tougher minutes, usually by a wide margin. Their on-ice +/- per 60 minutes ranks 12th (Thorburn), 13th (Glass) and 15th (Slater) of the bunch of 17. They sometimes - but rarely - do anything to change the momentum in a game. They don't exactly pack an offensive punch either. Slater's 13 goals this season are his career high and Glass set a career high this season with just five goals. Thorburn has just four goals this season and has never scored double digit goal totals. To put it bluntly, I am not a fan of this line.

With all of the above in mind, I'd like to see Glass let go for sure this off-season. As far as I'm concerned, any number of players can be brought in to play for the same amount or less than Glass is paid and not get completely dominated while on the ice. I'd love to get rid of Thorburn too via trade but the chances of that seem slim. Slater brings a bit more to the table than his linemates. He is the team's best face-off man and also has more scoring ability than either of his linemates. He faces the toughest QoC of the GST line and by far the worst zone starts (29% Off while Glass is at 34% and Thorburn at 40%) yet manages to keep his Corsi On nearly in line with theirs (-20.67 vs. -18.36 for Thorburn). Looking into past years' data on Behind The Net, Slater seems to routinely face similarly tough or tougher situations compared to Thorburn and usually puts up better Corsi and +/- numbers. This leads me to believe that Slater isn't the weak link on this line.

Potential Replacements: For Glass (or Thorburn, if he can be traded), to name a few... Kris Newbury, Andrew Ebbett, David Van Der Gulik, Adam Hall, Derek MacKenzie, Ryan Shannon, Brandon Prust, John Mitchell and Mathieu Darche all have some or lots of NHL experience and played for Glass' $750,000 or less this past season, although some of these players will surely be in for raises of varying degrees. Among this list I particularly like Adam Hall, Brandon Prust and Ryan Shannon. Extending the price range slightly gives the Jets more options and among that group I also like Dominic Moore. Hall is one of the 17 forwards I mentioned above that plays in similarly tough conditions to the GST line and he kicks the GST line's ass in most underlying numbers. Furthermore, he is great in the face-off circle with an absurd 59% this season and has been consistently above 50% in his career. The Jets could use another guy that can win face-offs. Moore also destroys the GST line Corsi-wise (though not in +/-, interestingly, likely helped by Dwayne Roloson's .886 SV%), has multiple 10+ goal and 25+ point seasons and is consistently one of the better face-off takers in the league. Prust receives similar zone starts to the GST line (albeit against easier competition) and doesn't get outchanced nearly as badly as GST. He also fights, for whatever you think that's worth. Personally, I think it's worth little. Shannon is one of just three regular Lightning forwards with a positive Corsi On this season and does it while facing the 6th toughest QoC with 43% Off Zone starts. All four of these players can kill penalties and score as much or more than the GST line does. All four have also been significantly more effective than the GST line this season and likely won't cost much more than what the GST line make.

Among players under contract and RFAs, I like Marcel Goc ($1.7M), Bryan Bickell ($540k), Nate Thompson ($900k), Darren Helm (RFA) and Derek Dorsett (RFA). In this group I particularly like Bickell on the wing and Helm at C. Goc gets paid about 50% more than he probably should be, but as I don't see cap space being a concern in the next two years I wouldn't worry about it. If any of these players could be acquired to replace a member of the GST line without losing significant assets, I'd jump at the chance.

Summary: If I had things my way, the GST line would see a big overhaul next season. I'd let Glass go for sure and trade Thorburn if at all possible. Target Moore, Hall, Prust and Shannon as UFA replacement(s) or trade for one of Goc, Bickell, Thompson, Helm or Dorsett if it wouldn't mean giving up much. As Winnipeg's penalty killing was just 80% this season - 24th in the league - and Slater is the team's only consistent face-off winner, penalty killing and face-off ability would be nice to have. As far as I'm concerned though, the Jets can't get much less effective than the GST line so nearly any two or more will do.

As for Slater, keeping him should be much more worthwhile because of his face-off ability, offensive punch relative to his linemates, and general effectiveness as a checker relative to his linemates. If the team can acquire a UFA center that would be an upgrade over Slater on the 4th line and can win face-offs, say...Helm or Moore, I wouldn't complain about letting Slater go too. If an upgrade can't be made, Slater should probably be retained.

Tim Stapleton: At 29 years old, last season was Stapleton's first full season in the NHL. He played sheltered even strength minutes (-0.549 Corsi Rel QoC was easiest among Jets regulars at forward, 56.7% offensive zone starts) and had the worst Corsi On and 2nd worst Relative Corsi after the GST line. Stapleton's scoring/60 numbers ranked in the middle of the forwards. What makes Stapleton a bit of a tricky case is his effectiveness on the power play. Among players with 20+ GP and at least one minute per game of power play TOI, he finished tops on the team and 14th in the league with 5.86 P/60 at 5-on-4, in line with guys like Evgeni Malkin, Martin Erat, Matt Moulson, Teemu Selanne and Taylor Hall. However, P/60 on the power play seems to not really hold up from year to year in most cases. With that in mind, I'd like to see Stapleton replaced by someone who can be more effective at even strength.

Potential replacements: Lee Stempniak, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Mikael Samuelsson, Steve Sullivan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Jochen Hecht, Brad Boyes, Niklas Hagman, Radek Dvorak, Dustin Penner, Steve Sullivan. These guys would all cost significantly more than Stapleton but could probably all be signed for $2.5M or less.

Summary: At even strength Stapleton is easily replaceable and easily upgradable. His 5-on-4 numbers are great but I'm skeptical that they can be sustained in the long run. If they like, the Jets could bring him back as a 13th forward/PP specialist to see if he can repeat his PP success, but I'd like to see the Jets invest a bit more money into the third line and for replacements target Stempniak, Ponikarovsky, Samuelsson (to a lesser extent because of age) and Penner. Penner on a two year deal would make a great low risk, high reward signing.

Eric Fehr: Simply put, Fehr's season has been awful. The boxcars - 35GP, 2G, 1A - are ugly and Fehr's other numbers aren't any better. His quality of competition ranks 12th among Jets' forwards with 20+ GP and his zone starts are favourable yet Fehr has posted just a 1.49 Corsi On rating this season. Fehr's 5v5 goals/60 of 0.37 ranks 11th in the forward group. Perhaps most troubling is that Fehr hasn't even looked remotely dangerous this season. Sure, he's been slowed by injuries at times, but he's never exactly been Iron Man in the past and still managed to produce as a useful soldier for the Capitals. As Fehr is a RFA at season's end, his qualifying offer must be 100% of his current $2.2M contract if the team intends to bring him back.

Potential replacements: UFAs that will likely be in a similar price range ($2M-$3M) or lower include Chris Kelly, Mikael Samuelsson, Saku Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Lee Stempniak, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Steve Sullivan, Dustin Penner, Jay McClement, Ruslan Fedotenko, Kyle Wellwood, Jarret Stoll, Jochen Hecht, Brad Boyes and Niklas Hagman. With a decent group of UFAs to pick from, trading for a 3rd line player under contract likely won't be as worthwhile as taking the free agent rout.

Summary: Given what we've seen from Fehr this season, I'd much rather see that $2.2M spent elsewhere. One of the major priorities for the Jets this off-season should be to target a center that they can build a third line around. He should be a reliable face-off taker and a solid all-around player; someone responsible defensively and also able to contribute offensively; a player who can consistently beat weaker competition and not give us all a heart attack when he ends up on the ice against another team's toughs; offensively talented enough to help on the PP or do spot duty in the top 6 when injuries require it and also capable of killing penalties if needed. As such, I'd like to see the team use the cash Fehr's departure will create to target a center to hold down the fort on line 3. I'd like to see the team target the likes of Jarret Stoll, Chris Kelly, Saku Koivu, Kyle Wellwood and to a lesser extent Jay McClement.

Among this group I particularly like Jarret Stoll. He's 29 years old, strong on face-offs and capable of playing in all situations. Best yet, his 3.9% shooting percentage and the fact that this season he put up his worst boxcars since his rookie year could lead to him being undervalued in the UFA market. Stoll ought to be good value if the UFA market doesn't undervalue him and potentially great value if it does. I'd take any of the other four as well, although Koivu is 37 and won't be around long-term and I'd be cautious not to overpay for Wellwood or Chris Kelly since they're both coming off of career high seasons and career high shooting %.

Bonus "so crazy it just might work" suggestion: Scott Gomez. Bear with me on this one. Gomez isn't worth his salary or cap hit and I'd be crazy to argue he is. But... he's actually not bad at all for a third line center; he's just terrible value relative to expectations. With lower expectations and something to play for he could actually be a pretty good acquisition. His contract is front-loaded - though still expensive - and the Jets don't look like they'll be spending to the cap any time soon. Montreal, on the other hand, already has $45M committed to next season's cap with several RFAs to extend, including P.K. Subban and Carey Price, so they might need some cap space. Plus the Jets can probably ship Gomez to a playoff team at the deadline after a season and a half. What would Montreal be willing to toss in in order to dump the last two years of that contract? If he can stay healthy, Gomez (plus the assets Montreal would give up to get rid of him) could actually be a good acquisition. I'm not saying to pull the trigger right away on this, but depending on what Montreal would be willing to part with it could be worthwhile. It's crazy, but it just might work.

Plus, always end with a bang, right?

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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