Does the Winnipeg Jets' third line have a problem?

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets third line has enjoyed some goals although the underlying numbers point to some problems.

The Jets third line has received a lot of positive press lately. Comprised of Matt Halischuk, Mark Scheifele and Michael Frolik, the trio has been the second most common line configuration for the Winnipeg Jets and have combined for eight goals at even strength. But it hasn't been all sunshine and roses for the group.

The Jets have been constantly buried in their own zone while the third line is on the ice and all three players place in the Jets bottom tier for most out-shot. This is a poor sign for the Jets, being a team lacking in generational super-star power or elite goaltending who must instead survive on depth. The best way for the Jets to be a competitive team is by running a possession positive top nine.

So who is to blame? Is it Frolik who has been a plus possession player throughout the majority of his career? Is it the rookie playing at the highest level of his career? Or is it the tenacious forechecker also known as Hustlechuk?

With or Without You

WOWY is a pretty powerful tool. There is the problem from reduction of sample size, but it helps improve context on who are the drivers of good and poor possession versus the players taken for a ride.

For those new to advance stats, Corsi% is similar to the traditional +/- but all shot attempts rather than goals and in a percentage form. It has been shown to correlate to scoring chances and puck possession, while being predictive of future success and goal differentials over larger samples. WOWY's are simply looking how a player's Corsi% changes with and without another player.

First we will look at how the Jets forwards Corsi% changes on average with each of the three. On average Jets forwards Corsi% lowers by 7.75 with Halischuk (Fig.1) while it goes up by 3.91 with Frolik and 0.15 with Mark Scheifele. Now Halischuk has a history of bad shot metrics and WOWY's, and the Jets are no exception. Even if the average is weighted by ice time, Halischuk still tends to drop players Corsi% by 6.28.

Fig.1 Halischuk WOWY


With Halischuk Without Halischuk
Player TOI CF% TOI CF%
Mark Scheifele 107.13 37.2 127.40 48.5
Michael Frolik 93.65 36.2 123.22 48.1
James Wright 33.65 65.6 117.23 45.2
Eric Tangradi 19.33 51.3 117.60 53.1
Olli Jokinen 16.25 53.1 225.33 52.0
Jim Slater 11.62 44.4 19.10 41.2
Devin Setoguchi 8.63 46.7 223.13 52.5
Evander Kane 5.52 42.9 227.47 52.6
Bryan Little 5.43 25.0 242.57 51.1
Blake Wheeler 4.20 33.3 245.17 49.4
Chris Thorburn 3.35 83.3 86.20 49.7
Andrew Ladd 2.97 14.3 235.38 51.2
Anthony Peluso 2.33 75.0 59.98 42.9
Patrice Cormier 2.02 25.0 8.02 88.9
John Albert 0.17 0.0 15.35 23.1

Bottom six players are not perfect; there is a reason that they play in the bottom six instead of the top lines. It's extraordinarily rare for a bottom six player to bring both possession and scoring, with the exception of some very deep teams. The best way to get around this is by placing together players who compliment each other well, filling in the gaps. While it is fine for a bottom six piece to not bring both possession and scoring, a team like the Jets need the third line to bring both overall as a whole.

Frolik is a relatively strong bottom six player, bringing both possession and scoring. However, Scheifele seems to only bring scoring at this point in his development and the same goes for Halischuk. The difference between the two is the third line seems to be a bit much for Halischuk as he is causing a severe negative effect on the 3rd line's possession.

There is however a possible option. While Halischuk has served as a possession anchor on the third line, his performance did markedly improve with the lesser responsibilities over on the fourth line (although the sample size is much smaller). In addition, there has been a player who has significantly improved the shot metrics of others. He has improved Jets forwards Corsi% on average by 2.14 and also has performed well with the two remaining third liners. Frolik and Scheifele. While the player has not historically scored as well as Halischuk, he compliments the other two Jets players better. This player is Eric Tangradi (Fig.2).

Fig.2 Matt Halischuk and Eric Tangradi bottom six WOWY

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Summary

The Jets third line has had its ups and downs. It has scored well, but the underlying numbers indicate that over the long run the final result will likely end with far more goals in the Jets' net than their opponent's. Shot metrics also indicate that largest perpetrator seems to be Matt Halischuk. In addition shot metrics indicate a possible solution in Eric Tangradi on the the third line left wing, placing Matt Halischuk with James Wright and the rotating cast of Anthony Peluso and Chris Thorburn.

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