Winnipeg Jets 2012-13 Season Review, Part 4: The Defensemen

Jeff Gross

A deeper look into how the Jets' performed, what we should expect for next season, and how we can improve.

The regular season is over, Kevin Chevaldayoff has given his end of the season press conference, and the players have dispersed from Winnipeg to warmer spring cities. It's a perfect time to review the season and delve into what the on ice results say about this season's Winnipeg Jets. Here is a look at where the Winnipeg Jets came from and where are they going.

In part three of the series, we finished off discussing the 2012-13 Jets forwards. Now we shall look at the Jets backend (insert Byfuglien/Wellwood/Pavelec overweight joke here).

In most cases, defensemen are predominately focused on reducing scoring chances against their own team. Offering secondary scoring and point shots during an offensive zone puck cycle would both be lesser in importance, although still having value in itself.

One of my all time favourite quotes in regards to defensemen comes from one of the most defensive coaches in the league. 2010 Jack Adams winner Dave Tippett has only missed the playoffs twice in his entire career as a NHL Head Coach. Tippett has always been a strong supporter in how analytics can help clear the murkiness created by the narrative seeking conventional hockey wisdom. In an interview he once stated something we should keep in mind:

"We had a player that was supposed to be a great, shut-down defenseman. He was supposedly the be-all, end-all of defensemen. But when you did a 10-game analysis of him, you found out he was defending all the time because he can't move the puck.

"Then we had another guy, who supposedly couldn't defend a lick. Well, he was defending only 20 percent of the time because he's making good plays out of our end. He may not be the strongest defender, but he's only doing it 20 percent of the time. So the equation works out better the other way. I ended up trading the other defenseman."

This touches on the source of miscommunication between those who use possession statistics. Often the so-called "stat nerds" are ridiculed for thinking certain defensemen are good defensemen. The so-called "traditionalists" will point out too singular events in where a defenseman has made a mistake, misunderstanding the real point. The true reason the "stat nerds" are saying particular defensemen are good defenders is not due to excelling in one particular subset in the game in defending but rather the players net contribution to the team and the final results.

The Stats, 5v5

Name RelQoC OZS Corsi RelCorsi SF/60 SA/60 Shot Diff G/60 A1/60 P/60
Dustin Byfuglien 0.608 50.1 1.21 4.7 28.0 28.8 -0.8 0.14 0.36 1.00
Zach Bogosian 1.115 45.3 -3.29 -5.0 25.3 27.8 -2.5 0.48 0.10 1.06
Ron Hainsey 1.144 44.2 -6.53 -8.7 25.9 27.5 -1.6 0.00 0.34 0.75
Tobias Enstrom 0.719 51.0 -1.31 -2.3 28.9 26.9 2.0 0.33 0.16 0.98
Zach Redmond -1.443 50.0 19.54 21.3 28.8 16.7 12.1 0.00 0.47 0.93
Grant Clitsome 0.113 49.4 0.35 2.3 25.1 28.4 -3.3 0.17 0.52 0.95
Mark Stuart -0.073 48.9 -3.39 -2.9 22.0 23.3 -1.3 0.20 0.10 0.40
Derek Meech -0.720 53.4 -8.43 -7.1 21.2 30.5 -9.3 0.00 0.27 0.27
Paul Postma -0.650 60.9 6.17 9.9 25.8 24.9 0.9 0.27 0.27 0.69
NHL Median 0.233 49.3 -0.5 -0.4 26.2 26.2 0.0 0.14 0.21 0.69

  • All numbers are from behindthenet.ca or stats.hockeyanalysis.com

Top Four

It's no surprise that all four are above the NHL defenseman median offensively, as they all perform fairly well at either puck distribution, moving the play forward, and shooting. It is however a little worrisome that only one has a positive possession and only one has a positive shot differential. Much of that could be blamed on injuries and non-optimal usage, but ideally you want your big minutes players landing in the plus.

For the second year in a row, the Jets lost around 25% of their man games with their four best defensemen. This season was worse in many ways as the percent lost from their fourth best defensemen, Hainsey, moved to one of their best, Enstrom. There were also multiple domino effects, time without both Bogosian and Byfuglien forced Noel to create an Enstrom-Hainsey pairing. The pair then carried the weight that was normally distributed between all top 4 defensemen. This hammered both of their possession numbers, early in the year -- at the time they were hovering around the negative twenties for RelCorsi--. Another issue is that Noel wasn't able to give the same offensive zone push to Enstrom and Byfuglien as he did the season prior.

So, how good were the Jets top 4 when together? Well let's look at how they performed as a pair for all their time together in Jets 2.0 history. The following is their goal and Corsi stats for close games and adjusted for zone starts, only looking when the game was within two points and removing any events within 10 seconds of puck drop in the defensive or offensive zone:

TOI GF/20 GA/20 GF% CF/20 CA/20 CF%
Tobi-Buff 544 0.919 0.773 54.3% 21.8 17.3 55.7%
Ron-Bogo 388 0.825 0.876 48.5% 21.3 19.6 52.1%

Having a lower GF% than your CF% is pretty normal when your team sports one of the worst SV% in the league. It's very impressive that the Jets sported two pairs that can push the play forward with positive possession. Many in MSM (mainstream media) and the Jets fanbase have stated that these pairings don't work; however, all evidence is that they work best with each other. The truth is the four have spent much of the last two seasons playing predominantly against the leagues best AND they have beaten them.

If you break it down it makes sense:

* Byfuglien is amazing offensively but has problems creating chances against with getting caught up in the play, while Enstrom is one of the best Jets' defenders for reducing shots and scoring chances against (two years running), even with his small stature he does this via the same method mentioned in the Tippett quote.

* Bogosian is strong at pushing the play forward with his skating and is catching up to Byfuglien offensively but has been well known for getting lost positionally in the defensive zone and can run around a bit, while Hainsey is strong positionally and very vocal in directing defensive zone traffic but can't skate the puck out very well. He also doesn't have a great shot.

This is likely the last season we see this top 4 together, as Hainsey will most likely depart from the Jets. Hainsey may be in demand and the cap is falling. The Jets also have a bit of a youth movement on the way. While some see this as addition by subtraction, we should keep in mind that Ron faced some of the toughest minutes in the entire NHL. He may not have looked great all the time, but few do in these minutes and he generally was able to avoid drowning.

It will take quite a very large jump in development from either Redmond, Trouba, Clitsome or Postma in order to do what Hainsey did.

Developing a tough minutes beater takes time. It took Shea Weber and Ryan Suter a year splitting AHL and NHL plus a full season of soft NHL minutes before they could handle toughs. It took Drew Doughty 3 years struggling under tough minutes, and Bogosian 4 years under tough minutes to finally break out... Those are top tier players. Clitsome, Redmond and Postma are not.

The Rest

Stuart improved over last season, predominately due to Noel avoiding any tough assignments for Mark. Playing some easy minutes with two former AHL All-Stars also likely helped lift Stu's possession stats. His weak offensive production is fine given that the Jets have plenty who can bring the O. Stu's inability to get the puck out of the defensive zone and properly decide when to go for a hit still causes issues. These are likely big contributors to the Jets poor shot differential with Stu on the ice.

The remaining four cycled in and out of the press box throughout the season.

Clitsome would likely beat out Stuart for most improved player. He started off the season under similar minutes and usage as Postma but with far worse results, but as the season moved along he improved his defensive zone play to supplement his already above average offensive abilities. As a 28 year old UFA this season, he could be a low cost stop-gap taking that 2nd pair left side spot until one of Redmond, Postma or Trouba (or Arturs Kulda) is ready for top four minutes.

Meanwhile, Redmond and Postma handled themselves quite well for rookies, destroying sheltered competition. It comes as no surprise, since the two were both former AHL All-Stars and beating fourth line players is pretty similar to beating AHL lifers. Someone once argued against advanced statistics using Postma as an example, saying advanced statistics point to Paul to being one of the best defensemen in the league. Postma's problem is that he had a few very visible giveaways early (lets call it the Johnny Oduya effect), because of this he was heavily critisize an people looked for holes instead of the good. Bottom line is, Postma and Redmond handled themselvess quite well through most of the season, but the context is important. The stats were impressive, but destroying sheltered minutes isn't the same as beating tough match-ups. Still there is plenty of promise for both the future.

Finally we come to Meech, who was pretty terrible. His possession and shot differentials were second worst and worst respectively, all while facing the second easiest minutes on the team. There were many moments where the pair of Meech and Stuart would be stuck in their own zone for minutes, resembling the infamous 5v5 GST penalty kill. Meech also has a tendency to over pinch like Byfuglien, although Meech does it with nearly 1/4 of the offensive production. Meech works fine as an AHL call-up in extreme circumstances, but hopefully we don't see him in our top 6 next season. Redmond and / or Postma should be getting those minutes.

Summary

The Jets were hurt for the second season due to massive games lost with-in their top 4 defensemen. While they are not the leagues best defensmen they are far above average overall in pushing the play forward, sustaining pressure and creating offense. Ultimately these are the things that amount to wins when it comes to the game of hockey. Hainsey will likely be leaving for UFA and will likely be a temporary step back for the Jets defensive core, ignoring any historically large possible development from Postma, Trouba or Redmond. Clitsome improved his game immensely and could be used as a short term gap until one of those three players are ready to face tougher minutes.

Bonus Section, Myth Busting:

Enstrom is too small for Western Conference / No team has done well in playoffs with smaller players/defensemen like Enstrom / Enstrom gets injured too much (because he's small):

Well, no. WC is not any larger than the EC, some teams have done well in playoffs with smaller players, and also Enstrom has played 88% of his NHL games since entering the league thus far.

Byfuglien plays more defensively/better when away from Enstrom or with Clitsome:

Well, no.

GA/20 CA/20 CF%
Tobi-Buff 0.773 17.3 55.7%
Clit-Buff 1.052 19.4 51.7%
Ron-Buff 2.193 26.6 42.2%
Stu-Buff 2.210 28.7 39.7%

Jets have too many passive, soft, etc. defensemen who let too many opposing forwards get into the slot:

Actually, yes and no...

Yes Jets' defensemen may not be stylistically of your personal preference, but you don't get points for style, heart, or (insert narrative here). In the end it's the results that matter. This is why the eye test can fail against stats, as it can be swayed by personal preferences (and also how we are psychologically wired to remember large, sudden outlying events and not averages).

In the end the Jets defense have pushed the play out of their zone and outside of areas of high scoring chances... but more on this in the next article...

Next up, the supreme finale, a deeper look into the Jets' goaltending...

As always, feel free to comment below with your thoughts!

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