Every Monday we'll be using the Snepsts System to search the NHL's history for players with comparable era-adjusted statistics to today's Jets, and featuring the analysis here at Arctic Ice Hockey. A description and example of the methodology can be found on Hockey Prospectus. To see how this worked for the Calgary Flames last season, visit Flames Nation.
Last week we looked at Andrew Ladd and Nik Antropov, searching NHL's long history for players with recent era-adjusted statistics to theirs, and using what happened next for those players as a fun way to set expectations for their two big offensive stars. This week we'll be looking at their assistant captains, offensive-minded blue-liners Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom.
Dustin Byfuglien, D
Big Buff started out as a power forward, winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009-10 with a 16-point post-season, but moved to the blue line in Atlanta. Despite consistently scoring between 15-19 goals and 16-17 assists as a Blackhawk, Byfuglien exploded for 20 goals and 53 points his first year as a Thrasher, earning himself a spot on the all-star team, and a lucrative long-term deal.
Given his unusual background, we included all players regardless of their position, and got all forwards. There were 55 total matches, all forwards, who averaged only 17 goals and 27 assists for 44 points, quite a drop from last year's 53, or Vukota's optimistic 62-point prediction.
Of course, those are just the average results, and Dustin Byfuglien is not an average man. He's a 6'5", 265 pound machine with the hardest slapshot in the league – much like Dainius Zubrus, who stands 6'5", 225 himself. Zubrus was on pace for the average historical expectation: 17 goals, 30 assists and 47 points.
The Vukota system is far more optimistic, predicting Byfuglien will finish only one goal short of the 20-goal plateau, and record a career-high 43 assists, for 62 points. If true, that total would surpass the historical high-water mark set by Dan "Snowshoes" Maloney and his era-adjusted 58 points, although matching his 23 goals would be quite a feat.
Perhaps Maloney would be an even closer fit, because even though he wasn't as big as Zubrus or Byfuglien, he was still respected as one of the toughest men in the league. In his prime he was an absolute animal, and is statistically one of the top three comparisons.
Interestingly Maloney went on to coach the Jets, helping them to their last post-season victory, way back in 1986-87 – beating the Calgary Flames (the only NHL team the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise has ever beaten in the post-season) 4 games to 2, with the help of Gabe's idol Dale Hawerchuk, Alexander Steen's father Thomas, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle, and Detroit assistant GM Jim Nill. Personally I like their goaltending due of Pokey and the Bandit (Eldon Reddick and Daniel Berthiaume).
I digress. While there is historical precedent for Byfuglien to top 20 goals and 50 points again, odds are he'll fall just short.
Tobias Enstrom, D
Winnipeg's alternate captain Tobias Enstrom was a very late pick in the 2003 draft, but quickly established himself as a puck-moving NHL defenseman. He played 82 games in his first three seasons, scoring 38, 32 and finally 50 points in 2009-10.
Last season Enstrom's shooting percentage jumped to 8.8% from it's usual level under 6%, resulting in a second straight 50-point season (51) despite missing ten games with a broken finger, earning a spot in the NHL all-star game.
Unfortunately there were only six close matches for Enstrom, who together would average 9 goals and 35 assists for 44 points in a full 82 game season, and widening the net doesn't cause that to drop much.
The Vukota system agrees on the point totals, but figures Enstrom can do it in fewer games. There are certainly several players whose career arcs suggest that another 50-point season is within reach for the talented Swede, like the recently-retired Brian Rafalski, Darryl Sydor, Tomas Kaberle and Ron Stackhouse – who would even top 60 points, adjusted for scoring levels.
Like Enstrom a lot of these other players were one-way puck-moving defensemen who were late picks, like Tom Kurvers – for whom the Toronto Maple Leafs once traded in exchanged for the 1st round selection that was used on Scott Niedermayer (oops!), and Tomas Kaberle.
Regardless of what this next season has in store for Enstrom, the future certainly looks brighter, with all but a few of those defensemen going on to score hundreds more points the rest of the way.
Next week we'll look at Bryan Little and Evander Kane. Until then, I'll be happy to answer any questions about the system, and look forward to any comments you have about these comparables.