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Why You Should Like Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien Together

We take a look at defensive pairing optimization and compare some of the league's top pairs.

Marianne Helm

While discussing defensive pairings for Winnipeg Jets for later this evening, coach Claude Noel mentioned that he liked Dustin Byfuglien with Grant Clitsome last season. It's likely that Noel liked the +/- of the pair, since he's made line combinations based on +/- before. However, they benefited greatly from an overly inflated PDO (combination of on-ice shooting and save percentage).  It's already well known fact that traditional +/- is a poor predictor of future success, since these percentages tend to regress to a natural mean.  So what do the underlying numbers say for the Jets most effective pairings?

I have long been a supporter of keeping "Big Buff" with little Tobias Enstrom and I will show you why.

Who are their best partners?

Due to sampling biases and other natural variances, goal differentials are usually not indicative of future success. The exception is when you have a huge multi-year sample, but by then other variables such as system, partners, other linemates and developmental curves may have vastly changed throughout. Corsi differentials (all shot attempts including goals, shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) however have been shown to correlate strongly to all of time in attacking zone, puck possession, and scoring chances while also being a strong future predictor of future goal differentials and ultimately wins.

Essentially you can simplify all this by saying CF% is the best predictor of both future success and GF% (goal differential), and determiner of which pairing was best.

There are some variables beyond skill that effect the results but by restricting to situations where the opposing teams are within two points and ignoring the immediate 10 seconds after faceoffs, you limit the variables of the sample to be predominately controlled by skill, chemistry and effectiveness.

2011-13 Enstrom's Zone-Start Adjusted, Close-Game Situations WOWY

Partner TOI CF% GF%
Dustin Byfuglien 613 54.9 53.7
Ron Hainsey 171 51.5 46.7
Zach Bogosian 63 50.3 50.0

2011-13 Clitsome's Zone-Start Adjusted, Close-Game Situations WOWY

Partner TOI CF% GF%
Dustin Byfuglien 209 51.7 59.3
Ron Hainsey 83 46.3 50.0
Zach Bogosian 41 50.0 60.0

Patterns to note:

* Both left handed defensemen performed best when with Byfuglien. This makes sense sense as Dustin Byfuglien is a very potent (and sometimes underrated) defensemen. He has his faults, but overall he tends to overcome these faults with his positives.

* Clitsome is not as strong as Enstrom, duh, and you can see this with him being below Tobias in all three cases.

* You can also see how Clitsome lucked out nicely with some nice shooting percentages improving his goal differential in all three partners. This is unlikely to be the case in the future, but lightning can strike twice.

* Enstrom-Byfuglien pair is the most successful by a large margin. The increased possession in placing Byfuglien with Enstrom is larger than the loss of separating Bogosian from Enstrom.

* Some have argued that Zach Bogosian's sample size is small; however, by adding Hainsey, you can see that the overall general trend is correct, even if sample size may make the gap slightly more severe than in actuality.

Overall, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom have played some of their best hockey of their career when together. They have huge chemistry and compliment each other quite well, contrary to what some seem to believe. Statistically it makes sense, since Byfuglien is the best Jet blue liner when it comes to generating scoring chances for and Enstrom -- who is commonly miss-casted by fans as an offensive only defensemen -- is the best Jet blue liner when it comes to suppressing scoring attempts against.

So, we know that Byfuglien being paired Enstrom is really the best option for the Jets' top 5v5 pair and forms the most efficient top 4 grouping for the Jets... but...

How does Enstrom-Byfuglien stack up with the best in the NHL

We will take a look how the pair compares in both 5v5 ZS Adjusted CorsiClose possession and 5v5 scoring for the top pairs in the NHL. Now teams lines tend to be fluid with injuries and hot/cold streaks. Also, some teams may have two pairs that are essentially equal for 5v5 icetime... so because of this, some pairs may not always be the "number one pair"...

However, I think this gives a pretty good general idea:

Team 1 D 2 D CF% Avg P/60
St. Louis Blues Alex Pietrangelo Jay Bouwmeester 56.6 0.75
Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara Dennis Seidenberg 56.5 0.74
Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty Rob Scuderi 56.1 0.62
Calgary Flames Dennis Wideman TJ Brodie 55.3 0.59
Vancouver Canucks Jason Garrison Dan Hamhuis 55.1 0.75
Winnipeg Jets Dustin Byfuglien Tobias Enstrom 54.9 1.11
Detroit Red Wings Niklas Kronwall Jonathan Ericsson 54.5 0.71
Philadelphia Flyers Braydon Coburn Kimmo Timonen 54.5 0.81
Chicago Blackhawks Brent Seabrook Duncan Keith 53.6 0.89
San Jose Sharks Marc-Edouard Vlasic Dan Boyle 53.4 0.73
Ottawa Senators Erik Karlsson Filip Kuba 52.3 1.17
Pittsburgh Penguins Kris Letang Brooks Orpik 52.0 1.13
New Jersey Devils Andy Greene Adam Larsson 51.5 0.61
Florida Panthers Brian Campbell Erik Gudbranson 51.3 0.46
Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban Josh Gorges 51.0 0.65
Anaheim Ducks Francois Beaucemin Cam Fowler 50.9 0.62
Dallas Stars Alex Goligoski Philip Larsen 50.8 0.78
Colorado Avalanche Matt Hunwick Erik Johnson 50.7 0.45
Phoenix Coyotes Keith Yandle Derek Morris 50.4 0.82
New York Rangers Ryan McDonagh Dan Giardi 50.3 0.73
Minnesota Wild Ryan Suter Jonas Brodin 49.3 0.55
New York Islanders Andrew MacDonald Travis Hamonic 48.7 0.56
Carolina Hurricanes Justin Faulk Jay Harrison 48.1 0.61
Washington Capitals Mike Green Karl Alzner 47.8 0.62
Buffalo Sabres Christian Ehrhoff Tyler Myers 47.4 0.76
Tampa Bay Lightning Victor Hedman Eric Brewer 47.2 0.79
Edmonton Oilers Jeff Petry Ladislav Smid 46.4 0.64
Toronto Maple Leafs Dion Phaneuf Carl Gunnarsson 46.0 0.69
Nashville Predators Shea Weber Roman Josi 45.4 0.72
Columbus Blue Jackets Jack Johnson James Wisniewski 44.7 0.81

As you can see here, when it comes to both shot differentials and offensive creation there are not many who out-perform the Jets duo. While it is true that linemates and team effects do influence the final results (see Shea Weber), the Jets top blue-line pair accomplished this on a very average possession team... which is quite the feat.

I do find the Calgary results curious as they were a terrible team last season but I didn't really follow them.


Noel shouldn't be blamed for trying and experimenting with combinations, as that is part of the job description. However, if he does end up trying to force something continuously throughout the season that fails to work, it would be appropriate to look back at this and start asking questions.

Contrary to common thoughts: Tobi + Buff = high end results.