The Winnipeg Jets have had an uneven season and after getting out the urge to fire everyone, the question remains to one of their biggest issues: what makes a good defenceman?
The Jets defensive issues also stem from the fact that their forwards are relied upon to help defensively and some are not very strong at all when doing so, but that could also be aided by having a stronger defensive group than it is in its current state. The Jets have actually have rarely had a strong defensive group and it shows in their results. At times it was because of personnel usage, but normally it was because of the strength of the group itself.
First off, I know that Toby Enstrom is not the most popular former Jets out there. Even at his best he had detractors because of his size and his apparent love of giveaways. However, Enstrom was also a steady player who rarely went on offensive forays allowing for Dustin Byfuglien to play the way that made him most effective. Enstrom could move the puck efficiently and be able to defend the rush and break up plays easily. The Jets did not need to replace Enstrom as he was in his final year with the team, but Enstrom as he was in 2011. He wasn’t a big, physical guy and that worked for the Jets. If they could keep a player of his ilk in the mix, the Jets would be better off.
The Jets do have some really effective defencemen most of the time in Josh Morrissey, Tucker Poolman, and Neal Pionk are all effective defencemen. And even though they can be more physical than Enstrom was, they don’t have have to be and that is important. Good defencemen do not have to hit a lot, but they do have to be able to make plays with the puck and help the forwards transition to offence as much as possible. It is heartening to see them all find success on the Jets because they are not what people typically see as “good defencemen”.
Good defencemen in the NHL can be physical like Dustin Byfuglien. They can also be smart with the puck, start transitions, and support the offence when needed. A good defenceman does not need to be everything to the team, but they need to be able to play their role well. They can help the team a lot without being the best at anything. They can all have their strengths and weaknesses which can all be balanced out with a solid partner who can play off those strengths. The Jets had this two seasons ago when they had Enstrom and Byfuglien, Morrissey, and Jacob Trouba as a top four. The loss of Enstrom with no replacement was the first part of the Jets defence taking a major step back. It has never recovered because the balance has been lost to the Jets. If they can restore the balance to the defence, they will probably improve as a team overall.