Welcome to part two of this epic article and we'll get right to it since there are still 9 more teams to go....
Defensive Pairings (Minutes played 5 on 5 / Goal Diff % / Goals For / Goals Against)
Josi/Fabbro (834.5 mins / 57.1 G% / 40 GF / 30 GA)
Ekholm/Carrier (710.6 mins / 64 G% / 32 GF / 18 GA)
Borowiecki/Benning (266.7 mins / 29.4 G% / 5 GF / 12 GA)
Josi/Carrier (264.5 mins / 73.7 G% / 14 GF / 5 GA)
Ekholm/Benning (238.6 mins / 44 G% / 11 GF / 14 GA)
Josi/Benning (135.2 mins / 35.7 G% / 5 GF / 9 GA)
Borowiecki/Myers (124.3 mins / 55.6 G% / 5 GF / 4 GA)
For periods of the season, the Predators have been able to dress 3 forward lines that had goal differentials in the 55.9 to 66.7% range. Since Myers is no longer with the team, the best D line-up I could manage was this:
Josi/Fabbro (57.1 G%)
Ekholm/Carrier (64 G%)
If Nashville can figure out a 3rd pairing that can keep the goal differential close and get some really good goaltending, then they might be ready to tackle the difficult road a wildcard team has to face if they want to lift the Cup.
Miller/Trouba (1201.4 mins / 58.1 G% / 54 GF / 39 GA)
Lindgren/Fox (1068.3 mins / 54.7 G% / 47 GF / 39 GA)
Nemeth/Schneider (290.1 mins / 52.4 G% / 11 GF / 10 GA)
Nemeth/Lundqvist (239.8 mins / 46.7 G% / 7 GF / 8 GA)
The Rangers have the ability to line-up 4 forward units (50 to 83.3% Goal Diff) that allow them to roll the lines on their opponents. When you add 3 good defensive pairings with significant icetime together this season, New York really could make those trade deadline deals pay off. The Blueshirts optimal D set up is obviously:
Miller/Trouba (58.1 G%)
Lindgren/Fox (54.7 G%)
Nemeth/Schneider (52.4 G%)
Where the Rangers end up hasn't been decided, but they will likely have home-ice advantage in the opening series. With great goaltending and newly acquired depth at the forward position, NY should be a fun team to watch in the post-season.
Dumoulin/Letang (979.2 mins / 53.1 G% / 43 GF / 38 GA)
Pettersson/Marino (656.4 mins / 52.5 G% / 21 GF / 19 GA)
Matheson/Ruhwedel (561.3 mins / 48.1 G% / 26 GF / 28 GA)
Matheson/Letang (267.4 mins / 64.3 G% / 18 GF / 10 GA)
Matheson/Marino (226.6 mins / 57.9 G% / 11 GF / 8 GA)
Dumoulin/Marino (212 mins / 33.3 G% / 6 GF / 12 GA)
Ruhwedel/Friedman (162.7 mins / 50 G% / 6 GF / 6 GA)
Pettersson/Ruhwedel (147.6 mins / 36.4 G% / 4 GF / 7 GA)
With Rakell added from Anaheim at the deadline, the Penguins are hoping that will allow them to find 4 good forward units to keep the pressure on their opponents. Pittsburgh hasn't had a problem finding two good defensive duos, but the search for a 3rd hasn't produced results so far. At this point, the best statistical line-up looks like this:
Matheson/Letang (64.3 G%)
Pettersson/Marino (52.5 G%)
Ruhwedel/Friedman (50 G%)
The Pen's coach search for something better than this continues and if he finds it, then Pittsburgh will increase the chances of the aging Crosby & Malkin drinking from another Cup.
Krug/Faulk (666.4 mins / 68.1 G% / 47 GF / 22 GA)
Mikkola/Parayko (534.1 mins / 44 G% / 22 GF / 28 GA)
Scandella/Parayko (498.2 mins / 53.3 G% / 24 GF / 21 GA)
Walman/Bortuzzo (192 mins / 25 G% / 2 GF / 6 GA)
Scandella/Bortuzzo (181 mins / 63.6 G% / 7 GF / 4 GA)
Leddy/Faulk (149.3 mins / 61.5 G% / 8 GF / 5 GA)
Krug/Parayko (126.9 mins / 41.7 G% / 5 GF / 7 GA)
Scandella/Faulk (119.8 mins / 53.8 G% / 7 GF / 6 GA)
In the forward review, we saw that the Blues were fortunate enough to have 3 lines that have managed 60% or more of the 5 on 5 goals. While St. Louis has a few examples of dominant defensive pairings, they have been only able to get 2 out of 3 winning the goal battle.
Krug/Faulk (68.1 G%)
Scandella/Bortuzzo (63.6 G%)
To come up with a good 2nd pairing, the Blues need to find someone to play with Parayko and if successful, that would give them a much better shot at winning some playoff series.
Hedman/Rutta (835.7 mins / 62.7 G% / 52 GF / 31 GA)
McDonagh/Cernak (410.5 mins / 51.6 G% / 16 GF / 15 GA)
McDonagh/Bogosian (287.5 mins / 54.5 G% / 6 GF / 5 GA)
Sergachev/Foote (277.3 mins / 55 G% / 11 GF / 9 GA)
Sergachev/Cernak (259.7 mins / 50 G% / 14 GF / 14 GA)
Hedman/Sergachev (210.3 mins / 41.2 G% / 7 GF / 10 GA)
McDonagh/Sergachev (197.2 mins / 57.1 G% / 8 GF / 6 GA)
Sergachev/Bogosian (134.2 mins / 46.7 G% / 7 GF / 8 GA)
Hedman/Foote (125.3 mins / 45.5 G% / 5 GF / 6 GA)
Bogosian/Foote (110.1 mins / 57.1 G% / 4 GF / 3 GA)
Sergachev/Rutta (102.7 mins / 60 G% / 3 GF / 2 GA)
The Lightning have lots of talent at the forward position and that allows Coach Cooper to run 4 good lines at the start of the game, but switch to 3 very good lines if they find themselves down a goal late in the game. When you consider Tampa's options to ice a formidable D corps, it could possibly look like this:
Hedman/Rutta (62.7 G%)
McDonagh/Bogosian (54.5 G%)
Sergachev/Foote (55 G%)
Hedman/Rutta (62.7 G%)
McDonagh/Sergachev (57.1 G%)
Bogosian/Foote (57.1 G%)
The odds are definitely stacked against Tampa Bay winning a 3rd straight Stanley Cup, but with Vasilevskiy in goal and a boatload of talent, you never know. They will do their best to become the first team to do it since Mike Bossy helped the NY Islanders to lift 3 straight Cups from 1980 to 1982.
Rielly/Brodie (806 mins / 56.2 G% / 41 GF / 32 GA)
Muzzin/Holl (451.7 mins / 42.9 G% / 18 GF / 21 GA)
Brodie/Holl (333.3 mins / 53.5 G% / 15 GF / 13 GA)
Sandin/Liljegren (242.3 mins / 61.9 G% / 13 GF / 8 GA)
Sandin/Dermott (218.5 mins / 62.5 G% / 10 GF / 6 GA)
Rielly/Lyubushkin (207.3 mins / 50 G% / 11 GF / 11 GA)
Rielly/Liljegren (138 mins / 58.6 G% / 17 GF / 12 GA)
Brodie/Muzzin (135.9 mins / 60 G% / 6 GF / 4 GA)
Sandin/Holl (132.2 mins / 66.7 G% / 8 GF / 4 GA)
Giordano/Liljegren (128.2 mins / 54.5 G% / 6 GF / 5 GA)
Dermott/Liljegren (119.1 mins / 53.8 G% / 7 GF / 6 GA)
Muzzin/Liljegren (116.4 mins / 50 G% / 6 GF / 6 GA)
The Maple Leafs don't have a problem scoring goals (#2 in the NHL) thanks to a wealth of talent to pick from for their top 6 forward lines. Toronto's head coach has a few really strong pairings, though 3 of 4 include young Sandin. Coach Keefe also has many other options for good pairings and that should make it fairly easy to find a defensive set up that works, as long as he avoids the Muzzin/Holl duo. Possibly?
Rielly/Brodie (56.2 G%)
Giordano/Liljegren (54.5 G%)
Sandin/???? (??? G%)
Goaltending is going to be a key for the Leafs going into the post-season. Jack Campbell has shown he can play at the level required for parts of the season and the team has to hope that he gets hot & stays that way (as well as staying healthy). Should Toronto manage to win Lord Stanley's trophy this season with an OT goal, the first thing I would do if I was the Leafs GM was to make sure whoever scored it didn't go on any fishing trips in the summer. No need to risk another curse.
Ekmann-Larsson/Myers (902.4 mins / 55.4 G% / 31 GF / 25 GA)
Hughes/Schenn (559.7 mins / 54.5 G% / 24 GF / 20 GA)
Hughes/Poolman (273.9 mins / 46.7 G% / 7 GF / 8 GA)
Hughes/Myers (206.5 mins / 65.2 G% / 15 GF / 8 GA)
Hunt/Hamonic (128.6 mins / 57.1 G% / 8 GF / 6 GA)
Hughes/Hamonic (122.5 mins / 42.9 G% / 3 GF / 4 GA)
It is starting to appear that the Canucks will fall short of their late charge for a wildcard spot, despite them playing very well lately. Vancouver can run 3 forward lines (60 to 77.8% Goal Diff) to go along with 2 good defensive pairings:
Ekmann-Larsson/Myers (55.4 G%)
Hughes/Schenn (54.5 G%)
If the Canucks can squeak into the playoffs, they will need to make a functional 3rd pairing out of Dermott, Hunt, & Poolman if they want a shot at beating a top-ranked opponent.
Hague/Pietrangelo (590 mins / 49.1 G% / 28 GF / 29 GA)
Theodore/McNabb (458.5 mins / 53.8 G% / 21 GF / 18 GA)
Theodore/Whitecloud (333.6 mins / 55.9 G% / 19 GF / 15 GA)
Hutton/Pietrangelo (323.7 mins / 45.5 G% / 10 GF / 12 GA)
McNabb/Coghlan (224.6 mins / 43.8 G% / 7 GF / 9 GA)
Hutton/Coghlan (183.5 mins / 61.5 G% / 8 GF / 5 GA)
Theodore/Pietrangelo (172.2 mins / 77.8 G% / 7 GF / 2 GA)
Theodore/Coghlan (166.7 mins / 27.3 G% / 3 GF / 8 GA)
McNabb/Whitecloud (151.8 mins / 58.3 G% / 7 GF / 5 GA)
McNabb/Pietrangelo (143.2 mins / 41.7 G% / 5 GF / 7 GA)
Theodore/Martinez (127.2 mins / 71.4 G% / 5 GF / 2 GA)
Martinez/Whitecloud (127.2 mins / 66.7 G% / 6 GF / 3 GA)
Hague/Whitecloud (121.9 mins / 54.5 G% / 6 GF / 5 GA)
Hutton/Whitecloud (117.3 mins / 66.7 G% / 10 GF / 5 GA)
The Golden Knights have so many players on LTIR at the moment, it is hard to figure out how their coach will decide to line up everyone. They do have a variety of high scoring options on both offense and defense to pick from, so it will be interesting to see how it unfolds, if they make the playoffs that is. I find it interesting that the only partner who seemed to really work with Pietrangelo was Theodore and that makes it likely that Vegas might have to settle for something like this:
Hague/Pietrangelo (49.1 G%)
Theodore/Martinez (71.4 G%)
Hutton/Whitecloud (66.7 G%)
The team from the gambling capital of America will need Lady Luck on their side if they hope to catch one of Los Angeles, Nashville, or Dallas for a playoff spot. Will all the trades & massive payroll pay off and give Vegas fans another playoff run to enjoy?
Fehervary/Carlson (970.9 mins / 53 G% / 44 GF / 39 GA)
Orlov/Jensen (844 mins / 69.7 G% / 46 GF / 20 GA)
Van Riemsdyk/Schultz (527.7 mins / 44.7 G% / 17 GF / 21 GA)
Orlov/Schultz (182.2 mins / 31.3 G% / 5 GF / 11 GA)
Orlov/Carlson (139.3 mins / 54.5 G% / 6 GF / 5 GA)
Irwin/Schultz (119 mins / 57.1 G% / 8 GF / 6 GA)
Kempny/Van Riemsdyk (112.8 mins / 60 G% / 3 GF / 2 GA)
Jensen/Van Riemsdyk (109.1 mins / 58.3 G% / 7 GF / 5 GA)
Since the Capitals only had 2 forward units that have played significant amounts of icetime and got the better of the goal differential, I expected to see that they often had help from the defensive corps. As the following potential lineup shows, the stats tell us that they have received better than average results from the D:
Fehervary/Carlson (53 G%)
Orlov/Jensen (69.7 G%)
Kempny/Van Riemsdyk (60 G%)
I think Ovi's Washington squad might be over-matched in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year. They will need things to go really right for them to make it to the Cup, but maybe the veteran core can make some magic happen in the "second season".
Dillon/Pionk (788.7 mins / 52.9 G% / 37 GF / 33 GA)
Morrissey/DeMelo (626.4 mins / 47.1 G% / 24 GF / 27 GA)
Morrissey/Schmidt (566.2 mins / 43.5 G% / 20 GF / 26 GA)
Stanley/DeMelo (285.1 mins / 64.3 G% / 9 GF / 5 GA)
Stanley/Schmidt (234.4 mins / 40.9 G% / 9 GF / 13 GA)
Schmidt/Pionk (151.7 mins / 50 G% / 6 GF / 6 GA)
Stanley/Dillon (138.8 mins / 33.3 G% / 3 GF / 6 GA)
Dillon/Schmidt (123.4 mins / 66.7 G% / 4 GF / 2 GA)
Heinola/Pionk (97.3 mins / 50 G% / 5 GF / 5 GA)
Morrissey/Pionk (80.5 mins / 42.9 G% / 3 GF / 4 GA)
Beaulieu/DeMelo (67.8 mins / 50 G% / 1 GF / 1 GA)
Beaulieu/Schmidt (56.4 mins / 42.9 G% / 3 GF / 4 GA)
Samberg/Dillon (51.5 mins / 62.5 G% / 5 GF / 3 GA)
Morrissey/Dillon (50.1 mins / 75 G% / 3 GF / 1 GA)
For the Winnipeg Jets, I lowered the minimum icetime requirement to 50 minutes in order to include some of our young defensive prospects in the review. Many things jump out at me when first glancing at the list....like that 6 out of 14 pairings have a - G diff, but it provides some hope that there are 4 impressive pairings too.
The acquisition of Dillon this off-season seems to have been worthwhile, since everyone except Stanley had +50% goal differentials when playing with him (whether Dillon played his natural left side or the right). Not sure the same could be said for Schmidt, but at least he regained his offense after a down-year in Vancouver.
When it comes to Pionk, he managed to be near the break even point when paired with Schmidt or Heinola. The initial thought about Morrissey's numbers is that he must be a really bad player. But when you consider all the factors, that is really not a fair conclusion. At best, I would say #44 is at the bottom level of first pairing d-men, but probably would be most beneficial playing on the 2nd group. Yet, since Big Buff retired suddenly, Morrissey has been forced to play top minutes against the opponents' best players without a top pairing-calibre defensive partner fighting along side him. When you add that to the terrible systems the Jets inherited from the Maurice-era, Winnipeg is asking way too much from Josh.
Looking at the 4 impressive pairings the Jets have had this year, you can see that really they all would be best suited as playing in the bottom 2 spots. So they don't offer a solution for next year on their own, but can give Winnipeg's management some idea of who to keep this off-season and who to send out of town.
Comparing how some of our younger d-men have done this year, we see that Stanley has been given opportunities to play at least 100 minutes with Dillon & Schmidt, yet only when paired with DeMelo did he win the goal differential battle. The Stanley/DeMelo pairing has sheltered 3rd pairing written all over it, but they did manage the slowest rate of goals against of all Jets D pairings this year.
Ville Heinola is next in terms of minutes played, getting just under 100 playing with Pionk. In those minutes, the Jets scored at a decent pace (5), but also got scored on at the same pace. It's hard to read too much into this, as Heinola's minutes played results in a sample size of approximately 10 games. But it is promising to see that the team picked up the scoring pace when he was on the ice.
Finally, we get to Dylan Samberg who managed over 50 minutes of icetime with Dillon in his 2 stints with Winnipeg. This duo helped the Jets put up the team's best offense output in limited time, doubling the second place Heinola/Pionk pairing. They also allowed goals against at a fast pace, but in the small sample size Winnipeg scored more than they allowed (62.5% Goal diff).
When you look at the Winnipeg Jets overall, both their forward and defensive units fall short of the mark set by the NHL's better teams, but not for the same reasons. They differ mainly due to the Jets having top-end talent at the forward position, but are sorely lacking defensemen with elite abilities.
I'm not sure I would really want to be Winnipeg's GM this off-season. I think it might be impossible to acquire a top RHD to pair with Morrissey, even if the Jets decide to shop a talented player like Scheifele to get one. The person would also have the responsibility of hiring a new coach that they hope can improve the team's defense and special teams with better systems, while also installing a better team dynamic/work ethic in the dressing room. Multiple contracts to negotiate, including the hugely important Dubois deal. Trade or buy-out Wheeler to make cap room? Decisions to be made regarding which of the 10 NHL-ready defensemen to keep and which to trade for other assets. Plus they need to find some scoring from the bottom 6.
Hopefully whoever does the job at least finds a way to make the Jets entertaining again, regardless of whether it results in an instant on-ice improvement in terms of wins/losses. If drastic changes end up in a really bad season, there is at least the thought of possibly getting Connor Bedard with the 1st overall pick of the 2023 NHL Draft to console us fans.