What We Learned: Fixing one of NHL’s biggest disappointments

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Another year come and gone of NHL hockey without a postseason for the Winnipeg Jets.

On the surface, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Look at the talent on that roster and explain how that team ended up seven points out of the playoffs — again. It’s not easy to do.

Mark Scheifele finished at more than a point a game. Blake Wheeler was close. Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers are future stars in this league. Dustin Byfuglien is still a great defenseman. Bryan Little, hurt for much of the year, is a low-key great No. 2 center. Mathieu Perrault is one of the best pure middle-six two-way forwards in the league. Jacob Trouba’s a high-level young defender. Connor Hellebuyck has the profile of one of the best goaltenders in the world.

That’s nine players who can all play, all at different positions, and usually even if you’re getting half-decent performances from almost half the guys on your roster, you’re going to be a lot closer to a playoff spot than “seven points out.”

The obvious answer to this problem is one outlined by Perreault in the wake of the Jets’ season coming to an end:

 


He’s not wrong.

The Jets had a .904 save percentage as a team this season, and Hellebuyck was the only guy above that number (.907) in 56 appearances. Now, .907 is bad, let’s not make any mistake there. The league average this season was .913, and if Hellebuyck delivered that number instead, it would have — generally speaking — saved the Jets nine goals, giving them an extra three points in the standings. Not enough to bridge the gap, even if all three of those points came against the two teams directly ahead of them.

If all four of their goalies were collectively league-average, that adds 24 goals to the total, and that’s eight points. Now we’re getting somewhere.

But let’s be honest: First of all, if the Jets are still barely squeaking into the playoffs with league-average goaltending, yeah the quality of their division is part of it, but so too is the fact that a team with this much talent is still pretty damn weak.

Second, can we really blame Jets goalies for being this bad? Here’s a breakdown of their GSAA, a good illustration of what an average NHL goalie “would have” stopped versus what they did based on the actual workload they received:

As you can see, the big deficiency for the Jets mostly comes at 4-on-5, meaning their penalty kill was on the ice too much, giving up more good looks than it should, or both.

It will not surprise you to learn that the answer for this team is indeed “both.” The Jets gave up the third-most power plays in the league this season and had the sixth-worst PK. It’s a lethal combination that’s going to cost you a hell of a lot of goals over the course of 82 games. Let’s put it this way: If the Jets had a league-average PK, even while still taking too many damn penalties in the first place, they cut their season-long goals against by 10. That’s a huge swing.

They say your goalie is your best penalty killer, and that’s true when he’s actually killing penalties. But the issue, obviously, is that he has minimal influence over the type or quality of shot he faces. If there’s one thing over which a team’s coaching staff has the most control, it’s special teams play.

Is there a reason why the Jets have the third-lowest 4-on-5 save percentage in the league this year? Maybe not a particularly good one. But over time, you see a pattern develop. It was below-average in Carolina, and it was among the worst in the league in Toronto. So maybe there’s a reason bad PK save percentages seem to follow this guy around.

After all, over the past four years, the Jets have the fourth-most expected goals against on the penalty kill in the entire league, behind only teams that spent much of that time actively tanking (Buffalo, Arizona, and Edmonton). In general, the Jets do a good job of blocking the shot attempts they face, but those that do get through tend to get on goal far more often than the league average.

The real issue as far as I’m concerned is that more than 27 percent of the shot attempts the Jets concede are from high- and medium-danger areas. That’s the second-highest number in the league over a four-year stretch, behind only the Rangers. Where the Jets take far more penalties than they draw — they have, in fact, spent more time killing penalties than any team in the league over since 2013 — the Rangers do the opposite, drawing more than they commit.

And wouldn’t you know it, this was also a problem in Carolina: The Hurricanes’ share of shot attempts from dangerous areas was fifth-lowest in the league during Maurice’s tenure. No one noticed, though, because Carolina had the best penalty differential in the league over those four years.

Is it a systems thing? I’m inclined to say that it is.

But it’s also a personnel thing, and that too is directly under Maurice’s purview. While the bottom of the Jets roster hasn’t been anything to write home about under Kevin Cheveldayoff, it doesn’t explain the list of Winnipeg’s most-used PK guys. Mark Stuart has and 24 percent more PK minutes over the last four years than Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom, which it won’t surprise you to learn leads to the Jets eating a lot more goals against. Bryan Little doesn’t seem to be particularly good at killing penalties, nor did Andrew Ladd, but they rank first and third among penalty-killing forwards over the last four seasons.

When you account for the fact that Ladd hasn’t been on the Jets for about 100 games or so, that puts him ahead of Blake Wheeler, who’s a demonstrably more successful shutdown guy. Now, you can argue Maurice is saving the better offensive guys for higher-leverage minutes like Winnipeg’s power plays.

And none of this, by the way, is meant to totally absolve the goalies. They absolutely need to be better. But when so much of your problem comes when you’re down a man, that’s telling. As such, fixing the PK should be the top priority, organizationally.

I’m not sure Maurice is the man to address it.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: A team with this many dirty players being upset about a borderline play not resulting in suspension is pretty funny.

Arizona Coyotes: Of course Shane Doan thinks Hamilton is good. The musical’s point of view really reaffirms how the hockey media has treated a dirty player for the past decade-plus.

Boston Bruins: For a team that already has an uninspiring blue line, this seems bad.

Buffalo Sabres: Knives are out for a guy who was given an AHL defense to work with in the NHL.

Calgary Flames: The team is good, gang. Don’t know how else to tell you this.

Carolina Hurricanes: Glad Bickell got those last few games, but this is a major bummer.

Chicago: Strap in for this series, folks. It’s gonna rule.

Colorado Avalanche: Now this is headline-writing.

Columbus Blue Jackets: If only some handsome genius had seen this coming. If only some wonderful nice man who knows so much had warned everyone this team was mostly smoke and mirrors with an elite goaltender. If only…

Dallas Stars: Get a new coach, get a new goalie, make a playoff run. Not hard.

Detroit Red Wings: In my opinion the thing the Red Wings should do in this rebuild is draft the second-best defenseman of all time, then get two Hall of Famers in the sixth or seventh rounds. Hey, it worked once!

Edmonton Oilers: The physical strength Milan Lucic showed off to make this play is amazing.

Florida Panthers: Guarantee you this: Shawn Thornton is coming soon to a NESN broadcast near you. Finally, an insufferable enforcer gets a media platform.

Los Angeles Kings: Bob Miller called almost 3,400 Kings games. When he started his career in 1973, Jaromir Jagr was only nine months old. Come on!

Minnesota Wild: Not looking forward to this dull series but the storylines will be good, I guess. It’s the Roman Reigns of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Montreal Canadiens: Dude scores the OT game-winner and his coach calls him out. That’s good button-pushing from Julien ahead of the playoffs.

Nashville Predators: Hilarious that losing to the Jets on a bad shorthanded goal is what kept the Preds from playing someone that was not Chicago. Hockey’s fun.

New Jersey Devils: Seems like the team is bad and people don’t like it. Did their Cup run delay a proper rebuild? Yes. Was it worth it anyway? I bet no.

New York Islanders: I really don’t know whether this team is going to be any good next year. They started 6-10-4 and still hung around the playoff picture longer than they had any right to after being trash for the first quarter of the year. You gotta make Weight the Guy, though, right?

New York Rangers: Honestly tough to figure out if the Rangers or Habs should be the favorites in their series. It could honestly go either way and no one would be allowed to be surprised or disappointed.

Ottawa Senators: Making the playoffs is Eugene Melnyk’s Stanley Cup. Gate receipts, baby! Beer sales!!

Philadelphia Flyers: So Mason’s gone. Wonder who takes a flyer on him. Ha ha ha.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Wow, as many as seven home games for the Penguins in the first round. Oh I mean, uhh, Columbus fans will pack their building. That’s what we’re supposed to say.

San Jose Sharks: Scratching Pavelski is obviously understandable but he was five games away from a 500-game iron-man streak, so that’s kinda funny.

St. Louis Blues: I don’t like to get too excited about shootout goals as a general rule, but this Tarasenko shot, man. Damn.

Tampa Bay Lightning: I still can’t believe this happened, but when you have a bunch of top-level players missing dozens of games I guess it happens.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Here’s a definitive list of teenagers who scored 40 goals in their rookie seasons: Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, and Sylvain Turgeon. That’s a lot of great players, and Sylvain Turgeon.

Vancouver Canucks: Vancouver people seem to be really grappling with the whole “how does tanking work?” issue. Getting bigger isn’t the damn problem, bud.

Vegas Golden Knights: Oh hell yeah.

Washington Capitals: Now is the time for all your existential crises.

Winnipeg Jets: The “end season on seven-game win streak” part of this is what should worry Jets fans. “They’re finally on the right track!” is a very real position the front office could make.

Play of the Weekend

Most important save of the Leafs season, and damn it’s a good one.

Gold Star Award

Playoffs, folks. Here we go.

Minus of the Weekend

College hockey being over is insanely bad.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Carolinas Identity” is on top of things.

To Carolina:

MacKinnon

To Colorado:

Hanifin

2017 1st

Signoff

Take your best shot! I’m wearing 17 layers!

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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