• Jeff and Justin and Tough Decisions

    by  • March 24, 2014 • Hockey • 6 Comments

    I haven’t said a lot about Justin Schultz over the past two seasons, mostly because when it comes to young players, I tend to think that there’s not a lot of point in being hypercritical of them. The best league in the world is a considerable leap up from the WCHA and if a guy’s struggling, there’s not much to be gained in burying the guy while he tries to make the adjustment to the NHL.

    That being said, it’s been a painful adjustment. To me, there’s no question as to who is the Oilers’ best defenceman – Jeff Petry. Here’s what the numbers for Petry and Schultz at 5v5 over the past two years look like if you line them up:

    Let me put that into words. Over the past two seasons, the Oilers have generated more shots and allowed fewer shots when Jeff Petry is on the ice than they have when Justin Schultz is on the ice. They’ve scored more goals and allowed fewer goals when Jeff Petry is on the ice than they have when Justin Schultz is on the ice. No matter how you slice it, they’ve done better with Petry on the ice and it’s by a substantial margin. Unless someone has some argument that I can’t imagine, Petry’s their best defenceman at 5v5.

    Just as an aside, a word about “offensive” defencemen. The Oilers have scored about 4% more with Petry on the ice at 5v5 over the past two seasons than they have with Schultz on the ice – 2.19 GF/60 to 2.10 GF/60. This is despite a slight on-ice shooting percentage edge for Schultz. Schultz has about a 25% edge on Petry in terms of points – 0.85 P/60 to 0.64 P/60. Who’s the better offensive defenceman?

    To me, the answer’s obvious: Jeff Petry. Points aren’t offence; goals for are offence. The Oilers get more goals for when Petry’s on the ice than they do when Justin’s out there, not because of Petry’s offensive prowess but because they spend less time in the defensive zone, as reflected by the fact that they get more shots and allow fewer. The NHL’s method of crediting offence to players doesn’t capture this.

    Anyway, back to my point. I was curious about how the Oilers were using Schultz and Petry in terms of 5v5 TOI so, after the Buffalo game, I made a little rolling ten game graph of their 5v5 TOI/G in games in which they both played.

    Petry had a couple of games that he left early, so I re-did the graph with just games in which they both played at least ten minutes.

    The same thing shows up – Schultz’s ice time spikes past Petry’s, although a little later on. It looks like after the Oilers 27th game of the year, a 3-2 loss in Anaheim, the coaches decided to pour ice time on Schultz. Up to that point, Petry had played 426.1 5v5 minutes in games that he and Schultz had played at least ten minutes; Schultz was at 407.7 5v5 minutes. Since that point, Schultz has played 679.3 5v5 minutes and Petry has played 608.3 minutes in games in which they’ve both played 10 minutes.

    What’s odd about this is that Schultz has basically been getting his lunch fed to him since he started getting loaded up with minutes. It hasn’t entirely shown up in terms of the GF/GA but they still do worse with him on the ice than Petry. The Corsi% has just been abysmal.

    I wonder whether it’s a coincidence that Schultz’ ice time jumped when it did. You could construct a pretty reasonable argument for it on the grounds that, with the season lost, it’s development time and Schultz needs as many reps as you can possibly give him.

    What’s possibly more difficult to justify is planning on him heading into next year. He hasn’t done particularly well with the increased workload – he’s got a 41.3% Corsi% since the big bump in TOI. The Oilers have 45.1% of the goals with him on the ice in that time. Petry’s got a 47.2% Corsi% since then, with the Oilers having been outscored 25-24 with him on the ice. So it’s the same thing we’ve seen throughout the two years that they’ve been on the Oilers: the Oilers do better, in terms of shots and goals, when Petry is on the ice than they do with Schultz.

    To me, Schultz is the most interesting Oiler heading into this summer because next season kind of turns on the defence. There’s a graphic kicking around the internet showing what Tambellini did to the defence and it’s just horrific. The NHL level cupboard was pretty empty when Eakins and MacTavish showed up. Part of re-stocking that was convincing Schultz to come on board.

    Results be results though and we’re about 110 games into Schultz’s career and he’s struggled as a top four defenceman. He has, admittedly, been saddled with questionable defence partners – Nick Schultz, currently on a five game healthy scratch streak in Columbus and Andrew Ference, who’s had a bit of a tough time this year. There’s an awkward truth here somewhere though. If Ference was good enough to do well on a Stanley Cup finalist last year and this year has struggled with Schultz, what does that say about Schultz? Was Ference just being carried along by Boston? Are he and Schultz a bad fit? Something’s off.

    Whatever it is, it makes for some very uncomfortable decisions with Schultz this summer. They could plan on him being a top four defenceman and find someone else to play with him, bumping Ference to the third pairing. That involves taking a huge risk in the event that Schultz can’t make the leap. In the alternative, they could plan on Schultz being a third pairing guy, which probably comes with additional awkwardness. Ice time aside, it’s very difficult to argue that he’s a better defenceman than Petry and, given the state of the Oilers defence this season, next season probably rides on getting this decision right.

    High stakes.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    6 Responses to Jeff and Justin and Tough Decisions

    1. speeds
      March 24, 2014 at

      ” Was Ference just being carried along by Boston? ”

      It’s very hard in a cap world for a team to be incredibly deep everywhere. BOS had a great top 9F, top end goaltending, and Ference was able to play behind Chara. Looking at Ference’s stats over the years with BOS, what’s so hard to believe about him being a passable 4/5/6 guy that was able to play 2nd pair because the surrounding team was so good (and playing in a weaker conference)?

    2. TheOtherJohn
      March 24, 2014 at

      Schultz is getting a huge push and is really quite bad defensively. Woodguy has pointed out that Tippett used to play Yandle on 3rd pairing in Phx and gave him lots of PP. That might be the optimal way to hide 19′s lapses in the defensive zone.

      Yandle plays top 4 minutes now but that is pretty recent

      Course it may be tough to play Schultz in 3rd pairing what with Ekblad, Nurse and Klefbom here next year

      • Tyler Dellow
        March 24, 2014 at

        This is really the problem I think. The Oilers needed Schultz to kind of make the leap to being a legitimate second pairing guy, at worst, by now. Now they’re in a situation where they need to be better next year, probably don’t want the risk associated with him blowing up and need the spots in the bottom pairing for the next youngsters.

        It’s difficult. If the solution involves trading Petry, I’ll be unhappy.

        • TheOtherJohn
          March 24, 2014 at

          Trading Petry is NOT a solution.

          It’s actually how the Oilers got, in part, to where they are: trade Gilbert because Petry can play top 4 RHD minutes and then find out NSchultz is a 3rd pairing guy.

          Find and keep guys who can play

        • Garnet
          March 25, 2014 at

          The rational defence for the Oil’s use of Schultz of late is that the team is planning to deal him and is presenting him to other teams as a top-flight NHLer. Those teams who use proper analytics aren’t likely to be fooled but then, you only need one idiot GM. Oh, for the days of Espo’s Lightning.

    3. highgloveside
      March 25, 2014 at

      Schultz increased in TIO seems to coincide with Marincin being called up, maybe just the effort of keeping Petry with Marincin but working around Marincin’s TIO abilities forced Schultz into more icetime because of no other viable options. I believe at this point of his career, Schultz should be an 17 min guy with 4-5 min coming on the PP. He could survive as a #4 with the right partner, but is realistically a #5.

      I also think that now could be a very good time to trade Schultz as he still has high value as a young offensive PP QB. Schultz in a package could bring back a return of a good veteran top pairing dman.

      For what its worth, the defensive core will not be good enough if Petry is considered the best defensman on the team. The Oilers need a d-core that has Petry no higher than the 3rd best dman on the team

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