CBJ 2013 Worst Defensemen: Jack Johnson and Dalton Prout

CBJ 2013 Image

After positive recaps and one more clouded one, we now start dipping into the purely negative observations. Let’s be honest: it wasn’t all roses for the Blue Jackets in 2013. In fact, while it’s mentally easy to separate the late-season run and the early-season struggles the two are a part of a single whole. And perhaps even more frightening? The post-trade-deadline team Fenwick Close was still sub-par, a meager .4696 only 19th in the league. Yes, things were better than the ghastly outset, but the improved record was primarily due to the guy in net.

So who or what is to blame for all the shots against? The answer lies in both ineffective forwards and porous blueline. I’ll get to the former in a future post. Today I’m going to look at the two most detrimental defensemen on the Blue Jackets team: the ever-popular and constantly awful Jack Johnson, and the praised-but-not-quite-deserving rookie Dalton Prout.

I’m sure neither of these picks will be well received, but humor me while I try to justify my choices.

Let’s begin with Jack Johnson. The thought among many hockey fans is that Johnson is somehow good at hockey. This is something patently false (or at least not defensible by any logical means) but the idea remains. I’ve written before just how poor Johnson is and I’ve linked to more than a few articles that tear apart Johnson’s contribution to any team (both in terms of shot differential and goal production). However, the warm fuzzies continue toward #7 so I’ll continue ranting away until either he shows improvement or there is more unanimity in the idea that Jack Johnson sucks.

Of course, this leads me to ask: why do people believe Jack is so good or so valuable? I assume it must be his top-10 draft pick status, his role as a much-vaunted Puck Moving Defenseman, his presumed status as an offensive threat, his ability to throw big checks, or this year’s ability to become the marathon man and eat 30+ minutes of ice time in some games. Unfortunately, these positive traits are either inaccurate or don’t necessarily represent a beneficial impact to a hockey team.

Starting with the baseline: Jack Johnson is not good at preventing goal scoring opportunities. Johnson’s net shot differential per 60 minutes of ice time was -9.45, second worst among defensmen on the team with 20+ games played. Relative to the team, it was a -8.1, worst on the team. So Johnson played huge minutes and was still crushed by opposition, allowing more shots than almost any other d-man on the Blue Jacket team.

But maybe you don’t like shot differential. Maybe you think goal impacts are more important. Here, Johnson also fails. Instead of being an offensive powerhouse, Jack’s on ice goals for per 20 minutes was 3rd worst among Columbus d-men. From that same data set, Johnson was 3rd worst at goals against per 20 minutes. He wasn’t helping the offense and he was hurting the defense. That’s not good.

And what are we to make of Johnson’s logging huge minutes? It’s simply a terrible decision. While he is physically capable of skating at top speeds for 30+ minutes, his poor positioning and defensive inability more than make up for that and make Jack’s presence on the ice a dangerous prospect for the club. In fact, it’s troubling that Todd Richards viewed Johnson as the go-to choice when other d-men were injured.

We can take a more detailed look at Johnson’s impact by checking out how players performed with #7 and without him (a WOWY table). Using David Johnson’s awesome Hockey Analysis website, we can build and look at WOWYs between Jack and other CBJ d-men as seen below:

Jack Johnson WOWY
Jack Johnson WOWY for CBJ defensemen at 5-on-5, data from stats.hockeyanalysis.com

The differences column on the right show just how negative an impact Johnson was when paired with other players. Of course, you could argue Moore, Goloubef, and Nikitin didn’t have enough ice time with Jack to make significant conclusions, but they’re included for data completion.

In summary: Jack Johnson is not good at preventing shots, he’s not good at generating offense, and he’s not good at preventing goals. I’ll get to some league-wide context for this in a bit. But next up…

Dalton Prout. He has been praised as a stay-at-home d-man revelation for the club and supporters have pointed to his (seemingly) impressive +/- that leads the team at +15. And there’s hope for him as he’s only 23. Unfortunately, +/- is misleading, particularly for Mr. Prout.

His +/- was earned playing in front of a 5-on-5 save % of .974. If your eyes haven’t popped out, please reread that again. .974!!! Unless you believe that Dalton Prout is the world’s first ever significant shot quality reducer (and you shouldn’t), that’s all on Bob. Furthermore, that’s absurdly ridiculous luck for a single player to have. So if the +/- and his goals against figures are misleading due to the brick wall behind him, what can we make of Prout’s shot differential information?

Unfortunately, he was nearly as bad as Jack Johnson. His on ice shot differential was -11.39 per 60 minutes (worst on the team), and relative to the team was -7.7 per 60 minutes (2nd worst on the team). If it wasn’t for Sergei Bobrovsky stopping almost literally everything while Prout was on the ice, that +/- would have been horrifying.

Thankfully Prout does have two redeeming qualities that Jack Johnson lacks. The first is his age: Prout is only 23 and was only in his first season-ish of NHL hockey. There is plenty of room to improve due to age and experience. The second quality is his offensive generation. At 5-on-5, the CBJ goals for with Prout on ice was actually higher than with Johnson on. If Prout can grow into his NHL role and continue to improve the scoring, he could well be a strong blueliner in the future.

So neither Johnson nor Prout was a very positive influence on the Blue Jackets this year. To give their negativity even greater perspective, we give one final look at their shot differential performance in the context of the whole NHL. Johnson and Prout’s shot differential were 27th and 19th worst among all NHL defensemen with 20+ games played (that’s out of 210 eligible players). Johnson’s and Prout’s performances considered relative to their team (Corsi Rel) were 32nd and 36th worst in the NHL over those 210 d-men.

That’s pretty bad and it makes picking them as the CBJ 2013 worst defensmen an easy task.

Photo via ESPN.com, by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

10 thoughts on “CBJ 2013 Worst Defensemen: Jack Johnson and Dalton Prout”

  1. Please clarify your use of CF% in making evaluations of defensive ability. The CF% is essentially an offensive statistic, if my rudimentary research into your citations is correct. It is the Corsi For (Shots for + Shots for missed + shots for blocked) divided by Corsi for plus Corsi Against (Shots against + shots against missed + shots against blocked). Say you block lots of shots from the point as a defenseman. That should serve to lower your CF%, but it doesn’t render you any less effective as a defenseman. It would be nice to know who got possession after a blocked shot but no one is crazy enough.

    Could you please elaborate on your analysis?
    thanks –

    1. Sure thing! CF% is as you have listed here, it’s the percentage of all shot attempt events (shots, blocked shots, missed shots, goals) at 5-on-5 that occur in favor of the player. So (shot attempts for their team) / (shot attempts for their team + shot attempts against their team).

      The origin of Corsi is from Jim Corsi the Buffalo Sabres goaltending coach, his initial idea being that goalies do work even when a shot is attempted so he wanted a better way to keep track of what they’re really doing (Jesse Spector has a good article called “Who is Jim Corsi” at the Sporting News website). Thus, shot blocks were included and have been included in corsi evaluations ever since.

      Shot blocks as a concept are mildly controversial in their use here as you’ve alluded to. In a singular instance, a blocked shot may well be the right decisions, it might be the difference between a win and a loss. But over the long run, blocked shots can be a sign of a team that’s allowing more scoring opportunities. I did some correlations about that here (https://inwordsandphrases.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/gritty-statistics-in-the-nhl-how-much-do-they-matter/). It’s an important distinction though, that single event saves and long-term shot blocking need to be considered separately.

      The rationale behind including blocked shots is twofold. The first is tied to the team-wide shot block info mentioned in the previous paragraph. The second reason is to increase the number of data points. If we want to get a better idea of shot generation/prevention, we want as much information as possible. Counting blocked shots helps increase the volume of data.

      But let’s say you believe shot blocking is an important skill for an individual to have. That’s a totally fair assertion and I’m okay with talking just shots on goal + goals + misses. And we can do that with Fenwick instead (the names of these things are really quite dumb, to be honest, homages to goalie coaches aside).

      In either case, the hope is that we’re capturing who is and isn’t good at driving play toward the other net. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re personally an offensive wizard (see: Patrice Bergeron, Ryan McDonagh). It just means that they’re either contributing to an increase in the number of shots for their team (better zone entries, good passing, lots of shooting), or they’re decreasing the number of shots against (stealing pucks, not allowing the other team to enter the zone unimpeded, winning battles/races for loose pucks). In that way, we’re not getting a look at the pure offensive talent/scoring ability, but we are seeing their contribution to a team’s success.

      1. As is painfully obvious, I am working through this stuff for the first time. So why not just compare OppCF%, based on the time weighted Corsi by the opponent when the player is not on the ice, to the CF%, the time weighted Corsi of the player why he is on the ice? Jack’s OppCF% is .501 whereas Jacks CF% is .452, which I interpret to be 5% more shooting activity by the opponent when Jack is not on the ice then when he is on the ice. Do I understand this correctly?

  2. To clarify a bit, I’m not a fancy stats guy. But I got two more weeks of disability, the clouds are gathering outside, so why not? In order to try to understand the numbers, I tried comparing Jack Johnson to Duncan Keith, a pretty good defenseman on a good team.

    So I see things like this. Duncan Keith has a higher TMCF20, which is the team Corsi For when he is on the ice. Duncan Keith has a 18.722 TMCF20, while Jack Johnson’s is only 15.929. Of course Keith has Kane, Toews, Hossa, and Sharp firing away at the net. Jack? Not so much.

    In the shots against Corsi, TMCA20, Keith has a 15.249, and Jack has a 16.949, which I take to mean that the other team takes 1.7% more shots, misses, and blocks against Jack than they do against Duncan Keith.

    This is just me trying to understand fancy stats. BTW it should be noted that the Corsi Hart QOC, an overall rating of the quality of competition that Keith played against, is 0.36, whereas for Jack it is 1.98. I assume that’s because Duncan Keith didn’t have to play against Chicago. 🙂

    1. Ah yes, now we’re into the muddy stuff!

      Theoretically, a good player should be able to push back/win out in any situation. Of course, we know real life doesn’t always work that way and is hardly consistent even when it is working like we hope. Team effects can play a reasonable role in things which is part of why I included a WOWY for Johnson. If somebody is driving the bus while they’re on the ice, we should see a drop in performance from everybody else when he’s gone, either in terms of goal +/- or shot +/-. I think a rather dramatic example is this year’s Chris Kunitz with and without Sid Crosby.

      If we can break down guys playing with and how they do away from those people, we can (arguably) get a look at what’s happening. In this case (as it was in LA), it looks like Jack is dragging down the shot and goal percentages in many of his defensive pairings.

      But you’re right about that last point: Chicago doesn’t face Chicago, so they’re not getting the same level of competition that others are facing AND they’re playing alongside enough high-level teammates that the weak links might be harder to find. It’s an interesting conundrum, and as players mature (and eventually age) we’re not always looking at a stationary target.

      As a thought experiment, I imagine in-his prime Nick Lidstrom (which was essentially last year) would be a perfectly good 1st pairing d-man absolutely everywhere in the NHL. But Detroit this year was still a reasonably good team-wide shot driver, even without the legendary d-man. I’d wager his WOWY stuff is very favorable, but how much would he have pulled up teammates on, say, Edmonton? Or would he have slipped because of them? Team factors are probably a big deal, and it’s something I personally hope to read more about in the future.

  3. The fact that Nikita Nikitin isn’t on your short list (which can only be 2, really) of worst defensemen for the CBJ is a joke. That is all.

  4. As a Kings season ticket holder since ’09, I’ve long held that Jack Johnson sucks. Hard. This didn’t win me any friends in Los Angeles, where he was treated with the reverence you would expect for Lidstrom or Neidermayer. But I would watch night after night as he was scored on like an AHL rookie and wonder how people could think he was any good, much less a star. He made everyone around him worse. Despite pairing up with basically every other D-man on the team, he never developed. Even though he was lined up against the other team’s 2nd & 3rd lines in the neutral or offensive zone, we still got scored on. His offense was bad too. His favorite play was shooting the puck wide of the net, watching it rattle around the boards back towards the Kings’ net, to be picked up by the other team’s rush on what becomes an odd man situation due to his poor positioning. His playoff performance was abysmal and he deserves a disproportionate share of the blame for the Kings’ early exits from the playoffs in ’09-’10 and ’10-’11. The day we fleeced CBJ for Jeff Carter with this guy and a pick was the best day in Kings history. His departure was the *regular season* move most important to our later playoff success; more important than picking up Carter, switching coaches, or anything else. I don’t think he can really help it though. I think he’s just sort of intellectually incapable of playing hockey at a high level, as hard as that is to believe. He has all of the physical talent in the world, but he’s a fool.

    CONGRATULATIONS to Jack Johnson on sinking to -100 on his career!!!

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