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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