Monday, September 10, 2012

The 2012-13 CBJ Ground Floor - The Defense

In our Ground Floor discussion of the Columbus Blue Jackets defense for this year, a little comparison is in order.  The starting 6 at the beginning of 2011-12 was as follows:

In 2012-13 we will start with:

James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, NikitaNikitin, Adrian Aucoin, and one of John Moore, Ryan Murray, and Tim Erixon.

This represents a turnover of two thirds of the defensive pairings in a year, and a substantial upgrade to the defense.  And depthwise, this represents a huge jump.  Instead of Aaron Johnson battling for the 6th or 7th spot, you have 3, young, talented defenseman, one of whom is a number two overall draft pick.  Behind the three battling for the last spot on the ice, you have Savard, Goloubef, and Prout down in Springfield, all with some level of NHL potential (Prout’s a big dude who looked great during development camp).
Side note:  I don’t mean to belittle Aaron Johnson’s contribution to the squad last year.  He did a great job filling in during some desperate times.  But his ceiling and the ceiling of the three youngsters just don’t compare.

Nikita Nikitin
The defense going into this season is going to be a much more dynamic group.  With Johnson and Wisniewski unleashing ‘controlled chaos’ on the league at the top of the pairs, steadfast Tyutin and Nikitin as the second pair, and steady Aucoin with one of the young D-men Moore or Erixon (assuming Murray in juniors due to lockout at start of season). As we blogged about earlier, this top 4 ranked 4th overall in points last year, if you lump Jack Johnson’s points as a King into our total.  Since the Kings struggled to score for much of the year, this is fair, and if anything, Johnson was doing better at the end of the season with the CBJ. 

To bolster my position that the defense is greatly improved, I compared the cumulative statistics of the starting 6 from 2011-12, to the starting 6 slated for 2012-13 (using Moore as the 6th for 2012-13).  While this is somewhat voodoo economics, it gives you a flavor of what’s going on.

In 2011-12 the CBJ top six at the beginning of the year ended up with the following cumulative statistics:

Goals: 23
Assists: 64
Points: 87

Whereas the 2012-13 top six finished 2011-12 with these cumulative statistics:

Goals : 34
Assists: 105
Points:  139

Offensively speaking, this is a top 5 unit in the NHL based on last year’s statistics.  Using the observable team dynamics going on later in the year last year, there are real reasons to think this unit can continue on in that fashion.

Defense is another matter, and overall the success of the team may well be how well the group ends up defending at the end of the day.   Using the same voodoo economics as I used above, I compiled cumulative plus/minus (+/-) statistics for each group.  This is kind of like taking an average of averages, it’s not statistically valid, and the +/- statistic has some real weaknesses.  Nonetheless its something, and it provides an indication.

The 2011-12 starting 6 had a cumulative +/- of -57.  the 2012-13 projected 6 had a cumulative +/- of -60.  At the end of the day, we’re not likely to be much worse than we were defensively last year, but we are likely to be much better offensively.  Some decent goal tending would go a long way.  As an example of that, Kris Russell was -1 in 6 games with the CBJ, but +13 in 43 games with the Blues.  Yes he was playing for Hitch, but we are not even on the same goal tending planet as the Blues.

It is a near certainty that the CBJ will lose some games on an aggressive jump up by a defenseman at the end of the game which goes the other way resulting in a goal.  On the other hand, having those defensemen jump up and attack the other team when we are trying to close out a game with a lead will result in some victories as well, and I believe they will outnumber those games that we will lose.  Obviously we learned in 2011-12 that squatting on a lead late ends up in losses.  In that regard, they have nothing to lose.

Simply put, this is the best blue line unit to ever take the ice as Columbus Blue Jackets. 

Many a year the Columbus General Managers have been trying to bring good defensive players into the system.  Names like Adam Foote, Luke Richardson, Jaroslav Spacek, Darryl Sydor, and Scott LaChance have all been brought in, usually with limited success.  The top pairing of Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski has the potential to be as good a top pair as any in the league.  Even if they don’t reach that potential, we have substantially upgraded.  That should help to make the 2012-13 season a very entertaining season (if played).


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