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Jordie Benn and Whether it’s Enough to be Only OK for the 2015-2016 Dallas Stars

The so called Elder Benn has never had it easy amongst Stars fans. He’s a Yukon paragon of the intersection between analysis through vision, and analysis through numbers. The eyes see Ralph Wiggum, but the numbers say Milhouse.

According to the numbers, Jordie Benn has been smart enough over the years. He’s above the average head with a 51 percent approval rating in all the #fancystats polls over the last three seasons. In certain categories, he doesn’t look out of place against defenders considered elite in the NHL, like the captain he’ll be across tonight; Nashville’s Shea Weber:

Sure it’s like looking at the back of those old Marvel cards and seeing Silver Surfer’s strength stats contrasted against say, Eugene Judd. But his goals against and shot suppression stats measure up just fine.

The point here is not that Benn is better than Weber at the things he appears to be better than Weber at. The sheer difference in icetime will skewer things. The point is that Benn has value. This season, however, has been a different story. The numbers are no longer on his side. As you can see here:

Jordie is getting sheltered (explained by being lower on the y axis) with “easier” quality of competition and zone starts, and is one of only four negative possession players on the Stars. Not surprisingly, he’s spent most of his icetime with Jyrki Jokipakka, who is also struggling. Whether the blind is leading the blind is anyone’s guess.

Here’s where the ‘only ok’ part becomes critical to the discussion. When it comes to suppressing shots, nobody really suffers (not counting the anomaly with Alex Goligoski) with Jordie on the ice (indicated by the gray).

However, the team away from Jordie (indicated by the red boxes) looks like they’re unbuckling their belt after a big Thanksgiving dinner. Almost to a man, everyone’s shot rate per 60 goes up while their shots against per 60 stays the same.

Then there’s this save percentage thing. David Johnson, who runs the indispensable Stats.HockeyAnalysis website, believes that defensemen can affect a goalie’s save percentage. And he was also self aware enough to point out how ridiculous this sounds to most in the advanced stats community.

But he wanted to make sense of how numbers can say that Shea Weber isn’t all that despite the eyes saying otherwise. So he decided to look at Corsi Against Per 60 Relative to Teammates (the lower the better), Save Percentage Relative to Teammates (the higher the better), and Goals Against Per 60 Relative to Teammates (like CA60 RelTM, the lower the better). In his analysis, Weber passes the ‘helps boost save percentage’ smell test.

You can see the intuitive sense it might make. Defensemen are normally closer to the goalies, so the better they are at gap control, the less opportunities opponents will get on a goalie’s doorstep for those high danger scoring areas. In addition, we already have a hockey corollary for this: save percentages drop dramatically when goalies are in front of a four forward power play, which mimics the kind of loose defensive play you’d expect out of sub optimal defenders. Here’s how Jordie stacks up using Johnson’s template:

I added Fenwick Against Per 60 Relative to teammates because why not. As you can see, Jordie has regressed in the first column, going from lower (good) to higher (bad). He’s contributing to increased shots against, placing him 15th on the team out of 23 skaters.

In the second column, you’re seeing the exact same thing this season. The chances toward goal are piling up.

In the third column you’re seeing a massive increase in shot quality against, placing him 20th on the team of 23. This hasn’t correlated to goals against (where he’s 19th), but that probably has a lot to do with Dallas getting drastically better goaltending this season.

He was quite excellent last season, but I think it’s clear we can either dub that the Demers Complex or the Rookie Drag Down. Anyway, you don’t have to go very far back to find examples of Jordie’s own gaffes this season.

Jordie is the Dallas player at the bottom left part of the screenshot. He just made a pass in his own zone to Johnny Oduya, who has now sent it up the wall to Valeri Nichushkin. Nichushkin fumbles the puck. No big deal. But look at where Jordie is with only Oduya behind the blueline.

He’s parallel with Shaw with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov barreling down on poor, outmanned Nuke. And so this happens:

The league’s most dangerous player gift wrapped a breakaway.

On its own, this is unfair to analyze Jordie. It’s just one play. But a player with his speed just can’t be posted that high. And if he is, he needs to be closer to the party. Especially with a three goal lead. Yes Nuke can break him open for a chance if he wins the puck battle, but that’s some mighty fine optimism given the talent surrounding him.

As I’ve said, Jordie isn’t a bad defender. He’s quite alright. But with Patrik Nemeth stepping up, if mostly offensively, that leaves at least one spot ready to be taken. Some people are confident it’ll be Stephen Johns, with his size, and snarl. Some, like Corey Pronmen, believe it will be Honka sooner than expected.

The Hive Mind believe it’s AHL All Star Esa Lindell. The alliteration nerds pray it’s Jyrki Jokipakka. And the hipsters believe in Mattias Backman.

Nobody’s wrong here. It’s hard to predict, especially before the trade deadline. Just as bottom six forwards are coming from a strong pipeline rather than free agent grinders, hockey teams can no longer shelter their third pairing blueliners. Jordie isn’t a trade chip. He’s a veteran third pairing defensemen. And he simply has to be better than OK, regardless of how much he makes, if Dallas wants to make the most of this season.