The Case for Trying Mattias Janmark with Jamie Benn to Balance Stars Offense
The Dallas Stars are still sort of struggling. With Jason Spezza out, it might be time to split Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but this time with Mattias Janmark to compliment Jamie. A lot of numbers converge to help argue the case.
Whether or not Jim Nill has a mustache capable of its own surveillance to explain how he has such a keen sense of who prospects are and what they can do in tucked away corners of the world that love rubbery fish and stoner rock is anyone's guess. But the man knows hockey.
And most importantly, he knew Mattias Janmark when he was traded to Dallas from Detroit as the 'magic' in the beans for Erik Cole.
Let's talk #fancystats with a mind for what our eyes are telling us, and whether their job of only redirecting light to our retina has anything to say in response, of course.
Janmark isn't a supernaturally fast skater, doesn't have the kind of wrister that Daryl Reaugh will ever call "sinister" on a telecast, and will never be mistaken for Joe Thornton. But efficiency doesn't care about fancy metaphors for horsepower, or silk. With his ability to pivot without losing speed, and vision to make plays with and against the forecheck, Janmark has become essential to Dallas' forward core.
How essential? Right now, in addition to being 6th on the team in points per 60, he's actually Dallas' best 'possession' forward.
That's pretty good company. It's important to remember that "Corsi" is just a proxy for shots, period. 'Fenwick' is a proxy for scoring chances because it cuts out blocked shots in the equation. There, Janmark also shines, ranking 1st on the team in Fenwick Against Per 60. His total Fenwick percentage stands tall against the rest of the league as well.
Again, that's pretty good company. What other #fancystats tests does he pass?
Was he coached by Michel Therrian, taught to lob pucks at the net from the glass banger's beer tray? Is he "soft", and quick to avoid contact in the so called 'dirty areas'? Not really.
War on Ice's hexagonal bin plots tell us quite a bit about shot location. If you're unfamiliar with interpreting these, here's a quick and easy key. The darker the color, the more active the area. Blue indicates low activity. Red indicates high activity. And grey indicates 'meh'. The numbers for shot rate differential are weighted against the league average, which in this case, is simply 0. If you're interested in a more thorough explanation from the maker himself, here's the soon to be analytics expert of the Minnesota Wild explaining it, including the trouble with lifting it from the NBA's template.
If you want to see what the perfect hexagonal bin plot looks like, check out the one for Anze Kopitar.
Basically you always want to see red for the chart on the left (shots for), and blue for the chart on the right (shots against). As you can see, Anze is great at generating shots. Granted, his ability to generate shots are concentrated in the slot area, but that's an incredibly high rate and certainly enough to offset any "mediocrity" in other areas. Defensively, he's just ridiculous. That's the bin plot of a system that has probably never even seen the picture of the common cold. The only activity against Kopitar in his own zone is in the crease, where chicken pox doesn't even roam.
Now let's look at one of Dallas' own #1 center, and Jamie Benn's BFF; Mr. Tyler 'Rubber Duckie' Seguin.
Offensively (left chart), he really shines in the slot at an extremely above average rate (neck at neck with Kopitar really). Defensively (right chart), he's pretty good too, except the high danger area right in front of the crease. So how does Janmark compare?
He can't hold a candle to Seguin in the slot, but nobody's asking him to. However, look at that crease area. He's great at generating chances in high danger areas, and uniquely so. In fact, Janmark is 4th among Dallas' top 9 when it comes to individual High Danger Scoring Chances (iHSC), ranking him pretty high in the entire NHL.
When you adjust for differential he's the best among Dallas' skaters and 24th in the NHL. He's also Dallas' best skater in high danger chances per 60. By a pretty solid margin too. Defensively, he helps make it look like Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi gave gone Hawk and Animal on the opposing team.
When you look at where Janmark gets his chances in conjunction with where Benn scores it just makes sense.
Right now Jason Spezza is out, which leaves Ruff with a surprising amount of flexibility. As Travis Yost has documented before, Patrick Sharp is a pretty good match for Seguin. Perhaps two 1-2's is better than one 1-2-3, if you will.
If there's an argument against, it's that perhaps Janmark has been sheltered. True, he hasn't received as much ice time as Dallas' main players. But his quality of competition is on par with Patrick Sharp, where he's pretty average compared to the rest of the team.
In addition, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that quality of competition is less important than quality of habit. As Garik over at hockey-graphs notes:
But here's the key thing: While it matters if a player is facing Sidney Crosby instead of John Scott at any given moment, the range of competition that a player faces over the course of a season is EXTREMELY SMALL. The gap between the players facing the hardest competition and those facing the weakest competition is the same as facing an average player at most like 4 shot attempts per 60. In other words, the guy with the toughest competition in the league will face an average opponent who is +2 corsi/60, while the guy facing the weakest will face an average opponent who is -2 corsi/60. And nearly all players won't be in these extremes - most will be within -1 corsi/60 and +1 corsi/60. And as you might expect the gap between opponents who are +1 shot attempts per 60 and those -1 is practically nothing.
This makes intuitive sense, as the house rules allow teams to match up better possession players against lesser possession players so this is likely to "even out" (even if it's critical in a vacuum).
Shane O'Donnell over at Today's Slapshot put together a handy graph showing how critical Janmark has been in helping boost Dallas' Goals For Percentage when Benn and Seguin are not on the ice. His expected individual goals for per 60, a statistic that combines shot quality with shots (or "shot attempts" to those still behind the eight ball), sits 5th on the team, behind only Seguin, Benn, Sharp, and Spezza by just fractions of a point:
Conventional wisdom dictates that you don't trust youth with responsibility. But conventions are not the BFF's to innovation. And Dallas as much as any franchise knows this when you look at how a lot of their youth has been used. I'd love to see something like a Benn-Janmark-Hemsky 1A/1B line to Sharp/X-Seguin-X/Sharp.
The Stars are not a team that desperately needs to win now. Granted, anytime you have a good team that is playoff caliber, you want to make the most of it. But you also want to make the most of your roster. And focusing on the latter sometimes requires the kind of patience that incurs short term losses. If Janmark's development grows with Benn, that's far more important than whether Dallas "ate minuses" with them on the ice. Both will be here long after Dallas has taken advantage of free agency frenzy.
Janmark is still a "small sample size" overall. But ultimately the Swede has nothing to lose but his icetime chains.