SvoNotes: Thinking about Line Combinations to Get Through the Dog Days of Summer

By Jeff Svoboda on August 10, 2017 at 8:31 am
Some lines score more than others for the Blue Jackets

USA TODAY Sports

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This really feels like the dog days, right?

Not necessarily of summer. At the palatial estate where this blogger writes from his basement (note: not actually true), the temperature in Toledo has been in the mid 80s this week – in a word, beautiful.

But when it comes to hockey, we sure have reached a dead zone. The dog days of the offseason, if you will, and it sure has been ruff.

That’s the only pun I’ll make, I promise. But it does feel like now that free agency and the draft are over, everyone is lying low for a bit. That’s even been true here at 1st Ohio Battery, and for that I’m a bit sorry. I’ll admit, finding topics to really dig into here during the past few weeks has taken some effort.

There’s good news, though. Look at the calendar – Aug. 10. On Sept. 8, the baby Blue Jackets will take the ice in Traverse City, Mich., for the annual Red Wings prospects tournament against the Dallas Stars. Shortly after that, training camp will begin.

In other words, hockey season is only really a month away. It might be a long month, but it’s just a month, dang it. And we’ll get there together.

Whose Line?

I have written in this space before that while I’m not the guy who will sit here and come up with the most interesting analytics, I sure do enjoy reading interesting analytics.

Which is where Sean Tierney, whom you may know as @ChartingHockey, checks in. Throughout the week, he’s been breaking down teams’ optimal lines using 2016-17 goals above replacement numbers plus Ryan Stimson’s work on playing styles.

Does it sound smart? Oh yes, yes it does, and it all makes sense, logically, of course. At the risk of being bad at explaining smart concepts, Stimson’s radar charts and work on determining the most efficient line combinations is being combined with each player’s stats profile to determine who would make the most efficient combinations and just how well they would do.

Make sense? I hope. Anyway, here’s the results for the Jackets.

Answered right off the top is the big question of “which players would make the most sense with Artemi Panarin?” The hotly debated question of the offseason since the sniper was acquired from Chicago for Brandon Saad could be answered by Alexander Wennberg in the center (not a huge surprise) and Nick Foligno on the wing (also not a huge surprise). It makes a ton of sense, with Panarin able to score from just about anywhere, Wennberg known as one of the top passers in the game and Foligno able to do a little bit of everything including cleaning up some trash at the front of the net.

The second line also looks pretty darn good, too. I hadn’t pegged Jenner as a shooter with my eyes – at least compared to Atkinson – but that’s a pretty good line on both sides of the ice right there with an expected goals percentage of 54.7. As Tierney points out, the top two lines are essentially interchangeable.

Things get a bit concerning from there, with two lines well below 50 percent in xGF. Part of this is because the units are largely unproven – with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson, Lukas Sedlak and Tyler Motte listed, five of the six players in the projected bottom six have at most one full season under their belts at the NHL level.

Of course, that could end up being pretty good, too. With so much youth – and frankly, talent – at that level, there are some Blue Jackets who could very well outplay their 2016-17 numbers. A full season of Oliver Bjorkstrand or even more from Josh Anderson or a breakout from Dubois would give Columbus a big boost. Of course, if Dubois isn’t ready at age 19 or Anderson can’t approach 20 goals again, those are problems.

Let us not forget – Columbus lost four NHL-caliber forwards from last year’s roster in Saad, Sam Gagner, Scott Hartnell and William Karlsson. The only player brought in who we know for sure will be a permanent fixture in the lineup is Panarin (though that’s a heck of a piece to bring in.)

That leaves some real question marks when it comes to forward depth for Columbus. There are plenty of options – Dubois, after all, went No. 3 in the draft. Bjorkstrand could be a 20-goal scorer with a full season of action. Pickups Tyler Motte or Jordan Schroeder could be good bottom-six forwards. But it’s also fair to say these are questions that must be answered.

Another note on the xGF numbers – I think those projections could be helped by the team’s defensive pairs as well. Adding Zach Werenski and Seth Jones makes any line more dangerous, while a pairing of, say, Ryan Murray and Gabriel Carlsson could be pretty hard to score against.

If you want to play around some more, this Dropbox file, I believe, will let you. And why not? It's August, after all.

Bicycle! Bicycle!

Hey, congrats to the Blue Jackets team that took part in this weekend’s Pelotonia race, including my friend Alison Lukan. This year’s group raised more than $11,000 to fight cancer through the bike-riding fundraiser.

Related to what Alison said, this weekend I attended the Indians-Yankees game Saturday in Cleveland. Upon arrival in The City, I saw two people wearing Blue Jackets T-shirts within the first 15 minutes.

Clearly, it’s time to start thinking hockey.

 

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