Why Zach Werenski and Seth Jones Should Not Be Separated for the Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Jacob Nitzberg on July 10, 2020 at 8:05 am
ct 12, 2019; Raleigh, NC, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski (8) and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (3) looks on during the National Athem before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

When Seth Jones went down with an ankle injury on February 9th, many thought we'd seen the last of him this season.

The circumstances have changed, and Jones returning for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a huge positive for the Blue Jackets. He's the club's best defenseman and provides stability offensively and defensively. When he's paired with Zach Werenski, the two make a formidable duo that can shut down forwards on one side of the ice and score beautiful goals on the other. 

When Jones was injured, the Blue Jackets had to shuffle their defensive pairings. Werenski mostly skated with Markus Nutivaara, and the pair did well. Per MoneyPuck, their expected goal percentage (minimum 100 minutes played together) of 53.8% ranks third for the Blue Jackets, behind Vladislav Gavrikov and Dean Kukan (63.6%) and Scott Harrington and Andrew Peeke (54.2%). Those three pairings don't jump to mind as the three that produced the best chances while also limiting good chances on the defensive side, but they are. 

On the flip side of the coin, Werenski and Jones lead the Blue Jackets (minimum 100 minutes played together) in goals per 60 minutes (2.74) and goals against per 60 minutes (1.65). While Werenski saw success with Nutivaara, it's clear who the Blue Jackets' best pairing is, even if the xGF% and xGA% show that Jones and Werenski have gotten some breaks, like help from a red-hot goaltender or some good bounces.

If Jones and Werenski are together on the top line, John Tortorella still has a wealth of options to choose from to make up his second and third pairings. Ryan Murray, Gavrikov, David Savard, Kukan and Markus Nutivaara are all NHL-level defensemen who bring a lot of different strengths to the table. If you include Harrington, Peeke, and even Adam Clendening (who has NHL playoff experience), that's an incredibly deep group. Therefore, it's not necessary to break up Jones and Werenski because the Blue Jackets' blue line is experienced and talented.

Defense has been a strength of the Blue Jackets all year, and they'll have to rely on it as the face the offensive firepower of the Maple Leafs. With Jones and Werenski on the top pairing, playing more than 24 minutes a game, they'll be in good shape to do that.