In the name of spending more time writing about the positives, today’s Daily Cup of Joe revisits the 2016-17 play of young defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. They were the subject of a 2-part Daily Cup of Joe back on January 15 when I wrote about the keys to their success and then on January 18, I followed up with an article on their room for growth which is already starting to be realized.
Today’s entry looks briefly at their incredible goal differential at even strength especially relative to the other Canes defensemen.
Carolina Hurricanes 2016-17 goal differential
Winning hockey games is obviously about scoring more goals than the other team. Thus far for the 2016-17 season, the Hurricanes have a goal differential of minus 24 which lines up reasonably well with their win-loss record. Driven largely by their stellar penalty kill, the Hurricanes actually have a positive differential on special teams having scored 33 power play goals, given up 27 power play goals and also having a net plus 4 on shorthanded goals scored (8) versus allowed (4). When you add it up, the Hurricanes are plus 10 on special teams which means they are minus 34 at even strength.
Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce set the pace at plus 16
I recognize that plus/minus can sometimes err in its simplicity and also that context is incredibly important for considering it at all. But within the context of a team with a large enough sample size, I think a simple look at who is winning and who is losing when they are on the ice can be telling.
A quick look at plus/minus (or basically even strength goal differential) for the Hurricanes is striking. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, who have played much of the season together, are both plus 16. If they were sort of average for the Hurricanes, one would expect the duo playing roughly one-third of each game to be about minus 11. The difference between being minus 11 and instead being plus 16 is huge.
The rest of the Hurricanes defensemen are nowhere close
The number looks even more impressive when compared to the rest of the Hurricanes defensemen. Excluding Jakub Nakladal who played on 3 games, no other Hurricanes blue liner is a positive player. Further, no other Hurricanes blue liner is better than minus 10. The 3 other regulars are basically mirror images of Slavin and Pesce. Justin Faulk is minus 14; Ron Hainsey is minus 16; Noah Hanifin is minus 18.
At even strength, when Slavin and Pesce are on the ice, the Hurricanes score more than they give up and basically win. At even strength with any other Hurricanes defensemen on the ice, the Hurricanes give up more goals than they score and basically lose.
And the eye test matches too. More so than any other Hurricanes defensemen, Slavin and Pesce attack and take away time space. Both players step up at the blue line to make offensive zone entries difficult. Both players maintain tight gaps that do not allow elite scorers the room they need to make things happen. And both players close quickly on shooters and passers such that they block shots or at least rush them regularly and also tend to get sticks or skates on more than their fair share of passes.
The challenge of best utilizing Slavin and Pesce to solidify a set of 4
The challenge for the Hurricanes and some combination of Bill Peters and Ron Francis is to figure out how best to utilize Slavin and Pesce as a foundation for building a top 4 that can do similar. Since Hainsey’s departure, Peters has mostly divided Slavin and Pesce to balance the top 4 to start games and then sometimes reunites them later in the game (though he did mostly play them together against the Islanders on Tuesday). The results have been decent.
I think I am in the minority in thinking that it could make sense to add 1 more #4/#5 type veteran defenseman to the mix. The key is getting a player who could play in the top 4 defending on how things sort out but has a salary and also a short contract term that makes it possible to just bump them down the depth chart when 1 or more of the young defensemen are ready whether that is next October or not until 2018-19.