An Unsolicited Love Letter to Adam Lowry (and other Jets thoughts)

The Winnipeg Jets have a bit of a 5 on 5 problem, one that they have had all year, despite leading the Central through January. Timely goals, exceptional special teams play and good goaltending have buoyed otherwise below average play in the middle of the ice at both ends. Simply put, at least for the first half the season, Jets were able to outscore their problems (see this article from Murat Ates’ from earlier in the year).

The problems have been diagnosed by smarter hockey minds than I. A couple of common ones identified have been over usage of the top line, Laine’s slump both due to his own play and lack of play driver on his line, and lack of defensive depth. Most of the solutions I’ve seen proposed involve lineup tweaks (and groaning at Coach Maurice’s resistance to do such) or roster changes.

In this post, I’d like to see if we can help with the first issue without either of those things.

As goes the top line, so goes the team. Dog-paddling to a point against the Sharks and the most recent shellackings by the quick forechecks of the Canadiens and Senators have not been kind to the Jets first unit.

Disclaimer: the sky is NOT falling. The Jets have a very strong roster, one that could get better by month’s end. We simply want to nudge the ship back in the right direction.

The problem: Overusage of the 26-55-X line. In the Montreal game, this line was employed against the top line and the results were BAD, burn-the-tape bad.  I’m not drawing conclusions from this one game (hence “burn-the-tape”) but it is indicative of a trend that has been trouble before (think before the fourth line found their groove) and could be trouble down the stretch, especially if the second line doesn’t start pulling their weight soon.

Assumptions:
Paul won’t ever break the magical bond that is 26-55-X despite the fact that the second line is begging for play-drivers, and 26/55 are seemingly getting gassed in games leading to turnovers, long shifts hemmed in their end and uneventful shifts in the offensive zone.

Solution: One we already employ. Let’s lean on the shutdown line a little more.  Paul is not shy to do this, but tends to match top lines against teams with a little more speed. But if we want 26/55 to save gas, make less mistakes, while also generating more offense, I think there’s more juice to squeeze out of 17 and his linemates. First, a story:

When Adam Lowry was declared the first star of the home game against the Stars earlier this year, the seats in the dimly lit Bell MTS Place were much emptier than they were ten minutes prior. An arena tends to look like that after two late goals secure a 5-1 victory, with traffic looming and post-game beers inviting. However, I was there jumping up and down and cheering as if he’d just scored the overtime game winner. I mean, he did score an effort goal off his own rebound out of the box and rendered the maligned Benn-Seguin line useless all game. I scoped out my two buddies who were in another section and we exaggerated to match each others’ goofiness. They know how much I love Adam Lowry.

One of the not-so-secret ingredients to the Jets surge last year was the “shutdown” line centred by Adam Lowry. This line can grind out minutes of puck control against top lines which limits the impact of their ice-time and creates ideal situations for our lines with more firepower.

The Adam Lowry line, with Brandon Tanev and the recent match-made-in-heaven Mathieu Perreault (previously Andrew Copp), is expected to emulate what the entire team intends to do every time they step on the ice. Maintain possession in the offensive zone, disrupt possession in the defensive zone. This doesn’t always result in goals, but it doesn’t need to.

Adam Lowry is a player who can please old-school hockey guys who could care less about what’s on the spreadsheet. His 6-foot-5, 210 lb frame leaves him well-equipped to succeed in the dirty spots of the ice, lay bone-rattling hits and be the first (well, 2nd if Buff is on the ice) to police any opposing player who gets too cute in the crease. The guy has grit by the truck-load. In today’s league, however, grit alone will not let you crack a lineup for a meaningful chunk of minutes.

That’s why it’s a great thing to have a guy like Lowry, who jumps off the screen in your grandpa’s living room AND jumps off the spreadsheet. He is an elite center for the role he plays and the prototype for other teams who need to maximize their value at the position.

Let’s see some numbers.

The reason why Adam Lowry is attributed with his line success is not just because he centres it. It is because his presence anchors the rest of the players who go over the boards with him, whoever they may be. The below graphic from HockeyViz (see info at the bottom) shows the impact that Lowry has on other players this season and last.

lowryad93
2018-19 so far
lowryad93-2017
2017-18

The with or without you charts are just one of the ways to measure individual impact of a player. My Tanev hating days are long over, love the guy, but check out 13 with/without 17. Pick whichever player you want, but 17 has helped nearly every player reach better shot generation and cessation in large enough sample sizes.

I included 2017-18 because it’s just so beautiful. A relic of time months ago where team defense wasn’t just a theory, it was a way of life, championed by 17 and the Jets blue-liners.

As stated before, middle of the ice defense has been an issue especially compared to last year. Early in the year people were concerned with Bucky’s performance and a lot of it was warranted. However, a big part of his success last year was due to the well-documented ability of the Jets to ensure the shots that reach the net were from the perimeter, giving him a chance to make the play.

Let’s go back to HockeyViz to see how Lowry helps this issue with his isolated impact relative to league average heat-maps.

2018-19 so far

2017-18

Again, compared to the dominance of 2017 (I mean, come on) this year has been a step back. Hot spots in the middle of the ice are haunting a lot of Jets skaters this year. However, 17 is still personifying a path forward for the Jets defensively and should be relied on to control the shots in our zone.

Based on history, leaning on Adam Lowry a little more in tougher matchups in order to give Mark and Blake a breather is a strategy Paul shouldn’t shy away from.But really, in conclusion, I cherry-picked a current potential issue and proposed a non-innovative solution  in order to talk about my favourite Jet.

Follow my Adam Lowry fan account on Twitter: @kKostyy

All visualizations are from HockeyViz (@HockeyViz) created by Micah Blake McCurdy (@Ineffective Math). Follow him, become a Patron, and destroy your friends and Twitter trolls with indisputable evidence in the form of pretty pictures! Link: https://hockeyviz.com/

When the Jets Took Off

October 29, 2017. The sun was just peeking through the familiar autumn overcast in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This has historically been peak season for football fans in the city. The Blue Bombers were looking to close out their second consecutive season as playoff contenders, dropping the penultimate game to the BC Lions the evening prior. Hope among fans of the Blue has ebbed and flowed for years during this time. However, since 2011, a new hope awaits sports fans in the Peg for the winter.

The Winnipeg Jets were suiting up for a home game against the reigning Stanley Cup champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

My cousins from Kelowna, one of whom is a Winnipeg ex-pat, were visiting for the weekend. We enjoyed food, drinks and some football. I could feel his excitement to watch live Bomber football again, eat a nip at Salsbury House and of course, snag tickets to a Jets 2.0 home game. I struggled to share in his excitement about the latter. In fact, I passed on purchasing a ticket.

I had just sat in Bell MTS Place to watch my favourite hockey team drop a 5-2 loss to Columbus where you would need a microscope to find a shred of positive hockey. Between that experience, and the early shellacking by the Leafs and Flames, I was pretty apathetic about the prospects of the 2017-18 Jets, despite their winning record. It was the same core roster, the same poor defense and the same seemingly lack of urgency by the leaders of the team. The issues that had plagued the team since they returned were not fixed. The draft and develop would need another year, and I would patiently wait, head in my hands.

But something changed that cold Sunday, watching the game on my couch.

Suddenly, the Jets took off. My phone exploded with texts from my cousin and parents, astonished by what they were witnessing. This team was absolutely decimating the defending champions. The stars were scoring, the fourth line was scoring and there wasn’t an inch of ice for legends like Crosby or Malkin to find a way back into the game. My first thought was, obviously, regret for not buying the ticket. My second thought was, this team might be something to watch this year.

That is the moment I saw the potential of the Jets, for this year and beyond.

As the weeks passed, and Connor Hellebuyck continued to swallow up pucks, the image became increasingly clear. The city caught on fire with Jets mania, but that was the easy part. This city has never lost the love for their team, back from dead, despite the slow process. Then it was the media. Rolling four lines of big, fast, hard-on-the-puck hockey will catch the eye of any sports journalist, stat-junkies and story-tellers alike.

And the Jets continued to deliver.

Finishing second in the NHL and rolling their way through the first playoff game and series win in franchise history. Eventually, even the Toronto media came around. You can’t turn on a national sports broadcast without hearing a quick-witted quip from Paul Maurice, or about the new and improved Winnipeg Whiteout. They even caused the playoff format to come into question by running into the President’s Trophy winners in the second round. The Nashville Predators, another deserving team who have rose to dominance in seemingly a heartbeat.

As I sit here on the eve of Game 7, too anxious to worry about losing, I reflect on this season of metamorphosis. The ceilings for players like Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers look infinite. Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien are being rewarded for their leadership and patience. Connor Hellebuyck’s growth has paid off dividends.

Kevin Cheveldayoff had been slowly pulling back the curtain on his masterpiece, and now he has ripped it clean off. It may be raw, it may need some polishing, but it is fundamentally sound and has the personality and the foundation to become a long lasting monument in our city, and the hockey world. Success is fleeting, and nothing can be taken for granted in this league…

But regardless of the outcome tomorrow, the Jets have come of age, and Winnipeg is good.

wpgwhiteout

Cheering in a Crowded Empty Room

Welcome to Kosty’s Corner!

No, I don’t have a sharp-dressed, veteran national treasure on the left for comedic relief. Or the smooth, calm narrative voice of the guy on the right. But we can all aspire to find a voice as iconic as those two.

Sports are the last form of pure, unfiltered reality entertainment. They are an infinite source of characters, story lines, plot-twists, happy endings and tragedies. For the less dramatic, they provide a wealth of statistics, ripe for analysis, trending and predicting future outcomes.

I’ll be posting my opinions, analysis and stories on baseball, football and hockey in the form of raw ramblings on this site, and hopefully find my feet as I go. Along the way, I hope that you find something you can relate to or enjoy.

To quote Grapes himself:

“A million comedians starving to death and you’re trying to be one” – Don Cherry

Well, there’s a million people talking sports on the internet, but I need to do it. My girlfriend would really like to talk about something else.

If you want to comment on something, chat, argue, or scream at me your best bet is @kKostyy on Twitter!