Pucks in Depth: Two Western Conference teams poised to take a step back
San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski skating back in San Jose

Every year there’s plenty of turnover in the NHL playoff picture. On average, approximately two teams per conference make the playoffs after failing to do so the season prior.

For new teams to climb into the playoffs, others must fall out. While I’m not going to proclaim these two teams will fall out of the picture entirely, it’s possible. At the very least, we should see a step back.

We’ll start with the side I’m most confident about.

Winnipeg Jets

I was really high on the Jets heading into the 2018-19 campaign. Though they fell just one point shy of claiming a Central Division title, I was not impressed with what I saw out of them.

The biggest reason was their 5v5 performance. One would think a team with so much firepower – Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Nik Ehlers, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, etc. – would not only hold their own in that game state, but dominate. That wasn’t exactly the case. Far from it.

At 5v5, the Jets ranked 19th with a 48.97 Corsi For%. Some might suggest that’s only one metric, and that they’d rather see their team control scoring chances and/or expected goals. Fair enough. The Jets don’t show well there, though. They fared even worse. 

The Jets posted a 47.60 Expected Goals For%, good for 24th in the NHL. That slotted them just behind the Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers. Yikes. While their 48.29 Scoring Chance For% was slightly better, they still only finished 20th – just behind an Arizona Coyotes team that struggled offensively so bad its leading scorer, Clayton Keller, recorded only 47 points.

By now it’s pretty clear the Jets were not a good 5v5 team. One might argue they were a *bad* one. So what did they do this off-season to change that? Well, nothing.

Their big deadline addition, Kevin Hayes, signed with the Philadelphia Flyers during the free agent window. His departure was expected but still stings.

The Jets traded one of their best defenders, Jacob Trouba, and the player they fetched in return, Neal Pionk, significantly impacted New York’s underlying numbers (CF%, xGF%, etc.) in a negative way. His relative impact was among the worst in the league, comparable to guys like Nikita Zaitsev, Roman Polak, and Joe Morrow. Suffice to say, he’s a big downgrade.

While I think Tyler Myers is overrated and overpaid, the Jets lost him without bringing in a replacement. The same can be said about Ben Chiarot.

So, in essence, the Jets overachieved last season based on their quality of play, did not make a single addition of note, lost three regular defenders, and two of their top scoring forwards (Laine and Connor) remain in contract stalemates that *could* leak into the season.

I think that’s recipe for a down year.

Two Eastern Conference Teams Poised To Take A Step Forward

San Jose Sharks

Quite a few established players from the 2018-19 Sharks are no longer part of the team.

Captain Joe Pavelski signed with the Dallas Stars in free agency after leading the Sharks with 38 goals last year.

Underrated two-way speedster Joonas Donskoi, who produced 37 points despite averaging ~13 minutes per game, signed in Colorado.

Deadline pickup Gustav Nyquist hit the open market and left the Sharks following the best offensive season of his career.

You could say they also ‘lost’ Justin Braun, however that should probably be considered addition by subtraction given the year he had. Evolving-Hockey deemed Braun worth -9.1 goals above (below?) replacement. 

At any rate, the Sharks lost their leading goal scorer, a quality top-9 winger, and ~20 games from another top-6er without adding a single forward of note. 

The top-6 is still potent – Timo Meier is about to take the league by storm – but those departures have really hurt the overall depth upfront. I mean, some combination of Joe Thornton, Melker Karlsson, Marcus Sorensen, Barclay Goodrow, Dylan Gambrell, Lukas Radil and Johnny Brodzinski will form what looks like a highly mediocre bottom-6.

While there are some marquee names returning on defense, things aren’t perfect there either. Brent Burns is now 34, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 32 and was #notgood last season, Erik Karlsson has missed 40 games over the last two years, and the rest of the group is largely unproven.

In goal, the Sharks are bringing back the same tandem that combined for a league-worst .889 SV% last year.

It seems like a stretch to rely on Martin Jones and Aaron Dell to compensate for a) an almost certain decline in goal scoring and; b) an aging, top-heavy defense that *could* be a little leakier in 2019-20.

The Sharks still have some great pieces that will keep them competitive, but I doubt they’ll enter into the final week of the season in the running for a Pacific Division title like they did a season ago.

Two Eastern Conference Teams Poised To Take A Step Back

Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com, Hockey-Reference.com and Evolving-Hockey.com.

Follow me on Twitter @ToddCordell