Saturday, June 13, 2009

The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Defensemen: Milan Jurcina

Milan Jurcina

Theme: “There must be consistency in direction.”

Maybe it’s fitting we insert a quote from Deming here. Because, if we look at the performance of Milan Jurcina this year, we are struck by two things – the occasional stretches of quality performance and the lack of consistency in achieving them. This is reflected in Jurcina’s ten game segments…

Jurcina, to the extent he can be, was a “scorer” early, recording more than half of his season’s points in the first 40 games of the year. Unfortunately, he also had three segments in there in which he was a minus-2 for each. That’s not the sort of result one hopes for concerning a defenseman who: a) is not considered or expected to contribute a lot of offense, or b) doesn’t face top-flight offensive lines on a night-to-night basis.

Jurcina scored less, but moved into “plus” territory in the last half, not registering a “minus” in any of the last four full ten-game segments. That’s probably a more suitable “comfort zone” for a defenseman who is probably a third-pair sort on a contender (his even-strength ice time per game – 15:05, fifth among defensemen with at least 50 games played this year – suggests his being such a defenseman).

If there is a disappointing aspect to Jurcina’s season, it is that he hasn’t become something more of a goal scorer, despite the observation of some that he has a heavy shot. He had six goals in 51 games in his rookie season in Boston and hasn’t come close to equaling that modest total since. As a Capital, he has a total of six goals in 184 games, covering three seasons. This year he had his highest total since that rookie year (three). And this despite his being second on the team in shots on goal and total shot attempts (shots, blocked shots, missed shots).

Regarding the latter point on shot attempts, there is a notion that Jurcina has trouble getting shots to net, that he is slow on the release (he is), and that he is something of a scattershot (ok, he’s that, too). But if you take a look at his ratio of shots on goal to shots not on goal (misses, blocks), he is fourth on the team among defensemen playing at least 30 games, behind Mike Green (the only Cap with a ratio above 1.00), Karl Alzner, and Tom Poti. As much as anything else, that might tell us that the Caps defensemen not named “Green” had their problems.

Defensively, Jurcina was second best on the team among defensemen (at least 30 games) in goals scored against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. That is, as much as not, a reflection of the fact that among the same group of defensemen he faced the second worse quality of competition. He also managed a goal-differential per 60 minutes of ice time of +0.10, which was third on the club.

Going back to those ten-game segments, there were two areas in which Jurcina was reasonably consistent. He registered eight penalty minutes in five of the full ten-game segments and ten in another. Jurcina, in fact, tied for the team lead among defensemen in minor penalties taken and had the worst differential of penalties taken to penalties drawn at 5-on-5 per 60 minutes on the club among defensemen and second worst, regardless of position (Sergei Fedorov). Not that it seemed to have an inordinate effect on the Caps results. The Caps were 17-11-2 in games in which he took a penalty (1.20 standings points-per-game, versus 1.32 points-per-game overall)

The other area was hits. After a slow start in that department in the first ten games (12 hits in ten games), he was tightly bunched around the 20 hit mark for the next six segments, and even in the last full segment averaged slightly more than two hits a game in eight games played. He led the team in hits (157) and was tied for 21st in the league that measure.

The odd thing about Jurcina’s whole line is that if one removes his games against the Rangers, it wasn’t a bad year. He was scoreless and a minus-6 in four games against the Blueshirts, a problem he seemed to rectify in the playoffs, when he was 1-0-1, plus-4 in seven games. He had his best regular season efforts against teams in the Northeast Division, against which he was 1-3-4, plus-8 in 20 games.

Jurcina is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent this summer. Last year he was an $881,250 cap hit on the team ($912,000 salary). And, he is among a clot of defensemen (Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz) in a similar contract situation. Jurcina’s numbers and performance do not suggest that he is irreplaceable by any means. However, he just turned 26, and he still has fewer than 300 games of NHL regular season experience. He might not have reached his peak.

In the meantime, though, Jurcina displayed a certain inconsistency in his game, but perhaps not as much as is commonly believed. He might have been (and continues to be) somewhat disappointing on the offensive end, but he otherwise played his role fairly well.

Grade: B-

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