Through his agent, Kevin Overhardt, Jacob Trouba sent out a press release updating his status with the Winnipeg Jets. This release essentially stated that the primary reason for Trouba wishing to be traded was due to him wanting to play top-four as a right-side defender. It stressed that this request was revolving development over financials.
Ignoring whether or not this release should be taken at face value, how justified is Trouba that his deployment was suboptimal and how much of an impact did that have on him and the team?
Ice Time Quantity
At the surface level, one would probably think this has to do with ice time, and even Mathieu Perreault complaining about Trouba’s complaints focused in on that.
Trouba has indeed spent the bulk of the last two seasons as the third-pairing right-defender. This has led him to having the lowest 5v5 ice time per game of the Jets’ “big four defenders” but it is not by much. The Jets’ head coach, Paul Maurice, evened out a lot of the ice time in those games by sitting the Jets’ left-shot defenders not named Toby Enstrom during high-leverage minutes and placing Trouba on Dustin Byfuglien’s left. This ended up working out so well that Maurice even placed Trouba there for full games, and mentioned that Trouba was likely to play there at the start of the season.
While Trouba has indeed received less 5v5 ice time per game, with 16.61 minutes, he is not far off from Byfuglien’s 17.16, Tyler Myers 16.83, and Enstrom’s 16.76. This works out to around 20-40 minutes less than the other big two right-shot defenders. Also, Trouba passes Myers in average 5v5 ice time if you look exclusively at 2015-16.
Ice Time Quality
Visual courtesy of hockeyviz.com
In terms of competition and match-ups for Trouba and Myers, there hasn’t been much of a difference between whom the defenders face, which is typical of most quality of competition cases. The biggest difference has been which Jets are on the ice with the defenders.
Trouba has received relatively less time with the Jets’ top-six lines, especially the top line, while playing significantly more with the Jets’ bottom-six.
That’s a big difference in talent, as we can see when we separate top ice time forwards (Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, Drew Stafford, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, and Andrew Ladd) from the rest of the team:
Statistics above are Corsi% (share of all shots), Shot% (share of shots on goals), xGoal% (expected share of goals given shot quantity and quality), and goal production per 60 minutes.
This is a huge contrast in results, and therefore the environment and outcomes for players within them. Playing with weaker linemates leads to being outshot, which leads to being outscored. The team also scores at about 63% the rate with the weaker linemates on the ice, which leads to fewer points to assist and score on.
These factors negatively impact earnings in future contracts, but also can hinder perception of a player.
Usage impacts the eye-test in the same manner that it impacts result statistics. The eye-test predominately relies on remembering small instances that stand out. Playing in a tougher environment will negatively impact shot and goal differentials, and reduce scoring, even if a player were to be equally effective relative to their usage.
More goals against with a player on the ice equates to more negative memories. Fewer goals for and less scoring equates to fewer positive memories. Playing in your own zone more increases the opportunity for mistakes that end up in the back of the team’s own net and reduces number of good plays that end up as goals for, while playing in the opposition’s zone does just the opposite.
The Stuart Effect
The largest gap in the usage chart wasn’t with the forwards; it was with defensive partners. Myers spent much of the season with Enstrom, an aging but still effective defender in outshooting and out scoring. Trouba, however, has spent nearly 60% of his 5v5 ice time with Mark Stuart on the left side.
Stuart is well known for having a negative impact on his linemates’ results, even back in his Boston Bruins days. Defenders tend to get outshot and outscored with Stuart on the left, with almost exclusively the exception of Jacob Trouba.
I do not think people realize how bad Stuart has gotten over the past few years and how much Trouba has hidden Stuart’s deficiencies. The above graph shows how Stuart’s time with Trouba has pulled up his results, while connecting the two right-ends of the red lines shows you the path Stuart would have likely followed if not for playing with a young, elite shot differential defensive partner.
What matters more, in the context of this article, is the impact playing with Stuart has had on Trouba and his results.
Over the past two seasons, the Jets have controlled 51% of all shots (goals, saves, misses and blocks) and 45% of the goals with both defenders on the ice. With Trouba away from Stuart, the Jets have controlled 55% of all shots and 63% of all goals. Stuart away from Trouba has the Jets controlling 45% of all shots and 47% of goals. If you need help with context of that gap, you could scroll up and look again at the difference between the Jets top and bottom forward lines, or you could note that about 85% of the NHL defenders exist between 45-55%.
This type of analysis also ignores that much of Trouba’s time away from Stuart has been playing on the left-side, and there is strong evidence that playing on the off-handed side is also negative impact on a player’s results.
Power Play Usage
Visual courtesy of hockeyviz.com
Jacob Trouba has seen his 5v4 ice time drop each season, from 144 to 122 minutes, despite playing nearly a full 20 games more in the 2015-16 season. The largest reason for this was the swap of Zach Bogosian for Tyler Myers. The Jets have consistently thrown out Myers onto the power play, despite results suggesting the Jets should not.
The Jets tend to use a four forward – one defender power play set up, with Big Buff manning the top unit. This leaves only one regular spot between Trouba, Enstrom and Myers.
In terms of individual scoring over the past two seasons, Trouba has been the most effective of the three, with one goal, five primary assists, and three secondary assists over 258.84 minutes. Enstrom comes next with the same stat line except only one secondary assist over 284.44 minutes. Myers meanwhile has only put up three primary assists over 248.51 mintues.
The Jets have their highest shot volume (all shot types) with Enstrom at 79.74 shots per 60 minutes, with Trouba next at 74.18 shots per sixty minutes. Myers meanwhile falls all the way to the bottom with 68.81 shots per 60 minutes. Expected goals fall in the same order, although the gap between Trouba and Myers decreases while the gap between Trouba and Enstrom increases.
In terms of actual goals, the Jets have scored nearly twice the goals per minute with Trouba on the ice versus either Myers or Enstrom. The Jets have 21 5v4 goals with Trouba on the ice, while only 11 and 12 for Enstrom and Myers.
— DTM About Heart (@DTMAboutHeart) July 13, 2016
Whether or not Trouba’s complaints are his true feelings, whether or not there is another reason Trouba wishes to leave the Jets or this is simply a negotiation tactic by Overhardt, there is a lot of truth behind the idea that Trouba has been used sub-optimally.
Relative to his usage, Trouba has developed into being one of the NHL’s top shot differential defenders. In addition, he has been arguably the Jets next best power play option after Byfuglien, or at the very least the superior alternative over Myers.
Despite constantly and significantly outperforming Tyler Myers in every facet, and sometimes even outperforming Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba has been the third option on the right side for the Jets. While his icetime has been pumped up with penalty kill and playing extra minutes on his offhand side, the fact remains he has been playing third fiddle on his natural position.
This does not mean Trouba is justified in the actions he has taken in response, or that they are the true reason for this hullabaloo, but there is definitely merit to the accusations that Trouba has been used sub-optimally and that has had a negative impact on him, and likely his earnings through his prime years.
Numbers courtesy of corisca.hockey unless otherwise stated