Questions surround the Dallas Stars on this 11th day of July during the year of our Lord 2018. Given the Stars’ larger pursuits, smaller questions are taking a backseat at the moment. Questions surrounding the supporting cast the Stars have on tap for 2019 are among them. Who of this group of young forwards has taken a step forward to claim a long term roster spot?
I think one assumed long term member of the roster is Mattias Janmark. Many seem to feel like his spot is lock tight for the foreseeable future. There was a spirited Twitter debate that broke out about what Janmark is thanks to DefendingBigD’s Brandon Worley.
He seems to have hit upon a sensitive subject judging by the replies. The consensus seems to be that Janmark is a definite top six forward whom the Stars would be foolish to trade for any number of reasons, but most immediately because he would open up another vacancy on the top two lines. The reality is a bit murkier.
The story of Mattias Janmark (neÃ© Janmark-Nylen) is a tale of two seasons, a knee injury, and his little buddy Jason Spezza. His knee injury was intense. I’m not even going to try to regurgitate the entire problem. I’m not a doctor, but someone who will be soon-ish did lay out the inner workings of the condition. The short of it is that the condition is something to keep in mind when considering Janmark’s long term upside.
When you compare Janmark’s 2016 (pre-injury) to last season (2018) statistically you see two wildly different players. Absolutely some of that could be due to a Ken Hitchcock impact, but not all of it. Some if it could be the injury. Even more of it could be the less effective play of Jason Spezza, but that opens an even larger can of worms.
Let’s start with offensive production and ice time. These first couple of images come from the work of Micah Blake McCurdy at hockeyviz.com. (If you like the work check out the Patreon that goes with it. The data isn’t free.) On the left you’ll see Janmark’s 2016, and on the right is his 2018.
In 2016 Janmark scored at the rate of barely a first liner given third line minutes. 2018 was quite a bit different. Janmark got second line ice time, but dropped down to the point production of a comfortable third liner. In both seasons he was terrible on the power play.
Using more hockeyviz.com data we can analyze how the shots and goals looked with Janmark on and off the ice. 2016 is on the left and 2018 on the right. Shots are the graphs in the top row and goals are the graphs in the bottom row.
In 2016 the Stars were quite a bit better with Janmark on the ice than without him. In 2018 the story was quite a bit different. The Stars took less shots with him on the ice, but the goals took a significant turn for the worse. This suggests some bad PDO luck, which he did have to the tune of .970, but both the shots and goals are concerning.
(PDO is the idea that over a long enough time frame shooting percentage and save percentage with a player on the ice trend towards 1.00. Higher or lower can suggest some bad or good luck. In this case, something was working against Janmark.)
Some of that has to do with playing with Jason Spezza versus not playing with Spezza. Spezza took a beating last year from some corners of the Stars-o-sphere (???), and he physically took a beating. Statistically he still looked decent, if not Jason Spezza. I went to Natural Stat Trick and pulled the numbers Janmark had playing with Spezza and without Spezza in both 2016 and 2018. That chart is to the right.
You see Corsi For % (shot attempt share), Goals For % (goal share), and Offensive Zone Start % (percentage of face offs taken in the offensive zone). Basically every metric in both years is significantly worse for Janmark when he isn’t with Spezza which we can take a couple of ways. Janmark isn’t driving the play, but also when he isn’t with Spezza the Stars put him in a strict defensive position.
For the most part that’s true. The chart to the left is data from Natural Stat Trick too. This is all of Janmark’s linemates from 2018 that skated with him for more than 50 minutes without Spezza on the ice. It’s the same stats as before. I color coded this so we can get into the yellow-ish, red, and blue separately.
In the yellow is Janmark’s most common linemate when Spezza wasn’t on the ice, Devin Shore. Shore wasn’t particularly productive in 2018. Almost 300 of the minutes Janmark spent away from Spezza were with Shore, and they started out more in the defensive zone than offensive. In theory starting them in the offensive zone isn’t ideal since they aren’t on the ice for offensive purposes,but they didn’t do much defensively either.
In blue are the 100 minutes Janmark spent with Radek Faksa. That was a solid defensive unit! They barely played together! Perhaps they should have if the alternative is Janmark with Martin Hanzal. I still don’t know what to make of Hanzal’s season. I am fairly confident that his role was to get the puck out of the zone and shrug offense off entirely either by choice or command. He and Janmark started often in the defensive zone with an abysmal sub 40% Corsi percentage.
Janmark did get some time with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, though only seven of those minutes were with the duo together. Hitchcock and his staff started Janmark in the defensive end of the rink with both players. Why? Forcing Benn and Seguin to be good defensive players didn’t work. Ultimately all this did was keep them further away from the net. Janmark isn’t the play driver needed to get the puck up the ice.
The lesson I take from all of this is that Janmark has shown he can either play up the lineup or down the lineup, but he isn’t driving the play. If the line is in an offensive mindset Janmark is likely going to produce for you. If the line is in a defensive mindset the production is mostly gone. Playing with Spezza definitely helps, but Spezza is always effectively going to be used in an offensive role.
This shows up in the passing data Ryan Stimson and colleagues tracked too. In 2016 the Stars as a group trended toward the offensive side, In 2018 not so much. It shows.
So what caused the decline? I think there is enough good from 2018, despite how poor the overall season was, to show that Janmark has a lot to offer if put in an appropriate non-defensive-shell role. If you put Janmark with talented players not married to the defensive zone he’ll help produce.
If you bury him in the defensive zone with Martin Hanzal or ask him to drive the play it isn’t likely to happen. He’s a quality player, but is that the type of guy who has a top six spot locked down for years to come? I’m not sure. I do feel confident that, given the opportunity, that’s the type of player you send to the Ottawa Senators in return for Erik Karlsson if asked. If not then he, Jason Spezza, and Valeri Nichushkin or Alex Radulov will form a quality second line.