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Pondering the Whole Werenski vs Tortorella Defense Thing

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I wanted to come up with a lot of potential answers. Instead, I just came away with more questions. Either way, we’ll get an answer as this season continues to play out with the way Zach Werenski is used and how John Tortorella utilizes him and his minutes.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Werenski is an elite offensive-defenseman in today’s NHL.

He is, when you consider today’s defenseman — like Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson — are more well-known for their offensive production that lights the lamp, than even their own defense, and especially those that might attest to the definition of a true shutdown d-man. Those that are most noticeable on the ice in keeping the opponents’ lamp dark, than lighting their own.

When you read about the Norris Trophy finalists every year, how many times are the offensive stats what jump off the page?

The kind of the narrative clinging to ‘Z’, lately, more so brought on by his own head coach and the minutes he’s playing as a result, is ringing opposite. In what is now his third NHL season, Werenski has worked himself back from off-season shoulder shoulder surgery for an injury that limited him last season, but only contained him in possibly just how many points he could have scored.

Werenski still had 16 goals, setting an already career-high, but also breaking the goals record by Blue Jackets defenseman in a season. He only missed five games on the season, playing the bulk of the schedule with an injury sustained against the Bruins that occurred Oct. 30 last season.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Through the majority of his two seasons in Columbus, Zach has played the majority of his time on the Blue Jackets top defensive pairing with Seth Jones. But so far this year, Werenski is finding more time on the third pairing, customarily with Scott Harrington.

That’s because John Tortorella wants Werenski to focus more in areas of his game away from the puck. Similar to what has been said regarding Anthony Duclair, and others that might score, but may not be excelling ‘away from the puck.’ Those areas of the game Tortorella deems as important, if not more so, than the offense a player might provide.

Or, it’s accountability as Tortorella will tell you. Regardless of the offensive numbers Duclair and Werenski might be posting, they have to play a full 200-foot game, or learn to check, if you’re playing for Torts.

Seth Jones and Zach Werenski 5v5

Player 1 Player 2 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Player 1 Player 2 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Zach Werenski Seth Jones 16 136:25 131 141 48.16 108 109 49.77 73 83 46.79 7 7 50 59 63 48.36 30 31 49.18 4 3 57.14 9.59 91.57 1.012 69 53 55 55.65
Zach Werenski w/o Seth Jones 23 248:55 225 260 46.39 186 191 49.34 138 135 50.55 11 11 50 102 119 46.15 37 44 45.68 6 5 54.55 7.97 91.85 0.998 83 86 56 59.71
w/o Zach Werenski Seth Jones 16 167:12 166 166 50 133 121 52.36 94 81 53.71 7 4 63.64 92 79 53.8 35 31 53.03 2 4 33.33 7.45 95.06 1.025 45 57 69 39.47
w/o Zach Werenski w/o Seth Jones 23 550:03 526 533 49.67 400 397 50.19 297 292 50.42 29 26 52.73 250 225 52.63 110 91 54.73 18 16 52.94 9.76 91.1 1.009 172 207 185 48.18
Natural Stat Trick

Before Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, there was this quote from Werenski about new defensive partner, Scott Harrington.

Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski 5v5

Player 1 Player 2 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% MDCF MDCA MDCF% MDGF MDGA MDGF% LDCF LDCA LDCF% LDGF LDGA LDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Player 1 Player 2 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% MDCF MDCA MDCF% MDGF MDGA MDGF% LDCF LDCA LDCF% LDGF LDGA LDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Zach Werenski Scott Harrington 19 65:34 55 75 42.31 42 52 44.68 35 38 47.95 3 4 42.86 26 35 42.62 7 9 43.75 1 1 50 19 26 42.22 2 3 40 26 30 46.43 0 0 - 8.57 89.47 0.98 18 27 13 58.06
Zach Werenski w/o Scott Harrington 23 319:46 301 326 48.01 252 248 50.4 176 180 49.44 15 14 51.72 135 147 47.87 60 66 47.62 9 7 56.25 75 81 48.08 5 5 50 142 144 49.65 1 2 33.33 8.52 92.22 1.007 134 112 98 57.76
w/o Zach Werenski Scott Harrington 19 121:21 103 151 40.55 79 123 39.11 54 94 36.49 6 2 75 51 71 41.8 23 35 39.66 2 2 50 28 36 43.75 2 0 100 39 69 36.11 2 0 100 11.11 97.87 1.09 34 53 33 50.75
w/o Zach Werenski w/o Scott Harrington 23 595:54 589 548 51.8 454 395 53.47 337 279 54.71 30 28 51.72 291 233 55.53 122 87 58.37 18 18 50 169 146 53.65 7 7 50 229 253 47.51 4 3 57.14 8.9 89.96 0.989 183 211 221 45.3
Natural Stat Trick

Recently, we discussed the possibility of trading Werenski for William Nylander. Or really, just threw the idea out there. It’s not going to happen. But anyway, for the record, no, I would not look to trade Werenski.

Forget the fact he’s still working his way back from off-season shoulder surgery, and will likely take some time to get into the natural flock of playing a physical hockey game on a nightly basis, the kid is still just 21-years-old.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The core, beyond its regulars, is not deep beyond Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard, and Werenski.

Not that you couldn’t use another skilled forward in Nylander, but the Jackets’ offense is not a problem (3.35 GF/GP). Though he could be considered a replacement of sorts for the potential UFA departure of Artemi Panarin, Werenski is not the man to move in facilitating such a trade.

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to really evaluate the defensive aspect of a defenseman in the NHL. Is it simply how many goals the opponent is able to score when that defenseman and pair is on the ice?

Sure, that’s the most basic intrinsic way to put a number on it. Or probably, more specific, it would be evaluating the CF%. If the opponent has the puck more than the defense, that’s a problem.

By paring Jones with Werenski, is Jones simply covering up the defensive-inefficiencies of Werenski? Is it tough-love demoting Werenski in hopes he can shore up his own defensive deficiencies as opposed to sacrificing that aspect of the game if he can make up for it with his offensive contribution?

Is Tortorella’s mindset, a defensive philosophy of the game, and what he deems important enough to place emphasis on in his hockey players, even if it means demoting said player, simply an outdated model in today’s NHL?

All offense and no defense make hockey a dull game?

Obviously not but play along.

Last season in 5v5 play, the pair of Jones and Werenski on the ice contributed towards 53 goals for and 37 against, with a 55.23 CF%. You also figure into the equation that when you are prone to scoring, and setting up offensively, you will undoubtedly leave your man or space open when jumping into the offensive play. The Harrington-Werenski combo probably isn’t long to last forever.

Back in August, NHL.com listed their top 20 NHL defenseman in the game, with Jones listed 6th overall, and Werenski, 12th. So far this season, Tortorella is finding a teaching moment for Werenski on the third pairing, which, in Torts’ eyes, is said to help find his confidence. Ironically, in Werenski wanting the puck more.

Marc Scheig went into detail recently regarding the new-look defense and some of the results paying off.

Said Jones on playing with Murray:

“He gives me the confidence to make plays. It’s a pleasure to play with him. He’s solid. He’s smart. He really never finds himself out of position. He’s always there for me.”

Seth Jones and Ryan Murray 5v5

Player 1 Player 2 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% MDCF MDCA MDCF% MDGF MDGA MDGF% LDCF LDCA LDCF% LDGF LDGA LDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Player 1 Player 2 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% MDCF MDCA MDCF% MDGF MDGA MDGF% LDCF LDCA LDCF% LDGF LDGA LDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Seth Jones Ryan Murray 16 145:58 135 150 47.37 105 108 49.3 74 70 51.39 7 4 63.64 76 71 51.7 32 29 52.46 2 4 33.33 44 42 51.16 3 0 100 44 64 40.74 1 0 100 9.46 94.29 1.037 45 55 63 41.67
Seth Jones w/o Ryan Murray 16 157:39 162 157 50.78 136 122 52.71 93 94 49.73 7 7 50 75 71 51.37 33 33 50 4 3 57.14 42 38 52.5 3 3 50 77 72 51.68 0 1 0 7.53 92.55 1.001 69 55 61 53.08
w/o Seth Jones Ryan Murray 23 253:37 279 223 55.58 220 168 56.7 156 125 55.52 18 17 51.43 141 87 61.84 61 30 67.03 12 9 57.14 80 57 58.39 4 7 36.36 111 109 50.45 2 1 66.67 11.54 86.4 0.979 90 85 93 49.18
w/o Seth Jones w/o Ryan Murray 23 545:19 472 570 45.3 366 420 46.56 279 302 48.02 22 20 52.38 211 257 45.09 86 105 45.03 12 12 50 125 152 45.13 6 5 54.55 204 251 44.84 4 3 57.14 7.89 93.38 1.013 165 208 148 52.72
Natural Stat Trick

Still, as Adam Gretz back in October points out, the contributions formed by Jones and Werenski since 2016-17 — such as outscoring opponents 102-76 to date — are hard to ignore. We’ll see what sticks as the season plays on.

What do you see?