It's about that time of the year where we will look back at the season that was for the Hurricanes by taking a look at the individual performance of each player. Last season I did this by showing how effective each player was at controlling scoring chances but I'm going to take a different route this time. Scoring chances are very important, but they're just part of an even bigger picture, so we're going to dig a little deeper with our player analysis this season. We're going to be looking at how they were used and how they performed in all three zones. This means looking at their ice time, special teams usage, quality of competition, zone starts and their performance by scoring chances, puck-possession, scoring chances and point-production. We want to be thorough as possible with this analysis so that everything is covered, so we're going to be looking at basically everything I've tracked along with data that is available on sites such as Behind The Net.
Who better to begin this analysis with than the fan base's scapegoat of choice for most of the year, Jamie McBain? Going by the eye-test and most fan's opinions, McBain's third season in the NHL was a tough one. He was on-pace to have his lowest point total in a full season (8 points in 40 games), gained a reputation for making bad defensive mistakes and his most memorable moment of the season was when he back-handed the puck into his own net on a clearing attempt. This may have been only McBain's third full-season in the NHL, but I think management and fans had some higher expectations for him.
At 25 years of age, McBain is still young but we're starting to see more of what kind of player he is and right now, he is pretty much a third-pairing defenseman and not much more than that. The Canes had him take on a larger role for parts of the season due to injuries and he struggled with them, so I think it's fair to say that he is basically just a #5/6 defenseman at this point of his career. The Hurricanes had too many of these players, which led to McBain's name being circulated in trade talks for the latter half of the season and will continue to be for most of the summer. That and every Carolina fan seems to want him off the team because all they remember are the mistakes.
Scapegoating is one of my least favorite things in sports because it is rarely ever one player's fault, especially in hockey when you have six different players on the ice at the same time. Whenever a fan finds a scapegoat, they become the subject of harsh ridicule and anything good they do is virtually unnoticed. McBain definitely deserved some of this because his mistakes were just plain horrible to watch at times, but was he as bad as some of the scapegoats would lead you to believe? Let's find out.
McBain played a healthy amount of even strength due to injuries on the Carolina blue-line but he was still well behind a lot of other players in terms of even strength minutes per game. He was also used on the second power play unit and sparingly on the PK. Kirk Muller also typically sent him out frequently in the offensive zone and didn't trust him that much against other team's top lines. There were some games where he was given those assignments but for the most part, he was either used against other teams second or third lines. So basically he was either sheltered or given secondary assignments.
5v5 Ice Time Graph
McBain's season started off in a familiar place, which was the press box as he was scratched for the first two games. After that, he returned to the lineup and was mostly kept to third pairing minutes at even strength. This changed around Game 26-31 when he began to play more minutes a night and there was even a game where he led the team in ice time. If your memory is foggy, Game 26-31 is around the time when both Joe Corvo and Justin Faulk were injured and McBain ended up being the player who had to take over their minutes. This didn't last too long, though as McBain eventually was bumped back to third-pairing ice time until the end of the year when the Hurricanes weren't even icing a full 18-skater roster.
I've already covered how McBain's performance once he was given more responsibility (hint: not very well), but let's look at his body of work for the entire year.
|5v5 Fenwick Dif/20||1.278||3rd|
|5v5 Chance Diff/20||-0.527||7th|
SAF = Shot Attempts For, SAA = Shot Attempts Allowed, SAD = Shot Attempt Differential, ESG = Even Strength Goals, ESP = Even Strength Points
Based on results, McBain had a pretty bad season considering he was given offensive minutes and more ice-time for a good chunk of the year. He also didn't record any points on the power play even though he was on the second unit. Goals and points aren't the most reliable methods for judging a player, though and much to the disbelief of his hate club, McBain's underlying numbers are not bad compared to the rest of the defense.
Going by puck-possession and shot prevention, McBain was one of the team's better defenseman. He was also on the ice for more of Carolina's five-on-five goals than the opponent's and there was a brief period at the beginning of the season where he went a few games without even being on the ice for a goal against. I would take these good numbers with a grain of salt because he was getting cushy zone starts and players are expected to come out on top if they are given those assignments. Still, if McBain was a much of a defensive liability as people say he is, then the Hurricanes would be getting hammered at even strength when he was on the ice, which they weren't.
However, there was one area at even strength that McBain struggled in dearly, though and that was preventing scoring chances. He had the second worst scoring chance differential per 20 minutes among the team's defense corps and was on the ice for 4.71 scoring chances against, which was also the second worst mark on the team. This is why fans consider him a liability. Whether it's failing to keep the puck in at the blue line, losing his man in front of the net or turning the puck over, a lot of McBain's mistakes were highlight reel ones and ended up being scoring chances for the opposing team. It wasn't just McBain who had this problem since preventing scoring chances was a team-wide issue but he seemed to be one of Carolina's worst players in this department for whatever reason. I'm still not sure if the difference between scoring chances and puck-possession is just random noise or not, but it was a big deal for the Canes this season and an even bigger problem for McBain. He also wasn't producing much in terms of points, so a lot of the good things he did offensively weren't as noticeable.
As a defenseman, McBain isn't expected to lead many zone entries unless he is dumping the puck in, so he came in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of Carolina's blue-line in controlled zone entries. I would have expected McBain to have more since he is a puck-mover but he, like most of the team, resorted to dumping the puck in a lot. He was also around the defense's average in zone entries relative to his ice time so nothing stands out much here.
Season Grade: C-
He gets a minus because of his woeful performance in terms of scoring chances, but there were a lot of good things he did that went unnoticed for most of the year. McBain didn't produce that much offensively so any time he did have a good game, it would be ones that a lot of fans didn't notice because preventing shots on goal & controlling puck-possession is something that doesn't gain much of the public's eye. McBain did a good job in both of those regards (with soft zone starts), but most of the shots he allowed to get through were of high quality and how much control he had over that is anybody's guess. It could be just random variance but it also could be a sign of his poor defensive play being as bad as his critics make it out to be.
I was hoping McBain would take a few steps forward this year and while he was given a few opportunities to do so, it didn't happen. He hasn't really gotten worse, he is just the same player he is always been which is that of an offensive-minded third-pairing defenseman. McBain was far from the team's worst player, but he sure as hell did not prove that he could be a defenseman that can play 20 minutes a night against other team's top-sixes and be reliable in all three zones. He's only 25 so the book is out on what kind of player he can grow to be, but this is what he is now and the Hurricanes had three other defenseman who are similar to him.
Whether or not McBain is on the roster come September remains to be seen, but he is going to need to be better than this if he wants to stay in Carolina's long-term plans. The Hurricanes have a few young defensemen in their system who can play his role at a lower cost without the drop off in production being too steep. Carolina is going to have a decision to make regarding McBain because while he may have room to grow, they need their defense corps to be better as soon as possible and I'm not sure if they can go into next year with him in the top-four.