With all forwards graded, it’s time to review that horrendous defense. Fresh off his shiny five year, $31.5 million contract, Brady Skjei was looking at becoming the full time 1LD under David Quinn and would be the only consistent presence on the left side of the blue line.
While not matching his rookie season production from two years ago, Skjei still set a career high in goals this year with eight, and finished with 25 points. He, like every other defenseman on the team, struggled mightily to find consistency. Part of it was a new coach/system, part of it was just overall team level of stink, and part of it is the player.
The entire blue line had terrible numbers, but Skjei was the worst in the non-Pionk division. He finished the year with a 45.82% xGF% (2nd worst on the team) and 45.92 CF% (5th on the team). Expanding this out, he finished the year with 2.33 xGF/60 (5th) and 2.75 xGA/60 (2nd worst). When you see defensive numbers like that, you hope the offense balances it out. In Skjei’s case, it did not.
Here we look at how Skjei performed with his various defense partners. Skjei spent most of his time with Adam McQuaid (438 minutes), to disastrous results. Once Tony DeAngelo stuck in the lineup, he was paired with Skjei for 319 minutes with somewhat respectable success. Skjei also — and unsurprisingly — found success with Kevin Shattenkirk during their 276 minutes together. Skjei/Pionk was a disaster for 219 minutes.
This leads me to believe that part of the issue was McQuaid being tied to Skjei for most of the year, which was not ideal. There’s more to it than just one chart of defense pairings, though. I looked at the shot heatmaps for shots taken with Skjei on the ice, and the plots looked almost identical with him on the ice versus him off the ice. So now we look at shots against.
With Skjei on the ice, the left side of the net mouth saw an increased number of shots against. With Skjei struggling on the defensive side of things, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
With Skjei off the ice, that left side turns more blue and less red. This is the area of the ice that Skjei covers. The right side of the ice, where Skjei’s partner covers, is largely unchanged. This leads to two questions: Was it Skjei who was always out of position? Or was it the RD who was out of position, forcing Skjei to cover and leaving his side open? Without watching dozens of hours of games, I can’t answer. We can, however, infer that given his two most frequent partners in McQuaid (bad) and DeAngelo (issues in his own end), we can lean towards the latter. While that is not an excuse, it can be logical reasoning.
Skjei will be counted upon for the next four seasons to correct his own issues and serve as the experienced LD that will carry this club into the next era. He will be the longest tenured blue liner very soon, whenever Staal calls it quits. The Blueshirts will need Skjei to take that next step, and will need it sooner rather than later.