Jamie Benn has been a great player for this franchise. Seven years remain on the contract Benn signed prior to last season at an annual cap hit of $9,500,000. He continues to produce on the point sheet, but at various times throughout the season questions did creep in about his overall game. This quote from almost-colleague Mike Heika is but a small sample of what was going on:
I have no opinion about that because, really, who knows what leadership even means without being in the locker room. Heika hears things so if he says that someone is probably saying it so, I mean, whatever. The on ice production still looked good during a season that was mediocre overall playing under a defensive-minded head coach.
Going deeper into the data tracked by Corey Sznajder you could see a decline with Benn, but the same decline was there for all forwards. I put that together here, but I’ll include the image again.
The zone entry and exit percentiles Benn fit into saw a marked drop from 2017 to 2018, but those shot contribution numbers are alarming. Offensively Benn went from being super elite to merely being good. He still fit into the same percentile based on how many shots he personally took, but his overall impact on the offense per hour of ice time was significantly smaller.
But, that’s the impact you kind of expected under Hitchcock. The same didn’t really hit Tyler Seguin, but we could write that off as Seguin really taking to the two-way role Hitchcock made him play.
I’ve referenced the data Ryan Stimson released a week ago a few times on the Morning News website, but it’s really awesome information to be at the finger tips of a bored curious adult. It’s a lot of data. I haven’t been able to talk about it in depth on the Morning News website, but we’ll go into it more here.
I pulled screenshots of the last four years of Jamie Benn data from the release. It includes defensive, passing, and scoring information along with shot quality info. These four charts are going back in time from 2018. I’m just going to present them without comment first.
Benn in 2017.
Jamie Benn in 2016.
2015 data isn’t as thorough, but 2015 Benn was undoubtedly something to behold.
It isn’t elegant looking, but I took his year by year percentiles and threw together a quick and dirty graph of the trendlines in Excel.
The overwhelming trend for four years has been a decline in Benn’s overall play culminating with what appeared to be a one year hit last year, but maybe isn’t.. A few areas are major red flags, including SCB%. This is the percentage of on ice shots a player contributes towards. Four years ago Benn was in the 97th percentile. Benn held steady in the 87th percentile in 2016 and 2017 before falling off a cliff in 2018 down to the 47th percentile.
This is an indicator that Benn was less involved in the offense. I still wonder how much of that has to do with playing with Alexander Radulov since Radulov is best with the puck on his stick, but whatever the reason that drop is alarming.
ixA60 has steadily dropped from a superstar 99th percentile down to the 78th percentile last season. This is assists expected based on how the puck is moving prior to a shot. The puck isn’t coming off of Benn’s stick prior to shots enough for him to have maximum impact.
In transition in 2018 Benn was a borderline useless player down in the 33rd percentile after previously being good. Trans60 is shots and shot assists off of passes from the neutral zone. If the puck isn’t on Benn’s stick he can’t make that impact.
Shot contributions are where the biggest red flags are. I pulled the percentiles per year into a pretty little table to further drive the point home.
PSC60 is primary shot contributions per hour, so shots plus shot assists. SA60 is shot assists per hour, or passes that lead to a shot. Shots60 is shots taken per hour. Jamie Benn has fallen from clearly elite and arguably one of the top 5 offensive players in the game to merely being good with seven years left on the contract as we creep up on his 29th birthday.
If you want to call this the problem or a symptom of the problem I can’t argue against you one way or the other, but those last three rows are telling. 1T60 is shots taken off one timers per hour and iDZ60 is shots taken after a pass across the slot or from behind the net per hour. Benn went from never taking a shot off of a one timer to being one of the more frequent one time shooters in the league while simultaneously falling from taking an elite number of shots off of cross slot/behind the net passes. As Benn has progressively taken more and more one timers his expected goals (ixG60) continue to drop.
The data seems to suggest that Benn isn’t getting to the net the way he used to, and a higher and higher percentage of his shots are coming off of one timers from further out. If that’s the case that’s either a decision by Benn, a systemic issues, or an inability to get to the net as his body starts to show signs of the physical game he’s played for years.
Whatever the reason, there’s a clear trend down in Benn’s game that needs to level off so he can continue to be a difference maker for years to come.