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What role does Jamie McBain play next season?

February 25, 2012; Raleigh, NC, USA; Jamie McBain knows that he will likely be on the Hurricanes next year, he just doesn't know who he will be playing with. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE
February 25, 2012; Raleigh, NC, USA; Jamie McBain knows that he will likely be on the Hurricanes next year, he just doesn't know who he will be playing with. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE

One of my favorite players to analyze this year has been Carolina's young defenseman Jamie McBain. When I say that, I mean that his season has been a pretty wild ride and following it has been interesting to say the least. He may have been in the press box on opening night, but over the year, he was used in just about every role on the defense corps. McBain spent a lot of his time playing in both the top-four and the third-pariing while contributing to both special teams units, which showed how versatile he is at such a young age. His performance in these roles, however, is what made this season such a roller coaster for him.

Statistically speaking, McBain had a decent year with 8 goals and 27 points, which is three fewer than he had last year but still solid for a defenseman. McBain also had the highest even strength scoring chance ratio among Carolina defensemen who were on the team for the entire season, which looks like an impressive feat at first glance but you have to dig a little deeper to see why McBain was seemingly able to outperform most of the defense this year. McBain had a solid year overall, but I think some of the credit for his success should be attributed to both Kirk Muller and Jaroslav Spacek, which is something to keep in mind when it comes time to renew his contract in a couple months.

I have little to no doubt that McBain will be qualified and retained, but where he fits in the lineup next season is something that is up in the air. Find out why after the jump.

A coach's impact on a player's performance might not always show up in counting stats, but they almost always do in the underlying numbers. For instance, a player who the coach regularly sends out in the offensive zone is likely going to be on ice for more scoring chances than he gives up (unless he completely stinks) and vice versa. This, in turn, has an influence on a players counting stats because more scoring chances equates to more goals most of the time.

Now, let's think about what I just said in the last paragraph and apply it to Jamie McBain this season. Both coaches seemed to use McBain all over the lineup but one thing that can be agreed on is that his most frequent partners were Joni Pitkanen and Jaroslav Spacek. Both of those two have completely different roles on the team; Pitkanen is expected to be an all-around defenseman and play 20+ minutes a game while Spacek was used in a sheltered third-pairing role. McBain would either be playing 20+ minutes against somewhat tough competition or be used in a protected role depending on who he was partnered with. His performance in these roles were a pretty sharp contrast from one another.

McBain was sort of forced into a third-pairing role in the middle of the season because Pitkanen missed a lot of time and the coaching staff felt that he wasn't quite ready for a shutdown role just yet. Placing McBain on the third pairing turned out to be the right call as he thrived in this role, but only when he was playing with Spacek.

Partner TOI CF/15 CA/15 Diff/15
Spacek 261.73 5.273 4.356 0.917
Pitkanen 324.35 3.885 4.44 -0.555
Gleason 268.58 3.519 3.965 -0.447
Joslin 158.36 2.652 3.599 -0.947

TOI = even strength time on ice, CF/15 = even strength chances for per 15 mins, CA/15 = even strength chances allowed per 15 minutes, Diff/15 = Chance differential

This table shows McBain's scoring chance numbers at even strength when he was on ice with a certain defenseman and you can see that Spacek was the only one of his regular partners that he had a positive differential with. Those two gave up quite a bit in their own end but they made up for it by producing a strong amount of offense, which essentially means they were playing their role on the third pairing. Keep in mind that McBain was getting sheltered minutes when he was playing with Spacek, too. Another defenseman who McBain received sheltered minutes with was Derek Joslin and they were not effective at all. I don't know how much that has to do with Joslin, though.

The one thing that should stick out to fans is McBain's numbers with Pitkanen because the general belief has been that those who are a solid pairing but the numbers beg to differ. Pitkanen and McBain are given a lot of responsibility when they play together, so it isn't a good thing that they are giving up more chances than any other of the defense pairings sampled here. I am thinking that it might be a good idea to separate them next season because both of them are more offensive-minded defensemen and mistakes are bound to happen when two players of that style are on the same pairing. Pitkanen might benefit from having a more defensive-minded partner but this could also help McBain.

Chances For Chances Against
w/Pitkanen 87 95 0.478
w/o Pitkanen 245 238 0.508

You can see that McBain played a lot better when he was away from Pitkanen, or at least he did in terms of producing and preventing scoring chances. Some evidence against this is that McBain was being used in easier situations when he wasn't with Pitkanen or Gleason, which likely resulted in him having stronger numbers. One also has to wonder if McBain can succeed in a third pairing role with someone who isn't Jaro Spacek, because he appeared to struggle with that this season.

Player Chances For

Chances Against

w/Spacek 92 76 0.548
w/o Spacek 240 257 0.483

McBain's performance away from Spacek isn't terrible, but it isn't particularly great either. McBain and Spacek did just about everything that a third defense pairing is supposed to do. They were able to play at least 12-16 minutes a night, kept play in the offensive zone and put up a decent amount of offense. That's about all you can ask out of guys playing that role. Whether or not McBain will play in this kind of role next season is a good question, though.

The coaching staff has shown that they trust McBain with top-four minutes and aren't afraid to use him in different situations but the way he's responded to them has been a mixed bag to say the least. I think that if McBain is going to succeed, he is going to need to play with someone who plays a much safer, conservative game compared to him. I think this is what made he and Spacek such an effective duo, they played relatively different styles but one was able to cover for the other if they made a mistake. McBain likely won't have Spacek to fall back on next year, so it is going to be interesting to see how Muller & the coaching staff uses him, especially with a lot of young defensemen looking to make the team out of camp. In the end, I think he will likely make the team before others and be a starter on game 1 but where he is in the lineup probably won't be determined until the last few days before the season.