NHL Mailbag: What's wrong with Jets captain Blake Wheeler?

Blake Wheeler and the Jets are a mess right now. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

If there has been a prevailing theme for the season so far it has been that the unexpected keeps happening. By points percentage, the Islanders, Canucks, Oilers, Sabres, and Coyotes are all in the top 10. Meanwhile, Vegas, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Calgary, Tampa, and Dallas range from 12th to 22nd. San Jose is 28th.

For very understandable reasons, people are more fixated on the disappointments than the pleasant surprises, and that goes for both teams and individuals. So there is plenty to talk about.

Let’s go:

Shawn asks: “What is wrong with Blake Wheeler? Is it fixable?”

I guess you mean that he’s only got eight points through 16 games this year, but the problem really isn’t offense. By expected goals (based on his own shot attempts), he should have six instead of five, but the team has actually overperformed offensively by about 2.2 goals. Maybe you chalk that up to him, Patrik Laine, and Mark Scheifele having high talent levels.

The problem has been defensively, which has never been Wheeler’s or Laine’s “whole thing.” Interestingly, it’s Scheifele — usually pretty good defensively — who appears to be the drag this season. And while Josh Morrissey is probably a good enough defenseman that he’d be fine with some help, the fact is that if he’s playing this much with Neal Pionk, he doesn’t have that help, y’know?

The Jets are a mess right now and everyone seems to be getting hit with that reality somewhat evenly.

But the other thing with Wheeler is, well, he’s 33 and sometimes it just kinda gets away from you a bit at that age. Scheifele and Laine don’t have that problem, but if Wheeler suddenly can’t keep up with his linemates offensively, that’s potentially not something that gets fixed.

One last thing, and you can apply this kind of thing liberally throughout the Jets’ lineup as well: His PDO is under 98 right now, which always makes you look worse than you probably are.

John asks via email: “Should the Penguins be concerned enough about Murray to look at other alternatives, and if so, who?”

Very little concern, if at all. Even if we’re just going by save percentage (not the best metric for goaltender evaluation anymore but certainly a baseline), he’s well above the league average at .917.

He has, however, allowed more goals than his score- and venue-adjusted expected-goals against, by a shade over 1, in all situations. Much of his problem is at 5-on-5, but he’s coming off a season in which he was way above expected (plus-11.1, 10th in the league) at even strength. So given Pittsburgh’s struggles in front of him and the fact that it’s a very small sample skewed badly by an excellent Bruins team absolutely kicking the hell out of the guys in front of him, I’m gonna say “give it a minute.”

Especially because there are plenty of other teams with serious goaltending concerns and very few who have extra would give up a goalie for something other than an astronomical price.

Jake asks: “When does Nico Hischier get Selke nominations?”

I generally agree that Hischier is underrated, but the last couple seasons he arguably wasn’t even the best defensive forward on his own team. That was Kyle Palmieri. That said, the answer to your question is: When the Devils are good and he takes a step offensively. 

Yup, it’s a “defensive” award but as we know it usually goes to a guy with 50-plus points, minimum, whose team isn’t abjectly awful, as the Devils have been. But one thing he’s definitely done that voters go nutso for: He’s gotten his faceoff percentage from 45.2 last year to 58.5 so far this season.

Interestingly, by WAR so far this season, Hischier has been below replacement level defensively.

He’s got a ways to go yet but yeah, obviously I like the player.

WLuper asks: “What’s the deal with Carolina not being dialed in? They’ve improved on paper. Do they miss the leadership of Justin Williams that much?”

Man, tough crowd. I guess they’re “not dialed in” because they ONLY have the second-best adjusted expected-goals difference in the league. It’s due to an elite offense, which more than counterbalances a subpar defense.

It’s not like it’s even hurt them: They’re comfortably third in their division behind two teams that are volcanically, unsustainably hot. A team with a 10-game win streak is three points ahead of them with a game in hand and we’re worried about this? Okay.

Let’s put it this way: The Hurricanes “should” score about 54.8% of the goals in their games. So far they have scored 53.9%. If being “dialed in” means adding 1.5 goals to the offense and stopping an extra 0.21 goals at the other end over 15 games, I dunno. It might cost them three points in the standings. And that’s if they play exactly this “badly” all year.

Mitch asks: “Which of the following players who is currently leading his team in points is most likely to still be leading his team at the end of the season? John Carlson, Travis Konecny, Nick Schmaltz, or Matt Tkachuk?”

Tkachuk or Schmaltz. Probably Schmaltz. He’s good and his team’s long-tenured most talented players are getting up there. Tkachuk is also good — better than Schmaltz — but his team’s most talented players are just going through a slump right now and should be fine.

Elliot asks: Has there been a worse free agent signing than Erik Karlsson, the $11-million a year given to someone who looks like he doesn’t like playing defense anymore?”

The thing I said earlier about PDO and stuff? Yeah, at 5-on-5, Karlsson’s is currently 94. That’s not to say he’s been good, because he hasn’t, but let’s rein it in a little here.

I hate to keep banging the drum on this but Karlsson’s xGF share when he plays with Vlasic is 32.5 percent; the Sharks should give up about two goals for every one they score with those two out together. When it’s Karlsson without Vlasic, the number is 52.2 percent. Their real goals share is 5-1 against, or 16.7 percent.

I think I’ve identified the problem.

Marcus asks: “Is Toews’s contract actually worse than Seabrook’s right now?”

Yeah. Sure. Why not.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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