A scant few years ago, Fedor Tyutin was one of the best d-men in the NHL. This isn’t a view that gets much press thanks to the (past) poor state of the Blue Jackets. Rob Vollman helped promote the idea following the 2011-12 season, noting that Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin formed one of the top defensive pairings in the league. There’s more to Tyutin’s success story than just one year. From the 2008-09 season through 2012-13, Tyutin was a positive possession player relative to his team every year. His relative and on-ice performances are summarized below with data from Behind the Net. I’ve included his NHL ranking in each category to give a taste of his league-wide standing among d-men.
Considering an equal distribution of players (and there isn’t, but we’ll use this as a thought experiment), teams only have access to 2-3 players with Tyutin in his worst year (ranked 77th in 2009-10). The number is only smaller in the other seasons. Tyutin was a legitimate asset for the Jackets, able to log big minutes and deal with tough competition most seasons.
Unfortunately for both Tyutin and the Blue Jackets, the rosy story ends after the 2012-13 season. This past year, for the first time since joining Columbus, Tyutin registered a negative relative Corsi. On the surface, it’s a worrying shift, especially as the whole Columbus team made a leap forward, going well above 50% Fenwick Close during an impressive run to end the season.
The Bird’s Eye View
This consideration on possession performance matters immensely for an individual d-man. We know that on-ice save percentage isn’t something blueliners control very well. Eric Tulsky discussed this concept in 2013 looking at save percentage regression, ultimately concluding that we should expect a regression 85% to the mean from year-to-year. Garret Hohl further expanded on this idea, noting that shot metrics (possession data) that we should consider in defensive evaluations.
Now this isn’t to say Tyutin was held back all year. In fact, Tyutin’s sub-50% performance also managed to see the team-wide boost described by Tyler Dellow (where Tyutin gets the fifth biggest improvement on the CBJ squad). A quick glance at his 5-game rolling CF% average affirms this (using game data from the ever-fantastic Extra Skater).
Boosts into the 60% range in late January and again in late March save Tyutin from a complete clunker season. But that opening salvo is really uninspiring. Tyutin didn’t cross the 50% mark in any 5-game average until December 29, a month after Tyler Dellow’s identified turnaround spot for the overall team. So what’s holding this d-man down? And maybe as important, why is he suddenly falling below the team average in possession numbers?
Tyutin and the Weight
The great problem in evaluating Fedor Tyutin is his most common defensive partner: Jack Johnson. Consider that Tyutin spent a full 63.8% of his 5-on-5 time with Johnson. This probably doesn’t need repeating, but Johnson is not very good. Copper & Blue covered this two years ago, Fear the Fin correctly identified the Kings’ improvement upon shipping him out. And if old habits aren’t convincing enough, Johnson has continued to drag others down during his time with the Blue Jackets. Tyler Dellow even shot down the argument that tough minutes are at fault, showing that the “less defensive” James Wisniewski performed better against elite forwards than Johnson. (Which seems to suggest that a change in coaching strategy with Johnson would do wonders to boost the Jackets further next year)
While this isn’t intended to be a Jack Johnson discussion, it’s important background before we make the next leap. In non-breaking news, Fedor Tyutin was slightly better when he escaped Jack Johnson. Looking at CF% values from 2013-14 on Hockey Analysis, Tyutin was a 48.7% player when paired with Johnson, and rose ever-so-slightly to 49.0% away. It’s not a big change, but one further piece of information gives more context: Johnson drops when apart from Tyutin, down from 48.7% to 47.1%.
Honestly, clawing to just below 50% isn’t impressive in the grand scheme of things. Doing so while lifting up one of the worst d-men in the NHL makes the achievement a bit more meaningful.
It’s also worth noting that the significance of overlap between Johnson and Tyutin makes it hard to evaluate WOWY numbers further for the Russian d-man. Consider any forward teammate with Tyutin. We know that 63.8% of the time (5-on-5), that’s also ice shared with Johnson. It’s no surprise that there’s such a mixed bag of results. Of the 8 Jackets forwards with over 200 minutes alongside Tyutin, 7 were better CF% performers without him on the ice. And in another non-surprise, all 7 players were also better without Johnson.
So what are we to do? One way around this is to get the full NHL data set and tease apart Tyutin’s performance without Johnson in every case. We’re not going to do that today, but that would be the optimal situation. A simpler (albeit limited) choice is to consider Tyutin with the other d-men only. It’s unlikely that 3 d-men are out at one time, so the information here should be more Johnson-independent for Tyutin. The small sample is going to cut quite a bit (Tyutin only spent more than 40 minutes with 4 defensive teammates). Of those 4 (Johnson, Wisniewski, Prout, and Savard), we’re also introducing some Johnson complications in the “without you” case (Prout and Savard both spent more time with Johnson than Tyutin), but we’ll give this a shot anyway.
It’s a mixed performance for Tyutin. We still must be cautious (we’re only working with a range of 40 to 200 minutes together), but this data suggests Tyutin just isn’t a great d-man anymore. Or at least he wasn’t in 2013-14. He’s better away from Johnson in general, but of the other 3 d-men here, he’s only noticeably improving Savard. Nick has already discussed Wisniewski’s great year and this is another case of Wiz driving the bus. Tyutin just wasn’t doing that last year, and it’s something the Blue Jackets will miss.
A Why and a Way Out
Fedor Tyutin was no longer a great d-man this past year, and the 2013-14 season was easily his worst with Columbus. With or without Jack Johnson, the Russian blueliner just wasn’t a great possession performer. He managed to drag his most common partner along, but not to a break even point.
Why this change? It’s hard to say precisely, but a potential factor is age. Tyutin turns 31 in a few days. If he’s a typical NHL player, he’s going to suffer a decline in Corsi performance, so some loss of productivity shouldn’t be a shock.
It’s also worth noting that this could be a one year anomaly. Tyutin did cope with a number of injuries and illnesses this season (TSN’s player page gives a general overview). Prior to this year he had appeared in 94.7% of games during his time in Columbus. It’s entirely possible that some degree of turnaround might happen just thanks to a clean bill of health.
Luckily for the Blue Jackets, the reliance on Tyutin may no longer be necessary. That doesn’t mean a strong year from Tyutin would be bad, but rather that the team’s overall depth and talent has improved drastically. The Jackets blueline was led by the dynamic play of Wisniewski and the exceptional rookie performance of Ryan Murray. If Tyutin bounces back, the Columbus defense will be stellar. If not, they’ll still have other defenders to be in a good position.
Featured image courtesy Michael Miller, Wikimedia Commons.