This season was a bit of a coming out party for Jay Harrison. He has been a fringe NHL player and bottom-pairing defenseman for most of his career but was one of the Hurricanes top-four defenders for most of the year and also played considerable time on both special teams units. For a good part of the season, Harrison looked very competent in these roles and he set career highs in just about every statistical category you can name. There are even some stats out there that have him listed as one of the Canes top blue-liners from this season.
While I would not put Harrison above the likes of Tim Gleason, Bryan Allen, Joni Pitkanen, Justin Faulk or even Jamie McBain, I do think that he had a good season and am happy that he exceeded my expectations this season. However, something I am curious about is whether or not Harrison would be playing such big minutes on a team with a deeper blue line. Where would Harrison play on a team like St. Louis or Nashville? I am willing to bet that he wouldn't be getting over 20 minutes a night on those clubs, but I think his play this year would at least earn him a roster spot on them.
The reason why I am curious about this is because the Hurricanes defense, as a whole, was not very good this season and I want to know how much of a role Harrison played in that. Is Harrison a third-pairing guy in reality and only playing top-four minutes in Carolina because their defense corps was thin? Should he be given this much responsibility next season or should the Canes search for better options to strengthen their defense? It is a good question and after the jump, we will take a look at Harrison's scoring chance numbers to get a better idea of the season Harrison had.
Jay Harrison Scoring Chances 2011-12
Average TOI: 20:33
Scoring Chance Defense Ranking: 5/9
Scoring Chance Diff/60 Ranking: 4/9
Qualcomp Ranking: 5/9
OZ Start%: 49.4%
Scoring Chances by Season Segment
TC = total chances, SC = segment chances, Segment% = scoring chance percentage during segment, Team %= Hurricanes' scoring chance percentage during segment
Scoring Chance Segment Line Graph
Click to enlarge
Harrison had a lot of success early in the season but that took a sharp turn downward in mid-December when he returned from an injury that kept him out for 10 games. Most of that is related to a small sample size skewing his numbers down, but in the first full stretch of games he played after returning from the injury, he was still well under both 50% and the team average during that segment. Harrison ended the year on a bad note, but he was performing around the team average in two of the last three segments. Granted, it was probably easy for him to do that in games 61-70 since the team was getting killed in terms of scoring chances during that time period.
People aren't going to like hearing, but a lot of Harrison's early success is related to him playing with Tomas Kaberle for most of October and November. This isn't really giving praise to Kaberle but more-so the situations that he plays in. Kaberle was getting the softest minutes among the defense corps and his most frequent partner as a member of the Hurricanes was Jay Harrison. The difference between Harrison & Kaberle is that the former was taking advantage of those soft minutes and his point total and underlying numbers received a boost.
If I had to pick a turning point for Harrison's season, it would be around the time that Jaroslav Spacek was acquired because Harrison was injured during then. When he returned to the lineup, the Canes were using Spacek & Jamie McBain as their protected defense pairing, which forced Harrison into playing top-four minutes with rookie Justin Faulk. With tougher minutes comes more responsibility and it definitely took Harrison time to adjust to it. His play was a bit inconsistent and I am not sure if he is a top-four defenseman but he turned in a respectable season overall by his standards.
Based on the data above, I am not fully confident in saying that Harrison is a top-four defenseman in the NHL and that he can step right into this role next season. Yes, he outperformed the team average in a good few of the segments but look at how bad the team average was during some of those stretches. Harrison has the versatility to be used anywhere in the lineup but it appears that his skill-set and talent level is best suited for the third pairing on most teams. Although, something that might keep him in the top four is the success he and Justin Faulk had a defense pairing.
Harrison & Faulk were one of the only defense pairings, playing somewhat tough minutes, that managed to outchance their competition. They were barely above the 50% mark, but they fared better than the majority of units who were used against other team's top-sixes. How dependent they are on each other is a good question because they both were underwater when playing with different teammates. Regardless, I do expect Harrison to stay in the top-four with Justin Faulk to start next season based on this, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them struggle if their workload is increased.
Some other observations here include what I mentioned earlier about Harrison playing with Tomas Kaberle. They got soft minutes, yes, but they were making the most of them. Scoring chances were also in the Hurrcanes' favor when Harrison was playing with some of the forwards playing easier minutes like Skinner, Ruutu and Jokinen. You can see that the forwards were much better without Harrison than he was without them.