After re-upping with the Canes for three years at $4.5 mil. per year, Joni Pitkanen did not have the best season to start off his new contract. He battled injuries for most of the year, missed 52 games a concussion and knee surgery and wasn't exactly great when he was healthy. Pitkanen has always been more known for his offense but he's been a very good all-around type player for the last couple of seasons. This year, he delivered on the offensive front with 17 points in 30 games but his play in the defensive zone was spotty to say the least.
Pitkanen's underlying numbers are pretty interesting because going by shot/possession stats, he appeared to play decent at even strength but his scoring chance data tells a much different tale. Only Tim Gleason and Derek Joslin had a worse scoring chance ratio than him, and the former plays much tougher minutes than Pitkanen does. In my time tracking scoring chances, I have only seen this happen with a few players but it could possibly mean that Pitkanen was on ice for more high quality shots against than others.
However, Pitkanen didn't get easy minutes at all this year either as he ranked third on the team in corsi relative to quality of competition, which means that he was used regularly against second and third lines. That sounds pretty normal for a guy who plays top four minutes but it's a little tougher than the workload that Pitkanen had the year before. At $4.5 mil. per year, I think Pitkanen should be able to handle these assignments but I also believe that a more stable defense partner could help him, as well.
A look at Pitkanen's underlying numbers from the past season is coming after the jump.
Joni Pitkanen 2011-12 Scoring Chances
Average TOI: 22:18
EV Chance% Def. Rank: 7/9
EV Chance Diff./60 Def. Rank: 7/9
QualComp Def. Rank: 3/9
OZ Start%: 49%
Scoring Chances by Season Segment
TC = total chances, SC = segment chances, Segment% = scoring chance percentage during segment, Team %= Hurricanes' scoring chance percentage during segment
Season Segment Line Graph
Click to enlarge graph
Pitkanen's high-risk style of play creates a lot of scoring chances for the Hurricanes, but it also leads to a lot of chances against. Unfortunately for Carolina, more of the latter happened when Pitkanen was healthy. He performed over the team average only once, which was right before he was sidelined with a concussion. Pitkanen's performance after returning from injury wasn't bad, it just looks poor when compared to the team average during the segment. His performance was about level with the team's season average during then.
I like having Pitkanen in the lineup and think that he adds a lot to the team, especially on the powerplay, but I think this was just a poor season for him. Sure, his scoring line looks decent but he gives up a lot of chances and that's pretty bad when you are logging top-four minutes every night. Granted, most of those minutes come on the powerplay but he still plays in a lot of critical situations and I think his performance in his own zone could be a lot better than it was this year. I am not sure how much the injury relates to his performance, but he was playing well before suffering the concussion, so I am going to assume that it wasn't anything drastic.
I would like to see what Pitkanen's numbers would like if he played for at least half of the year, but the small sample size we have here doesn't say a lot of good. A problem that might relate to his rough start is that his usual partner, Jamie McBain, was struggling to get in the lineup for a good part of the year and Pitkanen had to deal with a revolving door of defense partners. This is what I initially thought but after looking over the data a little closer, the problem could be that the McBain/Pitkanen pairing really isn't that good.
For most of the last two seasons, Joni Pitkanen's regular defense partner has been Jamie McBain and those two were really not that good when they played together. They weren't horrible, but they gave up more in their own end than they were producing. I mentioned this in McBain's review, but I think it is time to separate the two and see if they can work better with other partners. Part of the reason for them giving up so many chances is because they both play similar, high-risk styles that lead to bad pinches and turnovers. Giving Pitkanen (or McBain) a solid, steady partner could improve their numbers a bit. Pitkanen's results with Gleason don't look promising but that's a very small sample size.
When thinking about defense pairings, something to consider is that McBain has proven himself capable of playing the third pairing/offensive role fine and that's where his success without Pitkanen comes from. Pitkanen, on the other hand, has to play top four minutes and is going to see tough competition no matter what, so having a more defensive-minded partner could go a long way with him. I know some believe that one of the younger defenseman could learn a lot from playing with a veteran like Pitkanen, but Pitkanen's aggressive style of play can lead to a lot of problems if he's playing with someone who isn't very experienced. We saw that plenty of times when he was with McBain. Easier minutes would definitely help Pitkanen next season, too but I don't think he needs to be sheltered.