Why Seth Jones and Shea Weber Ain't Happening

I don't know what to do either, buddy. - Mike Stobe

Ever since the Predators drafted Seth Jones 4th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, fans and analysts alike have been clamoring for him to play on the left side of Shea Weber, a right-handed defenseman. This is a glorious hypothetical, but let's talk about why it shouldn't happen.

According to everything I'm reading on the Internets, Seth Jones is probably the second coming of Bobby Orr. So that's pretty cool. It has, however, seemed to make people lose their minds with excitement.

When Shea Weber and Ryan Suter... parted ways, the void on Weber's left side was almost tear-inducing. Who could possibly replace Suter? What about the chemistry that he and Weber had developed from years and years of playing together? Would anyone EVER be able to recreate what they had? Enter Roman Josi, a left-handed defenseman who Trotz has said is better than Suter was at the same age. He was fresh off a solid rookie year that included 16 points in 52 games (just for fun, Rookie-Suter had 16 points in 71 games). It was a pretty bold move, if you think about it, but Josi was our strongest up-and-coming lefty d-man, so who better to offer the position to than a guy you could envision paired with Weber for years to come?

After a lengthy lockout during which Josi returned home to play for Switzerland and Weber stuck around Nashville with a few other Preds, the two were reunited in January and got down to work. They spent most of the 2012-2013 season together (as short as it was), and despite a few ups and downs, they were never once horrible or cringe-worthy. In fact, they were quite decent. Seemingly the biggest issue they had was that Josi kept yielding the puck to Weber just because he was Shea Weber. It was a habit that Barry Trotz politely asked him to kick, and he did. I can only assume Josi was trying too hard to be the slap-shot-feeder Suter used to be instead of working on creating his own on-ice relationship with Weber. The absolute bird-crap of a season (poop everywhere) makes it rather difficult to judge the true quality of any single line/pairing, but Weber and Josi did appear to get stronger and more fluid as the season went on (despite the fact that the team got worse and worse). This was really encouraging.

Enter Seth Jones.

So the Preds bomb out with a 27th-place finish and they get the highest draft pick they've had since their inception in 1998 (slap of reality: I was 9 then... I'm 24 now). All the teams that actually NEEDED defense decided not to pick the highest-ranked defenseman because logic, and the Preds snagged Jones.

Hurrah. Now... What do we do with him?

Seth Jones is quite talented and has a lot of potential, so of course people immediately began jonesing for a Weber-Jones pairing (not apologizing). This was in spite of the fact that they are both right-handed. It was partly due to the fact that Jones said that he had some experience playing on the left side, and partly because Weber is so good and Jones is supposed to be so good one day, so they'd basically be the best pairing ever and who doesn't want to see that happen and JUST FORCE IT TO HAPPEN. Those shouts seemed to simmer down after a while, but when Trotz asked Jones to practice playing on the left side during rookie camp (and he enthusiastically complied), the fire was stoked.

Let's look at this bit by bit.

1) I am not on board with pairing Weber and Jones. At all.

I don't think too many fans would disagree, but if you are on board with this, here's why you shouldn't be. Weber and Josi just spent an entire season (granted, it was only half a season, but still) playing together. The Preds also aren't exactly the deepest team in the NHL right now. So why on EARTH would they break up the ONLY definitive and reliable defense pair they have? Right, they wouldn't, because that would be suicidal.

I'm not talking about situation-dependent pairing switches, like letting Jones and Weber play if Josi is in the box or something, or trying it out once or twice because why not. That I would understand (sorta). I'm talking TRULY switching the pairings. Like Jones-Weber and Josi-Klein (oh god, remember that?). That is a bad idea, and I really hope the Preds are smart enough to realize it. If it does happen, which I personally don't think it ever will, it isn't going to be for several years.

2) I'm not really on board with Jones playing left defense

As good of a player as Seth Jones is supposed to be, this will still be his first year in the NHL. The game will be faster, tougher, harder, and probably more frustrating than any league he has ever played in before, and the stakes are (arguably) higher. Asking him to deal with all of that for the first time while playing in an off-hand position is, in my opinion, a wee bit... irresponsible? Reckless? Dumb? It makes me nervous, basically. Every single team we play will know that he's on his off-hand, and they will exploit that.

Here are the three biggest problems with playing on your off-hand:

  1. Keeping the puck in the zone and then immediately controlling the puck. Once a defenseman snags the puck at the blue line, he proceeds to dump it in, shoot it, or pass it. When you can drop the puck straight down on your stick and your stick is naturally facing the net, it's much easier to do all three of these things. When your stick naturally faces towards the boards, you have to toss the puck across your body (towards the open ice - HNNNNG), and then pivot before you can pass or shoot effectively. It takes time and it's risky.
  2. Passing the puck to your defensive partner. When you're on your natural hand, you have to do far less maneuvering (both body and puck) to hit your target. Your body is also closer to the blue line than the puck, so if there's an accident, you're at least kinda between your goalie and the puck. When you're on your off-hand, obviously the opposite is true, and, very importantly, the puck is closer to the blue line than you. If you get bumped or harassed just a TINY bit too much, there is a lot of ice between the puck and your goalie, because you aren't there, and your partner is waiting to receive your pass, so neither is he.
  3. Shooting the puck. Blah blah blah, you have to pivot and adjust everything so you can angle the puck to net properly. The point here is that all of this takes time. Pivoting your body takes time. Double-checking your target takes time. Actually winding up for the shot takes more time. And turnovers happen faster than you can blink.

I can just envision this happening. It would be really ugly, and I don't want that for the Preds OR for Jones. How frustrating and disheartening would that be as a rookie, right? Especially knowing that you're better and more capable on your natural hand? So I would feel so much better if he was kept on the right side of the ice.

However...

3) I do understand why Barry Trotz asked Jones to practice playing on the left (but it isn't so he can play with Shea Weber).

Have you really thought about and/or checked out our defensive options recently? Maybe you have, but if not, do you want to know how many "real" left-handed defensemen we have? 3. Although... are we counting Mattias Ekholm? Because if we aren't, then we only have two: Roman Josi and Victor Bartley. Josi has 100 games under his belt; Bartley has 24. Ekholm has a very encouraging 3. I haven't seen him play recently, so maybe he's gotten better and I just don't know it, but until I have evidence of that, I'm going to say we have 2 true lefty options. TWO. That's it.

Our right-handed options are slightly better, with 4. Shea Weber, Kevin Klein, Ryan Ellis, and Seth Jones. Ellis went up and then stayed down last year, yes, but given our current defensive situation, I'd say he's likely to start the season in Nashville. This is why the fact that Seth Jones has some experience playing on the left side could make him nice and flexible. Hypothetically. I'd bet my pants that this is why Trotz asked him to play on the left during rookie camp. When you only have two good lefties available (one of whom has barely any NHL experience and very well may not be as good as he was during his 24 game stint last year), you have to be open and flexible. If you have the chance to mold your top defensive prospect into a more flexible player, hey - might as well, I guess. I still don't like it, but I get it. I guess.

I think there are better options.

4) Someone WILL have to play on their off-hand; it just shouldn't be Jones.

Again, our lefty options are Josi and Bartley and Ekholm. We're going to need someone else over there, and all we have are righties. So why shouldn't that person be someone with more experience? Someone like Kevin Klein. Klein has quietly developed into a fantastic and reliable defenseman. I no longer moan and groan when he gets on the ice, and I trust his judgement and his ability. He's the guy who saves your rear by playing rock-solid, back-to-basics defense, and then waves away your "thank you" because it's no big deal. I would love to let Seth Jones have the opportunity to acclimate to the NHL while playing on his natural side and paired with an experienced and reliable buddy. Kevin Klein fits the bill perfectly. It's his off-hand, yes, but would you rather ask a rookie to play on his off-hand, supported by a veteran player on his natural hand, or ask a guy who has been in the NHL for 6+ years to play on his off-hand and support the rookie player on his natural hand? If you really do want Jones to get some left-side experience, either one is a viable option. Heck, maybe switch them back and forth if you want. I personally would rather let my top defensive prospect develop in his natural position, but maybe that's just me.

The extra kink in all of this is the third pair, because I'm pretty sure we're going to end up with a lot of rotations. Bartley and Ellis could be an okay pairing I suppose (O_o), but that could also be kinda bad and scary... There's no way to know until the season starts. (This is probably the other reason Trotz had Jones practice on the left - to make rotating these pairings slightly easier.)

The one thing I can promise you, however, is that Josi and Weber aren't going anywhere. I can't imagine a sane world in which that happens.

So now what do we think happens with Seth Jones, Kevin Klein, and the remaining defensemen? Does Ekholm get some playing time this year? Do we pick someone else up? Pietrangelo and St. Louis recently stopped talking, right? How sweet would that be! (Let me dream.) Pairings? Rotations? Sides?

Discuss!

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