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Islanders 2011-12 Grades: Milan Jurcina, or Lennie, if you will

Initially thought this was Funky Cold Jurcina but it's actually countryman Chara. <em>Oh sure, I bet to you they all look alike.</em>
Initially thought this was Funky Cold Jurcina but it's actually countryman Chara. Oh sure, I bet to you they all look alike.

This is the beginning of our annual Islanders report card series, which is part analysis, part fun, part fodder, and part forced look back. We ask you to grade each player on an "expectations" curve -- that is, try to remember your preseason expectations of a player and then judge him on how well he lived up to them.

Granted, these report card polls are Internet democracy, so it's all chaos like Florida anyway.

But the point of the expectations curve is twofold: One, to avoid falling into the "John Tavares, A; Mike Mottau F, done!" rut; and two, to get us reflecting on what was reasonably expected of a player. So it's quite alright if you say a weak player met expectations; I'd wager it's even more interesting that way.

On that note: Milan Jurcina, please step forward to be examined. Poll and other whistles after the jump.

The Islanders, suddenly beneficiaries of good health, had a fairly healthy blueline this year. Six guys played 60 games or more, so we have a decent lens on their performance. We know who the top three are and they aren't going anywhere; the question is which one(s) of the other three (if any) are worth retaining?

Stats and Such

Milan Jurcina looks bad with his minus-34, earning him the Brendan Witt Award with the worst plus/minus in the league for 2011-12.

But as we always say, that stat can be misleading and demands some context. Alas, in Jurcina's case, it wasn't his competition; generally, and according to Gabe Desjardins' Behind the Net, Jurcina just faced bottom pair-quality competition.

Jurcina did have a positive relative Corsi, however, which as an on-ice "shots directed" plus/minus stands in contrast to the traditional plus/minus stat. Furthermore, his PDO (combo of the team's shooting percentage and save percentage while he's on the ice) was a blueline-low 939, which tells you some of that plus/minus is poor luck -- his teammates shot poorly (or unluckily) with him on the ice, and his goalies made fewer saves with him on the ice. Jurcina's positive Corsi Rel was aided by occasional pairings with Mark Streit and, likewise, by more offensive zone starts than anyone but Streit. So more positive shots coming while he's on the ice is no shock.

Looking at his PDO, sometimes those bounces add up. That said, it's hard to put lipstick on minus-34; that's not a figure that good NHL players tend to bounce their way into.

SOG Hits
2011-12 - Milan Jurcina 65 3 8 11 -34 30 2 18:46 1:41 4/6 127 173


Jurcina has a large frame, and the expectation he more frequently use that frame to do physical harm to opponents has dogged him throughout his career. When he was first signed, Scott Gordon was still coach and had some trust in him dating back to the Bruins organization. Two seasons later, that "HIT MOAR!" narrative hasn't changed -- but Jurcina does display some force at times: His 173 hits were second on the team and led all Islanders blueliners, despite him playing only 65 games.

It's his decision-making that confounds me and makes me think of "Lennie" in Of Mice And Men. Not that he loves to pet soft animals or anything. (Slovakian press, please don't go all Swiss media on us and twist this around.) Innocent, well-meaning, doesn't realize his own strength, occasionally crushes things. I'm sure his size and the fact you rarely see him enraged plays into that ridiculous comparison. Also, that he needs a better partner (his George, if you will) to stay on task.

Regardless, plays that stand out from this season are any puck exchange mishap between him and Mark Eaton, and the occasion when he crushed a player from behind but avoided getting a major. (I forget the opponent and victim. Feel free to remind me and/or post video.)

There were also classic examples of Jurcina not moving his man in front of the net on the penalty kill -- tough to take from a big defenseman who plays a lot on the PK -- and he wasn't alone on the Islanders in what seemed like a strategy to front the shot rather than spend time and energy mauling the guy in front. Regardless, the worrisome issue isn't that Jurcina can't play good defense; it's that you don't see it consistently, so you can't be sure what you're getting.

Anyway, despite his flaws, as a depth defenseman I still prefer him over Eaton or Steve Staios. Give him a puck-moving partner like Streit (except ... please don't give him Streit) or maybe one of the Islanders' promising blueline prospects, and I think the results are better than with Eaton or Staios (who, though game for a battle, is just too old/slow and penalty-prone).

That doesn't mean I think Jurcina should be retained, but if one of the three veteran UFAs is ... well Jurcina is 28, six years younger than Eaton and a full decade younger than Staios.

The Poem / Lyric

Cheesy poem or lyric is done for most report cards. Then you make a better, funnier one in comments if you dare.

Milan Jurcina
Casts big, tall shadow like tree
Mobile like tree too

The Grade

This was explained at the top, but you are humbly asked to vote your grade based on your preseason expectations. And if you defy these instructions? Well, Internet democracy isn't clean. The will of the masses made Yanni a star.