If you dig deep enough into baseball statistics, you’ll find a metric that adjusts offensive output based on the physical demand of a player’s defensive position. It is generally accepted that the hardest position to play is catcher, while (of course) designated hitter and first base are the easiest. In effect, a bit less is expected of a catcher at the plate because of the wear and tear he suffers behind it.
To the best of my knowledge no such metric exists for hockey (yet), but it’s safe to say that one of the toughest roles in the sport is the shot blocking defenseman. It might not exist as a statistical anomaly, but it is common knowledge that less is expected of those types of defenseman in the box score than others.
Those gritty types of defenseman have a different sort of value to a hockey team, and so they are evaluated a bit differently. It’s also why they usually make less money. Every hockey team on the planet is still looking for that next Bobby Orr, and so they pay certain players as such.
That’s why it was pretty shocking to see Jay McKee get a 4 year, $16 million contract from the Blues back in 2006. McKee didn’t fit the big-contract model, and you just knew that St. Louis wasn’t going to leave that deal very happy. They didn’t, and now Jay hits the free agent market tomorrow.
Lo and behold, the Sabres need a defenseman or two. McKee was very well liked by the fans, and maybe signing a former player is a nice way to bring some goodwill back. After all, he’s only turning 32 in September. Maybe he signs a quick one-year deal with a discount becuase he’s getting buyout money. Play a full season, turn some heads, and you’re right back into the swing of things.
It sounds pretty easy, but I’d rather not have the Sabres involved. Take emotional ties out of the equation, the Jay McKee we know is the same in name only these days. Signing Jay this summer is trying to hit up a Lynyrd Skynyrd show hoping to hear the same “Free Bird.” The name’s still the same, but the makeup is different.
The three years since Jay left Buffalo have been less than kind to the blueliner. Injuries have continued to hobble McKee, who only played 158 (23,66,69) games as a Blue. After registering 16 points in his last season with the Sabres, McKee has only managed 17 points (0,9,8) in three seasons with the Blues. The majority of that time was spent on a bad hockey team, but the numbers simply haven’t been there.
What stat category he has excelled in is blocked shots. Last season McKee was 8th in blocked shots, with the nearest Sabre on the list is Toni Lydman in 17th. Other notables on the list are Rob Scuderi (12th) and Brooks Orpik (14th), but clearly Orpik is in a different category offensively, and Scuderi is much healthier thus far.
Besides, great strides have been made to debunk the myth that shot blocking leads directly to team success. Blocking shots is an important part of the game, but the correlation to victory doesn’t always match the toll it takes on a big guy like Jay. This isn’t meant to demean the value of blocking shots, but rather the value of a guy like McKee, especially coming off a contract like that.
If McKee has a spot on this team’s roster, it is in helping younger defenseman learn on the job and logging 18-20 minutes per game on ice. So far, McKee hasn’t proven he can stay healthy long enough to make that happen, not to mention he’s had some pretty awful defensive numbers as well. As sad as it is for me to say, he’s damaged goods, and this team can’t afford to sign damaged goods just because we’ve owned them before.
Jay McKee’s NHL career is far from over, but I’d rather see it continue on another team. Columnists may have cried foul when McKee left a few years ago, but it turned out to be the right decision. Don’t try to fix what wasn’t broken in the first place. We have enough problems to deal with this summer.