An emailer asks:
“This question has come up many many times on many sites and mainstream papers. But no one has been able to really offer an adequate explanation about what in the name of common-sense Jordin Totooo is still doing in the line up? Why the blazes don’t they send him down to Rockford and bring somebody else up?
Jordan Tootoo is technically the 13th forward on the Chicago Blackhawks this season. Let’s forget about him for a second and analyze what a 13th forward should be.
For starters, they need to know their role. They need to be okay with the limited ice time that comes with being a healthy scratch on most nights. The 13th forward can’t be a guy that will pout or disrupt the locker room because they want more ice time.
A 13th forward has to be a veteran player. Young players need to be in the lineup to get game experience and further their development. Therefore, one wouldn’t want a young player to be the 13th forward. It is better for a veteran to fill this role, who can be scratched without much consequence.
The 13th forward isn’t going to be a guy who lights up the score sheet. The key is for this player not to be a negative. If nothing happens when this player is on the ice, than while it isn’t a positive, it isn’t a negative. The 13th forward simply has to try not to be a negative player.
One could delve deeper, but let’s stops there. I have a 13th forward as being a veteran, who knows their role, and is not a negative.
(Look, I’d love to talk about a 13th forward having some skill and being able to score and such, but I’m just being realistic to how 13th forwards look in the modern day NHL landscape)
Jordin Tootoo is 33-years-old, so he’s a veteran.
He’s stated he doesn’t care how much he plays, he’s just happy to be a Blackhawk and receive whatever playing time available. He knows his role.
For the last part we have to look to the numbers to see if he has been a negative player this season.
For this I will use his team relative numbers in various 5v5 stats this season. This compares how Tootoo plays relative to the rest of the team.
To keep things simple, think of zero as being team average, positive as being above the team average and making a positive impact, and negative as below team average and making a negative impact.
These stats represent how Chicago does as a team with Tootoo on ice relative to how Chicago does as a team with Tootoo off the ice.
- Blue Bar – Shots. Tootoo is close to zero meaning Chicago hasn’t been great, but they haven’t been bad in terms of shot +/- when Tootoo has been on the ice.
- Green Bar – Unblocked Shots. Tootoo a slight positive here.
- Yellow Bar – Shots on Goal. Again a slight positive.
- Orange Bar – Scoring Chances. Tootoo is actually has the 5th best scoring chance differential numbers on Chicago.
- Red Bar – Shot Quality. Tootoo is 6th best on Chicago and the Blackhawks take more higher quality shots than opponents when he is on the ice.
- Purple Bar – Goals. Chicago is getting outscored when Tootoo is on the ice.
Don’t worry, I’m about to explain that in english. So what this data suggests to me, is that when Tootoo is on the ice:
- Chicago does alright in terms of Shot +/-. They aren’t being out-shot, but they aren’t outshooting the opponent much either. It’s very neutral. This is fine, as long as he isn’t a negative player.
- He has good scoring chance and expected goals numbers. This means when he is on the ice, Chicago is taking better shots, more high quality shots, more high danger chances, while also limiting the opponents high danger chances.
- When Tootoo has been on the ice this season, Chicago has one goal and opponents have four goals. His lines aren’t outscoring opponents.
So what do we see. A player that can hang 5v5 and help drive scoring chances, but one that can’t score as he has zero points this season. It’s not all bad as 4th liners play such low event hockey. Thus, he has a low 4-goals against.
Lets look at the problems.
It doesn’t help when he plays on a line with Andrew Desjardins who is another guy who can’t really score and also has zero points for the season. I believe Andrew Desjardins is an AHL level talent and should be the player sent to Rockford if there is one.
Another negative is the forward depth. When Tootoo is on the ice, he’s helping to drive play, and scoring chances, but his quality of teammates have been low. Let’s pretend Tootoo is the 13th forward for the 2012-13 Blackhawks. He is mostly a scratch, but comes in and plays on a 4th line with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw, or maybe Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg.
The point is, Chicago use to have such good forward depth that playing a guy like Tootoo would be fine. Now, Chicago has no depth.
I’m fine with one analyzing the offseason and wondering why Stan Bowman didn’t try to upgrade the forward depth with some extremely cheap, no risk as their full contract can be buried players like Sam Gagner, Kris Versteeg, Josh Jorris. But we don’t know. Maybe Bowman inquired, but those players didn’t want to come to Chicago.
To me though, when someone complains about Tootoo, they’re mostly taking out their frustrations with the total lack of forward depth on the roster.
Another thing is who do they bring up from Rockford. Schmaltz or Motte and play them 4th line minutes? Tyler Motte has a more 4th line type of game, but he has really struggled this season and could use a learning stint in Rockford.
Mark McNeill? Kyle Baun? I haven’t really heard any positive reports about them. Haven’t really heard anything.
Here’s what I do. I send Andrew Desjardins down and call up one of Schmaltz or Motte depending on who Rockford Icehog coach Ted Dent deems ready.
I leave Tootoo right where he is. He played really well at the beginning of the season, but started to come back down to earth once Andrew Desjardins was healthy and started playing. One can’t have two wingers on the same line with almost zero scoring skill.
But Tootoo is helping to drive play and get chances. He was one of the best forwards on the team in the first month in terms of possession. Like, I was shocked. I hated the Tootoo signing. His numbers with the Devils were bad. I didn’t like it one bit. But his play has changed my mind. He isn’t getting pinned back in his own zone facing shot after shot. He’s actually playing well, his lines just aren’t scoring, partly because Chicago has no quality forward depth.
But I mean for a 13th Forward, Tootoo has been better than Desjardins, better than Brandon Mashinter last season. Better than Brandon Bollig the season before that.
Look, I’d love a guy with some skill. A guy that can drive play, defend, and score. I’m fine with someone debating roster construction until the sun comes up. But as for the roster they have now, I’m fine with Tootoo playing some. I’d rather have Schmaltz and Motte in Rockford right now playing big minutes, learning, and getting ready for the playoffs instead of getting 8-minutes a night in the NHL. When the playoffs come around, Tootoo probably won’t even be on the roster. It’s not like Q is playing Tootoo 16-minutes a night and has him pegged for the playoff rotation. This is a guy that will be a scratch on most nights when the team is healthy, plays 6-8 minutes when he dresses, and won’t touch the ice in the playoffs.
Lastly, let’s look at how Tootoo has performed with certain line mates this season.
Below, is Tootoo’s 5v5 Corsi For % with his six most common line mates.
Above the black 50% line is good. It means Chicago outshoots opponents when Tootoo and that player are on the ice together.
Below the black reference line is bad. It indicates Chicago is getting outshot by opponents when Tootoo and that player are on the ice together.
We see Chicago has done extremely well when Tootoo has been on the ice with Marcus Kruger or Dennis Rasmussen.
On the negative side, Chicago has done poorly when Tootoo has played with Desjardins (AHL level talent), Hinostroza (Not a 4th line type player), Schmaltz, or Motte (both in Rockford because of their struggles).
So on the surface, in a limited sample size, it appears the ideal scenario based on the data available is for Tootoo to be mostly a healthy scratch and play with Kruger and Rasmussen when he dresses.
Production isn’t there for Tootoo. He isn’t going to produce a bunch of goals and assists, but he has actually been a pretty good possession player this season and he isn’t hurting Chicago much at all when he is on the ice.
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