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2018-2019 Player Grades: Braydon Coburn, a defensive UFA who might return

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An inexpensive contract could be in the works for the steadying defensive presence of Braydon Coburn.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is less than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.

All things considered, Braydon Coburn had a good year for the Lightning in 2018-2019. Given how erratic he looked at times during the 2017-2018 season, it was thought the 33 year old defender would become wholly ineffective this season. Coburn proceeded to knock the negative expectations aside with a return to form type season that saw him pair up with Mikhail Sergachev to anchor the Lightning’s third pair.

Offensively, Coburn didn’t blow anyone away (except for that one game), but that isn’t why he is on the team. His pairing with Sergachev was given the task of holding the fort down when the other pairings needed a rest. They did just that as the controlling 54% of the shot attempts at 5v5 and expected goals (xGF%). Coburn’s play did dip when he was taken away from Sergachev. Without the Russian defender Coburn controlled 50% of the shot attempts at 5v5, and generated a 49% xGF%; respectable to a degree, but a noticeable dip.

When combining his numbers with and without Sergachev, Coburn still looks impressive in the shot share department at 52%. Only Sergachev, Jan Rutta, and Cameron Gaunce had a higher percentage. However, Rutta only played 14 games while Gaunce played two compared to Coburn’s 74 and Sergachev’s 75. In the xGF% area, Coburn generated 52% there, good for fourth best of Tampa Bay’s regular starting six defenders (Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev, Coburn, and Dan Girardi. Anton Stralman only played 47 games this season which is why Girardi is ahead of him here).

Through visual metrics you can tell the overall impact Coburn had while averaging a little over 16 minutes a game.

Braydon Coburn 5v5 Unblocked Shots For/Against Allowed Rate 2018-2019
Micah Blake McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath, www.hockeyviz.com

Not a lot to complain about in regards to Coburn here. Yes, the upper slot is quite red, and that area is still dangerous (not nearly as dangerous as the area around the net), but this is due to the Lightning’s defensive scheme more than anything else. Tampa Bay purposefully allows shots from that area due to their goaltender. The threat indicator is a good barometer on how Coburn, and to an extent the team, performed in the defensive zone.

An interesting thing to take note of is the propensity for the Lightning, and Coburn, to allow a fair amount of shots from high in the zone. Additionally, both areas appear to be leaning more towards the right side of the defensive zone (when looking at it from the goaltender’s perspective). These are low dangers shots, so, in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big issue...unless your goaltender begins to struggle with these long range shots.

Where Coburn shined the brightest, however, was on the penalty kill. He wasn’t utilized much on it this season, but when he was out there, he was one of the most effective defenders the Lightning had, a stark difference compared to previous seasons.

Braydon Coburn, PK Unblocked Shot Rates Against 2018-2019
Micah Blake McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath, www.hockeyviz.com

Now, as for the grade for Coburn. I gave him a B while the overall consensus from all of you was a B-.

I like how he has at least one grade in every category here. Good job on covering every angle on Coburn, folks, haha.

Given Coburn’s improved defensive impact (one of the best on the team) and chemistry with Sergachev this season, I saw him as better than expected. I don’t know about giving him an A or anything lower than a C, but hey, we all view things differently and it opens up the floor for discussion.

Coburn’s scratching at the end of the season and for most of the playoffs was an odd development to watch. Yes, Rutta’s offensive metrics were quite good in the small sample size he played. And yes, Coburn’s play did tail off a little after the All-Star break. But there is something to be said about chemistry and not shaking the boat too much. Coburn, most definitely, was not the key to victory in the series against Columbus, but team that was as offensively stacked as Tampa Bay taking one of their best defensive defensemen out for a player who did well in a small sample size is perplexing.

Especially when you see how bad Rutta was in his own zone.

Jan Rutta, 5v5 Unblocked Shot Rates Against 2018-2019
Micah Blake McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath, www.hockeyviz.com

They sat Coburn for this. Now, I’ll show you the other side of Rutta just so you can see the upside of him.

Jan Rutta, 5v5 Unblocked Shot Rates For 2018-2019
Micah Blake McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath, www.hockeyviz.com

Yes, having defensemen able to drive offensive play is great, but they also have to be able to defend at a reasonable rate. Rutta’s defensive zone visualization is the worst on the Lightning by a mile (yes, even Girardi). Add in his slow decision making on the ice and the choice to sit Coburn becomes more head-scratching. Regardless, the decision was made and we all saw the end result.

(Note: Yes, the sample size argument goes both ways, but my base point still stands in regards to chemistry on the defensive pairings.)

With the modern NHL moving away from the bigger slower skaters of just a decade ago, Coburn’s resurgent season was a pleasant surprise. He’s unlikely to be this effective as his trek into the mid-30’s continues, but if Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois can secure a one or two year deal at a reasonable price, then it’s entirely feasible we could see Coburn in a Lightning jersey next season.

The continued growth of Sergachev and Erik Cernak could make Coburn less of a need. With Jan Rutta re-signing, that leaves two roster spots left for either a veteran or one of the Syracuse kids to take. Compared to the other UFA defenders Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi, it could be argued that Coburn would be the wiser choice (if BriseBois selects any of them) to retain. I do believe BriseBois will bring one of these defensemen back, I’m just unsure which one. Whoever returns, they’ll likely be near the bottom of the depth chart to round out the seven defensemen rotation coach Jon Cooper manages.