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Devils 2011-12 Schedule Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Mattias Tedenby played hero on the February 8 matchup, scoring two goals en route to a 3-2 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Today, we the preview this season’s matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The mention of the Carolina Hurricanes still paints a painful picture in the minds of every New Jersey Devils’ fan. Just two short years ago, the Carolina scored two goals in 80 seconds to knock New Jersey out of the playoffs. Since then, New Jersey hasn’t found success in the playoffs. Their meetings, however, are definitely more heated.

The ‘Canes came up just short of the playoffs last season, missing out by one point. The Devils helped hold them back, winning three of four against them. Carolina lost one of the faces of their franchise, but has another upcoming. Always a playoff contender, the Devils will once again face a tough test against their southern rivals.

The History Behind The Matchup

In 113 meetings, New Jersey is 58-41-2 with 12 ties against Carolina. They’ve averaged 3.19 goals for during the head-to-head matchup (360 total) and only allow 2.96 goals against per meeting (335 total). They’re the only opponent that’s played over 100 games against the Devils and averaged less than three goals per game.

The Devils and Canes squared off four times last season, all between January and February. Carolina took the first meeting, 6-3, on New Year’s Day in Raleigh. Tuomo Ruutu opened the scoring, finding the back of the net on the powerplay just 1:48 into the first period. Jeff Skinner made it 2-0 at 4:28 of the opening frame, and Sergei Samsonov stretched the lead to three with a powerplay tally at the eight minute mark. The goal chased Martin Brodeur, who recorded just four saves. The two teams traded scores later in the period, and Carolina entered the break ahead 4-1.

The scoring wouldn’t end there. Travis Zajac scored 49 seconds into the second period, closing the gap to 4-2. Samsonov would score another powerplay goal, this one at 8:42 of the middle frame, to put the lead back to three. The teams traded goals again in the third, ending the game in a Hurricanes win. Ruutu added insult to injury, recording four points in just that game.

The Devils evened the season series, winning 3-2 in overtime on February 8 at the Prudential Center. Skinner opened the scoring in the second period, converting on a powerplay at 9:22 for a 1-0 lead. It was a short-lived lead. Mattias Tedenby tied the game, 1-1, at 11:31 of the middle frame. Skinner put his team ahead, 2-1, on yet another powerplay goal, this at 8:37 of the third period. Another Devils rookie, Nick Palmieri, tied the game at two at 17:06 of the final frame. It would be a rookie playing hero in overtime for the win:

Johan Hedberg stopped 20 shots for the win. Cam Ward stopped 31 shots in the loss.

Just eight days later, the two teams squared off again at the Prudential Center. The Devils skated away with another 3-2 win. Ilya Kovalchuk broke a scoreless tie at 5:41 of the second period. They extended their lead quickly in the third period, with Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias scoring in the opening two minutes to push the lead to 3-0. Carolina mounted a comeback, with Samsonov ending Hedberg’s shutout at 8:17 of the final period. Ruutu scored at 19:55 to pull the teams within one. That’s as close as they would get. Hedberg stopped 25 shots in the win, and Ward stopped 19 in the loss.

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A Bittersweet Goodbye: Devils Waive White, Intend To Buy Him Out

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Colin White, a 10-year veteran along the Devils blueline, was placed on waivers and will be bought out. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

For the past 10 years, Colin White became a staple of the New Jersey Devils’ defense.

For several of those years, he stayed buried under the bigger names on the blue line, with Scott Stevens and others leading the charge. But as players began to retire or leave in free agency, White became an important piece of the defense.

He earned the respect of his teammates, overcoming a gruesome eye injury during training camp in 2007 that almost cost him his career. He became an assistant captain, and at times was asked to act as captain.

But White carried an ugly $3 million cap hit, and the Devils were in a cap crunch. Despite trading Brian Rolston three days ago (and ridding themselves of his $5.2 million contract), Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted more wiggle room. With the rise of prospects and the possible return of Bryce Salvador, White became an expendable piece on the blue line.

Lamoriello placed White on waivers today, and intends to buy him out if he clears. The Devils’ general manager admitted it wasn’t an easy decision.

“He’s been a pure Devil,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “It’s unfortunate, but there comes a point when young players have to get a chance. With long-term contracts in this league, this is not unusual, but it is unfortunate.”

White ended his ten-year run with 20 goals and 105 assists in 743 regular season games. A former second round draft pick in 1996, the defenseman won two Stanley Cup championships in 2000 and 2003.

Lamoriello and White discussed the move during an end of the season meeting.

“Colin and I sat down and the end of the season and after the discussion we decided just to go and get a bit of a change,” Lamoriello told Gulitti.

If the team buys out White, they will need to pay two thirds of his contract over twice the remaining years. He’s due $3 million this year, in the last year of his contract. New Jersey will pay him $1 million over the next two seasons.

White remained the last stalwart of the Devils’ dynasty defenses. He seemed to play better last season, and showed aggressive play we haven’t seen in the past few seasons. He got into a few scrums and generally threw his body around. For the first time in a long time, White played like the younger version of himself.

With the move, Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur are the only remaining Devils with championship rings. The move also places a ton of confidence in Salvador’s recovery. The defenseman missed all of last season battling post-concussion symptoms, and has yet to participate in contact drills. It also opens a spot along the blueline for one of the Devils’ young defensive prospects.

Lamoriello believes the move allows White an opportunity somewhere else.

“This will be good for Colin,” Lamoriello told Gulitti. “Now, as an unrestricted free agent, he can pick where he wants to go.”

**********

The Devils also placed recently acquired Trent Hunter on waivers. Hunter, acquired in the Rolston trade, has two years and $2 million remaining on his contract. If New Jersey buys him out, they’ll owe him $666,667 for the next four seasons.

Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth – Left Wing

June 15, 2011 1 comment

Vasyunov represents the best AHL left-winger, a statement to the lack of starpower among the group. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils enter the 2011 NHL Entry Draft with their left-wing depth in flux. There’s talent at the position, but it’s limited to just a few players.

Ilya Kovalchuk headlines the group of left-wingers. Despite a down season last year, he remains a premier scorer in the league. Everyone knows the skill Zach Parise can bring to the table. The restricted free agent has yet to negotiate a new deal, though, and will return from knee surgery next season. As of right now, the Devils young star can’t be considered an absolute shoe-in for the lineup. Brian Rolston rounds out the top talent on the left side. Although he experienced improved offensively last year, he can’t depend the same goal-scoring prowess he did last season.

After those three players, the talent thins considerably. Alexander Vasyunov played in 18 games last season, but didn’t make much of an impact. He also struggled in Albany, posting career lows across the board. With such talented wingers in the league right now, and the possibility of having two great ones on the team, left-wing isn’t a draft need. But if the Devils can manage to upgrade their depth with a later pick, it would help a position dying for a talented prospect.

Albany Devils (AHL)

Chad Wiseman – 48 GP, 44 points (16 G, 28 A), minus-8 rating

Wiseman can light the lamp, but hasn’t had his chance to show off in the NHL. He’s played in just nine games with NHL clubs, recording one goal and one assist. But he’s shown the ability to tear up AHL goaltending. This season, he set or tied Albany individual scoring records in one game. On March 9, he netted four goals against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 9:03, matching the record for most goals in a single period of play. He also tied the record of most goals scored in a game. Guess that Islanders goaltending is bad throughout the system.

Plenty of guys show their stuff in the AHL, but few have the talent to make it work in the NHL. Wiseman seems like one of those players. He’s a 30-year old career AHL player, and his best opportunities may be behind him. He’s a great depth piece, but not a legitimate NHL candidate right now.

Louis Robitaille – 50 GP, 8 points (2 G, 6 A), minus-2 rating

Robitaille never found a way to move through the organization, and ended his career last season with Albany. He was an enforcer, tallying an impressive 246 penalty minutes last season. But he never rose above the AHL ranks, and would never in today’s game. Enforcers need to possess some offensive skill, which Robitaille did not. He retired after the season to coach the QJAAAHL’s Valleyfield Braves.

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A Look Back: A History of The Devils’ Top 10 Draft Picks

Photo Credit: Wild.NHL.com

The New Jersey Devils enter this year’s draft with a top 10 pick, an unusual spot for the franchise. They haven’t had a top-10 pick since 1996. The last top-10 pick to make a significant contribution was Scott Niedermayer, who came to the Devils third overall in the 1991 draft.

To kick off our draft coverage, The Devils’ Den will run down every top-10 pick the organization made. Some were wildly successful, others were pretty big busts. That’s the nature of the draft.

And here we go:

1982 Draft: Rocky Trottier – 1st round, 8th overall

The name Trottier should sound familiar – his brother, Bryan, won six Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Rocky wouldn’t emulate his brother’s success. Trottier spent most of the 1983-84 season with Medicine Hat in the WHL, recording 84 points (30 goals, 54 assists). He appeared in five with the Devils that season, recording just two points.

The Devils gave Trottier his shot during the 1984-85 season. He played in 33 games, but couldn’t find that scoring touch. He recorded just six points (four goals, two assists) and a minus-3 rating. He did attempt the first penalty shot in history on December 17, 1984, scoring against Edmonton Oilers’ goalie Andy Moog.

That season would be his last in the NHL. Trottier bounced around the AHL and played internationally before retiring after the 1989-90 season.

Other notables from the 1982 draft: Ken Daneyko (1st round, 18th overall), Pat Verbeek (3rd round, 43rd overall)

1983 Draft: John MacLean – 1st round, 6th overall

The organization made up for the bust of Trottier with the success of MacLean. He recorded 98 points with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL during the 1982-83 campaign, showing his offensive potential. He lasted just 30 games with the Generals during the 1983-84 season before earning a call-up. His debut didn’t wow people – in 23 games, he scored one goal – but he would ultimately find success.

MacLean became one of the most accomplished scorers in team history. He recorded three-straight 40 goal seasons (1988-1991) and finished the franchise leader in goals (347). On April 3, 1988, MacLean scored an overtime goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, clinching the first postseason berth in franchise history. While he didn’t work out as the team’s coach, MacLean was one of the team’s best picks.

Other notables from the 1983 draft: Chris Terreri (5th round, 85th overall), Viacheslav Fetisov (8th round, 145th overall)

1984 Draft: Kirk Muller – 1st round, 2nd overall

The Devils drafted another great forward in 1984. Muller, drafted behind Mario Lemieux, became one of the best to wear the Devils’ sweater. “Captain Kirk” debuted during the 1984-85 season after recording 94 points in just 49 games for the Guelph Platers of the OHL in 1983-84. Muller made an immediate impact, leading the team with 80 games played. He also recorded 54 points, a solid number for a rookie.

He continued to improve year after year. He set a record for points by a center with 94 during the 1987-88 season, a mark that still stands today. He finished below 70 points twice in his Devils’ career. Unfortunately, the team never seriously contended for the Stanley Cup. They traded Captain Kirk to the Montreal Canadiens, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1993.

Other notables from the 1984 draft: Craig Billington (2nd round, 23rd overall), Kirk McLean (6th round, 107th overall), Mike Peluso (10th round, 190th overall)

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Mark Fayne

May 26, 2011 1 comment

Fayne played 57 games this season, leading all skaters with a plus-10 rating. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Mark Fayne.

The New Jersey Devils’ defense entered the preseason under one of the biggest question marks in recent history. The organization watched as Paul Martin, arguably one of their best offensive defenseman, left to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In his place came Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, and Andy Greene became the top threat along the blueline. Colin White and Bryce Salvador figured to anchor the defense. But things, of course, never work out as planned.

A spot opened along the blueline after Salvador suffered a concussion in the preseason. Ex-coach John MacLean gave several rookies a look. Matt Taormina took the spot, starting the first 17 games of the season. The injury bug would get him too, opening the door for Mark Fayne.

Nobody had terribly high expectations for the Providence product. The rookie made his NHL debut against the Washington Capitals on November 22, and the experience proved to be “nuts.”

“My first game was kinda nuts playing against Ovechkin,” he said to me in an interview. “I wasn’t matched up against him, but a few times I was out when he was at the end of his shift and I thought ‘Oh my God, that’s Alex Ovechkin.'”

Clearly, the experience of playing in the NHL didn’t overwhelm Fayne. He became the best rookie defenseman, starting 57 games and providing solid minutes. He contributed offensively, played smart defensively and took care of his job on the ice. The rookie exceeded expectations, making him one of the best defenseman this season.

Fayne At Even Strength

Fayne finished among the top three in almost every important even strength category. That means he outproduced players like Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson in his first season. Fayne averaged 17:50 of ice time, ranked 14th among all rookie skaters. That number was the highest of all the rookies on the Devils this season. His plus-1.02 rating ranked first among skaters with at least 50-games played. He’s the only player to crack a plus-1 rating, and only one of eight to finish positive. He produced those numbers despite facing better quality of competition (plus-0.04) with lesser teammates (minus-0.071).

Despite a down year for several players, Fayne helped provide scoring and played responsible defensively. While on the ice, the team averaged 2.30 goals for per 60 (35 total). That average tied him for second on the team with Travis Zajac. He only allowed opponents 1.77 goals against per 60, tied for lowest on the team with Mattias Tedenby. His on-ice plus/minus of plus-0.52 ranked first on the team and was just one of three plus ratings on the ice.

With Fayne off the ice, the team worsened in every category. Goals for per 60 dropped to 1.73 and goals against per 60 rose to 2.23.  His off-ice plus/minus fell to minus-0.49, almost a full point lower than his on-ice production.

Shot production followed a similar trend. On the ice, Fayne helped the team average 25.5 shots on net. He limited opponents to 22.4 shots against per 60, third best among defenseman with 50-plus games played. Off the ice, both numbers suffered. Shots for per 60 dropped to 23.7, almost a two shot difference. Shots against per 60 rose to 23.8, which is a small yet noticeable difference.

Fayne’s Corsi rating confirms his strong even-strength performance. His on-ice rating of plus-7.7 ranked second among all defenseman, just seven-tenths of a point behind Tallinder. Off the ice, that number dropped to plus-0.6. Fayne exceeded expectations on even-strength play. He helped produce offensive opportunities, limited opponents chances, and became a solid player. Outproducing some of the bigger names on the roster, including Ilya Kovalchuk, shows the potential for him to grow into a top four defenseman.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Mattias Tedenby

Tedenby's moves made more than a few goalies look silly this season. Carey Price was one of his late season victims. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Mattias Tedenby.

For the past few seasons, many New Jersey Devils fans heard about a short right-winger with unlimited scoring potential. Mattias Tedenby, known to many as one of the two great Swedes in the organization, finally got his chance with the Devils this season. In his first full season, we saw the Devils’ future on full display.

Tedenby immediately showed off his offensive potential, scoring a goal in only his second career game. He continued his strong play, converting his first career penalty shot against Braden Holtby and the Capitals on November 22. It continued throughout the month, with him collecting six points in November. John MacLean put him on the second line, where he drew rave reviews from Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias. But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine for the young Swede.

When Jacques Lemaire took over the team, Tedenby couldn’t crack the lineup. Already struggling to score, Lemaire decided to scratch him for six straight games. The right-winger needed to improve his play, including his defense, to crack the lineup. When he finally returned, on January 17 against the New York Islanders, he made his presence felt, scoring the game-winning goal.

It was a rollercoaster season for Tedenby. At times he flashed his offensive potential, but he seemed to disappear at times. He couldn’t consistently produce offense, and he rotated between the third and fourth lines. It was only his first year playing hockey in North America, so to expect him to produce like Jeff Skinner would be irrational. All in all, it was a solid debut for the Devils’ rookie.

Tedenby At Even Strength

Playing on the bottom two lines for most of the season didn’t get Tedenby much ice time. He only averaged 12:32 minutes per game, the lowest among rookies with at least 40 games played. Despite not playing much, he managed to produce 1.38 points per 60 and record a plus-0.87 rating. It helped that his quality of teammates (plus-0.069) were better than the quality of his competition (minus-0.032).

While at even strength, Tedenby became a solid offensive weapon. The Devils averaged 2.07 goals for per 60 (21 total), third among rookie skaters with at least 40 games played. He posted that number despite playing on the third and fourth lines, a testament to that offensive potential. Off the ice, the goals for per 60 dropped to 1.76. Shots for per 60 followed a similar pattern. With Tedenby on the ice, New Jersey averaged 27.1 shots per 60. Off the ice, that number dropped to 24.7.

Tedenby’s defensive improvements, coupled with his position in the lineup, helped him finish with positive even strength defensive numbers. While on the ice, teams averaged 1.77 goals against per 60 and 24.5 shots against per 60. The goal numbers rose with him off the ice. Goals against per 60 climbed to 2.34, giving Tedenby a negative off-ice plus/minus rating of minus-0.58. The shot numbers dipped slightly to 22.8 per 60.

A look at the Corsi numbers further prove Tedenby’s solid play. Tedenby’s 5.81 rating put him among the top ten of skaters with 50 or more games played.  That rating dropped to 3.91 with him off the ice. Tedenby helped his team produce offense, creating almost two more shots per shift while spending less than 13 minutes a game on the ice. It’s exciting to see him produce in limited minutes. Hopefully that production will continue to rise when he gains a more important role on the ice.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: David Clarkson

Clarkson, never afraid to drop the gloves, after taking Matt Martin to the ice. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s first review, we focus on David Clarkson.

David Clarskon seemed on his way to a career year during the 2009-2010 season. The right-winger recorded 15 points in the first two months of the season, looking like the secondary scorer the New Jersey Devils needed. He produced on the powerplay, putting up six points. He continued his physical play, recording 52 hits. But that would all change on November 27, when Clarkson blocked a shot from Zdeno Chara. It fractured his fibula, derailing a promising season and limiting him to just 46 games.

This off season, Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello inked Clarkson to a three year, $8 million deal. It seemed a steep price for the right-winger, but the organization expected him to continue improving. He entered the season with the realistic expectation of cracking the 20-goal plateau while providing a tough, physical presence on the ice.

Clarkson brought the physical play, but left his offense behind. He led the team in hits (170) and penalty minutes (116), numbers expected from him. He never came close to reaching his expected offensive output. Clarkson finished with 18 points – the lowest total in his three-plus seasons – despite playing in every game last season. He provided a much-needed physical presence, but ultimately disappointed because of his limited production.

Clarkson At Even Strength

Clarkson managed to play every game last season, his average time on ice of 13:37 ranking him 20th among all skaters. He only averaged 0.98 points per 60, a dip from the 1.81 point per 60 he produced during his last healthy season (2008-09). His minus-0.77 rating follows the downward trend of all skaters this season. It also points to his overall lack of production. If he produced more offense at even strength, that rating would be much better. He should have produced better numbers, as his quality of competition (minus-0.070) ranked below the quality of his own teammates (plus-0.013).

Playing between the third and fourth lines somewhat hindered Clarkson’s production. He helped produce just 1.16 goals for per 60 (19 total) while allowing 2.15 goals against per 60 (35 total). On the ice, the team generated 27 shots for per 60, which isn’t a terrible number. But those numbers pale in comparison to those from his the 2008-09 season, when he produce 2.23 goals for per 60 (32 total). The third and fourth lines don’t need to hinder production, and that can’t excuse the lack of offense.

The goal production improved with Clarkson on the bench. The goals for per 60 jumped almost a full goal to 2.09. But numbers dipped in other areas, such as shots for per 60 (25.9). The defense also slipped, increasing the goals against per 60 to 2.31.

The Corsi numbers tell the ultimate story. On the ice, Clarkson finished with a plus-3.74 rating. It’s not exactly a world record pace, but it’s a nice finish. With him off the ice, the number increased to plus-4.25. Clearly, the offense slightly improved with him off the ice. The team averaged less shots but also allowed less shots against, giving it a better ratio. Against weaker competition, you’d expect him to produce more offense. But in a down season, he struggled like the rest of the team to create and bury scoring chances.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Travis Zajac

Travis Zajac, playing without constant linemate Zach Parise, set a career low in goals this season with 13. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Travis Zajac.

Travis Zajac entered this season looking to continue last year’s breakout performance. During the 2009-2010 season, Zajac recorded a career high with 67 points. He played in all 82 games, and stood on the precipice of breaking Ken Daneyko’s consecutive-games streak. He entered the season the anchor of a top line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise on his wings. I held pretty high expectations, believing the line could reach 150 or even 200 combined points.

That bright picture turned bleak pretty quickly. Zajac never got started offensively, ending the season with just 44 points. His 13 goals were the lowest of his career, and he took recorded just two powerplay points. He did break Daneyko’s record, a commendable feat considering the daily grind of a hockey season. Despite his lack of offense, Zajac continued his solid play this season. His offense fell way below expected levels, but the team could still count on him game after game.

Zajac At Even Strength

Zajac played in all 82 games this season, one of only two forwards to skate in every game. His time on ice per 60 sat at 14.62, tops among forwards. His plus-0.36 rating belies his point production, where he finished second with an average of 1.55 points per game. Despite playing on the first line, Behind the Net ranks Zajac’s quality of teammates at a minus-0.006. It’s a slim negative rating, and with the ratings so low for his teammates, it belies the skill the line possessed. He also faced tougher competition, with opponents holding a plus-0.014 quality of competition rating.

Zajac surprisingly turned in a solid even strength performance this season. That’s not an indictment of his skill, but rather a surprise because of the team’s abysmal start. He helped New Jersey average 2.30 goals for per 60 while on the ice (46 total), a number that dropped to 1.69 with him off. Teams averaged 2.45 goals against per 60 with him on (49 total), a number that also dropped to 2.19 with him off the ice.

Shots for/against per 60 followed the same pattern. Zajac helped generate chances, with the Devils averaging 27.1 shots for per 60 with him on the ice. Off the ice, it dropped to 25.7. He played effectively in his own end, allowing just 23.9 shots against per 60. That number dropped a miniscule 0.6 to 23.3 with him off the ice.

It’s also important to note the zone starts and how Zajac fared in the faceoff dot. Since he was the top-line center, Zajac took the bulk of the faceoffs for Jacques Lemaire. He usually started in the offensive zone, beginning 56.6 percent of his shifts in the opponents end. He also ended 52.4 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. That’s very solid and exactly what you’d expect to see from your first line center. Zajac was on the ice for 185 offensive zone faceoff wins and 171 losses, not all of which he participated. He also finished ahead in neutral zone faceoffs, with a 232 wins 195 losses. He struggled in the defensive zone, finishing with just 134 wins and 139 losses.

Finally, we turn to the Corsi numbers. On the ice, Zajac recorded a plus-6.76 rating, which isn’t surprising considering his spot in the lineup. That only underscores his solid play throughout all three zones. Off the ice, the number drops to plus-3.02. Zajac remained a solid constant the entire season for the Devils, remaining an important part of the top line.

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The 2010-2011 Season Review: Langenbrunner Shipped To The Stars

May 8, 2011 3 comments

After the trade, Langenbrunner tallied 18 points in 39 games for the Stars as they missed the playoffs. Photo Credit: Christian Peterson/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils entered January in an unfamiliar position this past season – dead last in the NHL. The team, struggling so mightly during the first half, knew their chances at a playoff shot were slim. So the organization went into seller mode, looking to make a few early deals. The captain would be the first to go.

Jamie Langenbrunner was one of the best candidates to leave New Jersey. His production wasn’t meeting the expectations of a first-line winger, putting up just 14 points in 31 games. He carried a cap hit of $2.8 million, a large amount for the cash-strapped Devils. Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello committed to giving younger players more ice time, pushing Langenbrunner’s powerplay and penalty time down.

Last but not least, Langenbrunner and interim head coach Jacques Lemaire had a contentious relationship. It began last season, when Lemaire sat Langenbrunner during a meaningless game against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 3. Langenbrunner wanted to play all 82 games, and Lemaire wanted to rest his captain before the playoffs. That incident seemed to divide the locker room, and the Devils’ performance suffered. Lemaire’s return put the writing on the wall.

The Devils traded Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars on January 7, receiving a conditional third-round pick in this season’s draft. The terms of the agreement can change depending on whether or not the Stars re-sign Langenbrunner before July 1. The Stars received a proven veteran leader for their playoff push, and the Devils cleared space on the roster.

The trade worked out for New Jersey. They began their second-half run after the trade, pushing themselves into the playoff discussion without a defined captain. Brian Rolston moved into the top-six forwards and produced numbers worthy of his $5.2 million cap hit. Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby saw extended playing time because of the open roster spot. The team finally found consistency in their top two lines, something not seen during the first three months of the season.

Langenbrunner produced for the Stars as well. In 39 games, he put up 18 points and scored a game-winning goal. The team fell short of the playoffs, but Langenbrunner far surpassed the conditional pick sent to the Devils.

By the end of his Devils tenure, Langenbrunner lost the popular support of the fan base. Many called him out for his perceived attitude problems. Others lamented his declining production. Since taking the captaincy from Patrik Elias, he never helped the team reach the second round of the playoffs. Not only that, but his deteriorating relationship with Lemaire submarined the Devils playoff performance last season.

In the end, both parties got what they wished. The Devils earned cap space and found new production throughout the lineup. Langenbrunner went to a contender in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. The trade worked out on both sides, with no one losing.

The 2010-2011 Player Review: Brian Rolston

May 6, 2011 1 comment

Rolston finally cracked the Devils top-six forwards this season, showing the offensive potential that we've all been waiting for. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Brian Rolston.

The second coming of Brian Rolston hasn’t panned out for the New Jersey Devils. Rolston, a former 30-goal scorer with the Minnesota Wild, failed yet again to reach those expectations. As he increases in age his production continues to decline. The 2010-2011 season proved to be the most contentious of Rolston’s second stint with the Devils.

Rolston’s third season as a Devil started with an injury. He left the team’s 7-2 loss against the Washington Capitals October 9, and was diagnosed with a sports hernia. The injury required surgery and shelved Rolston for nearly a month. When he returned, he continued to struggle offensively, posting just 5 points in 19 games between November and December.

Tired of the ineffective play, Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello decided to place Rolston on waivers. Lamoriello gave Rolston permission to seek a trade, and the left-winger wanted a fresh start with another team. Surprisngly, no one wanted a 37-year old left-winger who couldn’t score and carried a cap hit of over five million dollars. Eventually Rolston worked his way back into the Devils rotation, and ended up surpising everyone with his second half.

A perfect storm during the season’s second half gave Rolston the opportunity to produce offensively, and he took full advantage. Jacques Lemaire’s arrival helped spur Rolston offensively. He collected 192 points under Lemaire during their time together with the Minnesota Wild. The trade of Jamie Langenbrunner helped clear room on the second line, giving Rolston offensive-minded teammates to help him produce points. And he did, collecting 29 points during the team’s second-half surge.

Rolston overcame significant struggles to finish the season strong. It still wasn’t the production the Devils expected, but it gave the team reason to use him as a top six forward. Rolston actually finished the season as a solid producer, something that hasn’t usually couldn’t describe his efforts.

Rolston At Even Strength

Rolston played well throughout the season at even strength, providing a near positive impact on the ice.  His average time on ice was 13.23, placing him within the top six in that category. His strong second half propelled him to a plus-0.33, making him one of only eight skaters to be in the green (minimum 50 games played). His faced the toughest opponents, with his quality of of competition checking in at plus-0.085. Playing with the second line boosted his teammates rating, as they checked in at a plus-0.035.

His second-half surge drove Rolston’s offensive numbers to near team highs. The team averaged 2.02 goals per 60 with Rolston on the ice, and dropped to 1.76 per 60 with him off. He helped the team average 26.2 shots for per 60 on the ice, and it fell to 24.7 with him off. Remember that credit needs to go to his linemates, Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus, who helped improve those dismal first-half numbers.

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