Archive for April, 2011

The 2010-2011 Player Review: Dainius Zubrus

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Zubrus had yet another up-and-down season where he failed to record over 30 points. 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 Dainius Zubrus.

Last year marked the halfway point of Dainius Zubrus’ six-year, $20.4 million contract with the New Jersey Devils. In many ways, that single fact alone was good news for fans. Zubrus, who has never fulfilled the offensive billing from his days with the Washington Capitals, will soon come off the books. Many analysts and fans, including me, predicted the team would trade him last year to clear cap space. He didn’t move, however, sticking around for the entire season.

In his three seasons with the Devils, Zubrus played a multitude of different positions on various lines. That continued throughout the first half of the season, when he shifted between the second and third lines. That affected his production and made him almost invisible. When Lemaire came in, he made Zubrus an anchor on the second line, and his production benefitted. Just like Henrik Tallinder, Zubrus went through two different seasons this year. In the end, he proved to be a valuable piece of a productive second line. But even that wouldn’t erase feelings of frustration among fans and analysts alike.

Zubrus At Even Strength

Zubrus ranked among the top in both games played by centers (79) and time on ice per 60 (13.83) during the season, trailing only Travis Zajac in those two categories. His minus-0.02 rating isn’t terrible, considering the season the first half of the season. His quality of competition ranked second on the team (plus-0.027) and he generally played with skilled linemates, checking in with the highest quality of teammates (plus-0.089).

Playing with better teammates provided Zubrus with ample opportunities to contribute offensively. He ranked second on the team in both goals for on the ice (40) and goals for on per 60 (2.20). His shots for per 60 checked in at 25.4, ranking third among the centers. In total, Zubrus provided positive value on the ice. His Corsi rating of plus-6.87 ranked second among centers, showing he helped generate offense and kept the opponents at bay.

Zubrus also provided some solid defensive last season. He helped hold opponents to 21.7 shots per 60 while on the ice. Off the ice, those numbers worsened to 24.3 shots against.

During five-on-five play, Zubrus fit his billing as a decent two-way center with some offensive skill. His numbers will be higher than others because of his teammates, but he also had a few productive months as well. In February alone, he scored six goals in in 13 games. While he’ll never be a top-line center, he proved to be a solid second-line option.

Zubrus On The Powerplay

Despite the powerplay’s issues, Zubrus excelled during man-advantage situations this season. His time on ice of 2.32 ranked third among centers, and he usually helped anchor the second powerplay unit. His plus-0.29 rating ranked third, but second among centers who averaged regular powerplay time.

Zubrus led centers for overall goal production on the ice, with the team scoring 15 powerplay goals. His 4.91 goals for per 60 ranked, predictably, first among centers. He generated shots on net, with his 49.4 shots per 60 ranking second.

The evidence for Zubrus’ effective man-advantage play lies in the off-ice numbers. With Zubrus on the bench, numbers dropped across the board. Goals for per 60 dropped to 3.59, shots for per 60 dropped to dropped to 40.9, and the Corsi dropped from 89.39 to 75.32.

The stats don’t lie – Zubrus proved his worth on the powerplay. On the ice he produced, and the team struggled without him. Clearly it wasn’t enough to make the powerplay one of the league’s best. But in a season where the Devils powerplay was ineffective, Zubrus excelled.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Henrik Tallinder

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Tallinder embodies the Devils struggles this season, playing terrible hockey during the first half but rebounding in the second. Photo Credit: Lou Capozzola/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 second review, we focus on Henrik Tallinder.

When New Jersey Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello signed Henrik Tallinder last season, several fans showed surprise by the move. Tallinder, who posted point totals of 15 or more in just three of his eight seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, wouldn’t provide any offensive value. Tallinder didn’t fit the mold of a puck-moving defenseman the team desperately needed. But Lamoriello didn’t sign him for his offensive skill.

While in Buffalo, Tallinder helped mentor Tyler Myers, the eventual Calder Trophy-winning defenseman. The Devils’ new defenseman is also Swedish, and could help mentor the three young Swedes in the organization. Lamoriello believed that role played an integral part to the signing.

“In Tallinder, you’ve got somebody 6-4, 240, played under an outstanding coach (Lindy Ruff in Buffalo), mentored (Tyler) Myers in Buffalo this year,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “We’ve got three young Swedish players coming in (Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Alexander Urbom). He’s 31 years old. He’s in his prime. He’s a mature guy.”

Tallinder brought skill to the blueline, but not exactly what the Devils needed. As the season wore on, however, we saw two different Tallinders. The first half of the season he was atrocious, and the second half he became a rock on the team’s defense. His numbers in all areas display that, showing a player who played well on the Devils’ blue line this season.

Tallinder At Even Strength

Tallinder, one of only two Devils defenseman to play all 82 games, led the defense in even strength time on ice per 60 minutes with a 19.04. That number sat almost a full minute higher than Andy Greene, the next closest player. He also faced solid competition, with the opponents averaging a plus-.03 rating. He continually faced the opposing team’s top two lines (evidenced by his plus-.079 quality of team rating), a testament to his solid play and the trust both John MacLean and Jacques Lemaire placed in him.

If you’ve read some of the other previews, you’ve noticed a trend with Devils defenseman. Each carries a negative plus/minus rating per 60 minutes. With the season the team played, especially during the first three months, it’s expected. Tallinder was on the ice for 54 goals scored, most on the defense. But he also was on the ice for 64 goals scored against, once again tops on the team. His minus-0.38 rating isn’t positive, but it also isn’t terrible. The team posted lower numbers in goals scored and higher numbers in goals against, showing Tallinder’s true impact on the ice.

The positive feedback continues while looking at more data. While on the ice, the team averaged 2.46 goals, 26.9 shots and 22.7 shots against per 60 minutes. When off the ice, the numbers dipped across the board. Goals for dropped to 2.15, shots for dropped to 25.7 and shots against rose to 23.9.

Tallinder’s Corsi numbers wrap up his even-strength performance nicely. On the ice, Tallinder posted a Corsi of 9.30, helping generate offense and shutting down the opponents. Off the ice, the team’s Corsi dropped to 0.87. He clearly put those first half struggles behind him to have a solid second half.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Andy Greene

April 28, 2011 2 comments

Greene couldn't match his career high in points, set two seasons ago, during 2010-11. 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. Today we focus on Andy Greene.

When Paul Martin left as a free agent last season, Andy Greene became the Devils’ de-facto “offensive defenseman.” In the last year of his two-year contract, the Devils’ expected Greene to step up and fulfill his offensive potential. He wouldn’t match that potential, failing to meet the expectations set by his career-best year last season.

Greene At Even Strength

Greene played in all situations for the Devils, so we’ll take a look at him in all three situations. The first area we’ll look at is even strength, where Greene spent most of his time. His average ice time of 18.18 ranked second on the team behind Henrik Tallinder despite not playing on the top pairing. His quality of competition rated a minus-.06, giving him the advantage of playing against some weak competition. Despite that, his relative player ranking checked in at minus-.83, meaning Greene was a liability in his own end. He was the only defenseman who played at least 50 games that carried a negative ranking.

Despite the low quality of competition, Greene turned in some of the worst numbers at even strength among Devils defenseman. Teams scored 63 goals with Greene on the ice, second worst on the team. For all of his supposed offensive skill, the team only averaged 1.61 goals when he was on the ice. That ranked – you guessed it – last on the team. Both numbers improved with Greene off the ice, as the team scored more and allowed less goals. The shots for/against numbers remained relatively the same with him on and off the ice.

Greene did finish with a positive Corsi rating, which is about the only thing he can hang his hat on this season. His 2.66 rating means he helped the team generate shots on net. But the team still performed better with him off the ice, recording a 4.98 Corsi rating.

Greene On The Powerplay

When the Devils weren’t using five forwards, Greene spent significant time on the powerplay. As the team’s only true “offensive defenseman,” he averaged the most time out of the group, with an average of 1.27. Yet he somehow found a way to record a negative rating, checking in with a -.26. It was second on the team, but that’s not a number you want to see from your main blueline threat on the powerplay.

The good news is he turned in positive numbers in every other important category. He was on the ice for seven powerplay goals, tops among defenseman. His plus/minus rating was 2.87, putting him behind Mark Fayne for the team lead. The team’s scoring increased slightly with him off the ice, but not enough to make Greene a detriment to the powerplay.

The biggest difference on the powerplay comes in the shot totals. With Greene on the ice, the Devils averaged 35.5 shots per 60 minutes. When he stepped off the ice, the shot total skyrocketed, moving to 50.5 shots per 60. While those numbers are inflated, it shows a definitive increase in production. Remember, however, that sometimes New Jersey used five forwards with the extra man. This strategy took away time from Greene and, with forwards on the ice, definitively increased the shot output.

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Colin White

April 27, 2011 1 comment

Colin White didn't turn in the best statistical performance this season, but still ranked near the top of all the defensive stats. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/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. Today we focus on Colin White.

Colin White remains one of the few Devils from the early 2000s, when the team boasted one of the deepest collection of defenseman in the entire league. Gone, however, are all of his teammates from the two Stanley Cup championships. White once again entered the 2010-2011 season as the elder statesman of the defensive group. He anchored both the second and third defensive pairings this season. It wasn’t White’s greatest season, as he battled various injuries and only played 69 games. The advanced statistics show that, while serviceable, White was anything but stellar during the 2010-2011 season.

White At Even Strength

In the review, we’ll look at the two areas White played the most – at even strength and on the penalty kill. While he’s scored a few goals in his career, we all know White can’t consistently light the lamp and accordingly didn’t spend much time on the powerplay. White did, however, spend a majority of his time at even strength. He averaged approximately 16:12 of even-strength time this season, ranking third on the team. Playing lower on the depth chart made life easier for White, who’s quality of competition checked in at a measly .016. He ranked third on the team with a relative plus/minus rating of .49, showing he wasn’t liability in his own zone.

The numbers aren’t all positive. Despite a lower quality of competition, White still registered negative numbers. Teams scored 37 goals this season with White on the ice, averaging 2.05 per 60 minutes. The Devils only scored 34 goals with him on the ice, or 1.88 per 60 minutes. His Behind the Net plus/minus rating of minus-.17 isn’t terrible, but it’s not something a defenseman should be proud to display. His Corsi number while on the ice wasn’t impressive either. The -0.33 meant that White allowed other teams more offensive opportunities, failing to block or redirect shots. His teammates also let him down here, failing to generate offense.

The numbers for White when he’s off the ice decline even further. The Devils managed to score just 1.70 goals per 60 with the offensively-challenged White on the bench. They also allowed 2.36 goals per 60, a difference of plus-0.65. This despite allowing almost two shots less when he was on the bench. The numbers show White is a valuable even-strength defender, despite posting negatives in almost every category.

White On The Penalty Kill

White led the team in penalty kill time this season, averaging 3:08 of special teams time this season. The increased time did nothing to help White’s abysmal numbers this season. His rating of -2.33 showed he did litte to prevent powerplay goals. Teams scored 18 extra-strength goals this season, averaging 5.83 per 60. His minus-5.83 still ranked as one of the lowest of the team, a sad testament to the Devils’ penalty kill this season.

The team improved with White off the ice, allowing 4.20 goals per 60. The shots against also dropped, but not by a significant amount.

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The 2010-2011 Season Review: Once Again, A Powerplay Failure

April 26, 2011 2 comments

Ilya Kovalchuk led all scorers with 21 powerplay points. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Another year, and yet another powerplay failure for the New Jersey Devils. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing the team falter with the man advantage season after season. This year proved no different. The team finished near the bottom of the league, a testament to their limited ability with the man advantage. That ineptitude cost them some wins and, in the end, was a major disappointment this season.

The Devils powerplay stood to improve from last season. The team did finish 11th during the regular season, scoring on 18.7% of their opportunities. To rank that high despite being 27th in penalties drawn was a testament to the player’s abilities to finish with the puck. Looking deeper into the numbers showed a flawed ranking. New Jersey ranked tied for 21st in powerplay goals (51) and sat alone in 21st place for powerplay assists. It wasn’t great, but it was a decent powerplay.

The team lost their powerplay mojo come playoff time. In their first round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, they went a measly 4-for-32 (12.5%). Half of their total came in one game. It showed, in the brightest of lights, the ineptitude of the Devils’ powerplay.

With a new coaching change came the anticipation of an improved powerplay. John MacLean promised a more up tempo, offensive-minded system, which sounded great. More puck possession would lead to more penalties drawn and, hopefully, more powerplay opportunities. Getting the team into an offensive mindset could help develop their finishing abilities on the powerplay. MacLean and Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello brought in Adam Oates to help improve their special teams, a move I thought would drastically improve the team’s performance. It wouldn’t work out the way anyone planned.

In the team’s hellish first half of the season, the powerplay experienced more downs than ups. The first two-plus months of the season were especially futile, with the team going 7-for-74 (9.4%). It followed right along with the team’s overall offensive struggles, never presenting a serious threat to opponents. It fluctuated throughout the season, with a few positive moments. But the team once again struggled to capitalize with the man advantage.

Clearly, the first half of the season affected the Devils numbers significantly. Their offense, stagnant and predictable, couldn’t buy a goal with Donald Trump’s money. That play led to a decreased opportunity for powerplay chances. They ranked last in overall powerplay chances, sitting 20 behind the 29th-place Ottawa Senators. Not drawing penalties and failing to capitalize on opportunities spells disaster. It was the perfect storm of ineffectiveness.

Who knows if the team will improve next year. Improving the powerplay isn’t as simple as plugging in a few spare parts. It takes time and dedication from the players to learn and stick to a plan. If Oates remains, he’ll have another year to improve this anemic powerplay. Hopefully it’ll improve. But with the Devils, powerplay success is never a guarantee.

The 2010-2011 Player Review: Johan Hedberg

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Johan Hedberg proved to be invaluable to the Devils this season. 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. To start the brand-new feature, we lead off with Johan Hedberg.

Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello always shops for a goalie during the offseason. The organization doesn’t need a starter, with Martin Brodeur firmly entrenched as the franchise leader and one of the best in the game. But he can’t start every game (although he tries), which means a rotating door of backups routinely sit the bench and start between 10-12 games a season. This year, Lamoriello pegged Hedberg to hold that spot. He didn’t seem like a big piece to the overall puzzle, but Hedberg became an important piece to the Devils season and contributed to the team’s second-half turnaround.

Hedberg came to the Devils after four uninspiring seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers. He spent most of the time splitting duty with various goalies, never becoming the undisputed top goalie. His numbers weren’t great, as he recorded only one year with a save percentage above .900 and two with goals-against averages under 3.00. Lamoriello brought him in on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, handing him a no-trade clause. With that, the Devils had their backup situation settled.

With Brodeur patrolling the blue paint, Hedberg expected to play a limited role this season. Fantasy hockey projections pegged him for only 17 games played. But rarely do things go according to plan. A Patrick Kane shot injured Brodeur’s elbow during the second period of a game on November 3, forcing Hedberg into action. The injury hampered Brodeur for most of the month, making Hedberg the number one starter. In 10 November games (eight starts), Hedberg went 4-2-1 with a 1.56 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. It’s no surprise the Devils played NHL-.500 hockey that month, going 5-5-1 with Hedberg as the starter.

Brodeur would return to the net in December, relegating Hedberg to backup duty once again. But he wouldn’t wait long to step back into the starting role. After relieving Brodeur in a 4-1 loss against the Maple Leafs on December 26, Lemaire stuck with Hedberg over Brodeur.He started five of the next six games, but couldn’t buy a win. His performance was unspectacular – a 2-4-0 record with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .875 save percentage – and he once again found himself on the bench. The roller coaster ride, however, wasn’t done.

Yet another injury to Brodeur gave Hedberg yet another chance to be the team’s number one goalie in February, near the beginning of the team’s second-half run. The Devils backup replaced Brodeur during a February 6 game against the Montreal Canadiens. Brodeur tweaked his knee, spraining his MCL in the win. With him on the shelf, Hedberg stepped into the spotlight. He turned in his best stretch of the season, recording a 7-1-0 record in nine games (eight starts) with a stellar 1.14 goals-against average and .955 save percentage. He recorded two shutouts during that time as well, helping propel the Devils on their second-half surge.

It would all end for Hedberg after the stellar February. Brodeur returned to the net, and Hedberg didn’t make another start until April 3. He finished the season 15-12-2 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. His goals-against ranked 11th in the league, which surprised several people. His performance earned him the annual Players Player award from his teammates.

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The 2010-2011 Season Review: Lemaire Resurrects The Devils

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Jacques Lemaire turned around what seemed to be a lost season, going 29-17-3 after taking over on December 23. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils were dead in the water.

With the calendar creeping toward 2011, New Jersey found themselves in uncommon territory – the basement of the league. They sat behind notoriously bad teams like the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders. The team’s goal differential was terrible, their overall play atrocious, and new coach John MacLean looked helpless behind the bench.

With a measly 9-22-2 record, Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello mercifully pulled the plug on the MacLean experiment. He fired the first-year coach on December 23, replacing him with Jacques Lemaire. What, Lemaire? You mean, the same Lemaire who supposedly lost the locker room last season? The one who had a not-so-private rift with team captain Jamie Langenbrunner? It seemed like a terrible choice at the time, especially with the Devils returning a nearly-identical roster.

Who knew that, in the end, it would be one of the best decisions this past season?

Greg Wyshynksi from Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog brought up the possibility of a turnaround under their former coach. Here’s what he wrote the day Lamoriello made the change:

Maybe there’s a warped sense that a new voice behind the bench could get the defense organized, de-age Brodeur, get Kovalchuk rolling (he played well offensively under Lemaire, comparatively) and miraculously rally the team to a playoff spot.

Maybe the Devils break off a winning streak as long as their losing streaks, get Zach Parise back and watch as Lemaire pulls off the biggest turnaround in recent memory, filling the stands at the Rock that were sure to be empty had the team tanked.

Lemaire managed to do all those things, resurrecting a team that looked dead in the water.

His tenure started unceremoniously, losing three straight games by a combined 17-3. Lemaire worked diligently, getting his team back to basics. He criticized the team for being out of shape, working the players hard in practice. He stressed team defense, getting the forwards to commit to backchecking. He moved players around, finding a few combinations that work. Lamoriello traded Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars, eliminating the biggest malcontent from last season.

With the team searching for answers, they adopted Lemaire’s changes. And, wouldn’t you know, they turned it around. Before the All-Star Break, the Devils went 6-1-1. Their strong play continued in the second half, with New Jersey turning in a performance to remember. They ripped off a 23-3-2 streak that put them within six points of a playoff spot heading into a game against the Ottawa Senators on March 17. It seemed like the resurrection would lead to a miraculous playoff berth.

The Cinderella ending, however, wouldn’t come. Instead of surging to the finish line, Lemaire’s team limped home with a 5-7-1 record in their final 12 games. The ending wasn’t expected, but neither was the second half run.

Lemaire finished the season with a 29-17-3 mark, bringing the Devils to within one game of a NHL-.500 record. That feat in itself deserves praise, as the Devils sat nowhere near that mark in December. He made New Jersey relevant again, and brought the team and its fans on the ride of their lives.

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