Home > Season Recap > The 2010-2011 Player Review: Brian Rolston

The 2010-2011 Player Review: Brian Rolston

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.

Rolston played well at even strength, but once again struggled on the powerplay. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Rolston also put the effort in defensively, turning in solid numbers in his own zone. He held teams to 2.09 goals per 60 (30 total goals against in 65 games played). That, combined with his offensive numbers, gave him an on-ice plus/minus rating of minus-0.07. That number was second lowest among all skaters. Off the ice, the number jumped to 2.17 goals per 60. That drove the plus/minus number down to minus-40. Shots followed the same trend. Opponents averaged 21.5 shots against per 60 with Rolston on the ice and 23.7 per 60 with him off.

Finally, the Corsi numbers show Rolston’s positive on-ice impact. Rolston’s on-ice Corsi was 10.60, second on the team behind Elias. Off the ice, that number dropped to 1.26. Once again, playing on the second line benefitted that number greatly. A higher skilled line will put more pucks on net and outshoot opponents. Rolston, always a solid two-way forward, contributed defensively as well.

Rolston On The Powerplay

Three years ago, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello and the coaching staff believed Rolston could be their answer to the powerplay. They hadn’t had a true “quarterback” of the powerplay since Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski left. Rolston’s heavy slapshot would give him a plethora of options at the point. As we all know, that never materialized. He hasn’t fit into the role, and last year’s numbers prove that point.

Rolston’s average time on ice for the powerplay was 2.36, fourth among all skaters. Unlike even strength, where he held a positive rating, Rolston turned in a minus-4.18 rating, worst among skaters. His play, therefore, actually hindered the team’s ability to score powerplay goals. Some blame goes to the unit on the ice, whose quality rating checked in at a minus-0.326.

His goal production didn’t nearly match his expected production. Rolston recorded just 11 total powerplay points last season, a far cry from the output we all expect. His Behind the Net statistics reflect that disappointment. With him on the ice, the Devils only managed a plus-3.13 powerplay goals per 60, lowest among skaters. His on-ice plus/minus was also low, at just a plus-1.57. Those numbers jumped with him off the ice. The team averaged 6.57 goals for per 60, double the rate of Rolston’s production. The off-ice plus/minus rating jumped to plus-5.75. Shots also increased, jumping from 42.7 shots per 60 with him on the ice to 48.8 with him off.

Once again, the Corsi numbers reveal the true story. On the ice, Rolston’s Corsi was a plus-79.13. Off the ice, it jumped to plus-87.01. We’ve watched Rolston hammer shots from the point time and time again that sail wide of the net. Sometime he goes on a tear, ripping off powerplay goals. Those moments seem few and far between. All his success on even strength play couldn’t translate to the powerplay, where the numbers resoundingly show that he was the most inept skater.

Rolston On The Penalty Kill

Rolston’s defensive abilities shined on the penalty kill, where he excelled this season. As a veteran, his time on ice during the kill sat at 1.54, placing him among the top five penalty-killing forwards. His rating of plus-4.14 was one of the best on the team. That number showed his ability to play solid defense and his effective penalty killer. He put up that positive rating despite his quality of teammates sitting at minus-0.088.

As a penalty killer, you’re going to get burned a few times. Rolston kept the goals against per 60 to a manageable 2.39, allowing four total powerplay goals last season. His on-ice plus/minus is a minus-1.79, but that’s because of the lack of offense on a penalty kill. Off the ice, that number shot up significantly. The team allowed 6.56 goals against per 60 with Rolston on the bench, driving his off-ice plus/minus to minus-5.94. The shots against number took an opposite trend. On the ice, opponents averaged 35.3 shots per 60. With him off the ice, the number dropped to 34.7.

The Corsi shows little difference as well. On the ice, Rolston carried a minus-60.43 Corsi rating. Off the ice, it dipped to minus-61.85.

The numbers don’t seem impressive, but they show Rolston’s versatility. He didn’t carry his weight on the powerplay, but he significantly contributed to the team’s penalty kill. He remains one of the team’s best penalty-killers and should continue to contribute next season.

Conclusion

Rolston will never be completely welcomed by Devils fans. It’s the nature of the beast. With his annual cap hit and lack of production, fans see him as a waste of space. He hasn’t lived up to expectations, especially on the powerplay. Those fans would be justified in their opinion.

But let me present one more number for discussion – plus-5.2. That number was Rolston’s Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) last season. That stat represents his value above a replacement player for producing and preventing goals. For as much as we blame Rolston for not producing, the numbers show he’s one of the better Devils at producing goals.

When he’s on the ice with capable teammates, Rolston will produce to his top-six forward billing. For the past three years, he hasn’t been able to crack that part of the lineup. He was a $5 million checking forward. He put up 29 points in the second half the season while playing with Elias and Zubrus.  If he’s given the opportunity, he can still produce. But he needs to play with talented teammates to contribute. With young, talented players like Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby working themselves into the lineup, Rolston may be able to improve in the final year of his contract.

Who knows, maybe he’ll gain a few more supporters along the way.

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