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.
The New Jersey Devils will always be a defense-first team. Jacques Lemaire’s first tenure as coach, way back in 1995, began that precedent. Those teams developed the trapping style that brought three Stanley Cups to the Garden State. It seemed the organization possessed unlimited defensive depth, churning out defensive stalwarts like Colin White to compliment the core of Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer.
Fast forward to 2011. The team still plays solid defense, but gone are the big names. In their place stand overachievers and average defenseman. The mass exodus of the dynasty defense through retirement and free agency left a gaping hole in the Devils’ organization. The inability to find a true offensive defenseman continues to frustrate fans. But there’s hope – a rising crop of defensive prospects, led by Jon Merrill and Alexander Urbom, should return the blueline to its once lofty status.
With a surplus of quality defenseman in this year’s draft, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Devils once again focus on their blueline with the fourth pick. But do they need a defenseman? The bubble of NHL-ready prospects looks ready to burst, providing ample opportunities for New Jersey to plug in holes. In today’s preview, we take a look at the organization’s defensive prospects, from the AHL to those yet to turn pro.
And here we go:
Albany Devils (AHL)
Alexander Urbom – 72 GP, 23 points (2 G, 21 A), minus-9 rating
Urbom continued the recent Swedish movement in the Devils organization. The 20-year old defenseman spent most of the season with the Albany Devils, earning two brief call-ups to the Devils. He led all Albany defenseman in points, and earned significant minutes on the powerplay.
The year of seasoning helped Urbom tremendously. When he broke camp with the Devils, he looked rough and didn’t adjust well to the NHL. But his year in the AHL gave him the ability to play with veterans like Olivier Magnan and Rob Davison. He ended his season on a positive note, tallying his first career NHL goal in the Devils’ 3-2 win. He may find himself back in the AHL next season, but Urbom made a strong case to play on the Devils’ blueline next season.
Rob Davison – 63 GP, 18 points (4 G, 14 A), minus-1 rating
Davison became one of the biggest offensive threats on an underachieving blueline in Albany this season. The stay-at-home defenseman, who compiled 203 NHL games before the season, never found a way to make it to New Jersey. When the organization needed replacements, they routinely called on other players. Davison signed this summer as a depth player, and served that role to the letter.
The unrestricted free agent probably won’t be in the organization next season. He helped with the development of Urbom and gave the team quality minutes. But a guy with over 200-games of NHL experience deserves a shot to make a NHL team, something he may not get with New Jersey.
Olivier Magnan – 50 GP, 13 points (2 G, 11 A), minus-3 rating
Magnan’s shown steady improvement in each season with the organization. The former QMJHL Kevin Lowe Trophy winner (best defensive defenseman) finally got his chance to play in New Jersey last season. In 18 games, he was solid yet unspectacular, failing to record a point. But he couldn’t stick in New Jersey, eventually giving way to Mark Fayne.
Despite solid play for both teams, Magnan may not return to the team next season. With a new crop of defenseman ready to take the reigns, Magnan may be forced out by his inability to deliver on his talent.
When Brian Rafalski announced his retirement today, it signaled yet another Devil from their glory days to retire. As the team gets further and further removed from their dynasty days, when they won three Stanley Cup championships in eight years, more and more players will leave the game.
The departures already included some big name players. Over the last six years, we’ve seen most of the Devils vaunted defense retire. Ken Daneyko, arguably the heart and soul of the defense, retired after winning the Stanley Cup in 2003. Scott Stevens soon followed, retiring in 2004 after battling post-concussion syndrome. Scott Niedermayer went next, retiring last season. The list continues, with forwards like Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin hanging up their skates.
All of these former players helped produce the most successful eight seasons in team history. They all deserve recognition, both individually and as a collective whole. There’s no bigger individual recognition than retiring a player’s number, and there are a few Devils who deserve the honor. But it shouldn’t go to everyone, and the franchise needs to tread carefully when considering players worthy of that honor.
Currently, only two Devils have seen their number retired. Scott Stevens became the first player in team history to have his number retired. The team honored him in a pre-game ceremony on February 3, 2006, acknowledging his immense importance to the team. Stevens racked up the honors, including a Conn Smythe Award during the 2000 Stanley Cup championship. His mere presence along the blueline made skaters think twice about where they were on the ice. His hit on Eric Lindros during the 2000 Eastern Conference was a turning point in the series. His resume continues, with the crowning achievement being his tenure as captain, which is still the longest in team history. Clearly, he deserved the honor.
Daneyko became just the second player whose number hangs from the rafters. “Mr. Devil” played for 20 seasons, all with the Devils. His gritty play and gap-toothed grin came to embody the Devils “trap” game. He sacrificed his body game in and game out, blocking shots and doling out hits. He’s never been an “offensive defenseman,” recording a career-high 21 points during the 1989-90 season. He almost never missed a game, holding the Devils “ironman” streak until this season. His contributions, both on and off the ice, earned him the honor.
Niedermayer and Rafalski both make great arguments to earn the honor. But before the team makes them one of the honored few, they need to realize not everyone deserves a spot. That’s where the difficult decisions begin. What criteria will the organization use to judge a player’s worthiness? Both Niedermayer and Rafalski were great Devils, and belong among the best to wear the jersey. Both also spurned the organization to play elsewhere, with Rafalski leaving near the tail end of his prime years. It doesn’t diminish their accomplishments with the Devils, but it may dilute them in the eyes of some observers.
We already know that, when he decided to retire, Martin Brodeur will watch his jersey number retired. But for others, like Niedermayer and Rafalski, the honor should take time to be decided. Players refused to wear Stevens’ number four and Daneyko’s number 3, but others wore numbers 27 and 28.
I don’t believe other players, like Rafalski and Niedermayer, should be shunned from having their jersey numbers retired. The franchise should practice caution, however, to keep it an honor and not a right.
Former New Jersey Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski will announce his retirement in the coming weeks, according to several media reports.
Rafalski, who signed a five-year, $30-million contract with the Detroit Red Wings after the 2007 season, will forgo the final year of his contract. He’ll leave $6 million on the table after retiring and open a big hole along the Red Wings blueline.
After going undrafted out of the University of Wisconsin, Rafalski spent four seasons in Europe – one in Sweden and three in Finland – before signing with the Devils before the 1999-2000 season. He finished with 32 points in the regular season, ranking third among the team’s defenseman, and averaged over 21 minutes of ice time in the playoffs. He helped lead the Devils to their second Stanley Cup championship.
He continued to take on a more prominent role on New Jersey’s defense throughout his seven-year stay. He led all defenseman in points five of the next six seasons, becoming the most consistent offensive threat along the blueline. He routinely topped 25 minutes of ice time in the playoffs, playing in all situations.
He won yet another cup during the 2002-2003 season, totaling 11 points and once again averaging over 25 minutes of ice time.
Rafalski became a main cog on the Devils blueline, an achievement considering the defense’s tremendous depth. In an era where Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Sheldon Souray all donned a Devils jersey, Rafalski found a way to stand out and make a name for himself. That’s no small feat, especially for someone who couldn’t catch on in the NHL for four years after college. His offensive skill and no frills play made him a fan favorite and one of the most successful Devils’ defenseman.
Despite leaving the team four seasons ago, the Devils have yet to fill the void left by Rafalski. Several replacements, from David Hale to Paul Martin, all failed to deliver the same offensive production. It’s possible that some prospects, like Alexander Urbom and the ever-present Jon Merrill, may fill that void. Rafalski remains one of the best to ever patrol the Devils’ blueline.
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 Anton Volchenkov.
For the past few seasons, the New Jersey Devils lacked an above-average physical defender along their blueline. They had capable defenders, like Colin White and Bryce Salvador, to provide physical play. But they continued to lack a shot-blocking, earth-rattling hitter like the departed Scott Stevens. Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello hoped all that would change by signing Anton Volchenkov.
Volchenkov came from Ottawa Senators providing the physical presence the Devils sorely lacked. He routinely sat near the top of the league in blocked shots and hits. He wasn’t a scorer, but he wasn’t expected to carry that load. With the signing, Lamoriello finally found that physical presence the team lacked. In fact, he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record that “we’re going to have that physical presence that we’ve lacked a little bit.”
Of course, Volchenkov wouldn’t completely meet expectations. He skated in only 57 games, his lowest total in four seasons. He only blocked 106 shots, a far cry from the 172 last season. His 125 hits sat far below the 172 he doled out last season. He struggled with the rest of the team, looking like a defensive liability in his own zone. But as the team improved, so did he. In the end, Volchenkov provided a glimpse of the physical defenseman the team expected patrolling their blue line.
Volchenkov At Even Strength
Volchenkov finished with decent numbers on even-strength despite missing several games due to injury. He averaged 18:06 of ice time, sitting fourth among Devils defenseman. His rating of plus-0.68 ranked third among all skaters and second among defenseman, an impressive number considering the overall down year for the team. He didn’t face the other team’s best players (minus-0.031 quality of competition) but didn’t get much help from his own teammates (minus-0.041 quality of teammates).
Despite his lack of offensive production, Volchenkov helped the team’s scoring and goal differential. On the ice, the team averaged 2.14 goals for per 60 (32 total). They allowed 2.21 goals against per 60 (33 total), recording a minus-0.07 on-ice plus/minus rating. Off the ice, those numbers worsened. Goals for per 60 dropped to 1.55 and goals against per 60 rose to 2.30.
Shots for and against followed the same pattern. On the ice, the team averaged 26.2 shots for per 60. He limited opponents to 21.7 shots against per 60. Off the ice, the team did worse in both departments. Shots for per 60 dropped to 25.8 and shots against per 60 rose to 22.2. They’re not big splits, but it shows a positive trend.
The stats look good, but Corsi disagrees with his performance. On the ice, Volchenkov recorded a plus-2.95 Corsi, a respectable (but low) number. Off the ice, that jumped to plus-6.24. He wasn’t a liability, but he clearly wasn’t the best option. For someone praised for their shot-blocking abilities, it’s telling that the team improved their defensive performance with him off the ice. He never really provides offense, and he couldn’t even score a goal this season. That drives down the rating as well. It wasn’t the greatest showing, but Volchenkov proved himself as a positive contributor. But he still left a lot on the table and failed to meet expectations.
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.
It’s always nice to write this up after a Devils’ win. Here’s your Friday edition of The Devils’ Sports Page.
Brodeur blanks Habs, keeps up dominance of Montreal (Arpon Basu/NHL.com)
Brodeur gets 112th shutout as Devils defeat Canadiens (The Canadian Press/TSN.ca)
Martin Brodeur posts shutout to lift Devils to 3-0 victory over Montreal (Rich Chere/NJ.com)
Martin Brodeur, Devils continue to be masters of Montreal, 3-0 (Tom Gulitti/NorthJersey.com)
Magnan has fun in NHL debut; Greene comes up big; Devils practice pays off (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)
There were never any doubts in Devils’ room about Brodeur (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)
Are Devils out of woods? ‘It’s just one game’ warns John MacLean (Rich Chere/NJ.com)
Devils rookie defensemen came through in victory over Canadiens (Rich Chere/NJ.com)
Andy Greene says Devils’ defense has done fine without injured veterans (Rich Chere/NJ.com)
Former Trenton Devils Defenseman Olivier Magnan makes NHL Debut (TrentonDevils.com)
Devils to host Hockey Fights Cancer night Saturday; Lamoriello on Broadway (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)
Habs captain Brian Gionta said he learned from Niedermayer, Stevens (Rich Chere/NJ.com)
Gionta honored to be Canadiens’ captain (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)