The Devils are exiting a decade that went very poorly for the team and saw the entire structure of the franchise crumble. With the calendar about to turn on the 2010s, the Devils might be positioned for a 2020s that will be significantly kinder to them and their fans. Fingers crossed.
The Devils are not one of the NHL’s oldest franchises, but they have been around for quite a while and are one of the most successful franchises over the 37 years (36 seasons) since the team arrived in the Meadowlands in 1982. The team’s history in New Jersey now spans most of four separate decades, with the soon-to-arrive 2020s being the fifth. Those decades started with substantial lows but transitioned into the highest highs. In the most recently completed decade, franchise effectively imploded, leaving few survivors
A New Jersey Success Story
The Devils have bookended two extremely successful decades with two, well, much less successful ones, but over the stretch since they arrived in New Jersey, few teams have secured hardware like the Devils have. The Devils, as we are all well aware, have three Stanley Cups to their name. Only three teams can best that achievement since the team’s inaugural season: the Edmonton Oilers (5 Cups), Pittsburgh Penguins (5), and Detroit Red Wings (4). In addition to those Cups, the Devils have also secured another two Prince of Wales trophies for winning the Eastern Conference (nee Wales Conference) giving them a total of 5 conference champion trophies since arriving on the scene, another feat only topped by the same three teams (Oilers (7), Penguins (6), Red Wings (6)).
The Devils’ regular season success is limited by the runs of bad hockey in the early-to-mid 80s and mid-to-late 2010’s, so they are only middle of the pack in regular season wins among teams that have been around since 1982-83 (12th out of 21), and in win percentage for all teams (14th out of 31). In the playoffs, though, the Devils are in the top 10 in wins (9th overall) and win percentage (7th overall). The Devils also appeared in the playoffs in 13 straight seasons from 1996-97 to 2009-10, a streak that only the Red Wings (25 seasons from 1990-90 to 2015-16) and Capitals (14 seasons from 1982-83 to 1995-96) have beaten since the Devils’ inaugural season (side note: that Devils streak could have been 20 seasons if not for the inexplicable miss in the 1995-96 season, where the Devils finished 12th in the overall league standings, but missed the 16-team playoff bracket due to conference imbalance).
By a number of metrics, the Devils are one of the most successful franchises in the league over their time in New Jersey. This team has seen a lot of highs
The Rise and Fall
Taken as a whole, the Devils’ run from 1982 to 2019 fits a pretty neat rise-and-fall narrative. The Devils started out as a punchline in the 80s, getting constantly pulverized by the league’s top teams and famously earning Wayne Gretzky’s ire after a particularly embarrassing showing against the Oilers in November 1983. The Devils were a joke to more than just the world’s best player back then, though, as this very real excerpt from a NY Times article from that season makes clear:
Since moving from Colorado before last season, the Devils have felt other slaps. They have endured a parody of the rock song ‘’Safety Dance’’ by Men Without Hats, entitled ‘’Devil’s Dance’’ by Men Without Hat Tricks. One of the lyrics in the parody goes, ‘’We can lose if we want to.’’ More recently, Resch, a fine goalie and good citizen, has suffered being lampooned in a vulgar skit on an FM rock station.
I don’t want to know what they did to poor Chico in that “vulgar skit on an FM rock station,” but can confirm that the Devil’s Dance by Men Without Hat Tricks is apparently a real thing that existed/exists. I have embedded it below because I felt some cosmic obligation to share a lo-fi, extremely 80s parody song about the Devils once I found it, and because it does highlight just how low the Devils’ profile was in those days. You have to be a pretty lousy hockey team to be getting extended airtime about how much you stink on the local New York morning zoo show.
Things improved by the end of the 80s though, as the Devils began their rise up to the top of the NHL ladder. The Devils, of course, made the playoffs for the first time in 1987-88, running all the way to the conference finals. That would be just a harbinger of what was to come for the franchise. As the Devils turned the page from the 80s to the 90s, the would go from plucky upstarts to legitimate contenders.
The 90s were where the Devils really arrived as a contending franchise. The pieces that would form the bedrock of a three time Stanley Cup winner would arrive in the early 90s, with 1991-92 being a watershed year where Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Martin Brodeur would each make their first appearances with the team. The team was a part of one of the most storied conference finals in modern history against their trans-Hudson rivals in 1994, and followed up that heartbreak by reaching the NHL’s mountaintop in 1995. The 90s were the decade that the Devils booted the punchline label of the 80s for good and became a contender and a thorn in the side of everyone in the NHL. The back half of the decade would have its share of postseason failures, but the Devils were legitimate, and they were approaching the arrival of a second wave of stars who would take them from contender to dominance in the 2000s.
The 2000s were the decade that the Devils became one of the teams that would define an entire era of hockey. With dominant teams, a Cup, and back-to-back finals appearances in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, the Devils emerged into the new millennium as one of the NHL’s teams to beat and a constant Stanley Cup threat. They would add another Cup in 2003 after a roster shakeup, making putting them in rare air as a team to win three Cups in a 10-year stretch. The lockout in 2004 would end up marking the end of the Stevens/Niedermayer era in New Jersey, but the Devils kept chugging along as one of the league’s most formidable teams. Even as the team had playoff failures in the back half of the 2000s, with their virtual stranglehold on their division and the way they kept winning despite a parade of high-profile departures in free agency, it felt like Lou Lamoriello and the Brodeur-Elias-Parise Devils had discovered a perpetual motion machine of success. Speaking as a Devils fan who really came of age in this decade, you just started to take success for granted and the playoffs were just a given. The decade to follow was about to lay bare how spoiled we were.
The End of an Epoch
If you’re telling the story of the New Jersey Devils, there are a few different eras over the first 30 years: the Mickey Mouse Days, the Muller-McLean-led late 80s, the rise to contention of the 90s, and the dominance, and then attrition, of the 2000s. It all follows a pretty consistent narrative through-line, though. The fabric of those teams all felt like continuations of former versions of the Devils. The 2010s, though, have largely extinguished that link, though. The wobble and then abrupt collapse of the longtime powerhouse Devils would mark the biggest shift for this franchise since it fled the mountains of Colorado for the swamps of New Jersey in 1982. With the benefit of a few years of space, the mid-2010s look like the end of not just an era, but an entire epoch for the Devils’ franchise.
Coming out of the 2000s, the Devils were still among the league’s strongest teams and, at least at the time, seemed reasonably well positioned to keep that gravy train rolling. After a heartbreaking playoff exit in 2009, the 2009-10 team landed right back at the top of the division, adding one of the best forwards in the league, Ilya Kovalchuk, in a deadline blockbuster. The Devils would again make an early exit from the playoffs though, and Jacques Lemaire would retire to make way for a rookie coach in the form of franchise legend John MacLean. That coach would be overmatched and oversee the worst few months for the franchise since the early 80s before being canned around Christmas. Lemaire would return and almost steer the team back to a miraculous playoff berth, but the cracks were finally starting to show for the Lamoriello Devils.
The 2011-12 season would seem like a return to championship form for the Devils, and in a way, it was. The 2010-11 disaster was made to look like a blip, as the Parise-Kovalchuk-Elias Devils ran all the way to the Finals, going through their two most fierce rivals on the way. With the benefit of hindsight though, it was the last gasp of a truly special run of franchise success. Zach Parise would depart in the summer of 2012. Kovalchuk’s infamous “retirement” would follow in 2013. Brodeur’s career in New Jersey would be done in 2014 (and after a probably-not-necessary handful of games in St. Louis, the NHL in early 2015). Elias would be effectively done in 2015, save for a final farewell tour and magical last game in April 2016. Lou Lamoriello was force to hand over the GM reins in 2015 and left the franchise shortly after. Even ownership changed hands when an overleveraged Jeff Vanderbeek could no longer keep all of the plates spinning and was forced to sell the team in 2013.
The types of through-lines that generally tied Devils eras together all quickly disintegrated while the team floundered its way through the mid-2010s. Franchise mainstays gave way to mercenaries, whose stretches varied from “sometimes fun, if ultimately doomed” (Jagr, Cammalleri) to “nostalgic but pointless” (Gomez) to “ill-advised and tragic” (Clowe) to “consistently aggravating” (Ryder). By 2017, almost nothing was left tethering the Devils to the success of 2012, let alone the 2000s. By New Years Day 2018, only Andy Greene and Travis Zajac remained as connections to (survivors from?) the before time. Everyone else had been traded, retired, or otherwise departed New Jersey.
The past decade of Devils hockey has been an odd thing to endure as a sports fan. Few teams will ever enjoy the type of sustained run of success that the Devils did from 1987 to 2012. When a run like that ends, though, it takes a while to accept and then assess the wreckage in the aftermath. Save for the Taylor Hall-powered blip in 2017-18, this team has been downright bad for the better part of seven seasons now. The Devils have finished either last or second-to-last in their division in five of these past seven years. This has been a bad hockey club to watch for the most part, and they’ve been bad enough long enough that we’ve gotten used to it on some level. Certainly a far cry from where things stood ten years ago.
Hope Springs Anew
Despite the gloom that has hovered over most of the past decade of Devils hockey, the team is now approaching a position where it appears success is on the horizon. The poor hockey mentioned above, combined with some lottery ball luck, generally good recent drafting, and mostly savvy maneuvering on the trade market have given hope that perhaps a new epoch of success is about to dawn in New Jersey. With players like Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes set to be featured down the middle together for a long time, a group of promising and solid defensemen with a proven veteran capstone in PK Subban, a constantly improving supporting cast, and superstar wing who may be around for a while too if he signs on the dotted, the outlines of the next Devils era we might actually look back upon fondly are certainly in place.
The Devils current state actually somewhat mirrors where the team was at the end of the 80s, coming off six playoff misses in the prior seven years. With a group of veterans hungry to take the next step and a litany of young talent either nearing their prime or entering the league, the pieces are in place for a 1990s redux if things break just right in New Jersey. Here’s hoping a new era of Devils hockey is upon us, and here’s hoping it’s the type of era that someone might be writing about nostalgically on their blog 30 years from now.
After Marty, there was ... not much to write home about. The Devils haven’t had much success drafting goaltenders, but perhaps there is reason to hope? A look at the organization’s goaltending prospects: [The Athletic ($)]
NHL.com’s Team Reset series arrives at the New Jersey Devils. A look at where the Devils stand heading into the 2019-2020 season: [NHL]
ICYMI: We are deep in the horse latitudes of summer, and C.J. created this great viz that assigns your favorite NHL players Pokemon comparables. Check it out:
Over at The Athletic, Dom Luszczyszyn grades every team’s contract efficiency. How do the Devils score? [The Athletic ($)]
It’s official: The Seattle NHL franchise has named Ron Francis as its general manager. [NHL]
With yesterday’s discussion of favorite New Jersey Devils players as Pokemon, it got me wondering...who IS your favorite Devil, both now and all-time?
My fellow Devils fans, I hope this letter finds you well. With that being said, I fear this summer may last forever. With development camp having come and gone, and Connor Carrick having received a new contract, the Devils have gone all but dark. In place of tangibles stories are just rumors swirling around.
They say no news is good news, but with so many teams pressed up near or against the salary cap, there was more hope for more movement just a mere week ago. Now all that’s left is less impactful deals and the aforementioned rumors. The regular season supposedly draws near, but not soon enough.
I promise I’ll write again soon...
Okay, now that we’ve had some fun at the expense of the summer and most of its action having already happened, let’s talk New Jersey Devils; more specifically let’s talk about favorite players, be they past or present, and even favorite lines. CJ sparked the idea yesterday when he compared favorite Devils to Pokemon, and it made me want to see how the fan base feels in terms of their favorites. As I’m the writer of today’s piece, I guess it’s only fair that I start.
Also, I feel that I, or one of the other writers may have done something similar in a past year/offseason. In that regard, people change, the team changes, and it’s fun to see where everyone is with the Devils’ roster of 2019-20 and with all of the past names to choose from.
Call me a sucker for a responsible center, but Zajac maintains his position (at least for now) as my current favorite Devil due to his reliability in all zones of the ice. I always feel the NHL has underappreciated his defensive ability, as the Devils have relied on him for roughly a decade now (even when he was the team’s de facto #1) to shutdown opposing top lines. Aside from a couple of bad seasons when the team as a whole stunk, Zajac hasn’t been an offensive anchor either, and has rebounded each time that fans were concerned that he was regressing to a point of no return.
With 507 career points now at age 34, Travis now sits in 4th place all time for scoring in a Devils uniform, and should pass Kirk Muller for 3rd this season, as he’s only 13 points behind him. Zajac also has a chance to appear in his 1000th NHL contest, another testament to his longevity and reliability.
All-Time Favorite: Scott Stevens
This one was a difficult choice, particularly because I grew up watching arguably some of the best players to ever wear the red and black, but my current pick for all-time favorite had to go to The Captain, as I have come to appreciate him even more as I’ve grown older.
Stevens was the definition of a tenacious defender, but he could be a driving force for the offense as well, which was what helped to make him such a unique player. His acquisition was, in my opinion, the turning point for the franchise from bottom-feeder to legitimate NHL team; while it would take a couple of others to make the group true Stanley Cup contenders, Stevens was always at the center of events that would turn games, and even playoff series, in the team’s favor.
He was rightfully the first jersey ever retired by the franchise, being the first (and currently only) captain to bring the Stanley to New Jersey. While he may currently not have a role with the Devils (he’s serving as an NHL Network analyst) it doesn’t mean that he won’t always have a home with Jersey’s Team.
Favorite Line: The A-Line
Maybe it’s because this was the first named line I was really exposed to as a teen whose love of hockey was growing stronger by the day, but the line of Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora has stood the test of two decades (side note: I can’t BELIEVE it’s been that long now) to remain my favorite Devils’ line.
Part of it’s because they were just so good together for the period of time they were all one united line; another part of it has to due with Patty and Arnott (along with a Scott Stevens secondary assist) bringing home that second Stanley Cup. I think the best reason for why I loved the A-Line was because while the Devils’ hallmark in the 90s/early 2000s was defense, this line showed that the Devils could torch you on the score sheet as another way of beating you. The A-Line made the team complete, and was a big part of why the Devils won the 2000 Stanley Cup Final.
Now I’d like to hear from all of you as to who is your favorite current New Jersey Devil; is it the same as your favorite Devil of all time? If not, who’s your all-time favorite? Any favorite line, or other criteria related to favorite Devils? Leave any and all comments below; thanks as always for reading!
In which we debut a tool to help find the best Poke-matches for each player in the NHL
It’s July 17th.
That means we’re in the dog days of Summer and blogger such as myself start to get a bit bored drumming up the same stories of the offseason over and over again. So rather than do that, I decided to go totally off-book.
I was on Twitter yesterday and saw this tweet from Corey Sznajder (All-3-Zone tracker extraordinaire) in which each Carolina defender was assigned a Pokemon. That sounded like a fun exercise and so I decided to give it a go myself. But rather than subjectively assign a pokemon that felt like it described a player well, I decided to take this totally pure and childlike endeavor and absolutely ruin it by making it as numerical and objective as possible. And that’s why I decided to make Similarity Scores.
A “similarity score” is a really common term that doesn’t really mean the same thing depending on where you’ve seen it. Here’s an example of Bill James’s (creator of Moneyball) similarity score. But all of the methods have one thing in common, which is that you need to compare similar stats. And that’s where I started taking some pretty incredible intellectual liberties.
I took this dataset from Kaggle in order to get some Pokemon-based data. They had 6 categories that seemed reasonable enough to match — HP (health), Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed. I went through about a dozen possible interpretations of each one of these stats, but then I remembered that it’s July and I chose this topic because it was supposed to take LESS effort. So here’s what I decided for each category:
HP = time one ice per game (TOI/GP): HP is the amount of damage you can take, much like the endurance it takes to play heavy minutes
Attack/Defense= even-strength offense/defense value (EVO_AA & EVD_AA): Attack is equivalent to offense, and defense is equivalent to ... well ... defense. They use the same word for that one. And the reason I’m only using even-strength is because “Special Teams” should be included in ...
Special Attack/Defense = powerplay offense/shorthanded defense value (PPO_AA & SHD_AA): Okay, I’ll admit, this one is a cop out. My other idea was that this would by “low-danger” because special attack is long-distance. I also considered using hits to split hem up because regular attack/defense are “physical.” But this is a definite win semantically.
Speed = faceoff/transition value and penalty drawing value (GAR_Zones and GAR_PD): Faceoffs and transitions help you get the first shot at attacking — anyone who’s played Pokemon knows that the higher Speed Pokemon attacks first — and penalty differential is one of the highest correlated metrics to actual “speed.”
Almost everything here was from evolving-hockey accept for the speed metrics which are from Corsica. After calculating the z-scores for the pokemon dataset and the hockey dataset, I found the sum absolute difference from every one of the 151 pokemon across all categories for each skater. The then I divided that number from the highest number in the dataset (~23 SDs Brandon Pirri vs. Chansey) and subtracted it from 1. The result is the percent of the total potential deviation that was avoided. Ex: Kevin Rooney and Wartortle have an 88% Similarity score — there was only 12% of the potential deviation between their z-score profiles.
A couple of notes on the results: 1) This is using only the 151 original Gen 1 pokemon, 2) several pokemon have a LOT of matches. These are two things that I may fix over the course of the next few days, and if/when I do, the results of this article will become outdated. I also may not do that. But, my deadlines are Wednesdays and this is a hockey blog in July so you get this half-baked, but serviceable, result here.
So, enough messing around with jargon. It’s time for what you guys all came for. What are the Devils results?!?! Well I’ll give you guys a few of my favorites.
This was actually the highest match in the entire roster and it feels great to me. Two years ago, Blake Coleman was a Pidgey, just an annoying little pigeon. Last season, he became a Pidgeotto after getting a little offensive punch like maybe a Wing Attack, but also still being really annoying by repelling potential rushes with whirlwind-esque forechecking. And this year he finally graduated to a genuinely intimidating offensive force with excellent hair — Pidgeot. Nico and Palmieri also graded in as Pidgeots which is even more of an endorsement of Coleman’s excellence this past season.
Bratt’s Beedrill match followed only Coleman-Pidgeot in Similarity Score. This one also seems apt — Beedrill is a winged insect with stingers on either side which makes him perfect for the dual-winger, Bratt. Beedrill looks super intimidating and if it’s his move watch out because he’s good on the attack. However, if you dive deep, you see Beedrill is a pretty easy KO and Bratt’s even-strength defense is likely the worst on the team since entering the league.
Zajac’s Clefable is middle of the pack in Similarity score, but it’s my next most favorite one so it goes here. Clefable has been around since the first generation, but is still in the overused tier of Smogon. With high health, defense, and a moveset that includes Soft-Boiled, Clefable is a really tough KO that can be used effectively to counter some elite attackers. Similarly, Zajac is a reliable player that is still serviceable in a lot of areas. He’s a minute muncher that slows things down against Crosby’s and the like so that studs can come out well-rested after. Clefable’s is only slightly below average in attack and speed and above in everything else. This super-versatile, high-usage, oldie is a natural Zajac.
and if you want more you can just check out the Tableau I made for this very purpose! It’s also embedded below.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share any interesting ones that you find in the comments below! Feel free to offer constructive criticism for how to improve the method, but I’ll likely ignore it seeing as this is a very unimportant endeavor. Enjoy!
Over at The Athletic, Corey Masisak has a good roundup of observations and notes out of Devils Development camp last week: [The Athletic ($)]
Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald assesses the prospect pool: “Our goal a few years back was to accumulate draft picks and really restock the prospect pool and depth of the organization and we really feel we’ve done that. It shows in the numbers that you see [this year]. We max out at 36 players and out of those 36 players, three are invites. That tells you something.” [NHL]
Connor Carrick should be pleased today. He has a new contract with the Devils. | Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils announced that they re-signed defenseman Connor Carrick to a two-year contract worth $3 million. This post goes over what Carrick did, how the Devils may use Carrick next season, and what the Devils could do next after this news.
Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils announced that they have re-signed defenseman Connor Carrick. The new deal is a two-season contract worth $3 million, where he will be paid $1.5 million for each season. His cap hit will be worth the same amount. With the new contract, Carrick and the Devils will not go to their scheduled arbitration hearing for July 25, the first of three involving the Devils this season. He is set for 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Carrick’s new deal is a small raise over his last contract. According to CapFriendly, the 25-year old right-sided defenseman made $1.3 million last season on a one-season contract. That one-season deal followed a two-year (and one-way) contract worth $1.5 million total, which followed his entry level contract. It is not by much, but Carrick has been getting raises at least. At the same time, the contract is far from ludicrous and far from being unmovable should the Devils need to do so in the future.
What Carrick Did
Carrick was an interesting sort of defenseman last season. He was not particularly amazing in his time with New Jersey. Since being acquired in the Lovejoy trade, he played in 20 of the team’s remaining 21 games. He primarily played in 5-on-5 situations and, like the rest of the blueline, got to play a lot of defense. According to Natural Stat Trick’s stats from February 23 through the end of last season, Carrick did not rate well in his on-ice stats among Devils defensemen with a CF% of 44.35%, a SF% of 46.04%, a SCF% of 44.24%, and a HDCF% of 50.43%. That’s just not good to see from any player, nevermind a defenseman.
There are mitigating factors. First, Carrick played a lot in 5-on-5 situations as a Devil. His ice time per game was 17:16, which was easily the highest on the team since he arrived in Newark. That’s more minutes than Greene, Butcher, Severson, Santini, and others. This meant more opportunities to be out there and more chances to suffer. Second, the Devils had little to play for when he came to the team. They were sellers in February and the Devils effectively were out of the playoffs by the time he was acquired. I think that contributed to how much he played. Third, his production was quite good. Carrick provided one goal and six assists in 20 games. His 0.35 point per game rate in New Jersey was his best ever in his NHL career. For a non-offensive defenseman, that is good. His goal was also a finisher off of Drew Stafford’s sweetest move of all of 2018-19. That and being a game winner against Our Hated Rivals makes it a bonus. Fourth, the expected goals model suggests his play was not as bad as the results may indicate. Per Natural Stat Trick, Carrick had a xGF% of 47.27%. That was well above his actual GF% of 42.86% and it was fourth on the team and within a percentage of second. That helps support those who saw him and thought it was OK - which was surely helped by the fact that the season did not matter that much.
Is this all worth $1.5 million? Again, look at his prior contract. He made $1.3 million last season. For a right-sided defenseman who’s 25 even as a depth defender, a raise of $200,000 is not much at all. I think he can justify it.
What’s Next for Carrick
Carrick will now be a Devil to start this season and the team is prepared to have him back next season. He will not play as much as he did when he came to New Jersey last season. Given that the Devils have P.K. Subban, Sami Vatanen, and Damon Severson on the right side of the blueline, Carrick is easily #4 on the depth chart on that side. It is all but guaranteed that he will start with a more reduced role, assuming he is active. That is just fine. In fact, I think Carrick would thrive more in a third pairing role. By playing less often which would lower the impact and the possibility of poor shifts in the run of play by him and/or his teammates. As per PuckIQ, his on-ice CF% was much higher against the weaker competition and his GF% was even at 50%. There’s some reason to believe this to be the case.
Had the Devils not make the P.K. Subban trade, there would have been an opening for a third-pairing RHD. This would have been fought for between Carrick, Santini, and others (possibly Davies?). Fortunately, the Devils did get Subban. Now there are four NHL defensemen for three positions. Again, Subban, Severson, and Vatanen are all better than Carrick. That is a strong trio for the right side. However, is it really utilizing Severson or Vatanen to the best of their abilities to keep them as a third-pairing defender? Can they make good value on their $4+ million salaries in such a role? Wouldn’t Carrick be more of a fit?
I think so and to that end, this signing makes it more possible for the Devils to consider trading Severson or Vatanen. Given that Vatanen is on an expiring contract and Severson does about as well as he does while also being younger and a bit cheaper, I would prefer Vatanen to be the one to be moved. Such a move reduces the depth on the right side of the blueline, but a Subban-Severson-Carrick right side can be viable. Vatanen may be able to net a player to fit a more immediate need such as a left winger for the second line. I do not think a trade is inevitable; but I can see it being considered a little more by management.
Aside from trades, this signing allows Ray Shero to move onto the next one. Three defenseman filed for arbitration this year: Carrick, Mirco Mueller, and Will Butcher. Today’s news means one is down and there’s two to go. Do not be surprised if team announces new deals for Mueller and Butcher over the next week or so. The next hearing is for Mueller, which is scheduled for July 28. (Butcher is set for August 2.) There is plenty of time for management and Mueller’s people to figure it out. Provided Shero does nothing else, there are three signings left that the Devils have to make this summer. With over $18.3 million in cap space, there is plenty of room to re-sign Mueller, Butcher, and - eventually - Pavel Zacha.
I am fine with today’s news. I am fine with Carrick receiving a small bump in pay and two more seasons in New Jersey. I am fine with $1.5 million for a third pairing RD. As ugly as his on-ice numbers were with the Devils, I am confident he can provide better performances (which means better on-ice rates and percentages) in a more limited role. I would be fine with that and I think management may feel the same way. I am also fine with this move possibly leading to a trade involving the right side of the defense, which may or may not happen. If not, then I am fine with the team taking care of Carrick first before moving on to Mueller and Butcher before their respective arbitration hearings. I am fine with this.
Are you fine with this signing? Do you like it or do you not like it? What do you think of Carrick as a player? Do you think he can be more effective in a third pairing role? Should this signing lead to the Devils trading Vatanen or some other defenseman? What do you expect for Mueller and Butcher knowing Carrick re-signed for $3 million over two seasons? Please let me know your answers and other thoughts about Carrick in the comments. Thank you for reading.
Jesper Boqvist is poised to make the jump from the SHL to NHL and wear the red and black of the Devils this upcoming season. | Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
This past season saw Jesper Boqvist emerge as an anticipated NHL prospect, Fabian Zetterlund show potential when healthy, and Nikola Pasic put up a strong season split between the SHL and juniors. This post will take a look at what each player did in 2018-19 and what the upcoming season could hold for them.
Ray Shero and his staff have been adding talented prospects from leagues all over the world since he took over the New Jersey Devils. One group that I find especially intriguing is the Swedish prospects. Jesper Boqvist was considered a potential 1st round talent in 2017 but fell to the Devils in the early part of the 2nd round. He is coming off of a breakout year in the respected Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and is anticipated to make the Devils roster out of training camp this fall. Fabian Zetterlund was taken a round after Boqvist in the 2017 draft and is poised to make the jump from the SHL to AHL. He figures to make an impact pending he can stay healthy after an injury riddled 2018-19 campaign. Finally, Nikola Pasic was a 7th round pick of the Devils in this year’s draft but many see him as a much more talented player than his draft position would have you think. Today’s post will recap what each of these players did in the 2018-19 season and touch on what the upcoming season could have in store for each of them.
One of the most exciting prospects in the pool, LW Jesper Boqvist is a former 2nd round pick of the Devils in the 2017 draft. The 6’0, 181 lbs. product of Falun, Sweden is coming off of a breakout season in the SHL as a 20 year old. His birthday is October 30, so if all goes to plan, he will spending his 21st birthday with the Devils instead of back with Brynäs IF, which is where he is set to go if he doesn’t play in the NHL this season. An injury shortened 2017-18 season saw him play in just 23 SHL games with 3 goals and 10 assists while averaging 15:25 per game. He did earn a Silver Medal at the WJC as a member of Sweden’s U20 team.
This past season saw him breakout and become a leading offensive threat for his team. In 51 SHL games he had 13 goals and 22 assists while averaging 2.35 shots and 18:25 per game. Using his possession metrics from the SHL site, we can see he had a 49.37 Corsi For%, 49.84 Close Corsi For%, 50.68 Fenwick For%, and 51.54 Close Fenwick For%. Those possession numbers were actually among some of the best in terms of full time forwards on what ended up being a non-playoff team. In terms of raw production, he ranked 3rd on his team in goals (13), 2nd in assists (22), and 2nd in points (35). Among U21 players in the SHL, Boqvist was 4th in goals, 1st in assists, and 3rd in points. This strong season saw the Devils sign him to an entry level contract with the idea that he will either play next season in New Jersey or back with Brynäs IF. Boqvist speed, puck handling, and shooting abilities would be a welcome sight in New Jersey so I hope he can play well in camp to earn a spot in the top 9. It is a big ask of a prospect that is just about to turn 21, but it seems like the time is right to see if he can handle the challenge of the NHL.
Check him out in action from the recent development camp that took place last week:
Another product of the 2017 draft class, 3rd round selection RW Fabian Zetterlund has already earned a reputation for his strength and North/South style game. The 5’11, 198 lbs. native of Karlstad, Sweden is coming off of his age 19 season and will turn 20 on August 25. He’s spent his youth and junior career climbing up the Färjestad BK ranks, making his SHL debut in the 2015-16 season. The 2017-18 season would see him earn a full time spot on the senior team’s roster, appearing in 35 SHL games with 3 goals and 4 assists. He also had a conditioning loan with Timrå IK in the Allsvenskan (2nd tier) where he put up 2 goals and 3 assists in 8 games. I should also mention that he helped Sweden’s U20 team to a Silver Medal at that year’s WJC.
This past season was a bit tough for him as an ACL injury and eventual surgery limited him to just 16 games in the SHL. This was unfortunate as he had seen a bit of an increase in his average ice time from 8:51 in 2017-18 to 10:10 in 2018-19. He showed glimpses of production in his limited role over 16 games with 2 goals and 2 assists as well as decent 51.35 CF%. For the most part, his possession metrics were about average compared to the rest of his team’s roster. The Devils still saw enough to sign him to an an entry level contract where he is likely to acclimate to North American hockey with Binghamton (AHL) this upcoming season. If healthy, I think he should have a fairly smooth transition given he already plays a North/South, physical style where he uses his strength to win puck battles and set screens in front of the net to create scoring chances for his teammates. Abbey Mastracco of NorthJersey.com reported a few days ago that Zetterlund is expected to be ready in time to compete in training camp. It will be interesting to see how much of a recovery he made from surgery and what type of impact he can make in Binghamton where there should certainly be opportunity available for him to earn playing time. At the NHL level someday he figures to be a solid bottom 6 guy that could play special teams if he develops as hoped over the next couple of years.
One of the newest Devils prospects is C/LW Nikola Pasic who was selected by the team in the 7th round of this year’s draft. Pasic is a skilled player known for his vision, passing, stickhandling, and wrist shot. The 5’10, 181 lbs. forward from Gislaved, Sweden is coming off of his age 18 season with an October 16, 2000 birth-date. He’s been steadily climbing the Linköping HC ranks since 2016-17 season, passing through the J18 and J20 ranks. This past season saw him spend most of the season with the J20 team in the SuperElit league where he put up 18 goals and 18 assists in 33 regular season games. He was also productive for them in 6 playoff games with 2 goals and 3 assists to help the team earn a Silver Medal. In regular season play for his J20 team, he finished 2nd in goals (18), 5th in assists (18), and 3rd in points (36). He did play in just 33 games so his 1.09 points per game rate ranked 1st among players with at least 30 games played on the team (Gustav Lindberg had a 1.45 points per game rate in 20 games but is a year older). In terms of comparing Pasic’s production to the rest of the league we see his 1.09 points per game rate ranked 9th among all players and 6th among U19 players that played in at least 30 games.
Pasic managed to get into 15 SHL games for the senior team where he had a goal and an assist. As we can see from the stats table in the beginning of this post, he seemed to hold his own in very limited action with a 60.32 CF%, 57.45 CCF%, 55.10 FF%, and 50.0 CFF%. Obviously, you can’t take a 15 game sample, especially when he’s averaged just 2:24 per game too serious, but it is better than seeing him completely over-matched. Pasic had a conditioning loan for 2 games to BIK Karlskoga in the Allsvenskan (2nd tier of Swedish hockey) where he had an assist. He’s set to join BIK Karlskoga for the upcoming season where he can further develop his game with more ice time against men as he tries to help the team earn promotion to the SHL. In addition to further rounding out his offensive abilities, I hope to see him improve his defensive game and reads of the game in the defensive and neutral zones. I think this is a great move for him that should help him take the next step forward in his development.
What are your thoughts on each of these four players? Which of these players do you feel will make an impact in New Jersey someday? What are your expectations for these players in the upcoming season? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!
Is Kevin Rooney on the roster or is he scratch? It doesn’t matter because he’s going to get some minutes based on player usage throughout the league last season. | Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
The 2018-19 New Jersey Devils were heavily impacted by injuries and used 41 different players at some point in the season. How much should they plan for in 2019-20? This post explores the question and highlights how many players other NHL teams used last season.
Throughout an 82-game season, it is a near-guarantee that players will get injured, players will have poor enough performances to see the press box or a demotion, and players who have earned an opportunity will force their way to get a look at the NHL. Before considering any transactions that can remove and/or add players, teams are forced to go beyond their initial roster. Last season, the New Jersey Devils were forced to do so to a severe degree. The Devils had nearly all of Binghamton’s forward corps play in New Jersey at some point in 2018-19. The blueline saw cameos from B-Devils in addition to the acquired Connor Carrick. Three goaltenders featured for the team. The Devils had to go much deeper into the depths of their organization than most teams last season. Does this mean they should plan for as much in 2019-20? Let’s explore the question.
The active roster in the NHL is limited to 23 players, and in a game teams can play up to 20 players. Typically 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders. But because of the aforementioned possibilities, NHL teams will often have much more than 23 players suit up and play over the course of a season. Therefore, these teams need to establish their depth charts by position to prepare for those situations. How deep do they go? To answer this, I looked through the player stats for each team at NHL.com and counted up how many forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders suited up for the team.
I counted the total number of players at each position who played in at least one game as well as the amount of players who played in at least ten games. Ten games is roughly 12% of the regular season; it is a more significant run than just a short call-up or a game given to a player to show off what he can do. The full list by team is below and, yes, the Devils were indeed one of the more unfortunate teams last season in this regard:
Data from NHL.com
2018-19 Player Appearances by Position in NHL
It is telling that the best teams on this list tended to have fewer players to have suited up for them throughout the season compared to most other teams. Tampa Bay had a remarkably low number of forwards used at all. Carolina and the Islanders had a lot of consistency on their blueline as only 7 defensemen played over 10 games for each. As teams have incorporated a third (or more) goaltender, most have been reliant on two goalies. This is not to say that players on these teams and others - like Washington, San Jose, or Toronto - had no issues with injuries or poor play. They were fortunate that they could use the same call-ups or that they did not happen so frequently that they needed not in waves that forced mass call-ups or they were able to call up the same players as needed. Likewise, because they were doing so well, they did not feel they needed to call someone up to just to give them a chance like a bad team might when they feel their season was effectively over.
There are some exceptions to this. There were some teams that managed to have a higher number of players used than most teams and still be successful. Boston, Nashville, and Dallas both had used more than 35 players last season. All three were able to make the playoffs. Boston, in particular, went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals after finishing third in the league with 107 points. I can agree that teams forced to use lot of players tend to be on the poorer end, but Boston showed that it is possible provided that needing to dress a lot of different players does not mean the season is doomed.
Still, there is a larger point: even the teams who did not have to go deep into their roster still had to go beyond 23 total players last season. By at least five, to be more precise. Most teams had to use at least ten more players to at least make one appearance last season. In fact, the average NHL team in 2018-19 had to use roughly 35 players (21 forwards, 11 defensemen, 3 goalies) total and 29 (18 forwards, 9 defensemen, 2 goalies) for over 10 games. That is a good baseline as any as far as what a team should want to plan for next season from a depth perspective.
That also means the Devils were a special case last season. The Devils were definitely impacted by needing to use 41 players and have 35 of those players play at least 10 games last season. They had to use players that would otherwise be playing entirely in the AHL and that was a partial reason why they had relatively good odds in the 2019 Draft Lottery. (Do note that they were near the bottom before it all went down.) Only Vancouver, Ottawa, and Anaheim used more players in total. Those three teams were also in the 2019 Draft Lottery (well, Ottawa’s pick was there). And only Anaheim had one more player than the Devils to play in at least 10 games in 2018-19. The Devils went exceptionally deep into their system and it showed.
The good news is that the number of players used was so high that I doubt it will happen again. It would take another awfully unlucky run of injuries occurring around the same time with varying levels of severity. I doubt that will happen in two straight seasons. I do think the Devils should try to prepare for a number closer to the league average. While the main goal in training camp is to identify who will make the New Jersey roster for opening night, the Devils will also use camp to look beyond their 23-man roster and figure out who would be in line for call-ups later in the season. Camp battles will not just be for figuring out who the fourth line will be but who can be on the fourth line if/when injuries strike as the season goes on. We will discuss who the 10th - 13th forwards will be, but the coaches will have to identify #14 through #18 at forward. We will consider whether the Devils should carry seven or eight defensemen, but the coaching staff should have in mind who a ninth or tenth option could be. And determining a #3 goalie will also be of use.
This season is especially critical for that given how young the Binghamton roster looks on paper. With common call-ups in recent memory like Nick Lappin and Blake Pietila having moved on, there are opportunities available for players to be used more often. Those who are likely to start in Binghamton would be wise to impress the coaches and the staff anyway in camp. A good preseason game or series of practices may make a big difference as to where one is on the proverbial ladder. And it almost goes without writing that playing well in Binghamton will only serve to help your cause. While plenty of B-Devils got to taste the NHL last season, with a stronger line up in New Jersey and hopefully higher expectations, they will need to keep proving their worth.
To that end, the many decisions the Devils will have to make by October will include the back end of the roster. Will Kevin Rooney and the recently-acquired John Hayden start in New Jersey or will they be primary call-up players? Does Brett Seney, Michael McLeod, and/or Nathan Bastian battle their way to the roster - and if not, would they be first in line for a call-up? Do newly arriving Fabian Zetterlund and Mikhail Maltsev establish themselves early? Who among Colton White, Colby Sissons, and Josh Jacobs will be eighth or ninth on the depth chart on defense? Marian Studenic was one of the few B-Devils who did not play in New Jersey last season, can he force the issue this season and be considered by the New Jersey staff? How do the veteran AHL signings of defenseman Dakota Mermis, defenseman Matt Tennyson, and forward Ben Sweat factor into this discussion? And who is the #3 goalie between Evan Cormier and Gilles Senn? There are many more, but this is what immediately comes to my mind. But the main point is that several of the players mentioned - like Rooney and Hayden) are very likely to play for New Jersey at some point even if they do not make it in camp.
This is admittedly not as exciting as wondering who is going to play with Jesper Boqvist or whether Ty Smith receives big minutes at some point in 2018-19. It does matter, though. Every NHL team had to go beyond their initial 23-man roster and most had to use many more players whether it was for just a few games or a more substantial part of the season. Even if these players are able to be kept to limited minutes and match-ups, they do play a role in how the team can perform. Given how challenging the division looks to be on paper and the general grinding nature of an 82-game season, every game is likely going to matter to the Devils if they want to play meaningful games in March and playoff games in April. This will require being comfortable with whoever is designated among forwards #13 through #18, defensemen #7 through #10, and whoever the third goalie could be. As we saw last season with the Devils and throughout the league, most of those players will get minutes at some point 2019-20 and they will to contribute even if it only means playing the way the coaches wanted and not getting dominated for 6-8 minutes. Based on what happened last season, I think the Devils should plan for 30 players to start (18 forwards, 9 defensemen, 3 goalies) and re-adjust their thinking on players as the seasons in New Jersey and Binghamton progresses.
To this end, I would like to know your opinion about this. How deep should the Devils plan to go for their roster in 2019-20? Who do you think should be among the first call-ups from Binghamton when they are required? Do you think the team needs another veteran or two in their system, or should they stick to the players already in their system? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils’ depth in the comments. Thank you for reading.
Ty Smith: “I feel stronger, and am hoping I’m a little better defensively. I felt good throughout the season, played big minutes and felt strong and confident in my own end. You can tell when lifting weights when you’re able to do a little more. All those things indicated I was doing all the right stuff.” [NHL]
On Friday morning, the New Jersey Devils announced that they signed 2019 first overall draft pick Jack Hughes to an entry level contract. This ELC has the maximum amount of bonuses; this post explores what they are and whether Hughes will hit any of them.
Seeing that the Devils drafted Hughes first overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and the nature of entry level contracts, this signing was inevitable. The terms of the ELC should also surprise nobody. Top draft picks and young free agents out of college typically receive the maximum possible deal. Nico Hischier received it after he was drafted in 2017. Will Butcher had it, albeit for two seasons given his age. This is not new to the Devils, but let’s break it down because ELCs are not as simple as they may appear.
Hughes’ salary will be $832,500 with a signing bonus of $92,500 for the next three seasons. Those are the maximum allowed and that takes him to $925,000 per season. ELCs and contracts signed by players over the age of 35 are the only contracts that contain performance bonuses. Should the player meet them, they get paid more. This also raises the cap value for the player. While Hughes’ cap hit will start at $925,000, it could be higher by the end of the season. Sites like CapFriendly account for this by listing his base cap hit and his maximum average accrued value factoring in all performances bonuses. In this case, Hughes could earn up to $3.775 million. This means the Devils will need to maintain at least that much room for Hughes or risk having some of next season’s cap space taken up to make up for any bonuses that caused the Devils to exceed the cap ceiling. Today’s signing leaves the Devils with over $19.8 million in cap space, so this not an immediate concern. However, the Devils should prepare to expect Hughes to at least his some of his performance bonuses.
This is the interesting part to me and a point of discussion and hope for Hughes for the next three seasons. According to Exhibit 5 of the NHL Contract Bargaining Agreement (which you can get in many places, such as the NHLPA’s website), performance bonuses for all entry level contracts are divided up into Schedule A and Schedule B bonuses. For Schedule A bonuses, a player can earn up to $212,500 for meeting each of a list of performance parameters for their position. A player cannot earn more than $850,000 of Schedule A bonuses in a season. Schedule B is broader and can be worth up to a maximum of $2 million - which really drives the potential AAV of the ELC to be higher than its base salary. Schedule A comes before B, so if a player is receiving $1 million in bonuses, then the first $850,000 is for Schedule A and the remainder is if any of the Schedule B bonuses are met. The values can be negotiated but maximums are set by the NHL CBA.
In the case of Jack Hughes, he is a forward and since he received the maximum ELC, he can earn up to four of the following before these bonuses stop:
Player must be among the top six forwards on the team in ice time with a minimum of 42 games played by the player and his teammates.
20 or more goals
35 or more assists
60 or more points
0.73 points per game or more with a minimum of 42 games played by the player.
Player must be among the top three forwards in plus-minus on the team with a minimum of 42 games played by the player and his teammates.
Player is named Most Valuable Player of the NHL All-Star Game
A number of these go hand-in-hand. For example, 60 points in 82 games works out to 0.731 points per game. Should Hughes get to 60 points at all, he will have achieved two bonuses.
Will Hughes be able to meet four of these in any of three seasons in his ELC? I think so. Given the structure of the roster, Hughes appears to be a lock for the top two lines right now. That will help him with the ice time bonus, especially if he receives regular power play minutes. Plus-minus may come down to usage. If Nico Hischier is the center for the “power” line in match-ups, then Hughes may have a good pathway to do well in this category too.
Making the All-Star Game will be unlikely as a rookie but if Hughes blossoms like we all hope he does, then do not be shocked if he gets there in season #2 or #3. The All-Rookie team is certainly a possibility in 2019-20. Some of the more recent rookie classes have been oozing with talent so it is not at all a guarantee that Hughes will make it. But given his talent and knowing he’ll at least start in New Jersey with great opportunities to succeed early, I am not at all ruling it out.
If I were to predict, Hughes will likely meet at least two of these in his rookie season and he could definitely hit four of them by the end of his ELC. I am rooting for him to meet at least four of these right away because it will mean he is an excellent player right away. That is definitely worth an extra $850,000.
The Schedule B bonuses are for league awards. To earn these bonuses, the player shall meet the following.
Finish top ten in the NHL in goals, assists, points, or points per game among players who have played at least 42 games. Ties for tenth count for meeting the bonus.
Win the Hart Trophy (MVP), Frank J. Selke, Trophy (best defensive forward), Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals), or Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP)
Make the First or Second All-Star Team at the end of the season.
There are also bonuses for winning or finishing as a finalist for the Lady Byng (most sportsmanlike player) and Calder (best rookie) Trophies, but they are not negotiable like the other awards.
For these, a player can still get a bonus if they do not come in first - they would just receive a lesser amount for, say, finishing third in voting for one of those awards or making the second NHL All-Star team. To get the full $2 million, it has to come with serious achievements. Personally, I would love it if Hughes wins the Conn Smythe in any of his ELC seasons. I am not expecting it because that would require a remarkably high amount of expectations and pressure. But it would be legendary.
Truthfully, I do not think it is fair to expect Hughes to get any ‘B’ bonuses until it is established what he does in the NHL. Even so, these are bonuses given to players who are among the very best at a young age. Most excellent players do not achieve these. But Jack Hughes could be a special one - we can always dream for the moment.
The long and short of it is that the Devils have inked Hughes to a contract and will need to keep more than just $925,000 available on the books for it. While I would love it, I am not certain Hughes will get to the maximum potential amount of $3.775 million. I am very confident he will earn some bonuses throughout the next three seasons. I am also very confident that even if Hughes does hit all possible bonuses, this will likely be the cheapest contract that he will sign for a very long time. Should Hughes be as good as he is projected, he will provide a lot more value than what $3.775 million may be worth for a NHL forward - and he will get paid incredibly well by the time as his ELC is about to end.
I am happy that Hughes is signed now and I am hoping he does so well that he meets several Schedule A bonuses and I’ll be thrilled if he meets some of the ones in Schedule B. What do you think? How many bonuses do you think Hughes will meet? Will he meet them right away or do you expect it in a season or two? While the signing itself is two days old, how excited are you for Jack Hughes now that he is officially a Devil? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Jack Hughes and NHL ELC bonuses in the comments. Thank you for reading.