Zajac

 

Heading into play last night, the Devils were only three points up on the cellar dwelling New York Islanders. If that isn't bad enough, the Isles have played one less game than New Jersey.

 

New Jersey has had trouble scoring this season, recording a paltry 1.76 goals scored per game, way back of the second worst aforementioned Islanders who are averaging 2.11 goals per game played. If that's not bad enough, they have also had trouble keeping the biscuit out of their own basket, allowing an average of 3.00 goals against per match. That combination isn't going to net you many wins.

 

Was last night's 3-0 shutout against the Phoenix Coyotes the turning point in the Devils season?  Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice, Martin Brodeur notched another shutout and Travis Zajac chipped in with a pair of helpers. New Jersey doesn't have enough depth to compensate when their best players don't play their best.

 

There were many negative opinions when New Jersey signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15 year contract. While I don't agree with signing a player for 15 years (five years is long enough), it was only done to bring the cap hit down to a very Devilish $6,666,666 per annum.

 

Now as gross as that cap hit may seem, there are 24 other players who eat up as much or more cap space than Kovalchuk. Included in this illustrious list of multi-millionaires are Scott Gomez, Vincent Lecavalier, Brian Campbell, Thomas Vanek, Brad Richards, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester and even Chris freaking Drury! Meanwhile Kovalchuk has averaged 45 goals and 87 points over the last six seasons.

 

Who has put up better numbers over that period? Alex Ovechkin who in five years has averaged 54 goals and 106 points. Sidney Crosby has averaged 37 goals and 101 points over five seasons and Evgeni Malkin, 36 goals and 95 points over four seasons. Dany Heatley is the closest comparable with 44 goals and 89 points over five campaigns. All four of these players have higher cap hits than Kovalchuk. Condemn Lou Lamoriello for the signing if you like, but at least the player has had the statistics to justify the contract.

 

Back in November, Brent Lemon talked about a book he read that questioned Martin Brodeur's status as maybe the best ever to play his position.

 

The biggest problem I have with this is using a statistic (Shot Quality Against) that is purely subjective. Who gets to decide what is a quality shot? Distance alone is a poor indicator. So much depends on the shooter; a 30 foot wrist shot from the outside by a guy like Ovechkin with a defenseman providing a screen is much tougher to stop than a breakaway from Zack Stortini.

 

The shots are only part of the equation, it's also about rebound control, timely saves and the ability to bear down when the game is on the line. Being the NHL career leader in shutouts attests to Brodeur's ability to focus until the final buzzer.

 

The argument used to be that Brodeur played behind a studly defence, but as you can clearly see below, that hasn't been the case since the lockout.

 

Year

Top Four Defensemen (based primarily on average time on ice)

09-10

Andy Greene

Paul Martin

Mike Mottau

Johnny Oduya

08-09

Paul Martin

Johnny Oduya

Bryce Salvador

Colin White

07-08

Paul Martin

Mike Mottau

Colin White

Greene/Oduya

06-07

Brian Rafalski

Paul Martin

Colin White

Brad Lukowich

05-06

Brian Rafalski

Paul Martin

Colin White

Richard Matvichuk

Lockout

03-04

Scott Niedermayer

Scott Stevens

Brian Rafalski

White/Martin

 

What has Brodeur accomplished since the lockout? Two Vezinas in those five seasons with basically a no name top four (Rafalski and maybe Martin being the only exceptions).

 

Let's go back even further and look at the last 10 seasons; no goalie other than Brodeur has won this award more than once. Brodeur has won it four times in those 10 years. The other Vezina winners: Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, Miikka Kiprusoff, Jose Theodore, Dominik Hasek and Olaf Kolzig.

 

Even last season, at the advanced age of 37, Brodeur topped the league in wins (45) and shutouts (9). He was third in goals-against-average (2.24), bested only by Tuukka Rask (1.97) and Ryan Miller (2.22). Imagine what his numbers might look like if his defensemen weren't mostly AHL material?

 

So back to the question, was last night's game the turning point in New Jersey's season?  We'll have to wait to find out, but it sure felt like it was. It will be interesting to see if they can close that 18 point gap for a chance to dance in the post season. After starting the season 8-19-2, the odds are very long, especially considering that Zach Parise isn't due back until February at best. The table below shows how successful the Devils have been over the last five seasons:

 

Year

Record

Points

Conf Pts Rank

NHL Pts Rank

09-10

48-27-7

103

2

4

08-09

51-27-4

106

3

5

07-08

46-29-7

99

4

6

06-07

49-24-9

107

2

5

05-06

46-27-9

101

4

8

 

Just remember, swamp gas can be deadly. One spark might be all it takes to set off an explosion.

 

 

Thursday Trivia Time

 

A double minor worth of trivia questions this week:

 

What is the NHL record for the most penalties (not minutes) called against one player in one game?

 

Who holds the NHL record for most penalty minutes in one game?

 

Again, please refrain from simply using Google to find the answer and posting right away, try and let those who want to guess do so.

 


Write comment
Comments (8)add comment

Russ Miller said:

The Comish
In Defence of Brodeur gerbernomics - right on both trivia questions!

My point is that the Devils have been a top team over the last seasons and haven't finished with less than 46 wins over that time. They haven't simply been competing for a playoff spot, they've been in the mix as contenders - it's a shock to see them as low as they are and I wouldn't be surprised if they make a run at a playoff spot, but it's most definitely a long shot.

The problem with a no name defense is that if you employ too many "unskilled" (for lack of a better term) defensemen, then all they end up doing is chipping the puck out. Offensive defensemen are highly sought after due to their ability to jump start the offense with a sharp outlet pass or skate it out themselves. Defensive defensemen just worry about their half of centre ice.

How does this affect the goaltender you ask? He ends up playing in too many one goal games thanks to the team's lack of offensive prowess. That was the true value in Rafalski, his ability to get the puck up ice. The same was true(ish) for Paul Martin, although I wasn't a big fan of his from a fantasy perspective, I realize that he is a valuable NHL defenseman.

Mike Mottau (drafted 7th Rd, 182 overall) didn't play regularly in the NHL until he was 29. Colin White hasn't been the same since he got hit in the eye with a puck (2007) and plays with permanently blurred vision in one eye. Johnny Oduya (drafted 7th Rd, 221 overall) was 25 when he first played in the NHL. Andy Greene was signed as a FA in '06. Bryce Salvador (6th Rd, 138 overall) came over in a trade when he was 31, his career high was 16 points. My point with these guys is that they were not highly thought of in the hockey community before NJ got a hold of them (low draft position, FA signing, etc).

Yes the Devils have a team defence concept that helps their goaltender (as do many other teams - Mtl, Columbus, Nsh, etc), but the reality is that as a result of a lack of offensive talent on the back end, the team plays many close games where every save is big, putting more pressure on the goaltender.

The numbers back up Martin Brodeur as being one of the best goaltenders in the history of the game. The fact that statisticians have to "create" new subjective stats in an attempt to debunk the legend. I'm very confident that if you ask the players, not the media who vote for the Vezina, they would tell you Marty Brodeur is full value for his accolades. All the statistics/trophies we use as indicators for measuring successful goaltenders, Brodeur comes out on top.

As an aside, I've always thought Ken Dryden was way overrated due to his playing behind three HHOF'ers (Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe) for much of his short career. Brodeur HAD a sweet set up playing behind Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, but as good as Rafalski and Martin are, they are no HOF'ers. Since the two Scott's departure, Brodeur has won the Vezina as the leagues best goaltender more than any other goaltender. Just sayin'.
December 16, 2010
Votes: +0

paul said:

donpaulo
... I think the devils did the right thing this offseason in bringing in some defensive help, but I think they still lack a true puck carrying, outlet pass guy back there. Until they find one its going to be a long season
December 16, 2010
Votes: +0

Cold Squad said:

coldsquad2002
... I still feel Brodeur is over-rated. I had him on my fantasy teams a few times and he sucked !!
December 16, 2010
Votes: +0

Man not Puck said:

Man_not_Puck
NJ playoff chances remember hearing some announcers in a recent game talking about the Devils getting to the playoffs - something about how no team that has fallen 13 points out of 8th has ever made it to the playoffs in NHL history, so ya I'm thinkin' THEY ARE DONE


Lou's gotta trade off some of those veteran old dead legs to a contender around the trade deadline this year. The cupboard is already pretty bare, and NJ needs some more young talent in the system.

I'd recommend they tank this year too, but I think they lost their 1st round pick this year didn't they?
December 16, 2010
Votes: +0

Jeremy Wark said:

jer_33
Swamped The Devils are a long-shot to make the playoffs this season.

Their divisional record so far?

1-7-0 with a lone SO win vs. the Flyers in which they gave up a point to Philly.

They've got the turn that record around against arguably a VERY tough division:

Flyers x6
Pens x4
Rangers x6
Islanders x7

I'd call the Islanders games "gimmes" but they've already been shutout by the Isles once this year.

How do they only play the Pens 6 times versus 8 times versus each other divisional opponent?

Jer
December 16, 2010 | url
Votes: +0

Finnbar said:

jokerit72
... I also think NJ is ready to turn the corner, though it will be a few more games till we really know. Their roster is solid enough, their young d-men are getting better every month, we still don't know if MacLean is a good or bad NHL coach, and if Kovy can get it going (the career averages are encouraging) and Brodeur steal a few, they could actually get on a roll.

Terrific point about Kovalchuk's salary in the context of other big names. And it IS just a 30-game sample, after all.

I do have to disagree with some of the analysis....

The top-four d-man grid leads us nowhere. Just naming names doesn't mean those guys are bad (or good) defensively.
But Rafalski, Martin, and White (the 3 most common names) are highly regarded on defense, or so I thought.
Sure, they're not big fantasy names.. what's that got to do with actual defensive efficiency?
Any Corsi numbers, or GVT, or hell, even relative plus-minus to go on? (I'm too lazy to actually look this up right now)
Combined with a Lemaire system, NJ's team defense might have been well above-average for the last decade-plus.

Equating Vezina trophies with "best goalie" is a lot like trying to correlate Cy Young awards with "best pitcher."
Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don't, but it's almost always based on most wins and your team making the playoffs.
No question that looking only at shot quality against is way too narrow, but wins? GAA? Aren't those almost entirely team-dependent?

NJ could easily wind up with a near-miss for the 8th spot, which would still be an accomplishment considering their start.
I'm sort of hoping they continue to suck so they have a shot at Couturier, who would immediately become a very useful player on my farm smilies/smiley.gif (not the Islanders, please God...)
December 16, 2010
Votes: +0

Face said:

Face
Playoffs? This is ridiculous. The first horrendous 30 games for the Devil's paints a much larger picture than their last decent win. It was one game...the Islanders when every now and then too.
December 16, 2010
Votes: +1

gerbernomics said:

gerbernomics
... Q1: Chris Nilan, 10
Q2: Randy Holt, 67

And honestly, I don't see the Devils making it this year to the playoffs...
December 16, 2010 | url
Votes: -2
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