The Hidden Dilemma of New Jersey’s Defense

This season, the Devils have been silencing their critics and have played generally well thus far. They are one of the league’s older teams, but are young in one specific area: defense.

The Devils are currently running on 7 defensemen, Andy Greene, Eric Gelinas, Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, John Moore, David Schlemko and Damon Severson. This group of defensemen are generally young, as Greene is the only member older than 29. This group of defensemen have played well, better than expected, in fact, but there is one small problem that faces this group: development.

See, when you have 7 defensemen, only 6 can play, so one of those defensemen are forced to sit out. More often than not, it has been either Jon Merrill or Eric Gelinas, two players in an important stage in their development. The rest of the defensemen have been outstanding, but these two haven’t had great seasons. Both have a -4 rating and a combined 5 points and 26 penalty minutes.

As a fan of both players, I want them to develop into solid, top 4 defensemen. I do understand that you have to do what you have to do to win, and I support that, but these players need to be given the chances they need to develop into players that will help you win down the road.

All stats are accurate as of December 31st, 2015.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

Update on the Devils

After the second month of the season, the New Jersey Devils are still doing well. They are currently considered to be an “early season surprise” by many experts, due to their expectations as bottom-feeders at the beginning of the season. But, as of November 29th, are 12-9-2 and a point out of the second wild card spot. In November alone, the Devils posted an okay 6-5-1 record. The Devils’ goalie, Cory Schneider, has been absolutely lights out so far this season, and could soon be receiving Vezina considerations. Schneider, a former Vancouver Canuck, has so far put up 11 wins in 19 games, and has a 2.03 GAA, .928 save percentage and a shutout in the young season. New Jersey has received huge offensive contributions from 5 players, and then it’s more or less a drop-off afterwards. The team leader in points in Mike Cammalleri, who is among the league leaders in points and assists with 7 goals and 16 assists. Adam Henrique is having a career season so far with 11 goals and 8 assists so far. Lee Stempniak and Kyle Palmieri have adjusted well to their new teams so far. Stempniak has 18 points while Palmieri has 17. Travis Zajac, of whom many considered to be the NHL’s worst contract, is proving the critics wrong by putting up a solid 14 points thus far. Damon Severson has been New Jersey’s best offensive defenseman, putting up 7 assists so far. Overall, I think that the Devils have a good chance at making the playoffs, given their early success. The month of December will determine whether or not they’re the real deal, or whether or not they’re going to crash, burn and end up missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

How are the Devils Looking?

11 games into the season, the New Jersey Devils are 6-4-1, which few would have predicted. Considering that the Devils were expected to be bottom feeders, they look good. General Manager Ray Shero made some quiet moves at the end of the offseason that have been very beneficial to the team, like the signings of Lee Stempniak and David Schlemko. Stempniak has 2 goals and 8 points in his 11 games so far, good for 3rd on the team. Schlemko seems to be a good fit on d, despite his even plus/minus and 1 goal so far. Other offseason pickups like Sergey Kalinin and Jiri Tlusty have been okay, scoring a combined 4 points. Draft-day pickup Kyle Palmieri has been exceptional so far, scoring 3 goals and 7 points in the young season. Veteran Mike Cammalleri has not showed his age, and is leading the team with 11 points thus far. Adam Henrique has also been really good, scoring 6 goals and 9 points. New captain Andy Greene has done well, with 3 points despite a -1 rating. Cory Schneider is enjoying a very nice start to the season, with 6 wins in 9 games, a 2.17 GAA and a .919 save percentage, putting him high in the league leaders in wins. The Devils look pretty good so far. They had a rough first few games but have since bounced back and are among the Wild Card contenders. I can’t predict the future, but the Devils look like they might not do as bad as people expected.

The NHL-Adidas Jersey Deal

The NHL recently announced that they will be changing their jersey supplier from Reebok to Adidas. Adidas will begin making jerseys for each NHL team come the 2017-2018 season. Under Armour had also reportedly been interested in supplying the NHL’s jerseys.

This deal can change the way the NHL makes it’s jerseys. Adidas and the NHL are both considering advertising on the jerseys, much like most world soccer teams. This may not be in the fan’s best interest, but advertising on jerseys can help the NHL make an estimated extra $120 million dollars each season. This extra money can lead to higher paid players and a better fan experience. Adidas is also considering redoing some team’s jerseys to make them more unique.

Who Should Captain the Devils Next Season?

The Devils let former captain Bryce Salvador walk in free agency this summer, and haven’t named a new captain yet. Bryce Salvador was named captain after he put up an impressive Stanley Cup Playoffs campaign after scoring 14 points and coming up huge in clutch moments. Most other hockey fans who didn’t know that stat might have wondered why he was the captain. Here are my top 3 candidates for the Devils next captain.

Honorable Mentions

Travis Zajac 

Travis Zajac has been playing for the Devils for his entire 9 year NHL career. His best seasons are behind him, however. His best season was the 2009-2010 season when he put up 25 goals and 42 assists. Last year was unimpressive, when he only scored 11 goals and 14 assists for a grand total of 25 points. His rookie season was better when he produced 42 points. Despite not living up to expectations, he has shown flashes of leadership and could possibly be the team’s next captain.

Adam Larsson

Adam Larsson was drafted 4th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, and was said to possibly be picked first overall. If you’ve watched any hockey lately, you’d know that he hasn’t performed to number 1 prospect expectations. However, last season was the breakout season he desperately needed. He scored 24 points in 67 games last season. He also just signed a new 6 year, $25 million dollar contract. This doesn’t mean he will be captain next year, but he certainly can in a few years as he is 22 and still developing.

3. Mike Cammalleri

Despite only having one year as a Devil under his belt, Mike Cammalleri could be a strong consideration as the next captain of the New Jersey Devils. Cammalleri signed a 5 year, $25 million dollar contract in last year’s off-season with the Devils. Last season, he was the Devils’ highest offensive producer, scoring 27 goals and 42 points. Of those 27 goals, 8 were game winning goals, which was good for 3rd in the NHL, being tied with John Tavares, Rick Nash, and others. Without those 8 wins, the Devils would having been tied with Edmonton for third to last in the league, assuming those games didn’t go to overtime. Mike Cammalleri would make a great captain as he practically carried New Jersey’s offense on his back.

2. Patrik Elias

Patrik Elias would probably be anyone else’s number 1 on this list, but I have him at number 2. Elias has never wanted to be the captain, just an alternate captain. As he only has one year left on his contract, and is 38 years old, it looks like next year could be his last. Patrik Elias has spent his entire career with the Devils, and has by far been their best forward ever. He has over 400 goals and over 600 assists in his NHL career. It seems like being captain would be a fitting end to his NHL career. I think the position could be his, but only if he wants it.

1. Andy Greene

32 year old Andy Greene went undrafted and has spent his whole NHL career with New Jersey. Greene is a balanced defenseman who has 171 points in 559 NHL games since the 2006-2007 season. He also seemed to captain the team when Bryce Salvador was injured this season. Greene also seems to lead by example, and our younger defenseman like Larsson, Gelinas, Merrill, and Severson seem to be learning from him. Though his stats aren’t impressive, he does all the right things that don’t show up on a scoresheet, and I think he should captain the New Jersey Devils next season.

What Should a Devils Fan Expect for Next Season?

If you’re a Devils fan, you might not like this, but next year will likely not be a good one. New general manager Ray Shero’s moves this offseason have pointed to one answer: The Devils are rebuilding. From a fan’s perspective, this comes with a few years of losing and frustration, but it pays off.

Ray Shero is not only trying to create a younger Devils, but he is also establishing a new culture in New Jersey, rather than Lou Lamoriello’s trademark defense-first style of play. He has hired new coach John Hynes, who was previously the head coach of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and was very successful. He reached the Calder Cup Playoffs each of his 5 seasons, and reached the conference finals twice. Shero and Hynes are familiar with each other, as Shero first hired Hynes in Wilkes-Barre. Hynes also coached the US Developmental Program, UMass Lowell, and the University of Wisconsin.

The Devils have gotten younger by not re-signing veterans Scott Gomez, Steve Bernier, Mark Fraser, Bryce Salvador, and Peter Harrold. The Devils also bought out aging winger Dainius Zubrus’s contract to make room for another forward spot. The Devils traded for 24 year old right wing Kyle Palmieri at the NHL Draft, who finished last year with 14 goals and 15 assists, despite only playing in only 57 games. The Devils also signed 24 year old defenseman John Moore, who has 40 points in 230 career games with the Blue Jackets, Rangers, and Coyotes. The Devils also drafted Pavel Zacha 6th overall. He is an offensive powerhouse who we will probably not see in the NHL next season for purposes of developing him further in the OHL. We should see him in the 2016-2017 season.

Next year we might see the Devils trading away veterans like Andy Greene, Patrik Elias, and Tuomo Ruutu near the trade deadline to stockpile draft picks, like we saw multiple teams do last year. Both Elias’ and Ruutu’s contracts expire after next season, but Andy Greene’s might be hard to move since it has an AAS of 5 million and expires in 2020. The Devils also have two of the NHL’s worst contracts in Zajac’s and Clowe’s. Zajac is getting paid an AAS of 5.75 million and doesn’t expire until 2021. When he signed the contract his future looked promising, but he has performed well below expectaions. Clowe’s contract was simply a bad idea, as it looks like he may never play again due to concussion problems, and will earn 4.85 million dollars every year until 2018.

Now for predictions. I think we can see the bottom 3 in the league in our future for next season. If Greene gets traded, there isn’t another leader on the defense corps yet, and if it buckles, last place looks like a fitting spot for the Devils, mainly because we don’t have enough offense to lead the team to consistent victories. But, look on the bright side. Next year’s top prospect, Auston Matthews was ineligible for this year’s draft because he was born two days after the cutoff. Some have said he could’ve been drafted before Eichel. If everything works in our favor, that could be nice for us, right?