Thursday, July 26, 2007
Sutter's Helpers: Robinson, MacLean, and Albelin
I think these are excellent decisions. My one concern about Sutter was his lack of NHL experience - in that this is his first coaching job in the NHL. The assistant coaches will more than help Sutter acclimated to the Devils organization. Robinson has been with the organization for a while, John MacLean has been a Devil for the majority of his playing career and has risen to the role as an assistant coach, and Tommy Albelin knows New Jersey all too well. Can they replace inexperience? Not completely, no. But they'll help Sutter out; especially Robinson who has been a NHL head coach. Sutter understands this and that's definitely a good thing, check out these quotes from the announcement:
"I told Lou this right from the start, that if we can keep it inside the organization, let's keep it there, because they know what the front of that jersey's all about," Sutter said. "And if we have those people why would we have to go outside? I'm very excited about the staff that we've named."On Robinson and MacLean:
"I know him [Robinson] as a person and I know how respected he is inside the dressing room with everybody, and he, to me, is a great piece of the pie on this staff," Sutter said. "I was excited when he committed to doing this, just because of the knowledge that he has of the game. The head coaching experience and all the success he's had, I think it's a tremendous asset to have on your staff."I'm actually very pleased that Robinson and MacLean in particular were named assistants, and not just from the quotes above (though those are good reasons - Robinson's experience and MacLean bleeding Devils red). MacLean being behind the bench allows for some continuity from last season in terms of the coaching staff. Robinson's reputation as a coach is that he's not a hard disciplinarian - a player's coach, if you will. He'll provide a direct contrast to Sutter's supposed tough means and ways behind the bench. It's not unlike a good cop, bad cop situation. Albelin? He'll be up in the press box, it seems (not a new thing for Tommy in New Jersey):
"I am thrilled and honored to have Johnny [MacLean] come back and be an assistant coach," Sutter said. "He bleeds New Jersey Devils. He played the game the way the game the needed to be played. Every night he put it all out there, and again he's someone that's huge for this staff."
"I wanted a guy that can be upstairs during the games, and to have someone like that you need someone with a real good knowledge of the game," said Sutter. "We needed someone that can come down and communicate things between periods to the staff and be a teacher on the ice during practice. I think Tommy fits all those needs perfectly, as far as what we were looking for."I wish the new coaching staff the best of luck in the coming season; I'm confident that it'll work out well. Good luck also to Laperriere in helping the development of defensemen down in Lowell - from what I understand, they need it.
Labels: 2007 Offseason
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Defending Colin White
I apologize for the long description of Colin White, but I feel it is always important to establish how a player actually plays as opposed to attacking him for what he is not. That wouldn't be fair nor prudent to this discussion.
Let's tackle the issue of his defensive play. Now, I think it's important to state that all players are going to have bad nights. Even Nicklas Lidstrom, arguably the best defenseman of this era, had nights where he finished a -4 and looked out of place. So if your main beef with Colin White is how he played poorly on March 14, 2007 against Pittsburgh (a crushing 3-0 loss that included a Jarkko Ruutu goal), I can't agree. You can't judge a player over one game.
Again, based on the amount of ice time he receives as well as the fact that he was part of a defensive unit that gave up only 28.4 shots on average per game (tied for 6th best in the NHL), you can't say the White consistently harms the team. Speaking of shots average per game, which I think is a good stat when looking at a team's defense, let's look at how the Devils did since 2000-2001 (White's first full season). Since 2000-2001, the Devils' defense allowed an average of 24.7 (2nd overall), 23.2 (2nd overall), 23.6 (1st overall), 24.4 (2nd overall), and 29.3 (10th overall) shots per game. The increase in average shots against can be attributed to the loss of Scott Neidermayer and the Devils adjusting to that very large loss on the blue line. I also think that perhaps the changes to the game since the lockout had an effect, as offenses became more open since 2005 (the season where the Devils let up an average of 29.3). My point is that Colin White was a second pairing defenseman on all of those teams and with increased ice time; the team defense letting more shots go through to Martin Brodeur can be attributed to other factors. Moreover, from what I've seen of the Devils, it's not Colin White who constantly misses coverages (unlike, say, Brad Lukowich) nor is he a turnover machine. White only had 44 giveaways last season (third behind Brian Rafalski's 80 and Paul Martin's 68). Related to what I stated earlier, White is a physical player, with two stats suggesting his use of his size helps on defense more than it harms: his team-leading 174 blocked shots (tied with Chris Phillips for 12th most in the NHL) and 168 hits (25th in the NHL, 48 more than 2nd place Erik Rasmussen). Overall, I'd say Colin White is a solid defensive defenseman who adds a physical element to a blueline that after White "boasts" Richard Matvichuk and Johnny Oduya in terms of big players (not to mention new signing Vitaly Vishnevski).
Now, you may agree with all that but what about the penalties? I'm not going to argue that White does not take stupid penalties. White definitely commits some infractions that makes my head scratch and wonder why any player would do something so obviously dumb. What I will argue is that White has improved significantly in this regard. In his first full season, White had 155 penalty minutes over 82 games - an average of roughly 1.89 minutes per game. Since then, White's penalty minute totals over his career have declined with each season: 133 minutes over 73 games in 2001-02 (1.82 minutes per game); 98 minutes in 72 games in 2002-03 (1.36 minutes per game); 96 minutes in 75 games in 2003-04 (1.28 minutes per game); 91 minutes in 71 games in 2005-06 (1.28 minutes per game); and 69 minutes in 69 games last season (1 minute per game). While dumb penalties are never good, White has made an effort to cut down on the total number of penalties (in minutes) he takes, which is definitely good. For example, last season's 69 minutes are bolstered by a particularly nasty December 14, 2006 game against Boston where White picked up 19 minutes in his only major and misconduct penalties of the season. Take that out and White actually averages less than a minute per game in penalties. So, no, I can't defend some of the stupid slashing and hooking (among other infraction) calls he takes; but White's been taking fewer penalties overall which hurts the team less in the long run. Will White continue to take fewer penalties? Maybe, but the fact that Colin White has improved this much in his career is a testament to the Devils' focus on discipline.
Lastly, we come to his contract. Supposed you fully agree with me that White's a solid defensive defenseman who is arguably the best physical presence on the Devils' blueline, that he's a second pairing defenseman who is improving his worth to the team by blocking shots, throwing hits, being positionally sound in general and even is taking fewer penalties with every season. Fine, but is he worth $3 million until he's 34 (White will turn 30 this coming season)? This is where things get a bit murky since you have to make comparisons at this point. Relative to the Devils alone, White is actually a bargain at $3 million/year, in my opinion. Again, he's the the best defensive defenseman on the team (unless someone would like to make the case for Richard Matvichuk) and the best at being physical (the shot blocking and hit stats support this). Since no one on the team seems to take over White's responsibilities and his role in the team in the near future, the smart thing to do was to give a long-term contract. $3 million/year for that seems fair, especially if White continues to give a solid 21-22 minutes a night while still playing like the big man that he is.
Relative to the general market, it depends on who is a good comparison with Colin White in terms of their role (2nd pairing defenseman, primarily defensive, etc.). Toni Lydman has comparable numbers in terms of blocked shots, hits, offensive numbers (OK, Lydman has more points, but by no means he's an offensive defenseman), and average time on ice. According to NHLSCAP, Lydman stands to make just under $3 million this coming season and just over $3 million per year in the next two seasons. Derian Hatcher is another big, physical defenseman with the exception that he plays on Philly's first pairing. While in the twilight of his career, Hatcher is making $3.5 million per year over the next two seasons. I rate Brad Stuart as being better than Colin White, but the two play similar styles and Stuart stands to make $3.5 million per year with LA. While you can argue that you can't compare White with any of these three, my point is that $3 million or a little more for a good second pairing-caliber defenseman or a physical, defensive defenseman is definitely not unheard of. In short, it's a defensible contract.
Anyway, I'm sure this won't convince some Devils fans who think Colin White is what's wrong with the Devils. However, I hope I convinced other Devils fans that Colin White is definitely not a bad defenseman, who is not an overpaid stiff, and is not a consistent penalty machine (though his decision making for some infractions are certainly worth questionining). Thanks to NHLSCAP for providing the Internet with salary information and NHL.com for all of the stats (going back to 2000-2001).
Labels: Devils Issues
Friday, July 20, 2007
Anyway, that's it for now. A few dead sites were removed, some other links have been added and fixed so until something happens soon, expect more of not much to happen here. All the Devils really need to do that is some priority is sign Zach Parise and Paul Martin. Maybe that will happen soon.
UPDATE THAT DOESN'T WARRANT A NEW POST: Ian Moran is now a member of the Devils organization. Thanks to Patricia at 2 Man Advantage for letting me know. This has to be another signing for Lowell. Moran is a bad defenseman who makes bad plays (right, Andrew?). In other minor-league defenseman news, Alex Brooks and Jim Fahey are no longer with the organization - also pointed out at 2MA. Where are they now? Well, a quick look for their player profiles at NHL.com reveals that Brooks is now with the St. Louis Blues and Fahey is a new member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Best of luck to the both of them in with their new organizations.
Labels: 2007 Offseason
Sunday, July 15, 2007
John Ferguson Passes Away
My condolences to the Ferguson family for their loss.
Friday, July 13, 2007
It's Sutter (Updated)
1. No-nonsense personality
2. History of winning. Winning as a player with the Islanders in 1982 and 1983, winning as a coach with Red Deer winning the WHL and Memorial Cup, and internationally winning with two World Junior Championship titles (as a coach, I assume).
3. He's a Sutter - which means grit and skill will be favored.
4. He's learned from legendary coach Al Arbour, whom Sutter played for during his time on Long Island.
5. No fear - how this is different from #3 is beyond me, but whatever.
No idea how well covered the press conference will be; but hopefully it'll just be to announce Sutter as the new head coach. I don't want any surprises or anything like that.
Labels: 2007 Offseason
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Cloud Nine in 1995
Labels: Hockey Movies
Lowell, Schedules, and Sutter?
Would Sutter be a good coach for the Devils? Consider the last really good coach for the Devils, Pat Burns - a tough, disciplinarian coach who demands defensive and offensive responsibility. Sutter is most definitely a tough coach, given his rep; and from what I understand he's all about discipline and defensive hockey. That alone would make him a decent fit, in my view based on what little I know of him. He's been very successful in the major junior leagues with Red Deer; but my one concern is how well he can transition to the NHL. Yes, he's a veteran - he is a Sutter after all - but coaching in the NHL is most likely a lot different from coaching in the WHL. I still think Pat Burns is the best man to coach this team; but I also understand that his health is preventing him from that - otherwise, he'd likely be named coach already. As far as whoever else was available, I think Sutter would be a better fit than other available personnel (e.g. Pat Quinn). Patricia has her own thoughts on these reports at 2 Man Advantage.
Labels: 2007 Offseason
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Vishnevski is Now a Devil
With this signing, the Devils' next moves, in my opinion, should be clear: sign Zach Parise and Paul Martin and hire a new coach. Once these steps are met, the roster may be ready - hopefully with plenty of room under the cap. There doesn't seem to be many viable options left on the free agency market - not a lot of talent at forward left, and the Devils have far too many defensemen to sign another one.
MORE INFORMATION UPDATE: TSN.ca confirms the deal, but provides more information. Vishnevski signed with the Devils for 3 years for a contract totalling $5.4 million. An average of $1.8 million (I think that's the salary cap hit?), and Vishnevski will earn $2 million each year in the next two years after this coming season. I guess the Devils see him as a #4 defenseman, otherwise I'd say that's a little much for someone who would be primarily on the third pairing. That said, I still think the spot is up for grabs.
Labels: 2007 Offseason
Friday, July 06, 2007
Back to more Devils-relevant issues, today was the last day to file for arbitration, if I'm not mistaken. The NHLPA website has the whole list of the 29 players who did file for salary arbitration. The good news is that no Devils have filed for arbitration. Since Zach Parise is a RFA coming off his entry level contract, only Paul Martin would be eligible and he did not file. No bad feelings, no forced contracts, no problem.
Now for some non-hockey news items: I have an essay posted at Interchangeable Parts about why I love hockey. In the future, I'll re-post it here (for my own reasons); but in the meantime, I suggest you go check it out over there. Though you probably read IPB everyday anyway.
Finally, I just want to say thanks to all of you for reading this blog. It's a great feeling knowing that you have readers from Moscow to Kobe, Hyogo to Edmonton, Canada to Bombay, Maharashta to Bogota (New Jersey). Thanks.
Labels: 2007 Offseason
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Devils Sign Kevin Weekes
$1.375 million over two years (I hope I'm reading the article right that it's $1.375 million over two year) for a quality back-up goaltending option is a great price. Even if Weekes sees less than 10 games in action, the Devils did not pay a lot for a solid insurance option; let's be realistic, if Brodeur goes down due to injury, the Devils are in serious trouble - period. If Weekes plays a relatively decent amount of games and does well in net, giving the best goaltender in the NHL more rest, then it's a great bargin.
What's more, Kevin Weekes' has his own website with his own (very catchy) theme song. (Someone on HFBoards pointed this out. Thanks.)
As an aside, if you need further proof as to why Lou Lamoriello is excellent at being a general manager, consider the past few days. He's addressed team needs by signing free agents without overpaying them - keeping Johnny Oduya, Karel Rachunek, Dainius Zubrus, and now Weekes. More amazingly, he's doing all this with a vacancy at the head coaching position - these guys are signing with New Jersey without knowing who will coach them in the coming season. That is simply astonishing, in my opinion.
Labels: 2007 Offseason
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Happy 4th of July
Happy Independence Day to all of you out there!
Enjoy the day, where ever you may be.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Devils sign Dainius Zubrus
ONE MORE THING: I can't believe I didn't figure this out sooner. Consider these lines:
See, what makes Patrik Elias special is that he can set up plays as well as being the finisher of plays. Suppose Zubrus centers Elias and Gionta. Elias can dictate the play while Gionta buzzes around the slot; Zubrus can more than complement that with his size along the boards or be used as an additional playmaker (not like Gomez where he was a solid playmaker first and foremost). Since Zubrus has centered a first line in Washington for two seasons, he can definitely handle the minutes and the workload - only he doesn't have to be the top guy on the line. He just needs to mesh well with Elias and Gionta, if he does I think that line will work wonders. Plus, the PZL line can remain together and effective with their already solid chemistry. The more I think about this, I like this signing more and more. Especially the contract - the Devils have well over $10 million in cap space remaining with this signing. Time to pay Parise and Martin!
Labels: 2007 Offseason
Signings: Rachunek, Janssen
Labels: 2007 Offseason
Monday, July 02, 2007
July 1 Aftermath
Now, I'd be lying if I said these moves does not hurt the Devils. The team's #1 center and their top playmaker is now the #1 center (well, maybe) for their biggest rivals; and the team's de factor #1 defenseman is now on Detroit's top 4. Those are two big holes that are not easy to fill. All the potential #1 centers in free agency were taken in day 1 and they all went to the Atlantic Division (Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Gomez). The defensemen free agency pool is stronger, but the only top end defensemen remaining is Sheldon Souray (who is terrible on defense) and Brad Stuart (who likely cannot replace Rafalski's offensive contribution as he is a defensive defenseman). For a list of who is remaining, James Mirtle's blog has a comprehensive list of remaining players.
At least the Devils signed Johnny Oduya. Therefore, the Devils have two priorities (three, since there is no head coach right now): a center who can play first-line minutes and a defenseman who can give 24-26 minutes of solid defense a night. The latter is easier to fix than the former. Paul Martin's average ice time last season was only 16 seconds under Rafalski's average of 25:29. Martin has improved over the course of last season on both defense and on the point; it is not inconceivable to expect him to step up his game for next season. Of course, if the Devils do that then they still need a defenseman - just not a top end player to replace Martin's spot. Then again, Oduya or Greene could take that spot leaving the Devils only needing a defenseman for depth and would not need a top player. That all said, if the Devils go and sign a top 4 capable defenseman, it would give them a lot more flexibility on how they want to set up their pairings - not to mention what to do when injuries occur.
Between the two, signing a center is more important in my opinion. The Devils do not have the depth currently to fill that first line position. Shifting Elias or Zach Parise to center after many successful seasons at left wing make no sense. Those two do their best on the wing, let them play there. Not to mention the requisite question of who would play left wing in such a scenario. Sergei Brylin definitely does not have the talent to be the first line center for a season, no one in Lowell can step up to be the first line center right away (and it wouldn't be fair to expect any of them to do so), and Travis Zajac is entering the second year of his career - forcing him to take a larger role could stunt his already-promising development.
While it's clear that the Devils got the shaft on July 1, there are some positives to all this. The first is history. When Bobby Holik signed with the Rangers for an astonishing $9 million per year contract, the thought was "oh no, the Devils are teh doomed." Clearly, this did not happen. When Scott Neidermayer signed with Anaheim, leaving Lou to get whoever was left on defense and force the Devils right up to the salary cap ceiling, the thought that the Devils would no longer be dominant. Two Atlantic Division titles in the last two seasons argue against that. My point is to take any reports of the Devils demise with a grain of salt - wait until January 2008 before lamenting. The second is cap space. Vladamir Malakhov (OK, Alexander Korolyuk), Alexander Mogilny, Gomez, and Rafalski are all off the books. I'm just guesstimating here, but that's at least $10 million in cap space the Devils are free to use. Free to sign Parise and Martin to long term deals and free to sign whoever they want (or whoever is left, rather) for almost any amount. The Devils could just sign an older center in the short term and in the near future have plenty of cap space to get a higher caliber player.
Contrast this with the Red Wings and the Rangers (especially the Rangers when you also consider Drury), who both over paid for each of these players. OK, Rafalski may be worth the money in the short term but he's 34. The deal is for five years, by the time he's 37 (and 38 and 39) will he still be worth that much? I have my doubts. Gomez is getting a hell of a lot of money for a guy who has had only one season with more than 80 points (and that year was the only one where he had more than 20 goals). Rangers fans should hope he meshes well with Jagr, otherwise he'll be a large liability to the team if only for the extensively large cap space he takes up.
Lastly, I just want to say the following: Rafalski and Gomez were unrestricted free agents. As much as you want to talk about lowballing or Lou not making a deal; ultimately it does not do any good to state what deal Lou should have offered. The unrestricted free agent ultimately makes the call as to where he wants to go. Both players got, in my opinion, some incredibly large contracts which are incredibly hard to pass up. Rafalski gets to play for the team he presumably liked when he was growing up in Michigan for a whole lot of money. Gomez gets far more money - which still shocks me considering how poor he was this last season - and does not have to move. If you need to "blame" someone for these moves, you might as well blame the players themselves - if you really can blame them.
That said, I fully expect and demand loud chorus of boos for Gomez during the 8 games they will play New Jersey next season. Unless he's playing poorly, then I want laughter.
Labels: 2007 Offseason