Friday, March 21, 2008


Sergei Brylin in Recent Seasons

Sergei Brylin is a versatile player. Need to fill in a spot on the top two lines? Brylin wouldn't look out of place. Need someone at right wing along with Jay Pandolfo and John Madden? Brylin can and has been there before. Inject the fourth line with a little more skill and two-way play? Brylin has no complaints doing so. Sarge has been with the team since 1995, present for all three Stanley Cups, and is currently the team's "iron man," with 319 straight games.

However, I find reason to believe that the 34 year old forward is becoming less effective than he usually is this season. I mentioned as such in Sunday's post on the Devils' prospects vis a vis Petr Vrana. In a rarity, someone left a comment - someone by the name anonymous wrote the following:
hey man, interesting post. But, what's this about Brylin's effectiveness dropping from month to month? his current salary may be a little high considering the cap, but the guy is a solid NHLer. No one on the Devils can play every forward like this guy, and doesn't complain when he plays 4th line. That's pretty valuable in itself. seems like every year someone out there says he's not effective.
This comment stuck with me for the past few days (Aside: And yours could to if you leave one! Seriously!). Not just because anonymous is legion and I don't want to cross him/her/them. I largely based that observation on the fact that I haven't noticed Brylin all that much this season. Was I right in my observation? Let's take a look at Sergei Brylin in recent seasons in a detailed (read: long) post. Just for your knowledge, I'm going as far back as the 2000-2001 season because it gives us a good idea of what Brylin was doing in the prime of his career back when he was 27. Also, it's as far back as I can go at Let's look at the numbers with the following table.

Last Seven Seasons of Brylin

The yellow highlights this season. There are two important conclusions that can be made. First, there's the production. Given that Brylin's role of a versatile forward had him play everywhere among the 12 forwards in the past 7 seasons, getting chemistry with a line and getting into a groove has been an issue. Despite this, Brylin has earned at least 10 goals in each of the past 6 seasons, taken at least 80 shots, and has scored 30 points except in the 2002-2003 season. As far as this season goes, it's possible he can crack double digits in goals if he gets hot right now. However, with 9 games left to play, Brylin is not going to pick up 14 points short of a torrid hot streak transforming into a Scoring Machine™. I don't think he is going to pick up 80 shots. A lot of this is due to his time on the fourth line this season; but given that Sutter has been changing the lines so much - even multiple times within the same game - Brylin has seen time with the scoring forwards this season. Even then, Brylin hasn't been a threat in terms of offense. It's one thing to have a down offensive season, when the puck isn't getting in the net. It's another thing when you're taking a lot less shots and therefore you can't come close to meeting past production levels. For this reason, I think it is valid to say he is becoming less effective in terms of production and of offense.

Now, I understand Brylin has largely been used in a checking role over the last few seasons, including this one. He's being used mainly on the third and fourth lines and he doesn't see too much special teams action. However, that leads me to the second important conclusion. Brylin is seeing a lot less of the ice this season than he has in the past 6. His average ice time this season is down 22.16% and his average shifts per game is down 24.74%. Brylin has played on the bottom two lines plenty of times over the past few seasons, but he's always had at least an average 15 minutes of playing time regardless of where he was slotted. These two charts graphically emphasize this point:

Average Ice Time of Brylin

Average Shifts of Brylin

Were Brylin as effective as a checker, he'd be getting more ice time. Yet, he is not. It's not that Brent Sutter has anything against Brylin. Look at Wednesday's game as an example; Brylin got over 15 minutes of ice time along with over 3 and half minutes on the power play. Brylin played fairly well and so he kept getting shifts. However, he has seen fewer shifts this season and less ice time. Even when he was primarily a checking forward in the last two seasons, he had more playing time. That his playing time has been reduced so much this season, it clearly suggests that Brylin is not as useful as he was - including last season. I do not think effective players do not see their average ice time drop 4 minutes compared to the last season. The 2000-2001 season, I'd like to point out, is an interesting one - where Brylin got fewer shifts on average than any season, yet he was incredibly effective with 23 goals and 29 assists. It shows effectiveness (and efficiency) to have not lot of playing time but still be very productive; but it's definitely a display of ineffectiveness if not a lot goes along with reduced minutes and shifts.

What's more is that the Devils have plenty of players who can and has played plenty on the fourth line role: Mike Rupp, Aaron Asham, Rod Pelley, and David Clarkson. The fact that Brylin is willing to play on the fourth line isn't as valuable as it once was. He's not the offensive player he once was, he's not taking nearly as many shots as he once did, and he can't be doing a really great job as a two-way forward otherwise he'd get more shifts and more ice time. It also doesn't favor Brylin when New Jersey can call up anyone from Lowell to play on that fourth line, such as Petr Vrana for example.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for Brylin to leave the team. I do appreciate what he has done for the team and his willingness to take on whatever role he is asked to play. I'm confident that he can still contribute to the team - just not as much as he once did. We must confront the brutal truth that Brylin is not getting any younger, he's not producing like he once was, and he's not getting the ice time and number of shifts he has gotten from the past 6 seasons. Therefore, I think the numbers validates my observation that Brylin's effectiveness is dropping. If you have any further questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to leave a comment.

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Alright, so I'm the anonymous guy who left the original comment...just too lazy to register a user name.

I want to make one thing clear: I really like your blog (wouldn't be commenting otherwise) and appreciate your posts, especially this one. There are a few points where I disagree though. If you look at Brylin's production, it depends more on the coach he's playing under than anything else. His best offensive year was playing for Robinson in the most offensive system the Devils have had since the early 90s. The fact that his idol, Slava Fetisov, was assistant coach didn't hurt either. Then he played in a defensive system for Burns who appreciated hard work more than anything else. Thus, his ice time stayed relatively the same, but production declined (because of the defensive system). Now he is playing on the least productive Devils team in my memory, with a coach who changes line combinations constantly. Sutter is also looking for offensive spark, and gives more ice time to purely offensive players, or younger players who are looking to make an impact. He has never been an impact player who can take over a game and is more of a jack of all traits, master of none, so in Sutter’s system this means less ice time.

Ultimately, I think if you do another graph, comparing overall team scoring to Brylin's, you will find that Brylin's production follows the team's overall production. If nothing else, this guy is a perfect reflection of the team. On an offensive minded team, I can see this guy easily scoring in the 20 goal range, even in his old age.

Thanks again for posting your blog, and for responding to my post!
Good analysis. I think while his production has decreased this year, he can still score goals (look at last nights game, even though the goal was taken away) and get scoring chances.

The Devils system just seems to choke the life out of offensive-minded players. While I don't necessarily think he can get 20 goals again, I think 15 goals and 20- 25 assists would be a nice season for him at this point in his career.

Thanks for the analysis though. Like the rest of the Devils, it has been a frustrating offensive year for the Devils.
Those are both fair points anonymous/LK and Mike; however, that's why I made a point of it to include the number of shots he's had.

Despite the Devils scoring only 205, 216, 213, 242, and 216 goals in the last 5 seasons; Brylin has been good for at least 10 goals. Yes, this team could barely crack 200; but it's not as if Brylin's drop in points is part of a team-wide drop. He's not even coming close to shooting as much, and that's why I disagree.

Taking shots is not a system (note: when have the Devils not played a defensive system? 2000-2001 is an outlier of scoring) or a coaching issue; that's a result of the player's own performance. Brylin's not taking or looking for chances for offense and a paltry 57 shots reflect this.

Also: I recognize that Brylin's role has primarily been a checker. But if he was as effective as that as he was even last season, he would not see a near-4 minute drop in average ice time.
Sarge has been a good player for the Devils, but after this season it is time to move on.

Lou needs to take that 1.5 mill that he makes and invest it in someone who can bring the Devs more offense from the forward or defense position.

After this season and it's incredible lack of scoring, sentimental value has to go out the window.
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