Saturday, May 31, 2008


Hitting Analysis of 2007-2008 Part 1

While I can't say I enjoy fighting in hockey, I do enjoy the hitting. The physical part of hockey is a part of what makes hockey so great and just by playing in the NHL, you have to be one tough player. You literally have to battle other people for position, for the puck along the corners, and to even make a statement - all through the medium of body checking. Big hits can change the momentum of a game, or at least provide a cool highlight for the fans of the player who threw the hit. But checking into the boards after a loose puck or those little pushes in front of the net can become important in terms of getting an advantageous position or even puck possession, so they count too.

If you were concerned that the Devils didn't have enough physical players last season; then you were likely pleased with what happened last offseason when the Devils signed Vitaly Vishnevski and Aaron Asham; you probably enjoyed seeing David Clarkson getting a regular spot on the roster; you may have applauded the decision to bring in Bryce Salvador in for the benched Cam Janssen; and you appreciated Brent Sutter's idea for a majority of offensive attacks to consist of dumping-chasing-and-then-battling-along-the-boards for the puck to some degree. Basically, from what we saw on a game to game basis, the Devils were a more physical team due to who they signed and how they played.

Hits are a bit tricky to measure. As it states in Hockey Analysis statistics section, hits are a real time super stat which are often left up to the scorekeeper as to whether something is or is not a hit. Given that every arena has a different scorekeeper, some are more generous and some less generous. Hockey Analysis rectifies this by adjusting the stats. And we should like their adjusted numbers as they show the New Jersey Devils to have a higher total of hits than any other team in the league. I am not making this up. The adjusted numbers at Hockey Analysis state that New Jersey likely truly had 1729 hits.

However, I can't really just leave it at that, as nice and easy it would be to do. While I admit that subjectivity does play a role in counting hits at games, I am going to use those numbers from the scorekeeper for hits anyway. They are what is officially recorded in the boxscores and at and I really can't justify any adjustment or metric to be fully accurate - especially involving multiple seasons and players who only played part of the season with New Jersey. Even if I watched 186 games over the last three seasons again and counted it myself, there'd still be questions as to whether the counts are accurate (not to mention that this would take forever). So there we are. We are also going to assume that if you're in the act of hitting somebody, you're being physical. Granted, you can be physical by taking hits - but that could also be done by not being particularly aware of the opposing skaters.

In any case, the first thing I looked at is who had how many hits for the Devils in the past 3 seasons. I chose the last 3 seasons because I'm still able to look at game reports and super stats for individual games as far back as 3 seasons ago to find out how many hits a Devil had before (or after) they became a Devil. Now, I did my best with this, and I know my 2007-2008 and 2006-2007 totals are valid due to Hockey Analysis coming up with the same totals in 2007 and 2008. That said, if you find anything wrong with this, please let me know so I can correct it and adjust my own conclusions. That all said, here comes two carts. First is for the players, second are the totals:

Devils Hits by Player since 2005

(Note: Those red triangles? Those are for players who didn't play the full season with New Jersey.)

Hit Totals by Season

Now, these two charts tell us three things right off the bat. The first is that the Devils have had more hits this recent season than in the prior two seasons. This is true both in totals and in hits per player. So if you wished for the 2007-2008 Devils to be a more actively physical team, it came to true. The second is that the Devils have accomplished this with a much smaller roster. That doesn't say so much about the team's physical play, but it says quite a bit about the players the Devils used this past season. They only had 4 players for spot duty, as everyone else played a fair amount of games. In the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the number of players who got a "cup of coffee" with New Jersey was larger. Sutter seemed generally comfortable with who was on the active roster, and injuries didn't rock the team so much to the point where they had to call up players for a significant amount of time.

Anyway, the third thing is shown when you break it down to average number of hits per player. While some players on the team had fewer hits, like Colin White registering 62 fewer hits and Jamie Langenbrunner finding the body 22 fewer times (yes, I know they were out until mid-November, but it's still a big decrease in hits), the new players and the team overall has picked up the checking slack to a new high. While we hoped he produced more points, Brian Gionta did put on 22 more hits than the prior season. Travis Zajac had a season dominated by a sophmore slump except in hits, as he earned 20 more hits. Zach Parise doubled his hit totals from 37 to 76. John Oduya and Patrik Elias had some gains as well. However, those who were already regulars prior in 2007-2008 did see a drop in hits. Those who really put the Devils to new heights in hits who became regulars (free agents, prospects moving up) for the Devils in 2007-2008.

Hitting between Old and New Regulars in 2007

This confirms the physical play of Clarkson and Vishnevski being paramount. They both lead the Devils in hits in first and second, respectively. While Aaron Asham wasn't particularly great, he definitely brought the pain for 82 hits and it surprised me to learn that Dainius Zubrus got 77. Rod Pelley didn't stick for the whole season, but he played enough on the fourth line as a checking center, in both senses of the term. The rest of the new defensemen round out the list.

So these numbers show that the Devils have more hits both in total and in average. Why were these gains made? Well, this third chart shows that the new players have made a significant contribution. They represent just under half of all hits by the Devils, they include the two leaders in hits by the team, and they are largely physical players. With the percentage of hits from each player in this season being more spread out, that would be a result of the new style of play that Brent Sutter had the Devils utilize - with more physical battles along the boards on offense. The numbers in this manner, I think, help confirm what we may of originally thought.

That concludes part 1. Just like with what I did for the Devils' shooting numbers, part 2 of this will look at how often the Devils when they outhit their opponents. From there, I will attempt to determine whether there is a connection between winning and hits. If you have any questions, complaints, or insights, please let me know so I can make these attempts better.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008


RIP Luc Bourdon

Luc Bourdon, a top prospect in the Vancouver Canucks system, has unfortunately died in a motorcycle accident this morning. The NHL, future prospects at the NHL combine, and the Vancouver Canucks are in mourning over the sudden death of the 21 year old man.

My condolences, thoughts, and prayers to the Bourdon family, Luc's friends, and the Canucks organization. Rest in peace, Luc.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Memorial Day 2008


Before gearing up to your barbecues, your trips, your beaches, your parties, your hootenanny's, your shindigs, your flings, your etceteras, and, of course, tonight's Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, please consider that it is Memorial Day. Today, take some time to consider and remember the brave folks currently serving military, the brave people who served in our military, and especially those who have paid the ultimate price for their service.

If you want to consider further showing your support, there are multiple organizations such as Soldiers Angels which exist to help support our military abroad all over the world. And if you're wondering whether there are any blogs or other sites made by veterans and current soldiers, there are plenty of sites like that such as Blackfive and Milblogs.

And if you are in the military and reading this site, thank you. I wish I could say it better than this, but all the same, thank you.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


The 2008 Stanley Cup Finals Begin Today

Today! 8 PM (in Eastern Standard Time)! Versus! In HD! The Pittsburgh Penguins go to visit the Detroit Red Wings for Game 1 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals! It should prove to be an exciting system. What are the top stories at The Penguins believe in their system - a 1-2-2 system, to be precise. Hmm. I wonder who they got that idea from? The Red Wings will still be without The Mule. Storylines? There's plenty of them. You got age versus experience ( You got Marian Hossa being more than useless in the playoffs (Fanhouse). You got early 90s dominance against late 90s dominance (Fanhouse...again). Even the Star Ledger has taken notice, with Steve Politi dreaming about the halcyon days of 2003 at East Ruthersford where the Devils won their third Stanley Cup and the Nets lost to a second superior team in the NBA Finals.

Previews and breakdowns are all over the place, with attempts to answer to questions. Who's got the better forwards, defensemen, and goaltending? Who's got the better coach? Who's got the better arena? Who's got the better mayor? And that's all just at Puck Daddy. NHL Fanhouse will be live-blogging Game 1. Maybe IPB will do the same; should they get their ghost issues sorted out. Anyway, Mirtle has the best preview because it's the one I agree with most (Aside: Check out Mirtle's site for mad numbers, just keep scrolling). To underestimate the importance of Nicklas Lidstrom is very foolish. There's reason he's a perennial Norris candidate, almost to the point where after he retires, there could even be a small movement get the trophy named the Nicklas Lidstrom Trophy for Most Outstanding Defenseman. He's not flashy, he's just commanding of the ice and incredibly consistent in his excellence. Should Detroit win the series - and I think they will - Lidstrom will be a main factor for the Red Wings' success. Of course, the eventual return of Johan Franzen will definitely help.

In the meantime, check out the best playoff hockey commercial I've ever seen. Great job, NHL Marketing! (hat tip: Puck Daddy)

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Friday, May 23, 2008


Finals and More Possible Signings

First, some self-promotion. I was asked for a brief sentence by Jeff Klein of Slap Shot about whether the NHL playoffs drag on too long. I don't agree with that sentiment if only because more hockey is better than less hockey. I understand that the delay for the Stanley Cup Finals to begin is a big deal, but a little patience never hurt anyone. Though it could lead to some head scratching postings on some blogs. Seriously, NY Times, a conspiracy theory that the Red Wings-Penguins final was helped about by the refs? The Philadelphia Flyers organization has a reputation of being penalty minute machines for a reason; they generally provide good reason for referees to award them minors. (Aside: Whether that reputation actually reflects the numbers is something I may look into in the future; but my point - and their rep - retains.)

Still, because the Finals are a marquee matchup doesn't mean it was done improperly. These two teams have done the best in the playoffs this year by far and they have clearly earned their trips to the finals. Just like Carolina and Edmonton in 2006; and Ottawa and Anaheim last year. The Detroit Red Wings will be without The Mule for Game 1, but it should an excellent series against the Pittsburgh Penguins all the same.

More Devils offseason information is coming about. From the NY Post's Sports Shorts, the Devils are looking to re-sign Bryce Salvador. He looked pretty good in the few games he did play for New Jersey. While he is not fast and won't provide much offense - save for the fluke from the neutral zone - he's a physical veteran defenseman who can play in that #4 spot if need be. I would like to see how Salvador does in a full season. Hopefully, he still has enough in him to provide a good full season. From Gulitti we learn that the Devils do not necessarily have to sign Alexander Vasyunov and Vladamir Zharkov to retain their rights. But they do have to sign Kirill Tulupov by June 1 to keep him in the Devils organization. Given what Jared Ramsden had to say about Tulupov; he's not a bad prospect. OK, so he may not be a big minute defenseman; but he's big and can bring the pain and positional coverage on a third pairing - and maybe at a #4 spot if he continues developing. Echoing Ramsden's analysis; I'd be surprised if the Devils would let Tulupov go back to the draft. Here's hoping he gets signed over the next few days.

Lastly, I've gotten a bunch of e-mails asking whether they can link to here. You don't need to ask; you can add ILWT as you wish. Even if it's not even a sports site. I'll be cool with it, for the most part.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008


Brookbank & Mottau Return

And we finally have some news coming out of New Jersey. Tom Gulitti is reporting that Sheldon Brookbank and Mike Mottau will return in Devils colors, having signed new deals with the team. Brookbank has signed for $500,000 per year for two years and Mottau has signed for $750,000 per year for two years.

To be honest, as depth or third-pairing defensemen, this is a good idea and a good bargain. Over half of the 9 from last season were free agents and now there will be some general stability from last season on the blueline. Brookbank played 44 games last season; and Mottau was a regular for the first time in his career - 76 games with New Jersey and all 5 playoff games. Granted, both weren't spectacular; but they were serviceable enough. I'd say that their contracts are fair; and keeping them around won't hurt the team.

That said, it wouldn't be a bad idea to add a free agent defenseman. With a 27.5 shots against per game average, ranking eighth best in the league, the Devils defense was definitely better than the sum of their parts. This is largely due to the emergence of Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya as solid defensemen and Colin White continuing to play well in spite of his eye injury. Still, the top four is Martin-Oduya, White, and...maybe Mottau? Given the Devils' poor shooting and their lackluster offense, signing a more offensive-minded defenseman who can play on that second pairing and has a strong shot at the point could result in some more gains for New Jersey. We would see improvements on special teams - particularly on a power play that needs it - and at the same time get someone who has more experience in that role than Mike Mottau.

Considering the list of prominent unrestricted free agents at Spector's, there's some viable options on defense. The Devils have quite a bit of cap space, so the money is there even if they want to go after a big name, first-pairing calibur defenseman like Wade Redden. And let me tell you, from what I've seen of him, I think Redden would fit all of these needs and make the Devils a much better team. He'll be popular come July 1st, so the Devils should also consider taking a look at John-Michael Liles or Brian Campbell. Even though both are not as defensively strong as I'd like, if Devils defense from last season can still be fairly good with Brookbank, Andy Greene, Karel Rachunek, and Vitaly Vishnevski being rotated in and out of the line up, then I wouldn't anticipate the blueline from becoming bad with an addition of a more offensively talented defenseman for next season.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008


Pelley, Greene, and John Carlson

Jared Ramsden at Hockey's Future has two articles up focusing on the Devils' rookies and prospects in Lowell. As you know, there were three rookies playing a substantial amount of time for the Devils this past season: David Clarkson, Andy Greene, and Rod Pelley. I agree with Ramsden that Clarkson is set as a regular for this team. He may not be the next Randy McKay or the next Claude Lemieux; but he's definitely a physical, agitating presence that's useful for the team.

Greene and Pelley will definitely have to work hard to earn their spots once again. I think the Devils will exercise some more patience with Greene. Defensemen traditionally require more experience to pick up the way to play proper defense at the NHL level when it comes to timing, decision making, and positioning. There are a few examples right now on New Jersey. It took Paul Martin until this season to become a consistent top-end defenseman; Johnny Oduya was much better this season than in his first NHL season; Colin White needed a few seasons before becoming more than just a physical defensemen. I don't think Greene will become a top 2 defenseman; but if he works at it, he may be solid regular yet. It also helps that more than half of the Devils' 9 defensemen from this past season aren't necessarily staying in New Jersey.

With the emergence of Petr Vrana, Rod Pelley has more competition for a spot on the team. Vrana is being hailed as the next Sergei Brylin or at least plays a game like him. Vrana was consistent for Lowell according to Ramsden and you can be sure he'll be in training camp until the end. Aside from Vrana, the only other rather talented prospect in the Devils system right now seems to be Nicklas Bergfors. And Bergfors isn't going to go to NJ unless there's a spot on a scoring line that's open. Given New Jersey's offensive woes, maybe one will be open for next season. All that aside, if Brylin doesn't return, expect a fight in training camp between Pelley and Vrana for spot on the team as a checking forward. Pelley did play in that role decently enough last season, but he may have to end up proving that point once again this coming September.

Speaking of prospects, I checked out the ISS Top 30 at Hockey's Future and their 21st rated prospect is defenseman John Carlson. Josh mentioned him in a comment - he's local (Colonia), he's big (6'2", 212 lbs.), and he's got a shot. I did a little digging on him. He's been a productive threat from the point in Indiana in the United States Hockey League; and Carlson is going to become a Minuteman next season. From NHL Entry Draft 2008, we can learn that he favors the Devils, and he skates real well for a big man according to Jack Barzee from Central Scouting. College bound, Devils fan, and a big d-man who can skate and shoot? Sign him up, Lou! I would be very happy if the Devils draft Carlson. The Devils draft philosophy has always been drafting the best player available; so here's hoping he's still around at the 21st overall pick.

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Friday, May 16, 2008


Performance Bonuses

A few days ago, In Lou We Trust reader Don had a question for me:
with regard to the cap, for players who are 35 or older, if/when those players have a base salary with incentives such as i believe that shanahan had with the rangers, if the base salary were, say 2.5M and had another 2.5 in incentives, how much counts against the cap when the contract is signed?...and if the incentives were met in their entirely would the cap hit go up?...and in which year,the season just played or the following season?...and if were in the year that was just played, what would happen if the incentives brought the team over the cap?...i know it is a tricky issue, so much so that lou, who was responsible for its acceptance and implementation forgot about the 35 year old an up multi-year"wherever and whether he plays" situation
Well, according to NHLSCAP's salary cap FAQ, the short answer is that performance bonuses do count against the salary cap. However, they only count for one season and while the contract bargaining agreement allows for up to a 7.5% increase in the cap for bonuses, that amount is reduced from the cap for that team in the next season. So any bonuses for Brendan Shanahan counts and his $2.5 million cap hit according to NHLSCAP reflects that. I do not know what his bonuses are, so I don't know how much of an extra hit will that cost the Rangers - assuming they did go over with the bonuses to any players.

To be honest, I don't think Lou has forgotten about this clause. Should Lou go after a free agent like Mats Sundin - someone who would be a #1 center on the team, who is over 35, and is a viable target for the Devils - you can be sure this would into play when it comes to making him an offer. Don't scoff at me. He may be getting up there, but he still was a point per game player (78 in 74) and led a bad Toronto team in scoring by quite a bit (22 points more than Nik Antropov). With 32 goals and 46 assists, Sundin's still got "it." His salary for Toronto last season was $5.5 million. The Devils could get him for a similar price; but with performance bonuses, he could be had for a lower base salary. If he hits his bonuses, he's clearly benefiting the team. If not, the Devils save a little money. It's a good tactic, from a management standpoint, and you can expect Lou to utilize it should he make an offer to Sundin or someone like Sundin.

Thank for your questions, Don! And for everyone else, if you e-mail me a question, I may just answer it here.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008


Devils out of WCs

Well, scratch three Devils and one assistant coach out of the 2008 IIHF World Championships. While the United States beat Norway to the tune of 9-1, they could not beat Finland in the quarterfinals as they lost 3-2 in overtime. In the Norway beatdown, Zach Parise picked up a goal and an assist and Paul Martin picked up a goal as well. Both Devils were held pointless in the Finland game, just playing quite a few minutes instead. In the case of the Czech Republic, two straight losses - 5-3 in the qualification round and 3-2 in the subsequent playoff - to Sweden did them in. Elias scored a goal and earned an assist in the qualification loss, but got nothing in the playoff loss.

So, here is your summary of the WCs by the numbers for Devils:

Zach Parise - 7 games, 5 goals, 3 assists, 2 PIM, +1, 28 shots on net, 19:31 avg. ice time/game.
Paul Martin - 7 games, 1 goal, 7 assists, 0 PIM, +2, 8 shots on net, 21:50 avg. ice time/game.
Patrik Elias - 7 games, 6 goals, 3 assists, 6 PIM, -3, 29 shots on net, 18:14 avg. ice time/game.

Not a bad effort from all three players. They were important players on their team and they were quite productive. Good job, too bad none of them will compete for a medal this year. The relegated teams are Slovenia and Italy, they will be replaced by Division I winners Austria and Hungary for the 2009 World Championships in Switzerland. The semi-final matchups are Russia versus Finland and Sweden versus Canada. Best of luck to all four teams. I guess I have to pull for Canada if only for Pat Burns. Given that they have the home ice advantage and their team is more than quite talented, they should be favored to compete for the gold.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008


Crucial WC Update

The United States lost to Finland 3-2 in the qualification round this evening. Here is a link to the IIHF article about the game, which ended in a mess. Take a note of this section:
Finland got on the board when Ville Koistinen scored on the first power play off a feed from Saku Koivu. The goal was a game changer as the momentum carried over to the Finnish side.

There is something seriously wrong with this, but you wouldn't know it from the initial report. You see, Koistinen put it in through the side of the net. Not across the goal line; but through the outside bottom part of the net. A very odd play and even someone who doesn't know anything about hockey would say that's not a goal. Let Kevin Schulz of the NHL Fanhouse explain the stupidity of the IIHF officiating:
Let's review:
  1. The puck went through the side of the net.
  2. The play was reviewed.
  3. Video revealed that the puck really did go through the side of the net, which negates the goal.
  4. The play was ruled a goal.
He's not making it up. It was reviewed and it still counted. Proof positive that IIHF referees are even worse than MLS referees and that guy who does your local competitive sport league. The IIHF article now has this note at the end:
NOTE: The IIHF formally acknowledged after the game that Koistinen's shot had, indeed, entered the side of the net and should not have counted, and the video-goal judge will not be working for the rest of the tournament.
That's nice that they are owning up to the error, too bad it completely changed the complexion of the game. Should it have been called right, the US may have come out of this with a win. Instead, it's a loss, Paul Martin got an assist, and Zach Parise only got a minor penalty. What about before then? Well, Paul Martin got two assists but he shouldn't be pleased with his defense nor would the team when USA Hockey beat Germany 6-4. Zach Parise has much to be pleased about, with 2 goals and an assist.

Patrik Elias has remained fairly productive with a goal and an assist in a 5-0 win over Switzerland. He didn't pick up any points in a 3-2 win over Belarus; but he responded with a goal and an assist in a 5-3 loss to Sweden. Elias and Tomas Kaberle have been making things happen for the Czech Republic, I must say. In that Sweden game, I notice he only got 1:31 of ice time in the third on the stat sheet. I hope that doesn't mean he was injured.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008


If Only They Could Get Younger...

The Devils are not a team that rebuilds in the traditional way. They sign players to fill holes or make improvements when they appear (e.g. Brian Rafalski) and generally look ahead for eventual players that fit their style (e.g. Jamie Langenbrunner) or can be groomed to fit their style (e.g. John Madden). It's one of the reasons why they have remained such a successful franchise since 1994. It's why they've had a continuing core of players with some shifts in position. Stevens and Neidermayer, then Rafalski was added and it has since given way to White and Martin. The older generation had John MacLean, Bobby Holik, Claude Lemieux, Randy McKay; and since then we've seen the rise of Patrik Elias, John Madden, the addition of Jamie Langenbrunner, and Jay Pandolfo. The constants since then being Martin Brodeur in net and Sergei Brylin playing somewhere at forward. Granted, that may not be a complete lineage nor is it equal in talent (I really do wish the 1995 versions of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer would show up, but alas, it is not to be.) However, there's something I feel I need to point out:

The Devils are starting to get old. Especially with it's core forwards. Consider who is on the Devils roster by the end of this past season. This your Devils line-up by age (apologies for any inaccurate pairings):

Parise (23) - Elias (32) - Langenbrunner (32)
Pandolfo (33) - Madden (35) - Gionta (29)
Zubrus (29) - Rupp (28) - Clarkson (24)
Brylin (34) - Zajac (22) - Asham (30)
Extras: Pelley (23)

Oduya (26) - Martin (27)
White (30) - Mottau (30)
Salvador (32) - Brookbank (27)
Extras: Vishnevski (28), Rachunek (28), Greene (25)

Brodeur (36)
Weekes (33)

There's nothing wrong with having a veteran-laden squad. The Detroit Red Wings have been and continue to succeed with such a lineup over the last few seasons; and are currently showing that they are still a dominant team. And for some players, like Brodeur, age really is just a number for a few more years. However, in general, many hockey players hit their prime by age 26 through 31 or 32. Usually by that age, they know what they can do, they are developed in a role, and they can maximize their talents both physically and mentally. For whatever reason, when an athlete hits their mid-30s, they start to become less effective. Maybe it's all the wear and tear they've built up starts taking more of a toll on themselves and they can't do what they used to as well. Maybe they can't harness their talent as they once could. It varies for everyone, I think. As we've seen with Sergei Brylin, players generally become less effective past their prime. Hence, the cliche.

In any case, I feel I need to point this out not to cause alarm, to freak anyone out, or to call for Lou to dump the team and stock it with fresh prospects and draft picks. This isn't HF Boards. You always need experienced players to be successful. Moreover, if someone can still be effective, then by all means, they should be on the ice regardless of age (e.g. Chris Chelios). That said, I am pointing this out because over the next few seasons the Devils core will need to be changed again. Elias, Madden, Pandolfo, and Langenbrunner are not getting younger and their eventual replacements will need to be considered. Zach Parise is already part of that core, I think, and so could Travis Zajac if he rebounds from his recent season-long slump. The defense isn't so bad; it needs stability moreso than younger talent. It also needs signed players, as I believe 5 of the 9 are free agents. Regardless, the "future" of White, Martin, and (yes) Oduya aren't exactly young guys - they are in their primes right now. As for Brodeur? Well, we have seen Patrick Roy (excellent through age 37) and Dominik Hasek is still going strong at age 43 - and both are legendary goaltenders. There's no reason to believe that Brodeur - a legendary goaltender himself - will suddenly fall from grace now that he's 36. But since he's the foundation of the team; he too cannot play forever.

The next few seasons are going to be interesting to see how the Devils organization acts to keep the Devils a contending team in the NHL. What they do in this offseason could become crucial, with respect to who they draft, who they sign (prospects and current NHL players), and what they do in preseason. This summer could play a large role of whether they remain among the best or slip down to requiring an actual rebuilding period in 5 years from now.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008


World Championships & Draft Update

The qualification round for the 2008 IIHF World Championships ends tonight. The last few games - France vs. Belarus and Norway vs. Germany - will go on tonight. That means the Devils involved in the WCs are pretty much done. Here is how they are doing.

Patrik Elias - Elias is having a very strong WC for the Czech Republic at left wing. Yes, he's on the left and he's getting the points after a pointless night in a 5-2 win over Denmark. A very rare hat trick in a 4-5 loss against Russia is his big highlight, made even more amazing when you consider all three goals were power play goals. Where was that Elias all season? Well, I shouldn't say that, the Czech Republic squad is a bit more talented and balanced than New Jersey. Elias also picked up a goal and an assist in a 7-2 win over an Italy squad featuring defenseman Michele Strazzabosco and goaltender Guenther Hell. I don't know if they're good; but their names are world class. Anyway, Elias is the team's third leading scorer behind Radim Vrbata (4 G, 2 A) and Tomas Kaberle (6 A).

Karel Rachunek - Actually, I screwed this up. He was invited according to Gulitti; but he's not on the roster. So he's not in the WCs. To correct this egregious error I will...apologize. I'm sorry.

Paul Martin - Martin had a great first game against Latvia, contributing 3 assists and leading the squad in minutes in the team's 4-0 win. Martin continued rolling by being the USA minute leader with 20:29 against Slovenia/Team ANZE and put up an assist in the 5-1 win. His minute total was upped to 22:31 against Canada, but he ended up a -2 in the close 5-4 loss to the home side. Still, the fact that he is getting so many minutes is proof that the team trusts him being The Guy on defense and the assists are further proof of his contribution.

Zach Parise - Parise' run so far is a little quieter. He got a power play goal against Latvia, got nothing against Slovenia, and he put up a goal and an assist against Canada. I sure wish he could play with the likes of Dustin Brown, Jason Pominville, and/or Pat Kane on a more regular basis. Lou, make it happen! (Just kidding.) In any case, the staff must like those Devils - Parise has been the leading forward in time on ice in all three games.

Pat Burns - The assistant coach for Canada had this to say at TSN (hat tip: Devils HFBoards) about rumors to go elsewhere to be a head coach again:
"The press knows more than I do, because I certainly don't know anything," he explained. "That's all going to depend on who's talking to me and what it's all about. You don't jump at the first job because somebody calls you up. It has to be the right situation. I've heard Ottawa, Tampa and Miami - I've heard them all. What's important is that I'm happy working with the Devils. If that situation comes, they have to talk to Lou first and I would sit down and talk to him about it because I really trust his judgement."
"They have to talk to Lou first..." PERFECT.

Other WC Things to Note: Dany Heatley currently leads the tournament in scoring with 6 goals and 4 assists. Sweden lost to Switzerland in an international tournament - and Tommy Salo was nowhere on the rink. Your group winners are Switzerland (A), Canada (B), Finland (C), and Russia (D). The rest should move on save for some movement in groups A and C. Your regulation fighters will be fully determined tonight; but Slovenia and Italy are already guaranteed to be there.

NHL DRAFT: Thanks to Montreal failing against Philadelphia and San Jose failing against Dallas; the Devils will now have the 21st spot overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Tom Gulitti, proving that he is The Guy among Devils reporters, even explains how the draft positioning is set up for this season. I don't know much about the prospects for the draft other than A) there are a lot of good prospective defensemen and B) Tampa Bay has pretty much revealed who they will take at #1. This is interesting because as recent as 2005, I was pretty much in tune with who could go in the first round and hoping that the Devils would draft Mike Green based on what I read about him. Alas, it was not to be (sigh). So if you have some thoughts or opinions on what the draft class looks like or who you think the Devils should go after, let me know. I really am interested at who may be available at 21st.

SHOOTING ANALYSIS: Check the sidebar under Attempts at Analysis. Short version: be smarter on the ice when you shoot, Devils! You'll likely score and win more!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Martin Brodeur is 36 as of yesterday. This should be a good 36th year for him; he's got a good chance at breaking the wins record.

CONFERENCE FINALS PREVIEWS: NHL Fanhouse has your previews. Pat Lackey has the goods on the Battle of Pennsylvania in the East. Bruce Ciskie has what you need to know about Dallas vs. Detroit in the West. Both series should be exciting. Dallas is playing some strong hockey and could provide more of a challenge for Detroit than, say, Colorado. Then again, Detroit is committed for this year and leading the charge is The Mule (ASIDE: In sports, nicknames have given way to shortened names or initials. Johan Franzen has a proper nickname
and other players, pundits, and fans should take note. It's not JF or J-Franz or Franz Ferdinand or Art Rock. It's The Mule and it's a good nickname). If you want stats, Mirtle has quite a bit - keep on scrolling down. My picks? Expect Pittsburgh in the East because Philadelphia has to uphold their tradition of failing since 1976; and expect Detroit in the West because they are on fire right now. Expect an awesome Stanley Cup Finals, is what I'm saying.

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Monday, May 05, 2008


Devils Accuracy Analysis of 2007-2008

Well, after 82 games and a lot of dithering, I have found some impressive figures involving the Devils and their shooting accuracy. Before I go into this really, really long post on accuracy, I would like to explain what it is that I'm doing, for those who have not read earlier posts on this matter.

As a Devils fan, it's easy to notice that the Devils don't score many goals. there are many possibilities for this. The Devils may not have talented enough players to finish plays. The Devils have horrific luck against goaltenders (somewhat true against backups, bizzarely enough. The system isn't designed to score goals. It's because you didn't wear your lucky underwear during the game. And so on and so forth. I believe that a lot of it has to do with how the Devils shoot. Wayne Gretzky famously said that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take. Well, you also don't score on 100% of the shots that don't reach the net.

Therefore, I've been recording the shots on net, missed shots, and blocked shots counts from the Event Summaries of every Devils game from One set by the Devils, and one set by their opponent. There are numerous shortcomings in doing this. First, stats like missed and blocked shots can be quite subjective. A scorekeeper may regard a tipped shot that goes wide as missed, blocked, or neither. I do not know how to adjust for those values outside of guessing, so for the purposes of this analysis, we must assume them to be correct. Second, the blocked shot statistic refers to shots blocked by the opposition. This makes sense. But what of shots that are blocked by their own team? Countless times have we seen a Devils defenseman wind-up for a slapshot only to have the puck hit a Devils' leg or skate and go awry. I have not counted how many times this has happened to New Jersey and nothing by the scorekeeper in the published stats that I have found accounts for this. Therefore, we must, unfortunately and unrealistic as it is, ignore this. Third, I am only comparing the Devils to their opponents. While it would be interesting and enlightening to do this for all 30 teams over the past 3 seasons (including this one) and see where New Jersey ranks among with them; the process of collecting all that data would be an extensive project that I'm not willing to undertake at this juncture. Sorry. Fourth, I am only looking into the regular season - the playoffs are far too short, I think, for any full analysis. Fifth, I am operating on this crucial assumption:

A shot on net, a blocked shot, and a missed shots are all attempts to get the puck on net. The accuracy of these shots is the number of shots on net out of the number of total attempts made to get it on net.

Should a shot be blocked or miss the net, the goal was not reached. For missed shots this makes sense. Yes, opposing players could make a play on their own - or get lucky enough to be in the way - but should a shot be blocked, it likely wasn't a good attempt to begin with. With that all of these assumptions and shortcomings admitted to early, let's get into it. The main answers we are seeking are just how accurate the Devils have been this season in shooting, how this compares with their opponents, and whether or not this means anything.

Let's cut through the suspense. The "too long; didn't read" table is right here and it proves that, yes, accuracy does mean something with respect to this past season.

Devils Accuracy VS. Opponents

Right there is some amazing stuff. The Devils only were more accurate than their opponents 30 times this season; but they won 22 of those games! Yes, I'm sure there are some shootout wins in there; but in those 22 times out of the 30, the Devils have at least scored as many or more than the opposition to get the full two points. A remarkable winning percentage of 73.3% when the Devils are more accurate than their opponents. That is proof positive that superior accuracy may have something to do with winning hockey games. However, it is equally shocking that this occurred only a few times in the 2007-2008 season. Yes, the Devils did win 24 games whilst being less accurate; but 22 out of 30 really does suggest that they may have an easier time getting Ws when their rate of shots go on net is better than their opponents. It suggests a better offense - shots hitting the net at a better rate - as well as a better defense, forcing the other team to take bad shots and/or get in front of more of them. Unfortunately, over the whole season, opponents has had the more accurate offense.

Regular Season Totals

With this chart, you will notice a few things. The Devils make many more attempts at shots on net than their opponents; but their opponents make more out of those fewer attempts. The Devils missed the net 121 more times than the opposition. The opposition got 170 more blocks on New Jersey's attacks. While the Devils have gotten more shots on net than their opponents, they aren't as efficient or accurate as their opponents have been over a whole season. This could be due to a number of reasons. With a world-class, legendary goaltender in net for New Jersey, opponents may be more likely to try and take the best shots they can get. Combined with a relatively weaker and more inexperienced defense this season, and opponents could look for those better opportunities to try and beat Martin Brodeur. Likewise, opponents who love to collapse in the slot found many opportunities to throw off shooters - or outright block them - as the New Jersey took many shots from the point and outside of the slot. Based on this chart alone, we can see some areas of improvement for New Jersey. The Devils defenders could certainly do a better job of getting in front of pucks, for starters. The Devils could also learn to stop forcing shots through traffic, which could cut down on their own totals of blocked and missed shots. Let's see how this breaks down on averages:

General Shooting Averages of the 2007-2008 Season

(Note: all the averages are based on a 82 game season.) The averages, as expected, support the same conclusions shown in the overall numbers. Here, we can see that the standard deviation in blocked and missed shots by both groups (Devils and non-Devils) isn't too far apart. It is further evidence that the Devils miss approximately 1.5 more shots per game than their opponents; and the opposition blocks approximately 2 shots per game than the Devils. Two areas that hurts the Devils attack and leads to more attempts at shooting on net. The standard deviation in shots on net is very close to each other; thus, we can say that the Devils really do average more shots on net than their opponents in spite of variation. Nevertheless, this just confirms what the totals have already shown.

For those who like to see this further broken down, I've split up the numbers between home and road games, and Devils wins and losses.

Home and Road Shooting

Now, this is something. On average, the Devils and the opposition make many more attempts on the road. While the opposition gets more shots on net on average, the Devils actually get slightly fewer shots on net on average. While New Jersey does better than blocking shots and the opposition amazingly misses more shots, the Devils also miss more shots and get blocked more. As a result, the accuracy of both squads drops significantly - 5.48% by New Jersey, 7.28% by everyone else. In other words, both squads would like to play their games at the Prudential Center. The averages show that they are clearly much more accurate, with the opposition shooting an substantial 62.78% on net rate.

Devils Win and Loss Shooting in 2007-2008

This chart confirms what I think most people would expect. The Devils and the opposition are more accurate in wins than they are in losses. Even so, the opposition on net/attempts on net rate is similar to New Jersey even when the Devils do win. Moreover, the opposition still takes fewer attempts on average in both Devils wins and losses; and even takes a fewer attempt on average when they do win. Conversely, the Devils are more free-wheeling in their attempts on average in losses, with an average of 3 extra attempts in losses. Again, the Devils do worse in blocking shots, missing shots, and hitting the net than their opponents in losses. Seems obvious enough. However, the major point is that the Devils are not necessarily more accurate than their opponents in Devils' wins and they are significantly worse in losses.

So what did this entire gigantic 5-chart post yield? Well, it confirms that shooting accuracy by the Devils needs to be improved. Their opponents have been better than them more often than not in that category. The result? 52 games where the Devils were at least even with or worse in shooting accuracy and a winning percentage of roughly 46% in those games. In the other 30, the Devils have a winning percentage of 73.3%. While I wouldn't expect these percentages to carry over and while we can't say that one directly leads to the other, it does matter. Goals only come from shots on net; reducing blocked and missed shots will lead to more opportunities for goals - more shots on net. By improving their accuracy, the Devils could increase scoring. I don't think the Devils organization is happy with only putting in 206 goals in 2007-2008.

Now that we know how poor the Devils shoot in comparison to their opponents, what is the next step? Well, I think there are multiple ways to improve accuracy. In-game decision making and shooting practice could certainly help in putting the puck on net. Getting more talented players who are already good at shooting could help as well. Establishing lines of players who have good chemistry with each other - as opposed to constant lineup changes - could lead to better communication, passing, and shooting from those players. A new assistant coach that can focus on the offense and provide some new ideas could also help. There's a lot of things the Devils can do here. They have all offseason to consider their options and take the right shot. If you have any questions, complaints, corrections, or a comment just to say you read through all this; please, by all means, leave them.

And, no, I'm not sorry for that stupid pun at the end.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008


World Championships Tomorrow

Want to see the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Quebec? You know, the only tournament that you can see your favorite Devils (and one soon-to-be-ex-Devil)? Well, it's not going to be on TV here in the US. But you can see it through the power of the Internetâ„¢. WCSN will air all 56 games of the tournament. It's not free, but it's worth it if you want to see some international hockey. There's plenty to be interested in. You can see how the youth will work out for USA Hockey, you can follow it to see if Canada will retain their title, you can view Alexander Ovechkin play his heart out to win something this year, and you can witness who will be the better team: Denmark or France.

There will be 5 Devils at the WCs: Karel Rachunek and Patrik Elias will suit up for the Czech Republic and Paul Martin, Zach Parise, and Kurt Kleinendorst (yes, the Lowell coach!) will represent the Red, White, & Blue.

Not familiar with how the tournament is set up? That's OK, here's a helpful format explanation as to everything will proceed at the IIHF. Groups A and C are, uh, interesting; but Group B has Canada versus the USA in Halifax. That should be an exciting one, even though Canada will probably win given their talent and the fact they have home ice. If anything, Canada should be the favorites to win the WC. However, Ovechkin and Russia could easily rise up to contend for the title as well. I don't think I'll pay for that WCSN

Tom Gulitti reported the other day that Martin Brodeur will be a part of the Goalie Equipment Working Group. The group will make decisions on the size and regulations of goaltender equipment. With Brodeur on the panel, you can be sure he will make a big point of making changes while not putting his fellow goalies at risk. I'm happy to see that the other goalies named to the list are Rick DiPietro and Ryan Miller. All three goalies don't have particularly large pieces of equipment. Unlike, say, Jean-Sebastian Giguere.

James Mirtle runs some numbers and notes that the playoffs this season has had the same rate of goal scoring as the regular season. That's pretty impressive since playoff hockey is all about the struggle, the raised play of goaltenders, and ruthless defending. I wonder how that will impact calls to reduce goaltender equipment to increase scoring? Well, no, I actually don't. The NHL Competition Committee will take a look at it anyway. Which is the league's right. The NFL changes all kinds of rules every year that affects the game - recent changes have benefitted the quarterback (e.g. roughing the passer is heavily cracked down upon) and the passing game (e.g. cornerbacks can't obstruct receivers beyond 5 yards). That said, I hope the NHL doesn't take it to a ridiculous extreme.

Speaking of Mirtle, I agree with him about the latest announced award finalists. Ovechkin is pretty much a lock to win the Hart (and Nicklas Lidstrom should have been a finalist). And the Pearson (the NHLPA's MVP). All three finalists have an argument to win the Jack Adams Trophy; but I think it's clear that Bruce Boudreau is the favorite. He took a team that is young, not particularly deep, and in dire straits when he went behind the bench and turned them into Southeast Division winners. The team's turnaround this past season can be directly attributed to Boudreau and if that isn't deserving of coach of the year honors, then I really don't know what is deserving. Fair play to Guy Carbonneau and Mike Babcock; but their teams weren't sitting at the bottom of the league in November where it was thought that the playoffs would be a mere dream by February.

Lastly: This weekend, I give out the final shooting stats of the Devils. As you would expect, there's room for improvement. I'm not including the playoffs in the overall numbers; but I will address them to a degree.

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