Friday, July 11, 2008


Let's Look at the New Guy: Holik

It's now time to take a look at the return of Bobby Holik! The center of the famous CRASH LINE, where he centered Randy McKay and Mike Peluso as a fearsome threesome that, well, crashed the other team to great success in 1995. He developed into a shutdown checking center and rightly moved up from the fourth line. In fact, he even showed some production, picking up at least 60 points from the 1996-97 season through 1998-99. While his numbers dropped from then, he was still an important part of the team on the third line (plus, he was crucial in the 2000-2001 Stanley Cup run).

Unfortunately, Holik left a very, very sour taste in all Devils' fans mouths when he signed with Our Hated Rivals for a $9.5 million/year contract. It was shocking, anger-inducing, and laughably ridiculous all at the same time. However, since then Holik's career has been on a down turn. He was bought out by the Rangers after two years. Don Waddel felt Holik would be a solid addition to the Atlanta Thrashers. A ton of money and three years later, he was not retained. Needless to say, the numbers for Holik's Atlanta tenure don't look good. In fact, the only thing to note from his stats is that he played all 82 games in the last two seasons, he was excellent on faceoffs (58.4% faceoff win percentage last year), he's still big, and he grew some hair.

What I could find about Holik online isn't complimentary at all. Mortimer Peacock at The Blueland Chronicle stated that Bobby Holik did (intercourse)-all for the team in his end of the season awards. The Falconer (ASIDE: The Falconer is awesome. This a must read post.) at Do The Thrashers Have Long Talons? is more descriptive of Holik's three stop with the Thrashers in this ruthlessly honest essay about Atlanta's current woes. Holik didn't provide leadership, he wasn't good on penalty kills, he wasn't consistently intense, he was well overpaid, and the only solace you can take is that he wins a lot of faceoffs. Ouch. Pat Lackey at the NHL Fanhouse bluntly states that this wasn't a good signing. Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy is a bit more apologetic in stating that he could help out on the third line.

Let's face facts. Holik is not going to be seeing any big minutes unless injuries happen and he needs to fill a role for a game or two. Holik is also not going to be a leader, he's not going to be the proverbial "straw that stirs the drink," and he's not likely going to be a difference maker. His production has declined, he isn't getting any younger at age 37 and will likely not learn some new skills to rejuvenate his career, there's no real need for him on special teams except to win crucial faceoffs, and his best role has always been as a checker. And that's perfectly OK with me. Because I envision Holik not to take any of those big roles. No, I expect him to give John Madden a rest.

Before you write angry notes and/or never read this site again, let me explain. I am very much pro-Madden. He is clearly the top checking forward on this team he's regarded among the best in the league in that role, evidenced by his Selke Trophy Finalist selection. He gets all the tough assignments against the best forwards on the opposing team on a regular basis. He also played more minutes than all the other forwards last season with an average ice time of 19:30. While the Devils have been successful defensively due to the blueline playing better than the sum of their parts (or how they are on paper, depending on which cliche you'd like to use), the unit of Pandolfo-Madden-X has been a big help as well. During his Selke analysis, you'll find Mirle's methodology rates Pandolfo and Madden highly in this regard. What does this have to do with Holik? Plenty.

At this point in his career and given the Devils' current status, Holik can fit the bill as a second defensive center. Even though he's not close to being the player he was for New Jersey, Holik is still regarded as a third line center. On the Devils, he won't even have to do that. Among the various changes among the line up, there wasn't a consistent fourth line (or a first and second line, but I digress). Rod Pelley is a defensive forward, but he's also a rookie - looking like, well, a rookie in some games. I don't think Pelley's bad, but he certainly didn't make enough a case to keep him as a regular. Holik can provide the experience in that role that Pelley can't just yet. Given that a big part of defense involves positioning, anticipation, and hockey sense, experience is invaluable.

So instead of Pelley, let's modify Wyshynski's thought, and consider Holik as the Devils' fourth line center. With that move, he can provide the Devils the base for a viable second checking line. In Holik you have his defensive skills and his proficiency on faceoffs helping keeping possession. As far as wingers go, David Clarkson didn't look out of place on defense when he played with Pandolfo and Madden. Clarkson can be a physical force, aggressive - even agitating - against opposition forwards, and can be an interesting fit in this possible checking line. For the other winger, this is more open. If the Devils want it to be a physical defensive line, Mike Rupp can bring the pain along with Holik (I know he's 37, but he's still 6'4" and 230 lbs. and had 147 hits for Atlanta last year) and Clarkson. If they want to favor youth on this checking line, they could try Pelley at wing to see how it goes or give the supposedly Sergei-Brylin-like Petr Vrana a shot. Pelley has a good upside as a checker, but I'm not sure how Vrana can handle it - so I'd favor Pelley going into camp. So as long as defense is the goal, it should work.

Just by considering Holik as a defensive center on the fourth line the Devils have accomplished two things. First, they don't need to rely completely on Pandolfo-Madden-X to be the one-stop shop for line matching. Pandolfo and Madden won't have to have to take so many shifts to help the Devils not concede goals. This will leave them more rested for their shifts, which always good. Second, should the unit play well enough, oppositions are going to have hard time setting up their lines. In the past, they could move their best forwards around so they are on the ice when Madden is getting tired or isn't there. They could hit the Devils with their secondary (or tertiary!) scoring lines when the Devils won't have their third line out there. With a secondary checking line, the opposition can't just wait out the Madden line and hope for weaker opposition.

So Holik was a poor leader for Atlanta, so he wasn't good at scoring for the team, and so he wasn't particularly into all the games he played. So what? The fourth line was never much of a scoring line in the history of this franchise, so I don't think anyone reasonable will is expecting 40-50 points from Holik. No one will ask Holik to become a leader for the team, with established veterans already filling those needs (e.g. Madden, Elias, Langenbrunner, White, etc.). Holik won't have to play big minutes on a fourth line and he won't be needed on a penalty killing unit already well filled with forwards who have been doing a good job at it. If he's dogging it, Sutter will almost definitely not put up with it. These criticisms may even not be applicable for the role I'm thinking Holik should be in for New Jersey. He just needs to win faceoffs, play good positioning hockey for 8-12 minutes, frustrate the opposition's forwards a bit, and that in of itself will provide an extra dimension of defense for the team. That's always good for the team.

The worst-case-scenario out of all this is that: Holik totally sucks. He comes into camp out of shape, he doesn't have his heart in the season, and he gets dumped (bought out, down to Lowell, etc.). A loss of $2.5 million isn't good, but it is only for this season. After which, the Devils will probably look long term as to what they want to do with the fourth line. That all said, with the Holik signing, the fourth line doesn't have to be a low-minute line just there to provide some hits. It can provide some good use and I'd like to think the signing of Holik shows that the Devils organization may be thinking the same way.

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The Devils want to roll four lines like they did in 95. Think of the awkard lines Sutter used at the begining of the this past season. The line of Rupp Holik Clarkson would be a great fourth line. Vrana is to little to play the wing on the fourth line. Maybe, he gets a spot on the second line other wise he wont be in the line up unlees there is injuries.
Think about this if the Devils traded Zubrus and they could not get a good defensemen or second line LW they could trade him for picks and or prospects and sign Shanahan to play on the Madden line with room to sign Brylin as the odd man out if he changes his mind. Leaving alot of cap space for next year.
Well, Brylin isn't coming back - he's in Russia now. And the only way Zubrus is getting moved at this point is if he can bring someone back - it won't be for picks or prospects. The Devils aren't in a rebuilding mode like, say, Atlanta.

That said, you got the main point. Four lines, but 2 checking lines so the workload isn't entirely on Pandolfo-Madden-whoever. If the fourth line is basically a checking line, Vrana may be OK. Besides, I'm not seeing any other openings where he could can step right in during training camp other than the fourth line. Throwing him up on the second line, I'm not convinced. Now Bergfors is willing to play off-wing, that may be more feasible...
Thanks for the compliments!

Holik can still bring something to the table, but the fans and organization should keep their expectation in line.

In Atlanta the fans were over-promised and he under-delivered...and his big salary really hurt us later.
I agree with you totally about Holik playing the 4th line as a secondary checking line. Rupp-Holik-Clarkson can work well and Rupp-Holik-Zubrus can be a hell of a punch too.

I think at this point Vrana will probably be our reserve forward in case someone gets injured. It really depends on who is better at training camp.

Vrana can also be a speedy replacement for Holik in those circumstances where the opponents have more speedy lines but only one top line to shut down.
Does anyone else see a problem with Holik playing on the 4th line? Especially with Zubrus...That's 6 mil for 2/3 of a fourth line...that means a full fourth line woth between 6.5 and 7 million per season. Wouldn't you rather see Clarkson-Rupp-Pelley for less than 2.5 mil, and save 4 to 4.5 mil to sign a great defenseman or actual play making center that the devils haven't had since Gomez left. Or better yet, a veteran play making center that the devils haven't had since Joe Nieuwendyk? Elias is the closest thing they have right now, and he's a winger
Zubrus won't be on the 4th line. He will settle in and be more productive this year. Can you blame him for lack of productivity when the Devils changed lines so often?

Wherever Holik is I am hoping for 15 goals plus and 15 assists plus. Of course 90 or more big hits and under 60 PIMS. If he gets this he will impress.

The most logical place for him is to anchor the 4th line. In the end I am sure Sutter will have him play everywhere including slinging hotdogs.

The Devils can use this opportunity to redefine the 4th line and create a flexible, hybrid line. They need to score GOALS.
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