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The #6 Question Revisited

A few weeks ago, with the sending down of Anssi Salmela to Lowell, I asked you all who you think the #6 defenseman should be for the season betwee Jay Leach, Anssi Salmela, and Andy Greene. According to the poll, Andy Greene is your choice.

2008 - Andy Greene 11 1 5 6 6 4 0 0 0 0 6 16.7

Now, with Bryce Salvador expected to return for tomorrow's game in St. Louis, this question is returns and it's more a challenge this time. Who should be at the #6 defenseman spot now that Salvador is back and this guy has been doing pretty well as of late?

2008 - Jay Leach 16 0 1 1 4 21 0 0 0 0 4 0.0

For starters, Jay Leach has really done well in his role with the Devils as of late. In his last five games, Leach has played at least 16 minutes per game, and he's been getting action on the penalty kill. While shorthanded, Leach has played 1:08 against Ottawa, only 5 second against Philadelphia, 2:02 against Boston, 4:14 against Pittsburgh, and 2:57 against the Rangers. You don't get shifts on the penalty kill unless you're steady in your own end, and Leach has been quite steady. In that timespan, he's only been on the ice for one power play goal against - the Nigel Dawes goal from the Ranger game - so he has not been liability despite his relative inexperience at the NHL level. That's huge considering the calibur of talent each of these teams (OK, Ottawa excepted) have on offense.

I'm focusing on the last 5 games for the very reason that those are the games Andy Greene also played in. And he's been OK. Not great, not a revelation on defense, but he's been OK. Sutter has eased him into the line-up in the Ottawa game with only 14:06 of icetime and no work on special teams. Since then, he's been back on what would be a regular workload, as his icetime has ramped up to at least 17 minutes in the last three games. Moreover, Sutter has been using Greene on the power play as he has received 2:57 of power play time against Philadelphia, 1:51 against Boston, 1:23 against Pittsburgh, and 3:03 against the Rangers. Greene has not been shooting the puck all that much though, as in those 5 games he has recorded only 3 shots. Though he has been seen on the point with Brian Rolston and between the two, Rolston should be taking the shots over Greene, which is fine. He has had no points in these five games, though he was on the ice for the one power play goal Rolston scored against the Rangers. Nevertheless, Greene has been solid, if a bit quiet, in his own end and in due time, the production will come back.

Since the two don't see the other side of special teams all that often, maybe there is something to be gained by comparing how they've done in even-strength situations. Looking at the current 5-on-5 numbers from Behind the Net, we get a clearer picture of the two defenders.

TOI/60 Qual Comp. Qual Team CORSI
Greene 13.16 -0.24 0.19 11.4
Leach 13.69 -0.08 -0.11 -1.5

I didn't include the Rating stat as Greene's excellent start to his season skews it heavily towards him, but the other stats have been consistent from their styles of defense. Greene plays with teammates more suited for offense and is at least present when the Devils go on the attack. That explains the higher quality of teammates and CORSI stat. Leach faces stronger competition and is being used primarily for his defense, along with other Devils being out there namely to defend. This isn't so surprising, but it's good justification for how we view them. Leach isn't going to be hitting breakout passes to streaking forwards or pinch in for a shot. Greene isn't going isn't going to be a stopper or a big body on the boards.

Between the two, from what I've seen, I've been more impressed with Leach. That's mainly due to the fact that he's the Mike Mottau of this season. A defenseman who's largely played in the AHL for much of his career finally in the right situation and under the right coaching to have him play good (good-enough) defense in the NHL. Greene has looked like he belongs, but we've already seen Greene up with New Jersey. Because of Leach's career, it is more of an impressive feat that he's been called up and fit in rather well.

However and unfortunately, I think he's the odd man out. The defense usually is balanced between two-way and defensive defenseman. Greene fits in the former category, Leach in the latter. Bryce Salvador is a defensive defenseman like Leach and Salvador is a superior player in terms of positioning and he has the experience that Leach can't possibly have at this point. And I really do think that if Salvador thinks he can play, he will. He'd want to show St. Louis what they've been missing. And I would hope he'd want to show that the organization made a mistake in thinking Cam Janssen is about the same amount of value as Salvador, who is having a strong season according to what James Mirtle found last week.

Lastly, wither Anssi Salmela? Well, he's in Lowell and so far he has 4 goals, 6 assists, 35 shots (1.86 shots per game), 28 penalty minutes, a -5, and one power play goal in 15 games. He's been productive, which is great. Yet, I wonder how he is truly doing defensively. He has a -5, but I can't seem to find if he's been getting time on the PK or whether he's playing against the other team's best players or anything like that. Still, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to get regular time in Lowell for this season, but it is unfortunate. Earlier this season, I think he showed he is deserving of a NHL spot on a third pairing, stepping up when players were injured. Now, with Salvador now healthy, New Jersey has 7 capable defensemen available (Brookbank has been used more of a fourth line forward if I'm not mistaken) so there will have to be multiple injuries or transactions before Salmela gets back to wearing a Deviled-NJ. It could be next season the way things are.

So due to a glut of players at the defensive defenseman role and a superior player coming back to play, I think Leach gets scratched for the time being. This despite how well Leach has been doing. Who knows what Sutter will do, but that's how I see it.