The big news today is a double-whammy for the New Jersey Devils. As Gulitti and Chere reported earlier today, Jay Pandolfo and Paul Martin are both out for 4-6 weeks with injuries. Already, a roster move has been made; Cory Murphy was called up on an emergency basis from Lowell. Steve had a good summary of all the news as it broke earlier.
The good news is that this is in weeks and not months. The bad news is that both players are significant players on this current team, especially Martin. As it is, the season waits for no one and so let's consider the possibilities for who will be filling in for both players. Steve, in his summary, pointed at Johnny Oduya getting more work on defense while David Clarkson or Matt Halischuk could replace Pandolfo on the blueline. ILWT user Space Weed had a FanPost up even before today's announcement of these injuries discussing who could be called upon to step up in their absence.
I agree with both to a point, but I'd like to highlight how much of a tall order it'll be to replace Paul Martin's and Jay Pandolfo's minutes - even if it is only for 12-15 games. I'd also like to offer my thoughts on what the Devils could do to replace their workload while they are healing (and, of course, we all hope they fully recover).
Let's start with Paul Martin. I could hit you with all kinds of stats from Behind the Net that emphasizes his importance on defense. But instead, I just want to focus on how much Martin has done in this short season in comparison to all the other Devils defenders. After all, you can't replace Martin's skills; but you have to replace how much time he gets per game.
|Player||GP||Shifts/Game||Avg. Time on Ice|
Yeah. Martin isn't going to be easy to replace just based on workload alone. From a follow-up story by Gulitti, Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire stated the pure truth about replacing Martin:
"It will be spread [around], but I don’t think one player will be capable of taking all of his minutes," he said.
He's right. Johnny Oduya is a logical player to focus on in replace Martin to some point. He has played as much as Martin as his partner in the past, he can move the puck on breakouts, and he can step in his spot on a power play where Martin wasn't exactly contributing. Plus, he just signed a sweet deal under the impression that he's quite good. And until recently, he wasn't playing all that well. I think he's starting to turn it around; yet, there will be even more pressure on him to play better in Martin's absence. Understandable, and I'm hopeful he'll be up to the task. But it's foolish to place it all on Oduya. Oduya's not going to replace an average of 30.6 shifts per game just by taking a few more shifts. Oduya's not the only other defender who needs to do well.
That said, I want to stress that the key to replacing Paul Martin's workload for the next 4-6 weeks will have to come from players like Greene, Murphy, Salvador, and Fraser, who haven't played a lot of minutes on average this season.
Among those four, I'm looking at Salvador as he's the only player who has played all 9 games. In the last two games, he was Paul Martin's partner and played 22:32 against the Rangers and 25:52 against the Penguins. While Martin stood out, Salvador held his own for big minutes against top teams. I fully expect him to be given similar minutes to start in this Martin-less period of this season. If he does well, then at least the Devils could have a fill-in top pairing of Salvador-Oduya.
I'm also hoping Salvador steps up because who else among these three will? OK, Andy Greene has done well so far, but Salvador at least has been in the top 4 on defense in the past. Greene hasn't; the most he's played this season is 21:08 on 29 shifts. He may be getting more 19-20 minute games as a result. Cory Murphy may have played about a shift less than Greene; but he did play him self out of a spot. He's got a chance at redemption now, but can we realistically expect him to do well over 18-20 minutes right away? No. As for Mark Fraser, he had a very good game on Saturday, but his minutes was very limited against Pittsburgh. Understandable, as it was his first NHL game in over 2 years and it was against Pittsburgh. Yet, it isn't fair to assume he would do just as well with 15-17 minutes. He needs to be eased into more time, in my opinion.
Of course, those three players will undoubtedly be given more time; but I feel Salvador is really the one who has step up among that group.
So, from what I'm looking at here, replacing Paul Martin's workload doesn't necessarily mean the emphasis should be on Johnny Oduya to eat up his minutes. Oduya, White, and Mottau will see more minutes; but Salvador will likely see the biggest increase in responsibilities.
Now, Jay Pandolfo's situation isn't as big in terms of workload. Pandolfo has averaged 14:53 per game and 23.1 shifts per game this season. Not exactly a big chunk of time to replace. His shifts per game are what they are thanks to being a regular on the penalty kill.
Since the Devils have rotated Matt Halischuk, Andrew Peters, Ilkka Pikkarainen, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond in and out of the lineup, the Devils already had two spare forwards. Moreover, Lemaire has been shifting his lines from game to game - and within games, recently - so a number of players have been on the third line already.
Among the rotated players, the opportunity is here for Matt Halischuk if only by the process of elimination. Peters and Leblond are fourth liners and Pikkarainen hasn't proven himself yet to be deserve consistent minutes much less anywhere else from the fourth line. Besides, Halischuk has been projected to be a two-way forward by Hockey's Future. What better time to see how he would fit that projection than in replacing the Devils' long-time checking winger?
Of course, he may not even play on the third line in Pandolfo's absence. When Halischuk is in the lineup, Lemaire sometimes moves him up to the second line with Nicklas Bergfors and either Travis Zajac or Dainius Zubrus. In those cases, David Clarkson goes down to the fourth line. Lemaire could simply do the same thing, except he can slot Clarkson on the third line. In my opinion, this makes sense as Clarkson has played on the third line before; and he has averaged 14:46 per game this season and 20.6 shifts per game. Clarkson would have no trouble replacing Pandolfo's minutes on the third line and he would be familiar with the role of that line.
The only concern is that in both scenarios, Halischuk will have to play much more than the 10:59 average ice time and 16.9 shifts per game he has this season. Can he handle a larger role right now? Maybe. In 5 games this season, he has played, at most, 13:57 and he's topped 13 minutes twice. His average is heavily skewed by the mere 5:30 he got against the Rangers last Thursday. But unless Lemaire wants to try Pikkarainen on a line above the fourth or the Devils call someone else up (who?), Halischuk will get more ice time one way or another. At least, until Patrik Elias returns.
As far as the penalty kill is concerned, this is where Pandolfo will be missed the most. He averaged 2:34 of shorthanded time per game and he has faced the highest quality of competition when he's out there per Behind the Net. Fortunately, it's not as if he dominated the penalty kill. Jamie Langenbrunner and Zajac both have played an average of 2:17 and 2:07 per game, respectively, on the kill. I feel either one of them could take some more time. The question is then really who should be the fourth penalty killing forward? This was a question I brought up earlier this month and I felt that Dainius Zubrus or Brian Rolston could do the job. Based on this report by Gulitti, Jacques Lemaire has worked both into the penalty kill recently and I'm sure either one of them will be given a shot at more time on the PK.
Lastly, when Patrik Elias returns, the Pandolfo situation becomes a lot easier to handle as Elias returns to form. Elias has killed penalties, played plenty of minutes in general, and can play left wing. But that's not reasonably likely to happen, say, this week.
Hopefully after all this, it's a bit clearer as to what Martin and Pandolfo have done on the team so far this season and to what will it take for the Devils to replace their workload. Per this post by Gulitti, the team has the right attitude about the situation. Would they love to have Martin and/or Pandolfo back? Sure. But it's no excuse for the team's performance. They are right to keep thinking that the team has been successful in spite of past major injuries (e.g. November 2008 - February 2009) and to think that they can still win on most nights.
In my opinion, both injuries - especially Martin's - make the upcoming 12-15 games harder, even when Elias does return. The opposition will likely look to pick apart the defense whenever possible. Lemaire may have to tell his defenders to be more conservative in general, as to not make mistakes or be forced to make plays that Martin would otherwise take. At forward, the Devils essentially has one true defensive forward in Rob Niedermayer now, and so what that third line can and cannot do will temporarily change. These changes aren't insignificant, much less the changes the Devils will have to make to replace Martin's and Pandolfo's workload.
(Admittedly, I didn't consider a possible trade because the injuries are for 4-6 weeks and I'm not sure it would be wise for the Devils to move a good asset for temporary relief.)
Please leave your comments and thoughts about the injuries, how this will affect New Jersey, and what you would suggest that the Devils do in the meantime.