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FA Defensemen & the Devils: Paul Mara & Dmitri Kalinin

This extended look at defensemen will end this week, but there are a few more names left as possible bargain signings for the New Jersey Devils.  Now, it has been announced and reported at Blueshirt Banter that the Rangers will raise their ticket prices for the 2009-10 season. Originally, I planned on just mentioning that and stating that the price hike makes sense as Rangers fans are used to paying a whole lot for little results.  (Related Aside: Devils ticket prices are actually lower in many sections for next season season. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.)

Alas, two names came to mind in terms of UFA defenders based on NHL Numbers' list that did play for the Rangers at some point last season.  While I already covered Derek Morris and I don't plan on covering Thomas Pock, I am referring to Paul Mara and Dimitri Kalinin, who was part of the package to bring Morris to New York in the first place.  Neither Kalinin or Mara made a gigantic amount of money - $2.1 and $1.95 million, respectively - and both players do have assets that could work in New Jersey.



Now when most people think of Paul Mara, the first image that comes to mind is that of a female dog and a small cat come to mind.  OK, that's what I - and perhaps Mike Rupp - think first of Mara.  (And no, please don't explain in the comments about what it is that Rupp actually said. That's a no-no here.)  However, Mara could very well be out of NY due to a numbers game as Blueshirt Banter alluded to and his past numbers make him look more attractive as a signing. 

Paul Mara

#27 / Defenseman / New York Rangers



Sep 07, 1979

2008-09 Salary: $1.95 million

2008 - Paul Mara 76 5 16 21 2 94 1 0 0 0 102 4.9

Stupid head shot aside, the guys at BB did eventually state that they would want Mara to return, and why not?  He's not expected to cash in on a massive contract, his salary should stay around at the $2 million mark.  There's more to it than just cost.  Mara is big and he knows how to use that size to some degree, finishing third among Rangers defensemen in hits with 123. Yet, the size doesn't slow him down, in games against the Rangers, you couldn't fault Mara's skating ability.  He must be doing something right as he was the only Blueshirt defender to finish the season with a rating above 0 (this includes call ups).  Moreover, and more relevant to the Devils, is that Mara has the tools of an offensive defenseman.   While 5 goals and 21 points aren't bad, in previous seasons with Phoenix, Mara was blooming as a point machine from the point. When he tallied 140 and 157 shots on goal both before and after the lockout in Phoenix, he managed to put up over 40 points each, 42 and 47 respectively.  While he hasn't come close to hitting those numbers recently, it's likely the result of him not shooting nearly as much as he did in Phoenix.

Of course, that fact alone is a criticism.  If he produces more when he shoots more, well, why doesn't he shoot more?   Part of that could be linked to ice time: Mara did only average 18:57 per game, ranking 5th among Rangers defensemen who started the season in NY.  Then again, he also averaged 2:05 of ice time on the power play - so it's not as if he wasn't present to make things happen.  Moreover, in even strength play, the shots for per 60 minutes fell from 30.1 to 28.5 when Mara is on the ice according to Behind the Net.  Perhaps it's a matter that while Mara has historically found success from taking lots of shots, the team isn't doing as well of shooting the puck when he's out there?   After all, the relative quality of his teammates was the lowest on the team with -0.04.

On the defensive side of things, the even strength numbers at Behind the Net for Mara are a little better.  While Mara didn't face relatively strong competition, the goals against per 60 did fall when Mara was on the ice - from 2.42 to 2.09. Very good.  Unfortunately, the shots against per 60 rose quite a bit when Mara was on the ice, increasing from 25.2 to 29.9.  That is the opposite of very good.  At least the shots weren't necessarily turning into goals!  Perhaps this highlights why the scouting report on his player page states that he "needs more polish in the defensive zone." At age 29, I wonder how much more polished he can be?  I'm not getting the impression that he's a liability, just that his game could be tweaked for the better.

One thing is for sure is that he can polish up on his discipline.   Blueshirt Banter highlighted this when grading Mara for the season, stating that not only did he take a lot of penalty minutes (93), but they were very stupid penalties as well.  Again, I don't favor defenders who do that sort of thing as they truly hurt the team.    Mara's penalty minutes over his career shows that at a minimum he'll take 40 penalty minutes, but as of late, it could be much more.

With respect to how many minutes he played with the Rangers, I think it's fair to think he can play in the Devils' top 4 on the second pairing, where the players usually get 17-20 minutes a night.  I really think his past production and his offensive skills do warrant some consideration as a signing.  While his defensive game isn't inspiring, I haven't read that he's a total liability in his own end like I have noted about Marc-Andre Bergeron.   Plus, Mara does skate well for his size, something he also has over Bergeron.  Of course, Mara's production was in the past, Bergeron has been doing it recently as of this past season.   And Bergeron isn't taking 90+ penalty minutes either. 

Yet, I can't help but think that Mara may actually be a decent signing for a cheap two-way defenseman.  Who knows, maybe being on a more offensively talented and productive team like New Jersey, his production will increase by default! I probably would go after Bergeron over him.   A more risky decision is a man who also has points in his past: Dmitri Kalinin.

Dmitri Kalinin

#45 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes



Jul 22, 1980

2008-09 Salary: $2.1 million

2008 - Dmitri Kalinin 73 2 15 17 -9 32 1 0 0 0 67 3.0

If Blueshirt Banter is any indication, Rangers fans don't like this guy.  And not in a "this guy causes us problems whenever he's against us, booooo" way, but in a "this guy is a problem, it's like he's against us, booooo" way.  While the guys at BB graded him as a D+, they did note that he was a scapegoat on defense.  Perhaps this is all overblown?  After all, here's the "assets" from the scouting report on his player page:

Plays a smooth, poised style and also displays solid hitting skills. Has savvy offensive acumen. Can be used in all situations and log a ton of ice time.

Well that sounds all well and good! Giddy up, everyone; we're riding to Kalinin-ville! Actually, no, it really isn't. Kalinin didn't have a good 2008-09 at all. And it wasn't only in New York.  Even Odin at Five for Howling says Kalinin isn't worth the $2.1 million he got.  Ouch!  Coming off poor seasons in NY and Phoenix doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.  In addition, there's two red flags with the player that I can identify with.

First, for a player who averaged 17:30 per game, he wasn't a positive factor on the ice in even strength situations. According to Behind the Net, the goals against per 60 ballooned from 2.23 to 2.69 when Kalinin hits the ice; and the shots against per 60 significantly increases from 25.8 to 28.4 when he was on the ice.   While the goals for per 60 increased with Kalinin's presence from 2.05 to 2.23; the shots for per 60 declined from 28.5 to 26.3.  Oh, did I mention that Kalinin faced relatively weak competition and while having the highest quality of teammates?   Definitely not good numbers on their own and they look worse with that in mind. It, along with the low amount of minutes, leads me to believe that he's not all that solid in his own end.

Second, whereas Mara has a tendency to take stupid calls, Kalinin has a tendency to get hurt.   Of course, there's little Kalinin can do about that; but it's not encouraging to know that there's a good chance he could only be there for only part of the season.  It prevents the player from getting into a good rhythm and from enjoying his season.  Just look at his offensive numbers.  Savvy offensive acumen aside, he hasn't put up 20 or more points since the 2007-08 season.  Maybe he would have in 2007-08 as he had some solid years in Buffalo, but a right knee injury knocked him out of 23 games and he was hurt later on with a shoulder injury.  Even with Buffalo, he missed chunks of the season due to injury. 

In conjunction with the first point, it makes it hard to commit to a player.  On paper, he does have the positives of not taking a lot of penalties, being big, and he's still has some time to "put it together" at age 28.  But the results on the ice aren't all that good, when he actually is on the ice.  I get the feeling that he gets tagged with the thought of being a top four defenseman (like in his player profile) because of his time in Buffalo and his skills on paper.  Yet, I'm not even confident he would be an upgrade over Mike Mottau.   While I think he can be had for about $2 million or less, I don't think he would be useful unless he can avoid injury and can play more like he did in Buffalo.    I doubt that will happen and so I don't think he would be a good signing, even as a bargain.

As usual, have your say in the comments about Mara and Kalinin.