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What Should Devils Fans Expect: Bryce Salvador

In 2007-08, Bryce Salvador served as evidence of the greatness of Lou.  Lou Lamoriello obtained Salvador, one of the top 4 defenders from the St. Louis Blues, for Cam Janssen straight up.  Janssen was the New Jersey Devils' "enforcer" basically on the ice to hit someone hard and/or fight someone. Salvador was a veteran defenseman brought in to provide additional support for the postseason.  A classic something for close-to-nothing deal.  As far Salvador's play, well, positioning and physical play were his calling cards and I felt he fit in just fine in the limited time he was in New Jersey.

Salvador was retained that summer, signing a four year deal at $2.9 million per year.  When Tom Gulitti reported the signing last July, there was this interesting quote from his agent, Carlos Sosa:

"We didn't get (the no-movement), but we got four years at $2.9 (million)," Sosa said. "That acts as a no-trade clause because either he'll be great and it will be a good deal or if he's not playing so well, he'll be a tough guy to trade. It's a good deal."

Unfortunately, Sosa may be right.  The now-33 year old defensive defenseman will likely be a Devil until his career is done, and the contract will almost keep him here. 

Last season, according to Dobber Hockey's line combinations tool, he often ended up playing on the third pairing next to Andy Greene last season and remaining out there when Paul Martin was coming on in advance of Johnny Oduya.  His average time on ice per game remained high (19:28) since he averaged 3:05 of ice time on the penalty kill per game.

2008 - Bryce Salvador 76 3 13 16 -1 78 0 0 2 0 68 4.4

Salvador's skills are all about defense and physical play.  While hit a NHL career high in points, he has not been a scorer in his career. He will not be; and so he shouldn't be expected to put up many points. Fine.  But that means he needs to bring it on defense, and does he do that?

According to Behind the Net's even strength on-ice/off-ice numbers, the answer is not all that well.  The good news is that when Salvador stepped on the ice, the goals against per 60 minutes dropped from 2.15 to 2.05.  That's not bad.  Yet, Salvador was on the ice, the shots against rose per 60 minutes from 26.2 to 28.4.   That's not good, and it's even worse when you consider his quality of competition was 0.002 - the third lowest on the team.  So against nearly average relative competition, the opposition took more shots when Salvador was present on the blueline.  Not what you want to see from a defensive defenseman, you'd like to see that shots against per 60 minute while on ice value to be either real close to or less than the shots against per 60 minutes while off ice.

It gets worse when you look at the shorthanded on-ice/off-ice numbers from Behind the Net.  In this case, Salvador faced the highest relative competition on the penalty kill last season, a 1.45.  And Salvador didn't fare all that well.  When Salvador stepped on the ice, the goals against per 60 minutes jumped from 6.80 to 7.17 and the shots against per 60 minutes rose from 41.8 to 44.4. While I certainly understand he's facing the top power play units from the other team, this is evidence that he's not exactly making big contributions to the penalty killing unit.  Keep in mind that the Devils' PK finished with a success rate below 80% and 20th in the league last season. 

I can't look at these numbers and then conclude that Salvador has been playing like a defensive defenseman worth $2.9 million, just $100,000 less than a superior Colin White.

At least Salvador has been physical.  He has definitely produced in that category.  He finished second among Devils defensemen and fifth on the team in official hits with 121.  Salvador also led the defense - and the team - in blocked shots with 147.  Well done on both counts.  Unfortunately, Salvador's physical play has gotten too aggressive at times.  Salvador also led the defense last season in penalty minutes (76), minor penalties (24), and major penalties (6).  I know that's part of his game, but he needs to exercise better discretion when he does play the body.  At age 32, he's not going to develop new facets to his game, but he can certainly utilize his experience to keep a cool head and keep that stick down.  OK, 76 penalty minutes isn't a lot; but when they include hooks, slashes, and holds, they are simply avoidable and stupid penalties to take.

Ultimately, with respect to Salvador, it may be a case of "what you see is what you'll get."  It's going to be a challenge, one I'm sure he's undertaken before, for Jacques Lemaire to get the most out of Salvador.  With him, you have a slow, not-at-all offensive, physical, 6'2", 220 lbs., stay-at-home defenseman.   Lemaire will have to utilize and coach him to be aggressive to a degree while not giving up position on the ice. Salvador can certainly still be effective and given his contract, the Devils will simply have to make the most of the situation for this #5 defenseman.

As far as what to expect?  Well, I want Salvador to cut down on his minor penalties while maintaining his hits and blocked shots.  One of his strengths is being physical and I don't want him to taken away from that - just that he should be more composed and intelligent about it.   Also, I want him getting in the shooting lanes more often if only to cut down on the number of shots opponents take when he's out there.  Lastly, if he's even kept on the penalty killing unit, then he needs to work on all facets of that play.   The Devils PK unit wasn't strong last season and he was one of the reasons why.  Again, at age 32, can we really expect him to do much more other than refine his game and hope his experience will lead to better decisions on-ice?

I expect him to be more defensively sound, but I know he's not going to turn into a supreme shut-down defenseman every night.  Even if Colin White wasn't on the team, is he even a top-4 caliber defenseman?  I doubt it based on his first full season with the Devils. And so I expect he will remain as the Devils #5 defenseman. At $2.9 million/year for 2 more seasons after 2009-10.

Now it's time to have your say.  Do you think this is a fair assessment and expectation from Salvador? Do you think he can, should and will do more?  Do you think I'm too harsh on Salvador?  Let me know what you think about Salvador for this coming season in the comments.