Colin White has been a mainstay of the Devils blueline since the 1999-2000 season. He's spent his entire career in New Jersey and the 31-year old defenseman will remain for another 3 years thanks to a no-trade clause. (Yes, a no-trade clause. So, don't even suggest here that he will be/should be traded.) White's play is a point of contention as in the beginning of the 2007-08 season, he suffered a serious injury to his right eye. Thankfully, he was medically cleared to play hockey again and so he only missed 21 games in recovery. Yet, anecdotally, I've heard some Devils wonder whether White would be the same - and similarly, that he hasn't been good as he used to be.
I don't think the argument as simple as that as White's role on the team has moved down to the #3 spot on the blueline, given the emergence of Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya. White is still a defensive defenseman who's not at all afraid to get physical. Of course, this means he scores very little and in the past the only aspect of his game more reliable than his positioning was his ability to take really dumb penalties.
Even as far back as 2007-08, I think White has changed - for the better in some ways, worse in others - and perhaps this would have happened even without the eye injury. Given how he's changed, it really is important to determining what we should expect from Colin White next season.
|2008 - Colin White||71||1||17||18||18||46||0||0||0||0||68||1.5|
Let's start with Behind the Net's on-ice/off-ice even strength numbers. Since I feel his 2007-08 season has relevance, I've included those values for a point of comparison. Games played, even strength time on ice (TOI), and penalty minutes all come from NHL.com. One other note, I've included the rankings for the quality of competition and teammate numbers as BtN changed their formulation between seasons to highlight what White faced.
||Qual. of Comp.
||Qual. of Team
||On Ice GA/60
||Off Ice GA/60
||On Ice SA/60||Off Ice/60||PIM|
|2007-08||57||16:15||0.09 (1st)||-0.10 (t-6th)||2.10||1.80||26.6||22.1||26|
|2008-09||71||15:50||0.029 (t-2nd)||0.163 (1st)||2.45||1.94||25.0||27.2||46|
Notice that when White played, he wasn't playing cheap minutes. As the team's #3, he saw solid competition every night. The big difference between the two seasons is that the quality of his teammates skyrocketed, meaning he benefitted from playing with better forwards up front - not to mention having his partner shuffled among the 8 other defensemen the Devils stockpiled in 07-08.
White's 2007-08 wasn't all that great on even strength, as the opposition managed to put up an average of 4.5 more shots per 60 minutes when White came out. I guess that comes with the competition, but it is a big jump. Moreover, the goals against per 60 went up 0.3 - perhaps some of those extra shots were in prime locations. One big positive is that he took only 13 minor penalties in his injury-shortened season. After a 2006-07 season where he finally earned less than 70 penalty minutes (69), 26 is a massive improvement. Unfortunately, White's penalty minutes went up as he played more games last season to 46 - which still isn't too terrible given White's past.
Nevertheless, while he played less even strength time on average, I'd say he played much better in 2008-09. I think it's enough to persuade those who think he isn't as defensively responsible as he once was. Again, while playing against solid competition, when he stepped on the ice, the shots against per 60 dropped by 2.2. For comparison purposes, the only bigger drop off in shots against per 60 minutes among Devils defenseman last year was Paul Martin - and that was a drop in 2.3 shots. Yeah, I'd say White has done well in his own end last season in 5-on-5 situations.
There's still room for improvement. The big increase in goals against per 60 when White came out on the ice was the largest among the Devils. It suggests to me that whatever shots the opposition is getting, they are certainly of higher quality. Though we can argue over and over whether that is the case, what can't be argued is that White on the ice meant fewer shots against on even strength - and that's what you expect out of a defensive defenseman.
On the penalty kill, Colin White's season was more mixed. According to Behind the Net's shorthanded numbers from last season, when White stepped onto the ice, the shots against per 60 increased from 40.3 to 42.4 and goals against per 60 jumped from 5.57 to 6.34. The shots against per 60 rising only by 2 on top penalty killing unit isn't too bad (Oduya is the best, as his actually decreased when he came out there). Moreover, White's 6.34 goals against per 60 minutes while on-ice is the second lowest among the regular penalty killers (Martin is the lowest at 6.03). Yet, he has the lowest goals against per 60 when he's not on the ice. It makes one wonder why he got an average of 3:05 ice time shorthanded over Johnny Oduya (where the shots and goals against per 60 actually dropped when he got out there).
Still, I'm hopeful that as White is now a veteran of the league and with the help of Jacques Lemaire, he should be able to maintain his form on defense and improve his performance on the penalty kill. As far as physical play is concerned, White hasn't been as aggressive in the last two seasons. In 2006-07, White officially threw 168 hits and blocked 174 shots in 69 games. In 2007-08, White officially made 106 hits and 73 blocked shots in 57 games. Last season, in 71 games, White threw 126 hits and 109 blocked shots. Then again, if fewer hits means fewer stupid penalties, then I'll gladly take it. More blocked shots wouldn't be a bad thing, but if his play on the ice is resulting in 2.2 fewer shots against per 60 minutes like he did last season, then I really don't mind the drop in that stat.
I feel that Colin White has improved on the issues that I have with Bryce Salvador, the Devils other defensive defenseman that's over 30 years old that I discussed yesterday. Whereas I want Salvador to take fewer penalties, White has made the effort and has done that in recent seasons. Gone are the days where you can expect White to take a cheap call nearly every game. Whereas I felt Salvador didn't have a good season defensively, White had a much better season on even strength situations. Should Lemaire be able to work with the defensemen to improve them - something suggested by dsarch and MoonDrgn in the comments on the Salvador post - it would be for the benefit of the team. Yet, in Colin White's case, that may mean an even better season from the defensive defenseman.
Essentially, I expect White to build on this 2008-09 season defensively (as in maintain these numbers or do better) improve his performance on the penalty kill, and continue working on keeping the penalties in minutes total as low as possible. Even if he can continue to cause fewer shots on net when he's out there like he did last season, then I would be very pleased. As far as physical play goes, I wouldn't mind more hits and blocked shots; but not at the cost of getting out of position or allowing more shots. White's not going to score a ton of points or be the team's hit-machine; but he definitely can be one of the better #3 defenseman in the NHL. And so that's what I'm expecting out of the 31 year old defenseman.
Now it's time to have your say. Do you feel Colin White should be expected to improve on last season's effort? Do you think he can improve on it much more? Or do you expect less from White, a down year more like 2007-08? Share all of your comments about Colin White in the comments below.