Andy Greene is the highest profile impending unrestricted free agent on the New Jersey Devils. He is coming off a two-year contract where he made $750,000 last season according to CapGeek. Whether he re-signs in NJ or signs elsewhere, I would think he'll be a seven-figure earning player in 2010-11. At first glance, you may feel otherwise. He's not particularly big. He's not particularly physical. You could argue he's one of the few defenders who's not solely a defensive defenseman; but he's not particularly an offensive one either. And his production dropped in this past season, his "contract year."
|2009-10 - Andy Greene||78
|2010-11 - Andy Greene||82||4||19||23||-23||22||1||0||1||22:21||91||4.3|
The big reason why I think he's going to get some serious money in the summer is his ice time. Within these past two seasons, Devils fans have seen a lot of #6 on the ice. Jacques Lemaire, a man who knows a thing or two about defense, put out Greene for shift after shift after shift. When Paul Martin was out injured in 2009-10, Greene filled his minutes well. Enough for us to name him the top defenseman of that season. In this past season, Greene shouldered the workload of big minutes again, leading the team in shifts per game with 28.5 and finishing just behind Henrik Tallinder (22:32) in average ice time per game. That's impressive since Lemaire doesn't just give a guy minutes unless he feels they're deserving and he did it even with being paired with Anssi Salmela for most of the second half of the season.
More germane to the rest of the league, is his ice time relative to the impending UFA defensemen this summer. According to CapGeek's UFA Finder (which I highly recommend, of course), Greene has the second highest even strength ice time only behind Joni Pitkanen. Among total ice time, Greene is seventh among impending UFA defenders; he's behind Pitkanen, Christian Ehrhoff, the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom, James Wisniewski, Andrei Markov and his 7 games, and Kevin Bieksa. While I'm not saying Greene is just like those guys, it's telling that his workload is right up there. At a minimum, the Devils got a bargain in getting a guy who could play so much for a cap hit of only $737,500.
Opinions will vary on what Andy Greene is really worth both to the Devils and to another teams. Let's start by looking at his underlying even strength numbers to get some insight on what he has done in recent seasons. Not just the last two, but also his first two "full" seasons in the NHL in 2007-08 and 2008-09. We know he plays a lot of minutes, let's see how those went in the big picture.
One of the features of the new(er) Behind the Net site is the ability to highlight particular stats and compare them across seasons for the same player. So instead of hitting you with big charts, I will just link you to the relevant page from Behind the Net that has the numbers I will be discuss.
Quality of Competition & Teammates; Corsi; Zone Starts
The first two seasons saw Andy Greene protected quite a bit. He didn't play a lot of minutes under Brent Sutter, he faced relatively weak competition, and he got a favorable percentage in zone starts, starting more often in an offensive zone than a defensive zone. 2008-09 was poor for Greene, as his Corsi relative to both weak competition and weak teammates was negative.
2009-10 clearly was a breakout season for Greene in terms of minutes. It also saw him face tougher competition than ever before. Given that Lemaire placed him on the ice for a lot of offensive zone draws (59%!) didn't hurt either. Then again, with Paul Martin out, he had to take the role not just as a big minute defender but also their de facto top offensive defenseman. This, I believe, also boosted his quality of teammates. While his Corsi relative to his great teammates was still below zero (but not by much at -0.070); Greene did generate his best Corsi relative to quality of competition of his young career at 0.525. In terms of overall Corsi, while an on-ice rate of 2.17 isn't anything to write home about, his relative Corsi was positive for the only time of his career.
This past season saw a let down of sorts. Greene still put up over 18 minutes of even strength ice time, but his quality of competition and teammates both dropped dramatically. As Henrik Tallinder improved, he got tougher competition with his big minutes - taking it away from Greene. Unfortunately, despite getting weaker competition, his Corsi didn't get any better. His Corsi relative to competition dropped to 0.279; his Corsi relative to teammates went down slightly to -0.094; and despite an improved on-ice Corsi rate of 2.66, his relative Corsi went negative - meaning it was higher when Greene was not on the ice. All this while receiving a rather favorable zone start percentage of 54.1 is indicative of a let down. While Greene didn't play poorly, he wasn't a force in driving the play forward and he didn't get better at it despite a dip in his opponent's levels.
So while it's a good sign he continued to get a lot of ice time, Greene wasn't exactly taking the league over on defense.
In Greene's first "full" NHL season, the on-ice/off-ice difference wasn't so bad for a guy getting limited minutes. The Devils' goals for per 60 dropped by 0.58 when Greene was on the ice, but the shots for per 60 rose by 2.6. Going the other way, goals against per 60 dropped by 0.25 and shots against per 60 dropped by 0.1. Not the greatest effects, but certainly more good than bad.
2008-09 was also rough on Greene from this standpoint. The only positive change that happened when Greene came onto the ice was the goals against per 60, which decreased by 0.64 - the best improvement in all four seasons. The other three rates went in the wrong direction as Greene took a shift at even strength. Goals for per 60 also decreased by 0.74; shots for per 60 were cut by 2; and the shots against per 60 rate rose by a remarkable 5 from 25 SA/60 to 30 SA/60. That is not good at all, especially the last difference.
The next season, Greene's 78 game and 18+ minute even strength ice time season, did show some improvement. When Greene came on the ice. The goals for per 60 still fell by 0.25 - his "best" among all four seasons; while the goals against per 60 fell by 0.49, which actually is pretty good. The shots for per 60 went up 1.4 with Greene on the ice, while shots against per 60 still increased, but only by 0.8. None of these are particularly eye-opening numbers, but they aren't bad within the context. A SA/60 that rises to 25.5 isn't anything to freak out about.
This past season, his "contract year," shows one shocking difference. As Greene got on the ice, the Devils' goal against per 60 rate actually went up by 0.43. After three straight seasons of his ice time leading to reductions in that stat for the team, it goes the wrong way. Perhaps it's nothing to be alarmed about. After all, the team's save percentage when Greene was on the ice was 90.3% - it could be just bad luck. Other than that, when Greene was on the ice, the goals for per 60 still fell by 0.41; the shots for per 60 went up by 0.4; and the shots against per 60 remained even. The latter is actually rather impressive since the Devils' SA/60 with and without Greene was a mere 23.5. That's an incredibly good rate and for Greene to maintain that while playing as much as he does is a feat. At least in my eyes it is.
Nevertheless, the last four seasons with Greene on the ice do form a trend of sorts. When Greene's on the ice at even strength, the goals for per 60 won't necessarily increase, the shots for 60 will increase to some degree, and shots against per 60 will fall slightly. The goals against per 60 from this past season may be an anomaly, and if so, then that should look better for next season. The main point is that whoever he plays for next season is not going to see wildly great swings in even strength rates when Greene is out there. Given the ice time he got in the last two seasons, then this may be seen by some teams as a positive - a defenseman who can play big minutes without rocking the proverbial boat too much.
The Next Step
The next step for this is to compare Greene's even strength performance with defensemen who play similar minutes. My gut feeling is that while I don't see Greene as a first-pairing defenseman, he can more than handle himself in a top 4 role easily and could play upwards of 23 minutes on some nights. This will depend on the situation he enters for 2010-11, of course.
Yet, the even strength stats discussed show that Greene has not been effective in driving play forward, he hasn't had a season where he's starting in his own end more often than not (and perhaps shouldn't), he's only had one full season where he played mostly against tough competition, and his appearance on the ice will not lead to massive improvements in shots or goals against per 60. These aren't dooming points, only proof to me that he's not a top-end defender. I don't think many Devils fans would disagree with that, but the underlying numbers really hammer that point home.
That said, I like Greene and I think he'll draw interest this summer should he choose to test the market. He's not all that bad, he's relatively young compared to most of the UFA defensemen at 27, and his ice time alone justified a moniker of "hard working." Greene's got positives, he's just not all that and a bag of chips. Therefore, I wouldn't expect a team to sign him to ridiculous piles of money unless they sorely need a defender like Greene.
What do you think of Andy Greene's performance at even strength over the last four seasons? What surprised you the most? What didn't surprise you the most? What are your gut feelings about Greene's potential role, massive ice time aside? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the defenseman in the comments. Thanks for reading.