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2011 Offseason: Can the Devils Replace Andy Greene From Within? Part 1 - On-Ice/Off-Ice Stats

One of the looming questions that must be answered in some way or form by the New Jersey Devils in this coming offseason is what do with Andy Greene.  He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2011 at the end of a 2-year deal where his cap hit was a mere $737,500.   Even if the salary cap goes up, trying to re-sign Greene on top of retaining all of their restricted free agents will be a challenge.  

Recently, I've taken a closer look at the defenseman to see what he could command and how important he has been at even strength.  Greene has played a lot of minutes in the last two seasons, yet the advanced stats from his 2010-11 season wasn't all that impressive beyond his large total of ice time.   When comparing him to other impending UFA defensemen who have played significant minutes for their teams, Greene is somewhere in the middle among most advanced stats: both in terms of Corsi and quality of competition or on-ice/off-ice even strength stats.  It's a UFA group where the average defenseman had a cap hit of just under $3 million and Greene being somewhere in the middle may belie a salary similar to that.  A salary that may be too much for the Devils unless they clear some significant cap space.  Not to mention that most of the UFA defenders who have played significant minutes are either veterans coming off big contracts or younger guys who aren't particularly great one way or another.  The Devils may have to clear significant cap space just to sign a replacement.

Let's consider another option. What if the Devils don't re-sign Greene or anyone else?  Can the Devils fill in their defense from within?  To answer those questions, I went through the 5-on-5 stats at Behind the Net for all the Devils defenseman. It serves two purposes: to show how Greene stacked up on the Devils and to show whether anyone else may be able to step into Greene's role for next season.  

After the jump, I will show the on-ice/off-ice stats at 5-on-5 play for Devils defensemen who have suited up at least 10 games for the Devils this season.  This will show the impact they had on the team along with Greene.

Now, the following charts and subsequent parts will show 10 defensemen.  13 have played at least 1 game for the Devils; but Alexander Urbom, Jay Leach, and Tyler Eckford all played less than 10.   Of those three, only Urbom is of some interest. He could compete for a job in training camp this fall.  However, that's going to be contingent on how many other defensemen are signed for 2011-12.   Even so, I wouldn't put the hopes of replacing Greene on a 20-year old defenseman after only 8 games of NHL experience.

I set the mark at 10 games so I can include someone who has made more of a case for a roster spot: Matt Taormina.   His injury limited his time to playing only under John MacLean, so he never got a shot to prove his worth late or to be instructed by Jacques Lemaire.  In his short time, he did fairly well.  This also means Olivier Magnan (a.k.a. Olivier Magnan-Grenier) is also here; though, I wouldn't hold my breath on a return to the NHL for him.

Lastly, here's the link to Behind the Net's on-ice/off-ice data used in the following charts for your information.  I calculated the difference between the two for each stat and organized them.  For the purposes of context, I included the amount of games each defender has played, their TOI/60 at 5-on-5, their quality of competition value, and their quality of teammates.

Devils Defenseman by Goals For per 60 Minutes


Surprise, surprise, the Devils struggled to score goals last season.   Anyway, Matthew Corrente had the top differential largely from easy situations.  One of the lowest quality of competitions on the team plus not good teammates.  Olivier Magnan brought up the rear with similar minutes to Corrente, weaker competition, and much better teammates.  Tough break for him.  Greene's near the bottom and one of only two regular defensemen to have a negative GF/60 differential. The other was his second-half partner Anssi Salmela.  

Devils Defenseman by Goals Against per 60 Minutes


Greene ends up right by the bottom in terms of GA/60 differential, just ahead of his second-half partner, Anssi Salmela.  Henrik Tallinder surprisingly shows up here; though at least he can claim that he's faced tougher competition than Greene and even played more than him at 5-on-5.   Fortunately, Mark Fayne and Colin White are on the right side of this differential.  Curiously, the top three are all players who either got limited minutes, strong teammates, and/or weak competition: Taormina, Magnan, and Mark Fraser.   I guess if the protected guys aren't leading to massive jumps in goals against, then the protection is working to some degree.

Devils Defenseman by Shots For per 60 Minutes


I'm more interested in the shooting rates changing since that's going to more controllable than goals.  So seeing Andy Greene not near the bottom in on-ice/off-ice differential is good.   It's even better if you're a fan of Fayne and Tallinder, since the team shot more when both were on the ice by a good margin.  Unlike Fraser (again, limited minutes, relatively weak competition), this increased with Fayne & Tallinder facing decent competition.    It's not a surprise to see Colin White to have a negative differential, since he's pretty much the definition of a defensive defenseman. Though it is a little surprising to see it go up for Anton Volchenkov, who is also a defensive defenseman and played quite a bit with White under Lemaire.  Then again, White played more than Volchenkov and with varying partners under MacLean which could be skewing the results here.  That may explain the differences in quality of competition; while also providing some context for the negative SF/60 differential for Salmela.

Devils Defenseman by Shots Against per 60 Minutes


Only two regulars had a worse SA/60 differential than Greene:  White and Salmela, and like with the SF/60 differential, they both did have at least a higher quality of competition.  On the other side, it's very heartening to see a positive change when Fayne and Tallinder came on the ice.  Moreso for Tallinder, since he has played considerably more minutes at 5-on-5 than Fayne.  What's not so heartening is to see that the opposition bombed away when Fraser and Corrente were on the ice with limited 5-on-5 minutes and weak competition.  At least the protected Taormina and Magnan came out ahead when it came to shots - especially Taormina.

Commentary So Far

The whole purpose of looking at the differential for on-ice/off-ice stats for each defenseman is to highlight what happened when they were out there.  It's not an be-all, end-all way of looking at things. 

That said, Anssi Salmela looks pretty bad by each of these metrics.  When he was out there, the opposition shot and scored more, while the Devils did not.    At least we can say (for now) that he didn't get soft competition and didn't get great teammates.  That mitigates some of the ugliness. Yet, I still recall this comment Tom made when I first looked at Andy Greene earlier this month:

Poor Greene, though. Playing for what will probably be his biggest career contract and he is stuck for the final quarter of the year with Salmela. Out of good faith does Salmela just send him a check for $500,000 with a note that says’ Sorry Man’…?

Well, the early Greene-Tallinder pairing didn't go so well either if memory serves; but Behind the Net doesn't allow for splits by games. Anyway, despite whether Salmela was some kind of anvil, at least Greene finished in a decent spot when it came to both shots for and against per 60 minutes. Being on the wrong side of the differentials for goals for and against could be just unfortunate (and I will show that in a later post).   All the same, Greene's on-ice/off-ice numbers weren't impressive on their own and they're not impressive among his fellow defensemen in this past season.   While there's much more to look at, it's a sign that Greene may be replaceable.

Who looks good coming out of this?  Fayne and Tallinder.  That pairing really worked well together under Lemaire, and their differentials are good. Only when it came to GA/60 differential was either of them poor, and that was only for Tallinder anyway. For next season, the on-ice/off-ice stats show that this is a pairing that could (should?) stay intact.  I wouldn't anoint Fayne as the replacement or immediately state that Tallinder makes Greene redundant, though.

Lastly,  I wouldn't put a lot of stock into the numbers of Taormina, Fraser, Corrente, and Magnan since they all got weak competition and only so many games.  As of right now, I don't think Fraser or Corrente as anything more than third-pairing defensemen (and Salmela too, while I'm at it) and even less of Magnan.  Taormina's interesting in that he actually did get a significant amount of minutes; though I was surprised to see that his SF/60 differential wasn't all that good considering his low quality of competition value.  By the same token, his SA/60 differential suggests his defense against said weak competition was on-point. Fair enough. 

Part 2 will go over quality of competition, teammates, and Corsi and you should see that in the coming days. In the meantime, please let me know what you think of these stats, how Andy Greene stacked up against his fellow teammates, and other thoughts about the Devils' defensemen discussed here in the comments.  Thanks for reading.