Regardless of what happens in these coming weeks, I think it's fair to say that all fans of the New Jersey Devils are hoping for a comeback season in 2011-12 after missing the playoffs in 2010-11. There's nothing wrong with dreaming, but is such a goal reasonable? Why should we believe this team should do better?
Well, one reason is the hope of fewer injuries - especially from certain player who wears #9. A full season out of him would be Another reason would be a new head coach. Whatever you may think of Peter DeBoer, there's little reason to think he'll flop as spectacularly as John MacLean. An additional reason would be the team's shooting percentage. It was absolutely horrid, to a point where I don't think it's out of the question to think it is unlikely it'll be as bad for a second straight season. This is a reason I personally believe in, at least.
Related to that, I'd like to offer another one: PDO. Like the shooting percentage, the majority of Devils players were so low in this advanced stat that many of them really have nowhere to go but up. I'll explain more after the jump.
PDO (which doesn't stand for anything) is a stat that just combines the on-ice team shooting percentage plus the on-ice team save percentage when that player is on the ice. It can be done for any situation, but it has the most meaning when only looking at 5-on-5 play, the most common situation in hockey. It's a sum that can quickly show whether a team or player is above the base value of 1; where higher than that is better and lower than that is worse. This is an important point, since PDO is usually an unsustainable value, as Tyler Dellow found way back in 2008. A team's or player's PDO will regress towards their true mean over time. The exceptionally talented player will be able to maintain a PDO above 1 consistently, whereas poor players will suffer.
It's not a perfect stat, however. A skater's PDO is going to benefit playing in front of a good goalie over a poor one, and as per Tyler Dellow, a skater isn't necessarily going to have a great effect on on-ice save percentage. He can suffer from a low on-ice save percentage from the first half of the season, benefit from a higher on-ice save percentage in the second half, and come out even despite not necessarily being any different, much less better. I think it works better as a "sanity check" - a quick and dirty way of seeing whether
That being said, the Devils were incredibly low in this stat last season. Behind the Net stores PDO, with 1000 as it's baseline, and notice how low it was for the 2010-11 Devils (minimum 10 games played). Only 5 Devils were above the baseline of 1000: Nick Palmieri, Jacob Josefson, Mark Fraser, Mark Fayne, and Mattias Tedenby. All except Fraser were rookies and most of them had the benefit of playing more under Jacques Lemaire than John MacLean. I find that to be quite interesting, as they haven't had enough experience at this level to really estimate their true value. I'm leaning on thinking it may fall just as a result of playing more games and still developing as players at this level; but I could be wrong.
The rest of the team were below the baseline. Vladimir Zharkov and Colin White just finished below the baseline, so I'm not concerned about that. I am concerned about the fact that 20 Devils that had PDO values below 985. That's pretty awful, and indicative of the some poor shooting luck that plagued the team on top of some poor on-ice save percentages. At the same time, Devils fans shouldn't look at that and wince. Most of these 17 players are veterans, such as Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Ilya Kovlachuk, and Henrik Tallinder. Because they have considerable NHL experience, the fact is that they have had superior values in the past. I show that off in this post I did last year on the team's PDO. In general, you'll notice the PDOs in 2007-08 tended to be low as well, and those same Devils saw increases in the following season.
In retrospect, some of my expectations from that post - namely thinking Ilya Kovalchuk maintaining a high PDO by way of shooting percentage - turned out to be laughably wrong. However, it does have evidence that most these players have been more fortunate and been better in the past. Their 2010-11 PDO is not indicative of their true value, and it should rise up to their true value. That will mean better shooting percentages (which I believe will bounce back) and better on-ice shooting percentages (fewer errors by the guys in front of the goalie will help a little in this regard). It won't be across the board, I suspect Rod Pelley, who has finished around 980 before, will remain where he is; but I expect Kovalchuk, Zajac, Elias, Parise, Clarkson, etc. to see improvement in either stat - which will lead to a better PDO.
What about the new additions of Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen? While I don't think either will contribute a lot to the Devils on the ice, I don't see a reason to be too concerned about their PDO. Per Behind the Net, Janssen only suffered a really bad PDO last season and Boulton has stayed above the baseline in recent seasons.
Ultimately, a better PDO is a quick-and-dirty sign that things are going better both in terms of luck and results for the team. Again, it's just a summation of on-ice team shooting percentage and on-ice team save percentage; and it regresses to it's true value over time. The 2010-11 Devils suffered across the board among it's veterans, with only a handful of rookies to finish above the baseline of 1 (or in Behind the Net's case, 1000). We know the veterans have done better in the past; so we know what they had in 2010-1 is not their true value. Knowing that, we should expect improvement - which will come with better performance and results. Hopefully, it will be enough to put the Devils back where we want them: contending in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What do you think of this additional reason to believe that the Devils will go back to the playoffs in 2011-12? Do you think much of it, do you think it's just one more reason and that's all, or do you think this doesn't mean all that much? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.