The 48 game regular season didn't turn out well for the New Jersey Devils. After a hot start, the team suffered two extended winless streaks, the shootout wasn't so successful, and they ultimately missed the playoffs with a 19-19-10 record. While they finished with the league's best shots against per game average at 23.1 and a better-than-league median goals against average at 2.54, their shooting collectively became super-cold and ended up 29th in the league goals scored per game at 2.29. I think the team played a lot better than they did and I don't think a team lacking in talent achieves such high marks in possession across the board. Yet, this is a results-oriented business and the Devils didn't get them one way or another. Instead of playing later this week, they'll be part of the lottery process on Monday and have two full months to determine their plans at the NHL Entry Draft and free agency in July.
Nevertheless, there were standout players from this recent regular season and now that the season itself is over, it's a good time as any to recognize them. The other ILWT writers and I made our selections for various awards as we did last year. Believe it or not, most of us came to the same conclusion so it's mostly unanimous. Incidentally, I axed the Best Rookie award since no rookie played throughout the whole season and it's not really noteworthy to highlight 17 games of Stefan Matteau over a handful of games by Harri Pesonen and a few brief looks from others. I'm sure you'll have a different take on a few of these (maybe you want a Best Rookie award?) and I welcome the discussion. I also welcome additional superlatives you may want to add as well. In any case, here's who we decided to receive various awards within the Devils.
Team MVP: Patrik Elias
|2013 - Patrik Elias||48||14||22||36||5||22||5||1||0||18:43||118||11.9|
This wasn't entirely unanimous as one chose Ilya Kovalchuk, presumably for his absence being sorely felt during the ten-game winless streak, and another chose Greene, who will get his kudos in a paragraph or two. However, the majority ruled Patrik Elias as Team MVP for a third straight season. The reasoning is a bit different as Peter DeBoer didn't use him against the toughs nearly as much as he did in 2011-12. With weaker competition, Elias was even superior in puck possession with the team's second highest on-ice Corsi rate. Unlike number one on that list - David Clarkson, believe it or not - Elias played in all situations and in significant amounts to finish third among Devils forwards in average ice time per game. On top of all that, Elias led the Devils in scoring in 2013. He finished second on the team with goals, first in assists, and third in shots on net as one of three Devils to average at least two shots per game. He was also one of three regular Devils to have shot over 10% too. Keep in mind that Elias did all this while switching between wing and center at points in this season. As I said before this season, Elias and Kovalchuk were the most important forwards on the team. As it turned out, while Kovalchuk was definitely missed during his injury, I shudder to think how this team would have done without #26. At least in my eyes, that makes Elias the most valuable player on the team.
Best Defenseman: Andy Greene
|2013 - Andy Greene||48||4||12||16||12||18||2||1||1||23:02||63||6.3|
This was unanimous among all of the writers and I think the argument is simple. DeBoer didn't rotate out three defenseman this season for poor play or some other reason: Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, and Andy Greene. Among the three, Greene was the better defenseman in both ends. While Salvador faced tougher competition, look at Greene's line at Behind the Net. Greene did start more often in his own end of the rink, he played more minutes at even strength, the shots against rate went down considerably instead of up in Salvador's case and he was far better at getting the play moving forward. While Zidlicky took more shots on net and eventually wound up leading the blueline in scoring, Greene nearly matched him with less time on the power play and was far better on defense than a sheltered-when-possible Zidlicky. While 2013 was a disappointment for the team, it can and should be seen as a successful one for Greene. He led the Devils defensemen in average ice time and he was leaned on for big minutes on most nights. While he wasn't immune to errors, he was clearly the most reliable defender. I look forward to seeing him do it again over 82 games in 2013-14.
Best Goaltender: Martin Brodeur
|2013 - Martin Brodeur||29||1757||13||9||7||65||2.22||654||589||.901||2||91.9|
Believe it or not, Martin Brodeur finished the season with a save percentage above league average and above 91.2% for the first time in three years. The only reason why his overall save percentage is lower has been because of the penalty kill, which definitely wasn't as dominant as unit in 2013 as it was 2011-12. On man-disadvantage situations, Brodeur's save percentage is a bad-looking 81.1%. A goal-against review should clear up how much of that was on him and how much was that on the guys in front of him making an error. Anyway, Brodeur wasn't the problem in net this season. Johan Hedberg, on the other hand, was a nightmare after a hot start, especially during the Devils' six-game winless streak back in late February and early March. With Moose's 90.1% even strength save percentage among an overall save percentage of 88.3% over the season in mind, this was another no-brainer for the staff.
Best Defensive Forward & Best Offensive Forward: Patrik Elias
Two awards, same player. For many of the same reasons he won Team MVP, Elias takes home both Best Defensive Forward and Best Offensive Forward. Both were unanimous among the staff, too. Elias was a key player at both ends for New Jersey throughout the season. While Elias wasn't utilized as the tough-minutes player he probably should have been this season, he definitely left his mark and came out ahead against plenty of good players. On offense, Elias utilized his playmaking abilities while shooting a little bit more often. He helped Clarkson get many of his shots, he finished tied with Kovalchuk in power play points with 14 and actually scored more power play goals than Kovalchuk, and he led the team in scoring, and he led the team with 21 even strength points in addition to overall points with 36. Again, strong play over the year at both ends led a majority of us to name him the team MVP and it led all of us to give him both of these awards as well.
The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Patrik Elias
Again, Elias lined up at wing and center, played with plenty of different people in all situations, and did well overall. Ultimately, this is worth being rewarded moreso than someone moving around in the lineup because he didn't mesh well with others. Lots of Devils played well with Elias than without him at even strength and so it made sense for us to give him the Brylin.
Best Comeback: Steve Bernier
|2013 - Steve Bernier||46||8||7||15||-6||17||2||0||1||13:45||88||9.1|
I thought about doing a whole post on the Steve Bernier comeback earlier in the season but ultimately decided against it for some reason I cannot recall. I wish I did it since it would make this section a bit shorter. The short version follows: Last season, Bernier was on his way of being out of the league. He didn't make the Devils out of training camp, he signed an AHL deal to be within the organization, and got injured. Bernier was signed during 2011-12 and ultimately ended up on a fourth line with Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta. They got hot in the playoffs and chipped in key moments. Unfortunately for him, one major penalty in Game 6 helped L.A. smash the Devils for the Cup. Yet, his play earned himself a two-year, one-way deal with the Devils. In the first season of the deal, Bernier proved he definitely belonged. He was used a bit more against tougher players than he should have, but managed to be quite positive possession player at evens. He used his big body to crash into boards on forechecking situations, he wasn't afraid to shoot, and win pucks for his line. He was true energy player and definitely contributed to the team on offense, even with a few beneficial bounces go his way. Bernier may not be happy he's not in the postseason, but I don't see how he can look at 2013 as anything but a good year.
Best UFA Signing from the 2012 Offseason: Ryan Carter
Among the staff, we had three votes for Ryan Carter, two for Bernier, one for Gionta, and one for the whole line. I didn't expect this to be the tightest call. You can argue that Bernier would be a better call by shooting the puck more, taking fewer penalties, and . However, Carter was used a bit more in tougher competition and came out a bit better in possession. Either way, both were signed for $1.55 million over two years last summer and I'd say both bottom six forwards have been well worth their contracts.
Worst UFA Signing from the 2012 Offseason: Bryce Salvador
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No one really liked the signing then and I don't think any Devils fan likes it now. I don't think the team captain is done at this level, but I do think he wasn't used correctly. Salvador was employed as the first choice on the PK and faced tough competition while getting unfavorable zone starts. His on-ice Corsi rate would be positive when adjusted for zone starts, but the shots against rate went up quite a bit when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play per Behind the Net. As for 4-on-5 stats at Behind the Net, the shots against rate also went up while he was on the ice and he's tied with Greene for most goals against with 13. In general, Salvador's lack of speed has caught him in bad spots if he's not in the right position I think Salvador would have been more effective if he wasn't used as if he's the top shut-down defensive defenseman on the team. He's not. Greene and Fayne are more suited for that role. Even if he was used more appropriately, his three-year,
$11.6 $9.5 million contract still stinks. I should note that one writer did pick Hedberg instead and while I can understand an argument; Salvador has two years left while Hedberg's done in 2014.
Best In-Season Acquisition: Andrei Loktionov
|2013 - Andrei Loktionov||28||8||4||12||-2||4||1||0||0||14:15||47||17.0|
Among the several low-cost deals Lou made in 2013, the one for Loktionov turned out to be the best of the bunch. I liked the move at the time and every time he produced was a reason to yell "ONLY A FIFTH ROUND PICK" at the Kings. He was likely KHL-bound if he didn't get out of Los Angeles. In New Jersey, he got hot early, meshed a little bit with Kovalchuk, and managed to put up a decent amount of offense while being positive in possession. His goals were beautiful, and his apex made Braydon Coburn look really foolish. He's still young so I hope he'll learn to take more shots and play better in both ends. The skill is clearly there and I do hope Lou gives him a worthy offer to stay with the Devils for at least 2013-14.
Most Disappointing: Travis Zajac
|2013 - Travis Zajac||47||7||13||20||-4||20||1||1||1||19:31||81||8.5|
Zajac wasn't particularly bad but he definitely didn't stand out like one would hope. He signed the big contract extension before the season but the production certainly didn't follow up in a way. Zajac was shuffled between playing with Kovalchuk, playing with Elias and Clarkson, playing with and without Henrique, and elsewhere. While Zajac definitely was a positive possession player and played significant minutes throughout the season in all situations, he wasn't used against tough competition and he wasn't shooting nearly as much as he could have. He was the Devils' lone centerman who won more faceoffs than he lost, but you expected more out of a player who was made to be a major part of the team's core for years to come. Hence, he was the most disappointing Devil among most of us. (One felt it should be Hedberg, another Henrique, and I can't say I fully disagree.) I wouldn't fret just yet about the contract. It didn't help him - or the team - If he turns a similar performance next season, then fret away.
These are more offbeat awards some of us came up with. I've included them without comment. Feel free to add your own in the comments, or to argue otherwise. The initials in the parentheses tell you who came up with what.
Best Prospect (MS): Reid Boucher
Sophomore Slump Award (NP): Adam Henrique
Get the Car Trophy for Impending Free Agent Devils Fans Most Likely Don't Want Back (JF): Marek Zidlicky. Especially after the last game.
Most Productive Goon Award (NP): Tom Kostopoulos
Player Involved in the Most Baffling Series of Moves (MS): Stefan Matteau. My comment: I'm surprised his NHL tenure was the least contentious of his 2012-13 campaign.
Money, Money, Money, Mon-aaaaaaay - Most Likely to Get Real Paid This Summer (JF): David Clarkson
Best Fictional Player Created by a Rich Chere Typo Award (NP): David Clarkdon
The Unicorn Prize for a Wish for One Thing That Was Better this Season Than it Was (JF): A league-average shooting percentage. Not the highest, just league-average.
Feel Good Story of the Season (NP): Matt Anderson getting called up and playing his first game at age 30.
The Confirmation-Bias Medal for Worst Giveaway for a Goal Against (JF): February 9, 2013 at Pittsburgh; Anton Volchenkov coughs it up right to Chris Kunitz less than ten feet away from him.
The Best Readers (JF): You.
Which awards do you agree with and why? Which ones do you think we got wrong and why? What superlative awards would you give? Please let us know your take in the comments and other thoughts.