Johan Hedberg has now been a goaltender for the New Jersey Devils for three seasons. He's definitely in the twilight of his career and he's got one more season remaining on his current contract. In this shortened 2013 season, the Moose was hot early on but his performance and his numbers cratered as he got lit up while Martin Brodeur was injured. Once Brodeur returned, Johan Hedberg didn't see the crease until the last week of the season - and after the Devils were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. He's clearly the #2 man, which is fine given that's the role he's been serving in Newark since Fall 2010.
However, should the Devils settle for him to be the backup for one more season? The argument against is pretty straight forward. He's coming off a season where he earned overall save percentage of 88.3% in 19 appearances. Given that Brodeur is likely to play 50-60 games based on the last two full NHL seasons (he played 56 and 59 games respectively in 2010-11 and 2011-12), whoever the #2 goalie in New Jersey should be expected to be at least decent for 20-30 appearances. Hedberg wasn't decent and it's not likely he's going to turn it around at age 40. The argument for keeping him would be based on the hope that while Hedberg may not be great, he may be better than a sub-90% save percentage goalie and pull it off for about a quarter of the season. He managed in his first two seasons in New Jersey when he was also old. Plus, it may be more cost effective to let him play out the year than to buy him out and sign someone else for likely a similar amount of money. It's a question that at least warrants some discussion.
However, before we do that in earnest, a closer look at how Hedberg got beat would be helpful. I've reviewed every goal Hedberg allowed in the 2013 season to determine whether he was truly as awful as that save percentage would suggest. In looking at each one, I recorded whether the goal should've been stopped (a.k.a. a soft goal), whether a skater or skaters made a significant error that led to the goal, whether the shot would be counted as a scoring chance, and where Hedberg got beat. I've done this on a month-by-month basis and have posted my findings for each one. This is a summary of all of those findings and from there we can get a better handle on what to do with the Moose.
The Month by Month Posts in this Series
All of the terms I'm using here as well as all of the goals allowed themselves can be found in the following posts. You can even see the goals allowed themselves as I've included links to the NHL.com video used for review. Since Hedberg only appeared in one NHL game in January, I combined that one with his two games in April.
- January & April 2013: 3 appearances, 7 goals allowed.
- February 2013: 6 appearances, 17 goals allowed.
- March 2013: 10 appearances, 27 goals allowed.
The Chart of Soft Goals Allowed by Hedberg in 2013
Here's how I counted both soft goals and goals allowed from scoring chances (I used Jonathan Willis' definition for scoring chances) by Hedberg from month to month:
Outside of the first goal allowed, Hedberg really didn't fall apart until the end of February and the beginning of March. Those few weeks were the low point in terms of giving up goals he shouldn't have. Over the whole season, he allowed 15 soft goals. That represents roughly 30% of the total amount he allowed. While I can't tell you how this compares to other goalies in the NHL, I can tell you how this relates to Hedberg's prior seasons.
The good news is that Hedberg did cut down on the percentage of soft goals from last season to this season. However, 2013 doesn't compare well with 2010-11. The 2013 season was shortened but due to Brodeur's injury, Hedberg played a portion of the season similar to his first with the Devils. Even though he played 15 fewer games than he did in 2010-11, he got beat at a higher rate (2013 GA/GP: 2.68; 2010-11 GA/GP: 2.00) and he let in a larger percentage of soft goals than that season. Taken as a whole, I would estimate that about 30% of his total goals being ones he should have stopped. While the majority aren't his fault alone, it is something that must be considered when it comes to determining his spot in the lineup. Hedberg's now 40, he's not suddenly going to improve in this regard even if some of the soft ones were avoidable errors. If the team can accept this and try account for it elsewhere, then fine. If they need better goaltending, then they may have to look elsewhere.
Now, in this chart I also included my count of goals allowed scoring chances (SC). A remarkable number of the goals allowed - soft and non-soft - came from that dangerous middle area of the zone. The lowest month was February where about 70% of the goals came from that area. Over the whole season, 40 out of 51 were in the slot, at the crease, or within the dots. That so many goals came from those areas justify the importance of keeping those areas well defended. Opposition offenses are always trying to get the puck there and they managed to get there for 40 goals against Hedberg. What's concerning is that this is a big jump over 2011-12 (I didn't look for chances in 2010-11), a season where Hedberg played in more games. Between that and what I found with the skater errors, I'm starting to believe that the defense suffered from being too calamitous in spots despite being generally very stingy with shots allowed.
The Relative Location of the 51 Goals Allowed
Before jumping into errors, let's go back to the goals allowed by Hedberg. Hedberg got beaten quite a lot on low shots, mostly through between his pads.
Keep in mind that not all pucks that went through the legs were soft. A number of the 17 that got through Hedberg's legs did come off breakaways, screens, deflections, and catching Hedberg in motion. The latter is particularly important to note as there's always going to be space beneath and/or between the legs when the goalie is in motion. Even if he keeps his stick up-right, there is little he can do if he has to move. That's why opposition offenses try to do that. They succeeded greatly with Hedberg. Not only was he beaten five-hole more often than any other spot, but 28 of the 51 goals allowed by Hedberg came in with little lift. While he certainly couldn't do much about some of those goals, this suggests he's vulnerable down low. That suggestion is stronger since he was beaten often low - especially through the legs - in 2010-11 and 2011-12 as well. Also, blocker-side based on this season and the 2010-11 season. Nevertheless, opposing players didn't necessarily have to go high on Hedberg to score - and so they usually didn't.
Skater Errors Among 51 Goals Allowed
I counted an error if a skater or skaters made an error in coverage, or some decision such that if they did something else, then the play doesn't likely yield a goal against. An error doesn't excuse the goalie if got beat by a stoppable shot, but it does highlight that something else went wrong on a play. After counting all of the skater errors, I found that a remarkable number of the 51 goals allowed by Hedberg had at least one other Devil involved in making it happen.
Month by month, I noted how Hedberg was subject to all kinds of errors. They ranged from a bad decision to pinch to giveaways to simply not covering the slot. It would be a dazzling array of mistakes if it weren't so defeating. I didn't realize that a vast majority of the goals allowed had some kind of mistake made by a player in front of Hedberg until I totaled up the count. It's amazing but not in the usual use of the word that implies praise. It's amazing in that I want to disbelieve that - but I can't since I watched all of the goals allowed and made my marks as I saw them. There were that many faults by the Devils, and they were costly.
The large percentage of errors seen in 2013 not only sticks out on it's own, but more so in comparison to Hedberg's past two seasons in New Jersey.
There was always a significant percentage of goals allowed with errors, but wow. Not only is this the first season where it was over 50%, but 2013 just dwarfs over the other two seasons. Even if I was more forgiving regarding errors, I don't think that this past season would drop below 50%. Hedberg did get victimized quite a bit. It stands to reason that while there won't be any errors - that's not possible - a few fewer mistakes by the skaters would cut down on some of the goals allowed. That's important given that it's not likely a 40-year goalie is going to improve - especially one who isn't going to play regularly.
In terms of who made the errors, the defense really stood out.
Single errors were instances that skater alone made an error that led to a goal allowed by Hedberg. Multi errors were instances where more than one skater made a mistake that ended up with a beaten Moose. While I can't fully agree, I can say I better understand how some fans feel the Devils' defense wasn't so good compared to prior seasons. I say that at the risk of succumbing to confirmation bias. The majority of the 44 individual errors were committed by defensemen. I think a couple can be forgiven. That's why I'm not really up in arms about the forwards. After all, no one is perfect. And in two cases, not even the bench as two bad line changes helped the other team get a puck past Hedberg. But, goodness, the D sticks out like a sore thumb.
Yet, it's telling that Adam Larsson, Bryce Salvador, and Marek Zidlicky led the list. Larsson didn't get dinged until GA #34 and then got involved in five more from early March onward. He's still developing as a player and since he's a defensemen, those pains are, well, painful. Those who are not fans of the captain or Zidlicky's attention to defense are further justified by the number of errors they committed. The good news is that we can be confident that Larsson will get better. The bad news is that, like Hedberg, it's not likely Salvador or Zidlicky are going to get better since they're veteran players. They can try to be smarter about their positioning (important given that Salvador is slow) and their decision making (important given that Zidlicky can be aggressive on offense to a fault), but only so much can be done. They could play in smaller roles; maybe that's an idea.
Conclusions & Your Take
When it comes to reviewing each goal against, Johan Hedberg definitely had his share of faults in 2013. As mentioned, a sub-90% save percentage suggests the goaltender has been bad. The fact that he didn't see the ice until the Devils were out of the playoffs once Brodeur did come back from injury also supports that. That said, after reviewing all 51 goals that he allowed, I don't think he was a total trainwreck. No, he wasn't good. However, he didn't let up so many more soft goals than he had done in the prior two seasons - two seasons where he had a far superior save percentage. He also didn't have as many errors or goals allowed on scoring chances then compared to this past season. I'm hesitant to conclude that the skaters in front of him could have done better on defense given how few shots the team allowed in general. Nevertheless, fewer errors would help and would be a more attainable area of improvement than asking the 40-year goalie to get better on low shots or on his blocker side.
Given that this is the third year of reviewing Hedberg's goals allowed, I'm convinced that he is who he is. Could he be very good in spots? Absolutely. Is he someone you want in net for an extended period of time? Absolutely not. That's all well and good if the back up would only play here and there, but Martin Brodeur isn't the ironman he once was. Should the Devils want to let Hedberg play out of his last season, they have to accept that about 30% of goals he'll allowed will cause one to palm their face among his other tendencies. If that's not acceptable, then they really do need to consider a buy-out, which wouldn't be that expensive of a hit, and find some other #2 on the open market. I'm still on the fence if only because I'm not sure who would be available as a relatively cheap replacement. I'll say that I'm not opposed to the latter option.
What do you think the Devils should do with Johan Hedberg? What do you make of how he performed this season in comparison to past seasons based on these results? Please let me know all of your thoughts and feelings about Hedberg's play last season as well as this summary in the comments. Thank you for reading.