Three games three wins. Three games 3 losses. The latter three games have made many Devils fans uncomfortable as this team tends more and more towards what last year's team looked like. This causes bitterness and eagerness to blame someone. By far the easiest target is the captain Bryce Salvador. Many people have pointed out that it is difficult to find a redeeming stat for him and many have said that he is unquestionably the worst defender on our roster.
I'd like to take a look at that statement for a moment. My contention is not that Bryce Salvador is a shutdown defender. He may in fact very well be a bad defender. My argument, however is that he should not be benched and that he is not currently the worst defender on our roster.
In Defense of Bryce Salvador
Get it? In "defense." No? Not funny? Should I have written it with a "c" like a true hockey fan?
Argument 1: Bryce at Even Strength
Bryce Salvador has some pretty terrible stats. Some of them are inflated by the fact that he plays on the PK and more importantly that he plays poorly on the PK. Let's ignore that for a second and look at the ES (even strength) statistics. According to War-on-Ice, Salvador has an even strength Corsi% of 44.62. The team improves to 52% without him so this is where I'd like to point out I am not arguing he is a good defender. Only that he is not the worst on the team.
Sitting at 43% and 43.7% are the pairing of Gelinas and Merrill respectively. In my previous article, I mentioned how Gelinas is the most sheltered player, and Salvador is among the least sheltered players. The fact that Sal was still able to outproduce that pairing points to him being significantly better than them at even strength.
Who should be getting more blame?: Merrill and Gelinas
Argument 2: Bryce is an Irreperable Drain on the Offense
Bryce Salvador is far from an offensive powerhouse. He is slow to the puck, slow with the puck, not a great passer, and has a shot with the pinpoint control of a birdshot shotgun. The argument seems to be that the offense is immobilized without him more than any player on the team. It is for this reason that he is paired with Marek Zidlicky. Ideally they are supposed to mask each others faults. Zid can lead the breakouts and focus on passing and work at the point, and Bryce can stay at home and be the reliably positioned defensive defenseman.
Again according to War-on-ice, the Devils have scored twice with Sal on the ice, which would translate to 1.36 goals per 60 minutes. That's obviously not good. In fact it is worst among defenders. However, it is again not the worst on the team. The typically lauded pairing of Martin Havlat and Patrik Elias are both below Sal on this rate. Havlat and Elias have only seen one even strength goal. Elias's current goal per 60 rate is an abysmal 0.83. The argument is not that Bryce is an offensive powerhouse, but he is not the only problem. Plenty of other players are underperforming as well.
Who should be getting more blame? Elias and Havlat.
Argument 3: Bryce has a Crippling Effect on Possession
I addressed this briefly in each of the first two arguments, but to bring it together, Bryce is not a unilateral drain on the team. Look at his WOWY stats so far this season from Hockey Analysis. Are there units that fair better without him? Of course -- very few players improve every player's possession stats on the team. But is does he hurt everyone? Absolutely not.
The unit he plays with the most was the Zubrus Elias Havlat line (since been adjusted). Those players have Corsis of 61, 63, and 59 with Sal and 50, 50, and 52 without him respectively. Put simply, this unit plays better when Sal is on the ice.
In comparison, let's look at another player's WOWY stats. Of the 8 players Adam Henrique has played significant (over 20) minutes with, literally every player was better off without him. Now Henrique has a shot to help him and that line has routinely gotten by with being a negative possession line but somehow ending up positive on the scoreboard. Sal doesn't have that to hang his hat on, but he is also clearly not the single biggest possession black hole in the Eastern Conferense like he has been billed as.
Who should be getting more blame? Adam Henrique and linemates.
Argument 4: Bryce Salvador is the Single Biggest Reason the PK is bad.
This one's mostly right. Among all the defenders playing on the penalty kill, he is scored on most frequently (12.28 goals against per 60 minutes). That is inexcusable for the PK workhorse and the sound defensive vet on a team of youngsters. However it is again not the worst on the team. Elias and Henrique get scored on at higher rates (13.77, and 15.13 respectively). They are the #1 penalty killing unit and they are just as culpable, as is the coaching staff for the failures of the penalty kill. Also worth mentioning is that Sal's PK numbers are slightly inflated by those 2 PKs against the Flyers that Zid was on for. Zid was miscast and that was immediately corrected.
Furthermore, Sal plays a rough game in front of the net a lot and despite that and despite allegedly getting repeatedly beat, he and partner Zidlicky have managed to be 2 of only 3 players (not counting Brunner and Larsson) to not take a minor penalty on the team. The Devils have been shorthanded 29 times and Sal has been on every single kill. On a team that, as John mentioned has been struggling with discipline, having a pairing consistently play smart hockey is important especially from the guy with a "C" on his chest.
Who should be getting more blame?: Henrique and Elias for the PK, Cam and Jagr for taking 4 minors each.
At ILWT we try to be as unbiased as possible while still being a team blog. After a well-written, scathing review from co-writer Gerard about how the Devils need to be held accountable, I felt it was in the interest of fairness to include an opposing opinion to some statements that he referenced that are being perpetuated among Devils fandom.
In everything that I was looking through, I agree Bryce Salvador is not playing well. That being said, I think it is premature to say he is the single biggest problem with the Devils, and I'm not even comfortable saying we would be better with him on the bench yet. I am comfortable saying that his poor play is hurting us because we need him to be the Bryce of 2012 because this team doesn't have anyone outside of Greene that is consistently reliable defensively.
I'm most likely in the minority here so I am ready for all the detractors. Feel free to post all the reasons I am wrong in the comments section. Did any of those counterarguments make you second guess yourself? Do you still thing Sal is the single biggest problem with the team? Did you never think that?
Shoutout to Sublimerocks86 for being the first to type "Aardvark" on my last article. Thank you for reading beginning to end. You are a true ILWTer.