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Return of Devil's Advocate: Steve Bernier Playing like the Devil's Best?

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After a two-week hiatus, "Devil's Advocate" returns to lop on praise to one of the most under-appreciated Devils of today in Steve Bernier. According to many possession and per-play stats, he has been a rare feel-good story for the Devils.

Steve Bernier, doing something good.
Steve Bernier, doing something good.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Three years ago, back when the Devils were a hockey team, we made a charge to the Stanley Cup Finals to play a Los Angeles Kings team that was much like is in that they were possession dominating team. The difference is that they completely rolled over their competition. The Devils lost more games to the 94-point Florida Panthers team than the Kings did to the top 3 seeds of the West combined. Yes that's a true sentence. Due to the bitterness about the way things ended it's tough to remember that what the Kings did was actually truly remarkable. They were one of the most convincing Champs in recent memory and they did it as the last team in.

In that final series we played against them, we went down 3-0 after 2 OT losses and a more convincing one. We staged a comeback evening it to 3-2 with a game in LA before we could come home for a game 7. In that game halfway into the first period, some guy took a 5-minute major for boarding. The Devils gave up 3 PPGs during that major to effectively end their Stanley Cup hopes and give the Kings their first in the franchise's history. Steve Bernier will live on in infamy right across the Hall of Shame from the "Matteau! Matteau! Matteay!" screenshot. Then this offseason, after some critiques of the worst year the CBGB line has seen to date, Ryan Carter was sent packing, and Bernier was waived, forcing the end of CBGB. Gionta is the only forward that has played every game this season and got his own Devil's Advocate not too long ago. But Bernier has been every bit as good, and possibly better, and arguably the best per-minute Devil so far. We will look at 2 major aspects of his game, his per minute production and his adjusted corsi stats. This represents how productive he has been when given the opportunity and how well the Devils play when he is on the ice. The combination leads me to believe Bernier should receive more ice time.

Per-Minute Production

First the easy one: Below is an output from War-on-ice for the production of each player on the Devils per 60 minutes of even strength hockey.

Name pos Gm G60 A60 P60
Steve.Bernier R 21 0.6 1.8 2.4
Mike.Cammalleri LC 23 1 0.8 1.7
Michael.Ryder R 31 0.5 1.2 1.7
Adam.Henrique CL 25 0.9 0.7 1.6
Ryane.Clowe L 13 0.4 1.1 1.4
Patrik.Elias CL 26 0.4 1 1.3
Jaromir.Jagr R 31 0.3 0.9 1.2
Adam.Larsson D 17 0.3 0.9 1.2
Tuomo.Ruutu LR 31 0.9 0.2 1.1
Eric.Gelinas D 25 0.5 0.5 1
Scott.Gomez C 8 0.5 0.5 1
Travis.Zajac C 24 0.4 0.5 0.9
Damien.Brunner RL 17 0.6 0.3 0.9
Jordin.Tootoo R 18 0.9 0 0.9
Andrew.Greene D 32 0 0.8 0.8
Marek.Zidlicky D 32 0.1 0.7 0.8
Stephen.Gionta C 32 0.4 0.4 0.8
Jon.Merrill D 18 0 0.8 0.8
Martin.Havlat RL 19 0.3 0.6 0.8
Dainius.Zubrus L 28 0.4 0.4 0.7
Mike.Sislo R 8 0 0.7 0.7
Bryce.Salvador D 15 0 0.6 0.6
Jacob.Josefson CL 24 0 0.5 0.5
Damon.Severson D 32 0.4 0.1 0.5
Peter.Harrold D 8 0.5 0 0.5
Seth.Helgeson D 13 0 0.4 0.4
Reid.Boucher LR 4 0 0 0
Tim.Sestito CL 1 0 0 0

As you'll notice, this week's advocated Devil sits atop this list producing 2.4 points per 60 minutes. It's worth noting that if you include powerplays and penalty kills; Bernier falls to 4th as Gomez rises to 1st with Jagr and Henrique at 2 and 3 respectively. But regardless, it holds true that Steve Bernier, without hyperbole has been the most productive per-minute player on this team when playing at even strength.

The points are not coming out of nowhere either as he has is also in the top 5 Devils in Shots, Shot attempts (iCF), and Unblocked Shot attempts (iFF) per 60 ES minutes. This is an argument similar to that of the argument I used for Gionta which is that he is not merely a product of his linemates. He is a driving offensive force at even strength.

Why am I using even strength? Well the Devils have a top 10 powerplay, and as I tweeted on Monday, Sal's injury fixed our PK:

This shows that the biggest problem for the Devils lately has been even strength play so I am trying to isolate the players of whom we might want to see more.

Possession Giant

Okay "Giant" might be pushing it. But, he is towards the top of the Devils in every possession stat you could think of. According to War on Ice, he is 4th in total possession and 3rd in even strength possession on the team (for the sticklers, by possession I mean CF%). Two weeks ago, in my first week of Devil's Advocate hiatus, I looked at some adjusted possession stats on the team. This week I've somewhat refined those statistics and the key is immediately below with the sortable chart following it.

Table Key Terms

Name: The thing we shout when the player screws up

Gm: Number of Games Played

TOI/Gm: Time on Ice per Game

CF% Ratio of Shot attempts for verses Shot attempts against ... a good indicator for puck possession.

ZSadjCF%: CF% adjusted based on where the player starts his shifts (offensive, defensive, and neutral zone). A good ZSadjCF% means that a player starts shifts in tough positions and frequently overcomes them. Positive numbers mean the player has a positive effect on possession.

CF%off: CF% in game the player played when the player is not on the ice.

ZSadjCF%off: Adjusted CF% in games the player played when the player is not on the ice

ZSAdjRelCF%: This is the master stat of the bunch so I'll define it in the slang way and the stat way

Slang: The effect that a player has on his teams puck possession regardless of where play starts.

Stat: Zone-start adjusted relative Corsi For percentage. Found by subtracting ZSadjCF% off from ZSadjCF%On and plotting the difference.

Table

Analysis

Dainius Zubrusanother Devil's Advocate alum, is the champion of ZS-adjusted possession. This means that despite starting out in the defensive zone often, the team frequently ends up with the puck when he is on the ice. However, he frequently plays up on higher lines and he might have played in easier games. So when we adjusted it by seeing how much the team suffers when the player is not on the ice, we see that Steve Bernier is really the most effective possession producer on the team. Side Note: Mike Sislo is no longer that guy who you can ignore because he doesn't play enough. He's played 8 games and his possession stats are every bit as good as the regulars.

Most Viewers of this article: "This table's ugly just tell me what it means"

Okay viewers, it means that if we are in a tough spot and we need the puck, the stats say that Bernier is among the best if not THE best bet on our team to bail us out.

Return of CBGB?

Steve Bernier came into this season on waivers and saw his CBGB line trashed. However, according to Left Wing Lock, it looks like ZBGB (Zubrus replaced Carter) is the 2nd most common line DeBoer has trotted out this year behind only Zajac, Jagr, and Cam. I've now advocated for each of these players separately. They have been stripped apart because of injuries, but I believe that when healthy, they can combine to be an elite 4th line once again. If only we could get a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd line now we'd be set!

Conclusion

Steve Bernier is the most efficient point producer on the team in 5-on-5 hockey. He has the most positive effect on puck possession on the team. His most common linemates have morphed into a truly formidable 4th line. He and Gionta are averaging around 10 minutes per game and I believe it's time to bump them up due to the obvious positive impact they have had on the game.

Counter-Argument

Bernier should not get more ice-time because it is precisely the low amount of ice time that causes these stats. It not only lowers the sample size, but also give him fresh legs every time he steps on. He is given the task of getting the puck which he does, but given a bigger role as being a consistent offensive producer, he would fail. Furthermore, if we look at WOWYs, we see that Berneir has played 90 of his 210 even strength minutes with Greene and he is a negative possession player in those other 120 minutes. Greene was #2 in those fancy stats so it seems logical that the best defender on our team is somewhat scewing those statistics in favor of the 4th liner. Is he playing well in his role? He's doing okay. He is by no means the best on our team in possession though and stats would suffer if given more ice time.

Your Thoughts

Are you glad Devil's Advocate is back? Does it not make a difference to you? Has the novelty worn off? Am I being rhetorical? Are these trick questions? Is this even real life? Am I Tyler Durden?

For real though, is Bernier deserving of more ice time? Are you more comfortable with him in the 4th line or has he earned some top line time? Are you pleased enough with him to say he deserves a steady roster spot on a completely healthy Devils team? Leave thoughts in comments section below.