Ever since Eric Gelinas was sent down to the Albany Devils, there has been increased outcry for his return. Seemingly with every game since the OT win in Dallas, I get a few tweets or comments demanding why he was sent down. As the Devils power play continues to be cold - their last conversion was the OT winner in Dallas - the decision to demote Gelinas continues to be questioned. The general logic follows that since he's an offensive defenseman and the Devils need offense, so why he was moved down?
I get it - to a degree. After all, he's got six goals and sixteen assists. No other Devil has more than his 13 power play points. His slap shot is hard and heavy, and he's got a pretty good wrister as well. On top of all of this, it wasn't too long ago that Gelinas was seen as a revelation. I thought he was doing rather well right before Christmas in this post praising his play so far. I did note that he wasn't facing tough competition and got generous zone starts to cover up his defensive play. But he was doing well enough in possession and he was producing enough points to be notable. That's precisely the problem. Both of those took a hit since Christmas up until his demotion.
After going through Gelinas' game log at Extra Skater, I summed up some of the stats tracked before December 23 (when I wrote that post stating that he was a rather remarkable rookie) and after that date.
Since December 23, Gelinas' points per game and shots per game dropped. While a drop from 0.535 per game to .4375 isn't that big of a deal, going from over two per game to below that is for someone who's biggest asset is his shot. Among those seven points, three were at even strength, all were assists, two of them were among his three points in the 7-1 blowout of St. Louis. Among his four power play points in his last 16 games, three were secondary assists and one was a great goal from distance in Montreal.
The real shocker comes at 5-on-5 play. While Gelinas was never on for a lot of goals for or against, he got picked on a lot since December 23. The great thing about Corsi events is that they're by-products of how a player performs. One error may only lead to a shooting attempt and perhaps that's it. But continuous issues over multiple games will show up here. And it certainly does in these splits. Going from a high percentage to a Salvadorian-percentage does not happen if the player was playing competent defensive hockey. Throw in the fact that the shooting is a bit less often and the points haven't come as often, and it's not much of a surprise he fell out of favor.
The split in Corsi percentages is worse than it actually looks. Keep in mind that Gelinas has received mostly offensive zone starts and doesn't go up against strong competition. That didn't change between the splits. Moreover, Gelinas was used a seventh defenseman and played very few minutes in four of those 16 games. So in twelve games of regular action at evens, he got beat way more often than not. If Gelinas had a positive night, where he was on the ice for more shooting attempts by the Devils than against the Devils at 5-on-5 play, then it wasn't by much. For someone who's been protected as Gelinas, that's rather poor.
It is true that the negative percentage in possession didn't lead to many goals against in 5-on-5 play. But that doesn't excuse Gelinas. If anything, it just means the goaltenders - namely, Cory Schneider - bailed him out. When Gelinas makes a turnover, decides to step up for a hit that doesn't end the play, or makes a bad read, the goalies have stepped up. Good for the goalies, not good for Gelinas - and also not good for the team since the goalies aren't always going to cover up for the rookie defender. Moreover, conceding more attempts against the Devils could be a big reason why he has shot the puck less often. It's harder to attack if you're in your own end, after all. That he's been out there for only seven goals for at even, and only twenty overall belies his status as an offensive defenseman. And as vaunted as his power play points are, he's only had four in the last sixteen games and none since the St. Louis game - five games before his demotion. It's not as if the Devils power play was functioning solely because of him. They still remain near the bottom in generating power play shots, as they were when Gelinas tried to bust out The Truth. Since they've been cold in the last four games, the conversion rate has fell.
This all isn't to say that I think poorly of Gelinas or that he has no future. It's just that he's played his way out of the lineup. If you're an offensive defenseman, then you still need to be able to defend. Yes, there are other players on this roster who have trouble with that. However, keeping a defensive liability who might put up a point or two remains a liability is not a cost worth taking for a team as low-scoring as the Devils. Gelinas did not make the Devils a high-scoring team, he certainly did not in the last 16 games, and they aren't a high-scoring team without him. They play on a knife's edge so often that an error could be costly. So if they can put him elsewhere - something they can't do with Salvador - they should. Since Gelinas is waiver eligible (and Jon Merrill has yielded fewer issues), they did. If the Devils were scoring goals more often and Gelinas was firing pucks like he did in his first 25 games, then maybe it's a different story. But that hasn't happened, so it isn't.
In the bigger picture of a career, this is not a big deal. Gelinas played rather well in a protected role for close to two months. He's had set-backs and errors, so he's been put in a place where he can work on that without hurting the main roster. Player development isn't something like gaining a level in a RPG where a young player has to play a certain number of minutes to get better and if they don't do it by a certain point, then it'll never happen. It's done over a longer period time and there are ups and downs. It's important to play significantly than to be used in a special role. I think it's harder for a defensive player since often those errors could make the difference between a win or a loss. The Devils can't afford any more losses that they can avoid at this point in the season. I will say that if Gelinas plays better, then he'll be back in New Jersey at some point. Depending on what moves are made by March 5, it could even be this season (though I wouldn't call him up ahead of Adam Larsson). But that depends on quite a bit.
If it does happen this season, I'm not confident he'll change all that much. Sure, he'll make a few things happen with The Truth. But he's still a young player. I doubt he'll produce nearly enough on a consistent basis to make the decision to demote him wrong. Not even on the power play. Yes, the Devils need offensive help. Gelinas at his most can only chip in here and there, but he's not going to provide what the team really needs. They need players that drive the play, take plenty of shots, and be decisive enough to put them in. They need that more than sometimes-awesome blasts from 50-to-60 feet from the net. The last sixteen games prove that as much as his defensive failings that, combined, sent him to upstate New York after the Dallas game. You may feel it's a bad decision, but the reasoning behind it is rather sound: Gelinas' production dropped and defensive errors became more glaring. Essentially, he played his way down to the AHL.