One of the points I've been making with respect to what to expect for the 2015-16 New Jersey Devils are the percentages. Stats like shooting percentages, save percentages, and PDO tends to regress to their mean over time. More relevant to the upcoming season, what is rather high or low in those stats tends not to necessarily repeat. This is not to say that every one of these percentages are doomed to fall or ensured to rise. This is to say that some of the few things that went right last season for the team or a player may not happen again. Allow me to highlight some of those as a new regular season begins.
The prime example for this warning is Mike Cammalleri. Last season, Cammalleri was absolutely one of the few bright spots of the 2014-15 Devils. He was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract in the summer of 2014 and arguably did what he could to justify it. Cammalleri led the Devils in even strength goals (16), power play goals (9), and empty net goals (5); he finished with 27 goals in total to lead the team and just one point behind Adam Henrique. Sure, 42 points for $5 million isn't exactly good value but in the valley of the blind, the man with one eye is king. Cammalleri had the eye. He also had a very potent 17.3% shooting percentage. That's the percentage to be concerned with.
Cammalleri heads into 2015-16 one year older and coming off the highest shooting percentage he's ever had in a single full season. Among remaining Devils, he had the highest PDO at 102.86, per War on Ice's stats at even strength. He's had a shooting percentage surpass 15% only one other time in his career, and he shot at just below 12% in the following season. Cammalleri stayed productive due to his volume of shots on net. He's a good chance at any of being one of the Devils' top goal scorers provided he stays healthy and remains getting a lot of time on the power play and at even strength. However, I wouldn't hold my breath that he scores 27 (or more) again unless he gets hot and/or fires pucks at a much higher rate than his 2.23 shots per game average last season.
Speaking of extreme jumps in shooting percentage, that's what Jordin Tootoo also enjoyed in 2014-15. Receiving power play time and the bizarre decision to give him some regular shifts with Cammalleri and Travis Zajac definitely made his ten-goal season possible. If he doesn't receive power play time and largely remains on a fourth line, then that alone would mean he's not putting up ten or more goals again. Even if he does, he may not have as much luck. His 13.3% shooting percentage last season was the highest in his career and the second time he ever topped 10% in shooting percentage in a season. Unlike Cammalleri, Tootoo has not been a prolific shooter. While the offense is not going to live and die by Tootoo, those fourth-line contributions do help over the course of a season. I think the ten goals helped endear him to the Devils faithful; an expected drop in production may make that a memory.
It's worth briefly mentioning that Kyle Palmieri also had a career high shooting percentage last season at 12.5%.That may dip, but as he's shot around 10-11% in his career, it won't be as damaging. Unlike Anaheim, Palmieri will likely get more ice time, more power play time, and more situations to potentially put up points. The bigger concern for him is whether he can stick around for most of the season. I'd like to think he will.
Let's get back to players who had some very favorable percentages who were on the Devils. Eric Gelinas is another prime candidate that may have a rougher time without necessarily doing anything too differently. Behind only Seth Helgeson's 22 games, Gelinas had the highest PDO among Devils defensemen last year at 102.27 in 5-on-5 play. The breakdown of that is an on-ice shooting percentage of 7.69%, which is a bit above team median, and an on-ice save percentage of 94.58%. The latter and much more massive percentage is the sticking point. It's one of the highest from last year's team (Helgeson too) and it speaks to what we've seen on the ice. Gelinas is weak in his own end for one reason or another, yet he didn't get punished a lot for it. He may not have been on the ice for a lot of even strength goals, but that's mostly due to the play of Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid as opposed to anything he did. Gelinas' minutes may be limited to a third pairing, but a little less luck and a little less excellence from the goalies may mean #44 will see the siren over his own net more times than last season. As the Devils are likely going to struggle to score goals, that portends problems.
In fact, let's look at the goalies themselves. We know that Schneider is a great goaltender. We know that Kinkaid has proven to at least handle the NHL level of competition. We also know that both posted 93.3% save percentages at even strength. We know Schneider was also exceptional went down a man given his 89.2% save percentage on the PK. How likely is it that both of them repeat those percentages? The 89.2% PK save percentage itself was a drop from an astounding 91.9% PK save percentage by Schneider in 2013-14. Kinkaid wasn't as fabulous at 83.1%. Those percentages do vary from season-to-season for most goalies, as shown by Left Wing Lock. We may not necessarily see improvement from Kinkaid, though it's possible. We may not see Schneider be as good as 89.2%, but he could be. The even strength save percentages may also change for the worse. According to War on Ice, Schneider has surpassed the 93% mark in past seasons - albeit in shorter seasons where he wasn't the top guy on his team. Kinkaid is entering his second season in the NHL, who knows if he can repeat 2014-15? Any slippage in these categories - which could just mean a few more bad breaks over a season - would cost the Devils. Both can still be good and this could still happen; it's not a binary situation.
The team's shooting percentage on the power play is another one that wouldn't surprise me and shouldn't surprise anyone if it falls in 2015-16. According to War on Ice, the team shot at 16.1%, the third highest in the entire NHL. Only Detroit and Tampa Bay were more lethal with their shots. It's a big reason why the team's success rate was in the top ten on man advantages (19.3%, ninth) in 2014-15. Yet, those who wish to remember last season remember that the Devils weren't a high-scoring team and that their power plays were a mixed bag between a great success and an utter waste of time. They only scored 41 power play goals - the ninth lowest - and put up the second lowest shooting rates on the power play last season. The low shooting rate is a function of how they gain the zone, how they set up, the talent on the ice, and their execution. The first two have been big issues that we don't know are addressed, the Devils lack offensive talent, and the execution is involved with all of those four. The team isn't likely to sustain one of the league's best shooting percentages if only because it was so high. It should be expected that their power play success rate will drop unless they make improvements to their shooting rate and what causes it. That means fewer goals unless the Devils start drawing many more than the 212 advantages - the fewest in the league - they got last season.
Again, it's not a guarantee that all of these will fall, or that it will be a significant drop. I am pointing out some of these to highlight that some aspects of last season's team did go well despite what happened overall. Mike Cammalleri can still have a good season. Eric Gelinas may very well figure out this "defense" thing and be more helpful. Jordin Tootoo can still be a solid fourth-liner. The goalies can still be good. Even the power play can still be functionally effective at times. All of these are possible, but the percentages surrounding some of their success or lack of failure from last season may still drop. That will lead to more issues unless improvements are made in other aspects of the team, or luck shines on other players or units to make up the difference, so to speak. (And there could be positive gains.) Because there could be regression like this, the team has yet to add the talent they are missing, and there's no proof that they'll even perform better, I'm hesitant on being positive about this squad.