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Are The Devils ahead of Schedule?

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The Devils are rebuilding. This season was generally agreed to be a pleasant surprise even though we fell short of the playoffs. I take an honest look at where in the rebuild we are.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

A couple disclaimers before we begin:

1. Among our commenters, we seem to have a reputation as being pessimistic. I am writing this line of text without having decided on the thesis of my article and whether I will conclude if the team is or is not ahead of schedule. I look at stats because numbers are objective.

2. You should all read Alex's article from two weeks ago, because it gives a lot of important comparisons to last year. I will be looking more at where we stand relative to the rest of the NHL.

Okay so bearing that in mind, I will be looking at two major things -- "Roster Status and Flexibility" and "On-ice Result."

Roster Status

The most challenging part of some rebuilds is not actually creating a new team, but finding ways of dismantling the old team. Many new GMs and Coaches find themselves inheriting situations that are set up to fail for multiple years with just one or two awful contracts.

Inherited contracts

The following are contracts that were worth over $1 million/yr and were either still active or just ending when Shero took the reigns. I used wayback machine and spotrac to find these.

  • Martin Havlat 1-year / $1.5 million, UFA not re-signed
  • Michael Ryder 2-year / $7million, UFA not re-signed
  • Bryce Salvador 3-year / $9.5 million, UFA not re-signed/retired
  • Dainius Zubrus 3-year / $9.3 million, bought out
  • Tuomo Ruutu 4-year / $19 million, UFA (2016)
  • Patrik Elias 3-year / $16 million, UFA (2016)
  • Travis Zajac 8-year / $46 million, UFA (2021)
  • Michael Cammalleri 5-year / $25 million, UFA (2019)
  • Ryane Clowe 5-year / $24.25 million, UFA (2018), on our IR
*Adam Henrique, Andy Greene, and Cory Schneider were also inherited, but are pretty unanimously not cap liabilities.

Off the Books
So based on these contracts, it is clear that 3 of these problems were solved for Shero, and the Zubrus buyout -- while popular -- would have put us in the same cap position we are in now. He'll get $1.03 million in 2016-17, but will not count against the cap at all.We bit the bullet on Tuomo Ruutu's contract and it's over now. Elias's contract is over as well and the merits and specifics of re-signing him would be a discussion worthy of its own article.

Clowe
For anyone trying to figure out what the deal with Clowe's contract is, he is not currently on LTIR (Long-Term Injured Reserve). He is on regular IR, but may be moved to LTIR if we ever need cap relief. We can get more relief if we are closer to the cap when we place him on LTIR so it is beneficial not to do so until we actually need the relief. Check out CapFriendly's LTIR FAQ for more info.

And so, of the 9 controversial >$1 million contracts we inherited under Shero, the Devils are now absolved of 6 -- all of which would be gone now anyway -- 1 is inconsequential (Clowe) and 2 are top 5 forwards for us.

The Future

Contracts
According to Spotrac, the Devils have 11 players under contract for next year totaling $39.6 million in cap hits. Only the Arizona Coyotes have less players under contract, and only the Coyotes and the Hurricanes have less cap money pledged. We have a pretty clean slate for next year. Furthermore, according to NHLNumbers, the Devils average age went down from 30.27 years old -- a runaway league high, to 27.61 years old -- 9th highest in the league. Of those under contract for next year, the average age is 27.72 years old (28.4 Forwards, 25.5 Defense, 28 Goalie).

Draft Picks
The Devils draft picks according to CapFriendly are listed below:

NJDraftpicks

So we net 3 extra picks in rounds that matter. In a TSN article from last year, Travis Yost looked at the likelihood of certain draft picks becoming NHLers:

80% of first-round picks, 44% of second-round picks, and 30% of third-round picks will become low-level (or better) NHL players.

So using that information, we can deduce the following:

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Exp NHLers
% NHL
0.8
0.44
0.3
0.2
0.15
0.15
0.15
2016 picks 1 1
2
2
1 1 1 2.69
2017 picks
1
2
1
1
1
1
2.48
2018 picks 1
1
1 1 1 1 1 2.19
Total
7.36

Within the next 3 years we should have 7.36 NHLers added to our roster, as opposed to the average 6.57. We are set up pretty well here. If you want more specifics that you could personally apply to the 2016 slots since we know roughly where they will be, peruse Scott Cullen's breakdown of draft pick value.

On-ice Product

The Bad

5v5 CF%: 46.2 (2nd worst in NHL)
We know that the Devils were poor in possession -- but this is very poor.

5v5 ZSO%: 45.8 (Worst in NHL)
This could be interpreted as the main cause of our Corsi issues. We are frequently starting in the defensive zone. I put it in the Bad column because it might still be our fault.

5v5 GF +/-: -23 (9th worst in NHL)
Obviously not good news.

SRS (Simple Rating System): -28 (9th worst in NHL)
From Hockey Reference, this is bad because we finished 11th worst in points, indicating we might have been even worse than our record indicated.

PP HSF60: 15 (3rd worst in NHL) 
Despite our reputation as a good powerplay team, we register only 1 high-danger scoring chance every 4 minutes of powerplay time. That's once every other minor penalty. That will not do.

SH HSA60: 21.8 (11th worst in the NHL)
Not necessarily bad in a vacuum, but it compounds on the powerplay stat to demonstrate that our special teams is not nearly as good as they appear to be.

Shallow: In my last article, I mentioned that Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri are both in the top 10 (now top 5) in percent of team's goals scored. We were dependent on the top 5 early and then 1 got injured, 1 slumped, and 1 got traded. Also, Adam Larsson and Andy Greene have had the hardest jobs in the league and their role cannot be overstated. They are the bottom 2 in the NHL in Offensive Zone Start Percentage, and they are the top 2 in Defensive Zone Start Percentage and they are 2 of the top 3 in Shorthanded Ice Time. I mean, come on...

The Good

The 5v5 Corsi is terrible, but the shot selection is quite good. Created from data downloaded from War-on-Ice:

H/CF H/CA SC/CF SC/CA
% 0.21 0.19 0.49 0.47
NHL Rk 6 24 11 22

H=High Danger Scoring Change, SC=Scoring Chance

The table can be read like this: "The Devils are 6th in the NHL in percentage of shot attempts attempts that are high danger scoring chances." As you can see from these numbers, the possession quantity might not be on the Devils side, but we certainly we more effective with the possession we had than our opponents

Everything defensive is pretty solid. We allow the 2nd fewest shot attempts per minute (Kings), 3rd fewest shot attempts per minute (Panthers, Predators), and 2nd fewest high-danger scoring chances (Predators). We were actually only 19th in Sv%, which I would expect to improve with a healthy Cory Schneider and slightly better puck luck.

Also -- from Corsica -- despite being the 4th worst in the NHL in GF% (goals ratio), we were 12th worst in xGF% (expected goals ratio). Corsica bases this on shot location. So according to War on ice and Corsica, the types and locations of shots that we are allowing and producing paint us in a better light than the Corsi numbers.

Conclusion

Our roster is in a pretty good position. It is flexible in cap space and number of signings, and there are few if any contracts that handcuff us. If Travis Zajac at $5.75 is the worst contract on our team, we are in fine shape. That being said, the troubling contracts would have been up at this point anyway.

As far as the on-ice product, I believe a few have looked on this past season with devil-colored glasses. We confuse being pleasantly surprised with being genuinely improved. As is evident from the stats, there are very few parts of this team as a whole that we can be truly proud of. Individual players put on all-league performances, but the team as a whole was below average or severely below average in most categories other than shot prevention.

Based on these assessments I would say that we are right on schedule. Not significantly ahead or behind of where we expected to be this offseason.

Your Thoughts

So what do you think? Are we where we should be at this point? Am I leaving out something important about our position? Do you think encouraging seasons from Zacha, Blandisi, and Boucher put us ahead of schedule even though they don't show up much on the statsheet?

Leave your thoughts below. And thanks again for reading.