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Devils Still Need Goals From the Blue Line

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Most of the criticism and look for improvement in the goal scoring category for the New Jersey Devils will be on the offensive side, and rightly so. However, let's also look at how poorly the defense did at offense, and what should be done about it.

A NJD defenseman shooting!
A NJD defenseman shooting!
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

This season, there was definitely some improvement on the New Jersey Devils' blue line.  They allowed the 4th fewest shots against in the entire league, and the second fewest Corsi attempts against per 60 minutes.  Those are both definitive improvements over the year before.  Andy Greene and Adam Larsson were absolute beasts together, and had to be one of the better defensive pairings in the entire NHL.  Behind them, there was some positive play from the likes of Damon Severson, David Schlemko and John Moore.  It was a young defensive group that managed to do quite well together.

The one area where the group still continues to struggle as a whole, however, is with producing goals.  Assists have become less of an issue.  In all situations this season, according to NHL.com, NJ blue liners produced 83 assists.  That is not terrible.  An assist per game from the defense is certainly helpful in generating offense.

However, the issue comes with actual goal scoring.  According to NHL.com, the Devils defense, over 82 games, produced a measly 20 goals.  A third of those goals came from Schlemko alone, leaving even fewer to come from everyone else.  That will not cut it, and it is not an insignificant reason as to why the Devils finished dead last in goal scoring, 12 goals behind the next worst team.  The main job of the defense may be to prevent the opposition from generating offense, but they also need to chip in with some goal scoring, and that rarely happened this year.

To showcase just how inept 20 goals is spread out over an entire defensive corps, the bearded one Brent Burns of San Jose produced 26 goals this season alone, to go along with 49 assists.  He had 6 more goals than the Devils defense.  Mark Giordano of Calgary also managed to outpace NJ's defense in goal scoring, potting 21 himself to go along with 34 assists.  Meanwhile, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Shea Weber each managed 20 goals, tying the Devils' blue line in goal scoring capabilities.

So while I understand that the four defensemen I just discussed are NHL stars, and are stars as much for their offense as they are their defense, nonetheless it is still very telling and perhaps even a little embarrassing that one defenseman can score as much or even more than an entire team's defensive corps.

Here is a chart of each team and the number of regular season goals their defensemen scored, courtesy of NHL.com:

Team

# Defensive Goals

Nashville Predators

55

Calgary Flames

51

San Jose Sharks

47

Arizona Coyotes

46

Colorado Avalanche

41

Los Angeles Kings

41

Philadelphia Flyers

41

Winnipeg Jets

40

New York Rangers

39

Ottawa Senators

39

St Louis Blues

39

Carolina Hurricanes

38

Anaheim Ducks

37

Minnesota Wild

37

New York Islanders

35

Pittsburgh Penguins

34

Tampa Bay Lightning

34

Dallas Stars

32

Detroit Red Wings

32

Chicago Blackhawks

31

Washington Capitals

31

Buffalo Sabres

29

Florida Panthers

27

Toronto Maple Leafs

27

Boston Bruins

26

Edmonton Oilers

24

Montreal Canadiens

23

Vancouver Canucks

23

Columbus Blue Jackets

22

New Jersey Devils

20

Much like with overall goals, the Devils find themselves at the bottom of the chart.  If you notice as well, of all the teams who had under 30 team defensive goals, only Florida made the postseason, and they got knocked out in the first round to the Isles.  That is not good company to be around, and the Devils are at the bottom of that group.  In fact, they almost get tripled up by Nashville.

The question, of course, is what to do about it.  That becomes an interesting dilemma.  There can be no doubt that the front office would love to boost the offensive capabilities of the blue line.  However, do you bring in a free agent this offseason when Steven Santini could very well see NHL time next season, and Joshua Jacobs is also close behind?  Santini is proven to be an excellent shutdown defenseman in the college ranks, but he has never been a scorer and will never be a scorer despite being a top prospect.    If you do bring in an offensive forward, however, you risk overcrowding the defensive corps, forcing guys like Santini and Jacobs to spend time in the AHL, when perhaps they would be better suited to play in Newark.  Overcrowding would be especially true if Ray Shero decides to re-sign David Schlemko, which would arguably be a good idea given that he could have been seen as the third best defenseman this season for the Devils.

Furthermore, who will be a free agent worth bringing in to boost goal scoring on the defensive side of the team?  According to Spotrac, only one potential free agent defenseman who scored at least 10 goals this past season will be unrestricted: Dan Boyle, who is 39.  All of the others, Tyson Barrie, Hampus Lindholm, Cody Ceci and others, are all restricted free agents and will almost undoubtedly be tendered and signed by their respective teams.  The only other potential unrestricted free agent defenseman who scored more goals this season than David Schlemko was Jason Demers out of Dallas.  So there would be your signing, but is it worth it? And will he even be available, at 27 years old?

Conclusion

In the end, I am not sure what Ray Shero and Co. can do to boost offensive production on the blue line for next season.  Signing Schlemko should be a priority, but other than that it will be tough.  A free agent signing of an offensive defenseman would be nice, but it does not seem like there will be a large quantity of them out there this offseason, unless things change.  A trade could always happen too, but at what cost?

In reality, we will most likely have to look amongst those who are already here.  Larsson was a beast this season, but perhaps he can begin to show more of that offensive touch that the team thought he had when they drafted him and played him heavily on the power play during his first season here.  It would also be hugely beneficial if Severson improved into a solidified second pairing guy, and if some of that improvement came on the offensive side of things.  He has shown he can get assists, perhaps goals can come too.  Hopefully something can happen, as another season with around 20 goals from the defensive corps will only make it that much harder to break this team out of its bad lack-of-scoring habit.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts about the offense on the Devils' blue line?  Do you think it is an issue that needs to be addressed, or do you think it is a minor concern for the team this offseason? What should Shero look to do about addressing it?  Is there something or someone out there that can improve scoring on the blue line, or should we be focused on looking from within the organization? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.