Most people seem to be under the impression that we improved last year. That impression seemed to spawn from the youth movement and surprising competence of the team. Fans generally seemed satisfied with last year’s results and hopeful for the future. I’d like to look at the context of last year’s “success” and also the possible interpretations of success for this year.
Was 2015-2016 a Success?
From Hockey-Reference , these are the last 3 seasons of Devils hockey. The point totals have been relatively stagnant. We showed improvement from 2014-15 but still haven’t reached the not-particularly-impressive 2013-14 level.
Obviously the standings points are only part of the story though. Let’s look at Corsica’s xGF% stat. This is basically an expected goals ratio stat. It takes into account shot location as well as type (rebound, rush, etc.) to determine an expectation for goal totals. The higher the better, and 50% is average.
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Notice that we have still not been able to sustain anything very close to average. We stopped the bleeding from the free-fall 2014-15 season though and there’s something to be said for that. Let’s look at some other stats.
Every stat in both situations (Even Strength left and Total right) is down since 2014. In 5 on 5 hockey we also seem to be worse in every stat. In shots per game and possession we seem to be on a steady decline. This is less evident in total situations, likely because the penalty differential was vastly improved last year.
The reason I bring this up is to highlight that the good feelings from last year are not always observable on a macro scale. The only true improvement on a team-wide statistical level was the roster.
Below stats are from NHLNumbers.
Our average age was addressed last year although we did not seem to continue that pattern much this past offseason — presumably hoping the really young guys will come up and take some of those jobs eventually. The cap space though, that is a huge improvement.
The other thing that made last year a success was the individual performances. Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri each put up 30 goals, Joseph Blandisi and Reid Boucher were surprise successes, and several prospects showed more promise below the NHL-level.
What Would Make 2016-17 a Success?
Well from a standings perspective, there is not a lot of room for progress without making the playoffs. What point total, ranking, or post-season outcome would suffice?
My goal would have to be to improve by at least 4 or 5 points depending on health, but I’m open to other suggestions. Another possible goal is just make the playoffs, although my personal opinion is that that might be a lot to ask in just the 2nd year of the rebuild.
From a statistics perspective, we absolutely must begin to see some improvement. What stat would you look at and what goal would you set?
It is no longer good enough see modest improvement in peripherals and mostly plateauing at significantly below league-average in possession, scoring chances, and shot rates. Furthermore, John posted an article about the Devils passing woes. The “fast, attacking, supportive” mantra could not be supported less by the current stats. My personal goal would likely deal with Corsi. It is among our most glaring deficiencies, Larsson’s departure hurts us defensively, and Schneider can only do so much. My personal goal here would be 50% Corsi.
Finally, comes the one that went well last year — individuals’ performances. What players need to play well, and how well do they need to play?
To me, Henrique and Palmieri just need to not regress at this point. If last year is as good as they can do, that will be fine. I talked about the loss of Adam Larsson in my Playing with Percentages article. To me, Hall has to put up 60 points at least — and I’m being conservative. If he is going to be the superstar of this team, he needs to prove that he is an elite NHL scorer on any team. Damon Severson needs to prove he already is a top 4 defender. Unless there’s a plan to land a young defender in a not-too-distant free agency or we really like one of the young guys, I don’t see how Severson progress is not a necessary part of the road map to relevance. And lastly we need a new face. We need to fill in that 6th forward spot with a true top 6 forward. This will likely come from the crop of Blandisi, Boucher, and Pavel Zacha.
So let me hear your thoughts. What does success look like this year? What needs to improve, and by how much? When this season ends, what will you look to to judge it by? What’s the standing slot you want? What stats should improve? What players need to prove themselves or improve themselves? Leave your thoughts below.