I felt like being somewhat bold for this post, and I was thinking of ways that the New Jersey Devils need to improve for this upcoming season. The most obvious area of improvement is the team’s overall offensive production. That production improvement, however, does not need to come strictly from the offensive players. Offensive improvement on defense would also be a great boon for the team, especially if the bottom 6 fails to produce adequate points on a nightly basis. It would be a huge benefit to the overall offensive production of the Devils if the defense would also chip in this season with more points. Goals would be especially excellent, but assists would also be a benefit as they would be setting up the forwards for more goals.
Last year, there was not much offense on the defense, and that is putting it lightly. Damon Severson led the team in points, and was the only defenseman on the team to produce over 20 points. Only 5 players on the defense had anything more than 6 points. For reference, 73 defensemen in the NHL had more points last season than Severson. Many of those names who scored more points are not really considered offensive defensemen, and some did not even play full seasons, including the likes of Mark Streit and Jason Demers, each of whom only played 62 games but had more points than the top scoring Devils defenseman.
Now, there are signs that my prediction as stated in the title might be rather overreaching. First off, two of the defenseman who did have double digit points, Adam Larsson and David Schlemko, are no longer with the team this season. That leaves only Severson, John Moore, and Andy Greene as the only regulars who produced any sort of real points for the Devils. On the surface, that does not really seem like a great trio of players to bank a bold claim on. They may all be quality defensemen, Andy Greene specifically is a beast, but none have really shown to be particularly adept at offense recently. Also, nothing will likely change with the scheme which would lead to more offensive output from the defensemen. It is unlikely that Hynes would drastically change the team’s overall strategic play to accommodate for more defensive points. Finally, the defense did not get a lot of opportunities to score last year because the Devils were hammered in possession. Guys like Andy Greene almost always started shifts in the defensive end, meaning that a lot would need to happen on the ice during that shift for him to produce a point. This year, while we hope for the Devils to have improved possession, it may not jump up significantly. That would again hamper opportunities for defensemen to score points.
However, I feel that there are also signs that the defense could improve its offensive output this season. So much so, that I want to predict that someone on the defense will produce at least 30 points. Now, that may not seem like too bold of a claim. I mean, exactly 50 defensemen produced at least 30 points last season, which is not a small number. A defenseman who plays 20+ minutes a night a suits up for 75+ games in a season should have ample opportunities to get to 30 points or more. Nevertheless, for the Devils, it is clearly not an easy thing. Going back to the 2010-2011 season, the Devils have only had 2 defensemen score 30+ points in a season. Both Marek Zidlicky and Greene did it in the 2013-14 season. Zid also had 19 points in the strike-shortened 2013 season, so you could arguably add that performance to the list, as he would’ve most likely reached 30 points in a full season. Even still, only 3 defensemen in the past 6 seasons is not a great percentage, and showcases a real lack of offense coming from the Devils’ blue line.
Nonetheless, I feel that there are some signs that point to another defenseman reaching that milestone this season. First off, I feel that the Devils’ possession rate will improve this season. They were next to last in Corsi last year, and having the ice so tilted against the team really hurt the defense’s opportunity to produce more points. Only Eric Gelinas really received exceptionally sheltered zone starts; everyone else felt the negatives of a bad possession team. If the Devils can improve even somewhat, say two percentage points in Corsi, over 82 games that will give the defense considerably more chances to get shots on net or to feed forwards who will find twine.
Next, I did mention earlier that my hopes largely rest on either Severson, Moore, or Greene. Unless someone comes out of the woodwork and starts scoring points (unlikely), that is true. However, despite the obvious point that none of them have really been offensive defensemen, there is still a decent chance that one breaks the 30 point barrier. First, let’s discuss Andy Greene. The captain is clearly the best defenseman on the team, and no one will ever ask him to be more than he is. His dominance in his own end when he is on the ice keeps New Jersey in games. Period. However, in his career, he has indeed reached the 30 point plateau twice, once in 2013-14 when he had 32 points, and before in 2009-10 when he had 37 points. Considering that 2009-10 was his first full season in the NHL (he did play 59 games in 2007-08, but that is missing 23 games), and that he has only played 5 seasons of 78+ games, 2 out of 5 is not terrible. 40% odds to repeat 30 points, assuming he plays a full slate, are decent odds. And again, with improved possession over last year, he should undoubtedly improve on his measly 13 point effort from a year ago.
That leaves us with Severson and Moore. The less likely of the two is probably Moore. Last season was his highest point producing season of his career, when he scored 19 points in 73 games played. Only twice since 2011-2012 has he scored double digit points in a season, but then again those were the only two seasons he played over 70 games. Last season there was at least a little bit of optimism about his offense. He took the most shots out of anyone on the entire blue line with 106 shots, despite only having a 48.09 5 on 5 zone start percentage, meaning that he started more shifts in the defensive zone than he did the offensive. He also had a miserable Corsi of 43.7%, which had to limit his offensive capabilities. With an improved possession game, he should get to start his shifts in the offensive zone more often, which again would boost his point total. Making the jump from 19 points to 30+ will be tough, but you can say with some luck that it is not out of the realm of possibility.
The better chance has to be with Damon Severson. Severson had the most assists of anyone on the blue line, and it was not really close. His 20 assists were followed by John Moore’s and Adam Larsson’s 15. What really kept him down was some bad luck. He only had 1 goal all year despite taking 94 shots over 72 games played. That equates to a shooting percentage of 1.1%. While defensemen generally have lower shooting percentages than forwards because their shots mainly come from far away, nonetheless 1.1% is still abysmally low, and is almost guaranteed to improve this season. The law of averages states that to be true. If he plays alongside Andy Greene this year, he will be playing big minutes, more than the 18:09 he averaged last season. More minutes on the ice, along with a bump in shooting percentage, and Severson stands a decent chance of reaching the 30 point plateau.
In the end, it is not absolutely mandatory that the Devils produce a 30 point scorer. If the overall defense improves its scoring capabilities, that would be the ultimate goal. However, I want to predict that someone on the blue line will end up with 30+ points, something only 2 Devils defensemen have done this decade. My options might not seem spectacular on the surface, but Andy Greene has done it twice in 5 full seasons played, and Severson had some awful luck last year. With improved possession this season, the blue liners should have more opportunities to chip in on offense. A 30+ point scorer would be a great benefit to the overall improvement of the Devils’ offensive production, and something that could lead to more wins.
What are your thoughts about the overall offensive capabilities of the New Jersey Devils’ blue line this upcoming season? Do you feel that the Devils stand a decent chance of getting a 30+ point producer from its defensive corps? If so, who do you think has the best odds: one of the three I mentioned above, or perhaps someone else? How important do you think it is that the defense chip in on offense from time to time? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.