CJ: Today we’re going to try something a little different. This is going to be a “Chat Post.” In this article, myself and your friendly neighborhood AAtJ writers — Brian, Alex, Gerard, Mike, and; our fearless leader, John — will discuss a topic in open chat form. Please post in the comments section what you think of this format -- good or bad. Your feedback will determine whether we make this a more regular occurrence.
If you have advice on how you think we could alter or add to similar posts in the future, please let those be known as well. I’d like to thank that aforementioned columnists for taking extra time out of their week to contribute to this experimental form. Without further ado, your AAtJ writers.
AAtJ Writers’ Chat
CJ: Hello gentlemen. Rather than drone on more than I already have, let’s just get straight into the important stuff. Today’s topic is Devils roster management. According to Corsica, the Devils have played 30 different skaters which is the 6th highest total in the league. Some changes are to replace injured players (Greene, Moore, Hall), other players have been on and off the bubble (Josefson, Auvitu, Lappin), and others have just been outright cut … twice. So I put it to you esteemed colleagues. What move or moves have been most interesting this year to you? Were they good or bad and why? Let the discussion begin!
Gerard: I’ve alluded to my feelings on this matter a bit before in a couple of my articles, and I think one of my biggest gripes in terms of player movement is how the team has handled some of its youth in contrast to known quantities. Steven Santini was a healthy scratch for how many games before being sent to Albany while we got to watch Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Quincey languish in sub-mediocrity? Now Santini is back, and while he’s making some mistakes, he’s young and can learn from them whereas Lovejoy and Quincey are those “known quantities” who are allowed to make the same mistakes.
CJ, you mentioned the Reid Boucher debacle, and I think it’s interesting that we’d rather lose a young player with at least some potential as an offensive contributor rather than demote Luke Gazdic or a player like Sergey Kalinin, who has had many more chances than Reid did. None of those players would seem to fit the mantra Hynes has preached of fast, and supportive, but at least Boucher had offensive capabilities.
CJ: I agree that the blueline decisions have been rather confusing -- defense in particular. We made the decision to bring up Karl Stollery for apparent use on the powerplay, but in the AHL, he had only 2 assists on the powerplay while Mozik -- who has not played at all in the NHL this year -- had 4 goals and an assist with the man-advantage and 5 goals and 5 assists overall. Scarlett has also been doing well in the AHL. And both of them outrank Stollery in prospect status (according to Hockey’s Future) as well as on the scoresheet. Stollery isn’t a kid -- he’s 29. Mozik is 24, and Scarlett is 23. To me, Stollery is another Quincey/Lovejoy. Perhaps Brian can offer up an opinion on how ready some of the young guys are?
Brian: Overall, I don't have a problem with the way that Shero and Hynes have handled the roster. I certainly would've liked to have seen Santini play a more regular role for the big club but I can understand why they have had him in Albany early in the season as he adjust to the professional game. He's still just 21 and I can understand why they've been a bit conservative with him. I do agree with Gerard, that now that Santini is back, I hope he sticks around. I'd certainly rather watch him go through some growing pains that watching some of the veteran D guys make the same mistakes over and over in the 2nd half of the season.
I can understand the Stollery call up over guys like Scarlett and Mozik due to experience and his left handed shot. With that said, I hope we get to see the young guys get some action in the 2nd half of the season so the Devils can get a better idea of what they have in Scarlett and Mozik. Scarlett will be 24 at the end of March and is in his 4th pro season with 205 games played. He's inching closer from prospect status to solid AHL defender. Mozik is 24 and nearing 100 AHL games. I don't think either of these guys are long term solutions for the NJ Devils, but it would be nice to see them get challenged at the NHL level so the Devils know what they have to work with going forward.
One young defenseman that I was really looking forward to seeing progress with Albany this season was Josh Jacobs. The soon to be 21 year old had a reputation for a strong two-way, physical game when he was a freshman at Michigan State two seasons ago. He had a solid season with Sarnia last year but struggled to gain a meaningful role on Albany's blue line this year. The Devils really need guys like him and the soon to be pro Colton White to take that next step, otherwise Shero is going to be left with limited options to manage his roster.
Mike: I did find the calling up of Stollery to be a bit strange when it happened, since he is 29 and probably doesn’t amount to much more than a space-filler in the NHL. He has played a little better than I was expecting, though. Overall, the Devils are again trapped in the NHL’s no-man’s land, which is why I think the strategy in terms of roster management has been muddled. The team was a couple points out of the playoffs a few days ago and now they’re third to last in the entire league, so I think management is probably having a difficult time figuring out what to do with the roster. Either way, at the deadline they should be selling.
As for the defense, unfortunately, Lovejoy’s contract probably precludes him from any prolonged removal from the lineup. And trotting out guys like Moore (if he gets healthy again) and Quincey isn’t going to generate much excitement either. If we’re being honest, though, there just isn’t a whole lot in terms of replacement options within the organization. I do think Scarlett probably deserves a shot at some point and I would have preferred to see Mozik as a call-up over Stollery as well, but those guys are probably topping out as third-pairing guys (if that). I think Santini’s play has been encouraging (if unspectacular), so that’s a positive. But whether it’s through the draft, free agency, or the trade market, the Devils are going to need substantial improvement on defense. The solutions to that problem just don’t really exist within the organization right now.
CJ: Brian, thanks for the analysis. I guess I didn’t consider the handedness of a powerplay specialist to be of paramount importance, but I supposed he does eventually have to play on that side lol.
Mike, by no-man’s land, I assume you mean that the Devils are not bad enough to tank or sell completely, but not good enough to start buying or risking the future at all. On the one hand I agree that that’s where we are, but on the other, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Bad teams sell to get to the point in the development we are in. The tanking/selling teams aspire to be in no-man’s land. So I’d argue that we are ahead of our pace given that we’re already suggesting possibly buying at the deadline or offseason after only two years under new management.
With regards to the obvious improvement necessary on defense, I’m not even sure one stud guy will do it at this point. And if you look at what’s available … it’s not much right now. Shattenkirk is said to want to go to a contender this season. Anaheim probably has to ditch a defender -- Fowler is the odd man out there cap-wise -- but, we’d have to give up a lot. Then look at the rest of the UFA list. Pretty much everyone seems like a third pairing guy and/or sure to stay we’re they’re at. This is why managing the current franchise defenders is so important right now. At one point it seemed that we were bursting at the seams with defensive prospects and now we still have them, but it feels as though none are overachieving, and many are underachieving.
John: I will agree that the prospective defensemen of the past have not turned out as well as hoped. Damon Severson looks like a big minute player, but it’s been thin since then. Jon Merrill hasn’t, doesn’t, and won’t be unless forced into the role like right now. Eric Gelinas was good enough to be dealt for a third to the other team that might worse than the Devils in 5-on-5 play. Even Adam Larsson turned out to be a very fine defensive defenseman - the offense never really grew for him. At least he was still good enough to be worth Taylor Hall. That said, I would like to propose a different perspective for roster management. I’ll agree that some of the decisions regarding, say, Yohann Auvitu or who to call up have been odd and don’t always make sense with the general idea of a rebuilding team (give kids and unknowns a chance, keep the good, ship out the bad). I’ll also agree that the Devils’ defense (and offense, for that matter) needs to be built up. I think finding the next David Schlemko instead of a paying a lot to get a #1 guy would help - and can be done this Summer. The bigger issue with the roster management is in how the coaches actually manage the guys on the roster.
Look at Miles Wood as an example. Wood gets a second call up after some time with Albany and made a great case to stay. His speed and aggressiveness are both things the forwards lack. Keeping him in New Jersey makes sense. What doesn’t is how he is used. John Hynes and his staff have decided that whichever line Wood is on needs to primarily go dump and chase and have Wood doing the chasing - even though the other guys may not be able to support him. Longer passes that wouldn’t happen with, say, Taylor Hall (who is also fast) are attempted in the hopes of springing Wood for a breakaway or something. Yet, it hasn’t paid off nearly enough to warrant the tactical change. And then there’s the current idea that he’s a top six winger. This has been the case for most of January. Playing with Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, and others of that ilk like them means he’s been facing rather tough competition for a 21-year old. And among Wood’s weaknesses, it’s his defensive play. He’s not so fast in his own end, he’s not quick to pick up coverages, and he’s still learning how to defend. Wood should be facing weaker competition and/or receiving more offensive zone starts. Instead, according to Corsica in the month of January, he’s received 43 defensive zone starts compared to 32 offensive zone starts, his CA/60 is over 60, his CF/60 is below and his CF% is a woeful 35.78%. His SF/60 and SA/60 are roughly 22 to 31.5. That all means that his usage and the shift in tactics for when he’s out there is just not working. Opponents love it, but it’s hurting the Devils and, by extension, Wood. That’s he hasn’t received a more limited role (especially in place of Kalinin or DSP, who have been even worse in the run of play compared to Wood). that could still utilize his talents is just bad roster management.
There’s that perspective that has to be addressed in addition to whether the right guys are being scratched and/or called up to play. Even if the right guys are in the lineup, they’re not given the right instructions or the right role. It’ll help the Devils finish low in the bottom ten for the draft (which is where they should be for this year since they’re still a Bad Team); so there’s that at least.
Alex: Going along with John just said about the “right role” for each guy, what has bothered me with roster management this season, and in reality for several seasons, has been the constant shifting of lines and players to generate something. They try a set of line combinations, they might win a couple games, but then lose one or two, and the coaching staff instantly changes them up like they are not working. To me, they are preventing many of the offensive skaters from really finding chemistry with one another long term. Instead, they are forced into skating generic, coaching-driven styles that are extremely predictable by the opposition.
Just look at the numbers: the Devils only have one forward line that has been on the ice together for more than 5.5% of the season so far, the line of Zajac, Cammalleri, and Palmieri. Comparatively speaking to other, more successful teams, that is exceptionally low. Just look at the four extremely successful teams in the Metro so far. The Penguins have 4 lines over that 5.5% number this year and one above 9%, the Rangers only have two over 5.5% but both of those lines are over 9% meaning their top 6 has been generally solid, the Capitals have five line combinations over 5.5% and two above 9%, and the Blue Jackets don’t ever change up line combinations, just look at their numbers.
This is not to say that keeping lines the same would generate this amazing chemistry and the Devils would all of a sudden be good again. They do not have the offensive depth at this point. But where it really bothers me is with someone like Taylor Hall. He comes over here from Edmonton, and the obvious reason Ray Shero traded for him was so that he could produce points for this team. The guy gets here, however, and he is forced to have to acclimate to numerous different linemates. He gets Zajac and Parenteau for a while, then they switch out Zajac for Henrique. Those don’t work, so how about Zajac and Cammalleri, or Zajac and Palmieri? He has not been given all that much time to develop with a singular set of linemates, which I think is a negative. There is always this stigma that coming to New Jersey suppresses someone’s stats, and while Hall still has a very good point percentage, he has been near or above a point per game player more than once before. At 25 years old, he should be able to replicate those numbers again. Give him a solid line, let them develop chemistry together, and let him get to work producing more points.
CJ: That CBJ link was absolutely nuts. All season, they’ve played one of the original 4 lines they created -- fully in-tact -- for ⅔ of the even strength time they’ve been on the ice. That’s a true testament to the coaching philosophy, chemistry, and health. Washington has been the healthiest team in the league, they’ve been just as good as the Blue Jackets, but their top 4 lines have only accounted for ⅓ the total time on ice. Very interesting dichotomy.
Gerard: Yeah, the amount of line shuffling has been out of control this season, but I feel like part of it is because the Devils have been such a poor possession team. They have trouble most nights at sustaining offensive zone pressure, and they are constantly being outshot by their opponents. I feel like Hynes is trying to find some magical lines and pairings that click, but very little is actually working.
Hall definitely needs consistent linemates to thrive, but I think another layer to this issue is how inconsistent key players have been this season. Henrique has been a ghost for about half of the season; Cammalleri for even more than that. Numerous other players just don’t seem to care on a nightly basis as well. If I had to choose, I’d say keep Zajac, Palms and Hall together as they have been lately; while it might result in half of the forward corp being a trainwreck, at least you’d have one line that gives you effort every night, even if the point production isn’t always there. Say what you want about the seasons that Travis and Kyle have had in terms of points, but they at least look like they care about the result on a nightly basis.
CJ: As a wrap-up, I’d like to know what you’re assessments are of Shero and Hynes on the subject of roster management thus far. Let’s give them a rating from 1-10, you can rate them together or separately.
Gerard: Assuming 10 is the highest, I’d have to give John Hynes a 6; he’s trying to do the best he can with what he has to work with on most nights, but the decision to ever play Luke Gazdic over anyone is baffling. He’s tried to juggle some pairings, scratched some players in attempt to get them going (which worked with P.A. Parenteau), and at times benched players (including Taylor Hall) for making dumb plays. He’s certainly not perfect, but he also doesn’t exactly have a quality NHL roster to work with.
I like what Shero has done overall with the team, but he gets a 2 from me for his roster management this season. Gazdic, Stollery and Helgeson all got time with the big club when there are others down in Albany who could actually contribute to this team’s future that haven’t seen New Jersey this season. He only gets above a 1 because he claimed Parenteau before the season started, and Stefan Noesen interests me as a reclamation project; beyond that, his choices have been questionable at best. Maybe it’s due to the expansion draft coming up at season’s end, but Shero has not seemed as savvy as he was last year.
Brian: I'd give them both a 6 as I really have no big complaints about the way they've handled the roster. I may not agree with every decision but I can understand the thought process that is likely behind it. I think Hynes does a solid job given what he has to work with. Coaching a team that's in the midst of a rebuild and trying to balance playing time between vets/young players is a difficult task. The honeymoon period with Shero may be running out but it's still very early in his time here and he has had an awful lot of work to do to reshape the player pool. Thus, I don't think I can judge either of them harshly in their regards to roster management.
CJ: Yeah it’s tough to know exactly how much of these decisions lands on each. Acquisitions are clearly Shero, lineups are clearly Hynes, but call-ups may be a collaboration and that’s the aspect of roster management I question the most. I’m typically a big fan of Shero, and I think I’ve inadvertently become a critic of Hynes because I was unwilling to give him complete immunity this offseason. This is because I think the roster has talent -- particularly offensive talent. The defensive blame goes partially to Shero for replacing Schlemko and Larsson with Lovejoy and Quincey -- though I actually don’t hate Quincey as much some. However, the fact that Hynes hasn’t gotten them out of the bottom 5 in goals scored with the addition of Taylor Hall is unfathomable to me. Over the past 4 years, Hall has been a top 20 scorer in the NHL. That’s higher than guys like Toews, Couture, Kucherov and even --- dramatic music -- Zach Parise. Right now our goal total this year is 0.02 goals per game LOWER than last year. That is inexcusable to me. Hynes gets a 3, Shero gets a 6.
Alex: I would have to give both Hynes and Shero a 5. Giving an exact number is tough because it is hard to fully know where the organization expected to be in year 2 of this rebuild versus where they actually are. If they already had playoff expectations (unlikely), then the grade should be a 1. If they expected to be where Colorado is right now (also unlikely), then the grade would be closer to a 10. But for my personal expectations, I do not believe they deserve better than a 5. Above halfway to me means that things are moving in a positive direction right now, and that is tough to really know for sure. I agree with CJ that we should not be in freak out mode about the future, there is much positive to see, and plenty of hope for progress. I think things will get better. But as for this season, where this team should be versus where it actually is right now, I cannot go above a 5. But because the future is not nearly as bleak as it was two seasons ago before Shero and Hynes came aboard, I think that number 5 is appropriate for both.
Mike: Overall I'd give the roster management a 5. I feel like the team is still headed in the right direction, there are just a few more holes to fill than previously thought. The defense is a mess, but on paper that was always a likely outcome. Some of the moves in terms of call-ups have been less than ideal, so it's hard to say the in-season management has been great, but this is still a team in a rebuild and the number of players who could realistically make a difference are limited. A solid 'meh' from me.
CJ: The final results are listed here for our readers. John contacted me after the fact and provided his ratings.
I hope you guys enjoyed this new type of post. Regardless, though, please comment so we know whether or not to try this again. If you like the idea but think we should change something then feel free to mention that as well. Any feedback on how to provide the most engaging content for the community is appreciate. Thanks for reading!