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The Madness of the Devils Defense

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The New Jersey Devils management has in my opinion made some questionable decisions regarding blue line personnel this year. Today I discuss these head-scratching decisions, look at why they may have occurred, and what should be done instead.

Winnipeg Jets v New Jersey Devils Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

While everyone might have different reasons, I think all New Jersey Devils fans are frustrated at this point in the season. Maybe it’s the disappointing finish, or perhaps the poor play of some of our forwards who were supposed to contribute more goals than they did, or even the rather pedestrian play in net this season. For me, it’s a combination of poor defense as well as the coaching staff’s usage of the players on the back end.

Damon Severson has been one of the Devils better players this season, yet he’s still not deployed as a top pairing D; he’s currently getting the 3rd most minutes per game on defense. Damon is one of the only defenders we have who can push the puck up the ice (along with John Moore, who unlike Sevs has absolutely no defensive ability) so I cannot fathom any reason that Sevs does not lead the team in ice time, aside from the possibility that the number of penalties the Devils take per game is contributing to the penalty killing defenders getting more time.

I appreciate CJ playing Devils Advocate yesterday in regards to Ben Lovejoy, but I had an issue with one of his points that Lovejoy’s two most common pairing start in the defensive zone 14 and 18% of the time. I would honestly love to know how many of those defensive zone starts are because Lovejoy previously iced the puck; I don’t believe there is any way to track that stat, but I would wager on average that Lovejoy ices the puck 3 times a game from clearing it off the boards, rather than attempting a pass. In essence, I believe his zone start percentages are padded by his poor play, rather than John Hynes choosing to deploy him this way. This could also explain why his time on ice average is so high; if you’re forced to stay out on the ice, your TOI goes up. Perhaps it’s not the coaching staff, but Lovejoy’s poor play (and again the volume of penalties taken by the Devils) resulting in how often we see him.

Regardless of play, there is one defenseman on this roster who is seeing the ice when he shouldn’t be, and that is Dalton Prout. I was not a fan of the trade that saw us send Kyle Quincey to Columbus in exchange for Prout (I would have rather received any draft pick at all), but the fact that he is being used as anything other than a 7th D/injury fill-in/substitute for Lovejoy is maddening. Against the Dallas Stars on Sunday, Prout had more time on ice than Severson, Steven Santini and Jon Merrill. That’s simply maddening and makes me question not only Hynes, but Alain Nasreddine as well and even more so than Hynes. I do not see any situation where any competant coach can evaluate Prout as more effective than any of the other defenders we have; he makes the same mistakes (and more) that the rookies do

Speaking of Santini, he is the one who should be getting a large ice time increase with this last batch of games; assuming the Devils are actively trying to improve their team for the future, management should be testing the limits of what our younger players can handle. We know what we have in Andy Greene, Lovejoy and even Prout; Moore is young enough that he could still improve as a defender, so why not stick him, Sevs, Merrill and Santini out as the top 4? Why not bench The Rev for a game if we’re so dead set on playing Prout?

When John Hynes came in to coach this team, we were led to believe this team would be fast, supportive and attacking; additionally, we knew that veterans would start to be phased out somewhat in favor of youth. Playing NHLers such as Dalton Prout and Ben Lovejoy accomplishes none of that; both are what they are at this point in their careers, which is at best a bottom pair caliber defender. While the Devils defense prospect pipeline isn’t as strong as it appeared to be years ago, why are we playing these guys rather than seeing if our kids can handle extended minutes? The playoffs were realistically gone weeks ago; rather than play out the string with scrubs, at least evaluate and grow what youth you have!

I was optimistic for our New Jersey Devils to be better this season than they were last year, but alas that was not to be. I cannot, however, say that I am happy with the way the defense has been managed; even when the playoffs were still within reach, I firmly believe that the best 6 defenders were not on the ice on a nightly basis. Hopefully this summer brings some overhauls to the defense, otherwise I can say that New Jersey will be setting themselves up for great draft positioning in 2018.

Now I’d like to hear what your thoughts are on the state of the Devils defense; is there anyone you feel is underutilized? Anyone who in your eyes that is being played too much? What would you like to see done with the players that we have to hopefully improve the team next season? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!