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The Increasingly Expendable Adam Henrique

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Adam Henrique is a second-line center on the New Jersey Devils. However, he is increasingly expendable for a number of reasons related to his contract, the roster, and how he has performed on the ice last season.

Winnipeg Jets v New Jersey Devils
Increasingly expendable? Yep. This long post explains why.
Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

Adam Henrique is many things on the New Jersey Devils. He is a forward for the team. He has been an assistant captain for two seasons now. He has scored two series-winning goals in the Devils’ previous playoff run in 2012, a double-OT, Game 7 ender in Florida and a more famous netmouth scramble against Our Hated rivals. He racked up 30 goals in 2015-16 season that could have been a lot worse and put up 20 last season, which really was just plain bad. Even with a far-from-stellar 2016-17 campaign, Henrique remains a second-line caliber forward - the position he has generally played on this team. Between all of that, a candid AMA on the r/devils and r/hockey sub-reddits, and his “totes adorbs” looks, Adam Henrique is one of the more popular Devils on the team.

He is also increasingly expendable on this team.

Henrique certainly has value on the team and I believe he is in the correct role. However, I do not see Henrique as a part of this team’s core in the future for a number of reasons.

Reason #1: The Expiring Contract

General manager Ray Shero has done a lot of work in terms of clearing up the Devils’ cap space and keeping it low. A re-building team should have plenty of space to use when they are in a position to, well, build up the roster through re-signing players or acquiring players in other ways. As such, only two forwards from Lou’s era remains on the books beyond this season: Travis Zajac and Henrique. Henrique’s contract was a six-year, $24 million contract per CapFriendly. That deal now two seasons left with a $4 million cap hit in each one. Henrique’s actual salary is higher at $5 million and $5.5 million, respectively. Shero has kept Henrique around, but as this deal is nearing its end, the question of whether to keep him around will become a bigger one for Shero.

The question also applies to the 27-year old forward himself. When he started in the NHL, Henrique was on a playoff team and he was a playoff hero. Since then, he’s been a top-six forward on one of the weaker teams in the league. He’ll be 29 when that contract ends and, depending on what the free agent market may look like in 2019, he could be looking for a big deal - possibly the last big deal he could get in his career - to play on a more successful team. That is not a criticism by any means; it is what it is in this business. Henrique may see his future with another franchise, which is all of the more reason to consider whether Shero should keep him around. Could an extension be possible? Sure, but that’s up to Henrique and his people in addition how Shero is building the team.

It is a bit early, but this reason means Shero has to consider the following options. He could try to trade Henrique in 2017-18. He could try to trade Henrique in 2018-19. He could try to trade Henrique in this offseason or next summer’s. Henrique could just decide to hit the market on July 1, 2019 and move on. Shero could decide to extend him. The point is that these kinds of decisions are going to come up sooner rather than later. There are other reasons that I think Henrique should be going beyond his impending contract end.

Reason #2: The Emerging Prospects & A Roster Crunch

As the Devils have been a bad team, they have had the fortune of drafting relatively high in the last three NHL Entry Drafts. In 2015, the Devils drafted a center named Pavel Zacha. He played in New Jersey last season, splitting time between center and left wing. In 2016, the Devils drafted a center named Michael McLeod. He was with Mississauga last season, where he was a standout center in the OHL. In 2017, the Devils drafted a center with their first overall pick, Nico Hischier. Hischier has received plenty of publicity by nature of being the #1 pick in 2017 and he was awesome in the QMJHL last season. It is entirely possible that all three may end up in New Jersey for this coming season. And while there may be some time played at wing for both of them just to have them on the ice, I think the expectation is to at least see whether they can play center.

Additionally, the team acquired two players in this summer so far. The Devils signed center Brian Boyle to a two-year contract and they traded for Marcus Johansson, who can play any forward position. Considering other players on the team, the Devils’ center depth features Travis Zajac, Henrique, and Boyle with the potential centers in Zacha, Hischier, and McLeod. While Henrique can play left wing, the acquisition of Johansson could mean he does not have to do so.

For the moment, Henrique seems safe as the center of the team’s second line like he was last season. I would want the prospective players to start on a third line where they can receive favorable matchups and zone starts. This way they can be put in a position to succeed. However, should Zacha, Hischier, McLeod, or someone else emerge as a real contributor on the ice, then there will be pressure to have those players receive more minutes. As they should, they’re supposed to be a part of building the team back up to where they want to be after all. Assuming that Zajac will still center Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri like he did for much of last season, someone will have to make way for them. That someone is more likely to be Henrique as he would be in a smaller role than Zajac on a second line, going up against second lines whenever John Hynes can get that matchup. This emergence of Zacha, Hischier, McLeod, or someone else may not happen until 2018-19 - which would be the last year of Henrique’s contract, adding further to the idea that he is expendable.

Reason #3: Between Henrique & Zajac, Zajac is the One to Keep

The other forward that Shero inherited and still has on the team right now is Travis Zajac. Like Henrique, Zajac is a center and has been a mainstay of the team’s top six for several seasons. Lou signed him to a massive eight-year, $46 million contract back in 2013 per CapFriendly. That deal still has four seasons to go with a cap-hit of $5.75 million per year. The contract also granted Zajac a no-trade clause. On top of that, Zajac is 32, has only topped the 20 goal mark twice (and both happened almost a decade ago), and has never been a significant producer. It’s questionable whether Zajac has been good enough to be worth that much. So what makes Henrique more expendable than Zajac? Part of it is because Zajac’s contract is harder for Shero to move given the remaining length on the deal, the cap hit itself, and the no-trade clause. A bigger part of it is that Zajac has been more valuable to the team than Henrique.

In my defense of Henrique, I cited Game Score and Goals Above Replacement (GAR) in favor of Henrique. Both stats show that Zajac was more valuable and contributed more last season.

The Game Score graph shows that Zajac has been able to surpass Henrique. Zajac did need really good teammates to do so such as Jagr in 2013-14 and Hall in 2016-17. But the point is that Zajac rose with them. Henrique, well, he has been either better than the average second liner or below it depending on whether his stick was hot or his teammates were.

2016-17 Devils Forwards GAR - Henrique is fourth.
2016-17 Devils Forwards GAR - Zajac is second.
Source: Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey)

As for GAR, while Henrique’s biggest asset by the model was his even strength defense, Zajac provided as much as well as more offensive value. Again, he likely benefited from Zajac and Palmieri for the offense; but the point was that he was able to provide value - it does not appear he dragged either down. Throw in a superior value on faceoffs and the only thing holding Zajac from leading the whole team in GAR was how few penalties he drew. Based on the GAR model, Zajac provided more value to the Devils than Henrique.

Other metrics show that Zajac was ahead of Henrique. Corsi For percentage is pretty straight forward. In terms of raw CF%, Zajac was one of the few Devils to finish above 50% whereas Henrique was just below 47% (46.9%) per Hockey Analysis. Since the two played the same position but with different zone starts, teammates, and competition, we must consider those.

Adjustments do not make it any better for Henrique. Zone start adjustments at Hockey Analysis still have Zajac above 50% and Henrique’s CF% was a little worse at 46.3%. While Alex and I separately pointed out that Henrique suffered from varying and worse teammates than Zajac, Henrique’s WOWY in 2016-17 remains telling:

Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

Notice that with the exception of Bennett, Hall, Merrill, and Severson, Henrique’s CA/60 with his common teammates was above 60. That’s a big jump over 2015-16 when Henrique did not come close to 60 CA/60 with any of his common teammates. Not that with the exception of Hall and Bennett, Henrique’s zone-adjusted CF% with those teammates was under 50%. Notice that most of Henrique’s common teammates’ CF% was better without Henrique. None of this suggests that Henrique is good two-way forward or provided a lot of effective help on defense or helped the run of play.

By comparison, look at Zajac’s 2016-17 WOWY. He did not have this much of a negative effect on his teammates like Henrique did. None of Zajac or his common teammates did not result in a CA/60 of over 60 when they played together. Zajac’s most common linemates were Hall and Kyle Palmieri - and they were each better together than apart. Only one teammate yielded a CF% less than 49.8% with Zajac, and the run of play was better Zajac and Lovejoy compared to Zajac and Henrique. Zajac may need to be a passenger from a production standpoint and playing with Hall would certainly help with CF%, Game Score, and such. But his WOWY looks to me he more than held his own in terms of possession and keeping attempts down in 5-on-5 play. He was far better than Henrique in that regard; which further points to Zajac being the more valuable center.

Lastly, let’s look at competition for the two. The WoodMoney method of quality of competition is incorporated in this fresh and new stats site: PuckIQ. It can quickly and easily breakdown how players performed against top players, mid-tier players, and low-tier players in the NHL. Looking at the Devils from last season, Zajac stands out in a big way over Henrique. Against elite competition, both centers played at least 35% of their 5-on-5 ice time against them. Zajac’s CF% was higher than Henrique’s CF%, 49% to 44.6%. Zajac’s CA/60 of 52.90 was was lower than Henrique’s 58.70. Zajac was better against the top-tier players of the league. As for the middle tier, Zajac and Henrique each played 43% and 42% of their 5-on-5 ice time against those players, respectively. Zajac won out again: His CF% was superior (51% to 48.2%) and his CA/60 was lower (49.4 to 54.8). The bottom tier is called Gritensity and while they did not each play a lot of their ice time against those sorts of players, Zajac was better there too. The data from PuckIQ clearly shows that Zajac was better in terms of possession differential and allowing attempts against his competition than Henrique.

All of this put together, Zajac was the better center than Henrique and should still be seen as such. He was better against top-line and middle-tier competition, he contributed more, he provided a better effect on possession, and there is more evidence of his defensive (or two-way) contributions than Henrique’s. Yes, Zajac did benefit from better and more consistent linemates than Henrique. But these stats showed that Zajac belonged with Hall and Palmieri on the team’s first line. He went up against elite and mid-tier competition for more ice time than the other centers on the team and had the better stats than the #2 guy in Henrique. Given that teams match power for power, it is clear that Zajac is an appropriate choice as a first-line center on this team. Anyone who thinks he’s a glorified third-liner is simply not paying attention to the stats or how he plays. And because Zajac can serve that role, that puts him higher up.

So in addition to reasons #1 and #2 as well as the contract, if someone has to make way for minutes or a role on the team, then it should be Henrique and not Zajac.

Reason #4: Henrique’s Production

Henrique scored thirty goals two seasons ago. That 2015-16 season was one where he rode with a hot Michael Cammalleri and a surprisingly well-fitting Lee Stempniak for half of a season. He also enjoyed a 20.1% shooting percentage to go with a season-high in shots at 149. While he set a season high in goals, he was one point shy of matching his career high in points for a season. That career high in points for a season was 51 and it came in 2011-12, his rookie season with the Devils. An injury to Zajac opened up a chance for the young Henrique to play between Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk for a season. He put up 16 goals, 35 assists, and 130 shots on net. In this past season, Henrique did get to twenty goals to with twenty assists and 142 shots on net. Here is what one can conclude from digging into his production.

First, Henrique is not a volume shooter. His shots per game rate from season to season has varied between 1.6 and 1.8. That in of itself is not bad given who he is playing with. But it does mean that for him to be a significant goal scorer then he needs to make his shots count. After all, he is averaging less than two per game given all of the 5-on-5 and power play minutes he has received. So unless he is ordered to and finds ways to generate more shots on net himself, it is going to come down to his shooting percentage in the macro-view.

Second, let’s look at the 5-on-5 scoring rates of his peak seasons and his most recent one from Hockey Analysis. In 2011-12, Henrique’s goals/60 was just 0.57 and his primary assist/60 rate was 0.63. Those are not bad rates for a rookie, but it does point to how his 5-on-5 numbers were boosted by a good number of secondary assists. That boost was a bigger deal in 2015-16, when all but one of his assists in 5-on-5 were secondary assists. That yielded a primary assist/60 rate of just 0.06 I can buy most of those assists being legitimate, intentional assists; but they not nearly as repeatable. Besides, that Cammalleri had many primaries (his primary assist/60 rate was 1.37 then!). Since Henrique was firing them at a 20% rate, his goals/60 rate was a strong 1.02. Last season, Henrique’s 5-on-5 production went down - his goals/60 rate was 0.59 and he had some primary assists so his primary assist/60 rate increased to 0.47. Curiously, his 5-on-5 rates last season were not too far off from his peak point-season, 2011-12. And that peak goalscoring 2015-16 season was really led by the goals themselves. What this all points to me is that it would be a surprise (a good one!) if he was piling up points. He is a secondary scorer at the 5-on-5 level.

Third, I did not mention much about the power play. Henrique has been a regular on the power play. He has had at least five goals and ten points in the last four seasons. He has had no more than seven PPGs, and his power play points have went from 10, 16, 12, and 10 in those four seasons. He was only the leading power play producer in 2014-15, his 16-point season. These are nice enough contributions but they do not suggest that Henrique has been some kind of force on the power play.

I do not want to say that Henrique has peaked as a producer. But given that he’s already 27 and his production will be reliant on his teammates, I’m skeptical of whether he can return to his high scoring days. Those days being 50-point seasons at best, though. This is fine for a second-line player. But the thing about secondary scoring is that it is that by its definition it is not at a premium. It can be replaced.

Conclusions

So here we have a 27-year old center who has a contract ending in two seasons, plays in a position that the team’s most talented prospects may be expected to play soon, and is decidedly a second line player. The more expensive first line center has proven to be better against similar or tougher competition, to contribute more with top line players, and had a better effect on possession - something that 27-year old center has not done well in. While he has had some good seasons of production, there has been nothing to indicate he will return to that level of production outside of a big bump in shooting percentage of himself or possibly his teammates.

Adam Henrique is by no means a bad player or a bad asset. Nothing I wrote means that he is not a second-line caliber player or that he should not be the second line center to start the 2017-18 Devils. But he is a complementary player on a team that needs more than that to become. There is nothing wrong with complementary players on their own. If there is someone that they mesh with that is more of a play driver or a top player, then it can absolutely work. Just look at Pittsburgh. But the Devils do not (yet) have enough of those players. The possession drivers, the significant producers, the players that can also handle tough competition, and so forth a may come from the team’s prospects or players that Shero will have to acquire elsewhere. Henrique is not one of them. He’s fine for the role that he plays and that’s that.

The thing about re-building is that it is implied that the team has to be building towards something better. Something better than fine. So far, Shero has done a lot to move assets he has either deemed to not be useful in the future or necessary to give up to get a superior player (e.g. Larsson for Hall). Shero has cleaned a lot of this house, but I do think it would be in New Jersey’s best interests to move a complementary player like Henrique for someone who has a more identifiable skillset and/or to create space for younger players to move up in the line. Shero does not have to make any decision about Henrique right this season, and there may be a better deal to be made in 2018 anyway. But a decision on what happens with him will have to make some sooner than we may think based on the contract and what happens with the team.

Yes, he plays his role and he can still serve it right now. (I think it may be the smart call to wait on a trade at the moment.) And it is nice that he is a fan favorite. However, like Kirk Muller, Jason Arnott, and many others in this franchise’s past, sometimes a fan favorite has to be moved for the intent of creating something better for the future. The 2012 playoffs were great and seeing him net 30 was good, but neither helps the Devils now or in the future. Trying to improve the team is what Shero is trying to achieve and Henrique could very well be an asset moved to make that happen if it comes by. Henrique has value for what he is; but he is increasingly expendable for the reasons presented. whether that is through a trade or hitting free agency.

Thank you for reading; please leave your reactions and thoughts about Henrique in the comments.