Adam Henrique is a player I thought about recently. I have been wondering about his place on the New Jersey Devils. For the past several seasons, Henrique has been a mainstay on the top two lines in New Jersey. While he has been used at left wing, he primarily has played center. Should he continue to be a top six forward on the Devils? I’m skeptical. But before I get into that, I think he deserves a defense of sorts. Alex provided one yesterday, arguing why he should be kept. I have my own thoughts on that, but this post should further support his claims. His 2016-17 season was not so good, but I do not think this should change his role on the team.
First and foremost, his 2016-17 season was a let down. In retrospect, that should not have been surprising at all. In 2015-16, Henrique was hot in two ways. First, he centered a line featuring a hot and healthy Michael Cammalleri and a surprisingly useful Lee Stempniak for the first half of 2015-16. How good was it? On January 1, 2016, Cammalleri was eleventh in the league in scoring with 35 points in 38 games. While they did not reach the top-50 in scoring, Stempniak had nine goals and nineteen assists and Henrique already had thirteen goals and twelve assists. Cammalleri was injured by then and he would only appear in four more games in 2015-16. Stempniak was traded at the deadline for picks. Henrique, though, kept being productive and finished the season with thirty goals (!), twenty assists, and 149 shots on net. The goal and shot totals were career highs while he was one point shy of tying his most productive season. The second hotness that led to that result: a very high shooting percentage of 20.1%. With Stempniak gone, a lack of clarity of whether Cammalleri would return to his 2015 self in 2016-17 (he really didn’t), and the likeliness of a very high shooting percentage crashing down to Earth, all signs pointed to a downturn for Henrique. That happened. His goal totals dropped from thirty to twenty as his shooting percentage in 2016-17 ended at 14.1%. On a team that badly needed play drivers, he was not one of them with a total 46.9% CF% per Hockey Analysis. But we must not forget that the team as a whole was worse.
I think that last fact deserves a closer look. Teammates matter in hockey. In looking at the With or Without You stats for Henrique at Hockey Analysis, I’ve realized that Henrique has only had significant time in 5-on-5 play with a few forwards. Alex definitely touched on this yesterday; I will expand a little bit more on it.
In 2015-16, Henrique played roughly 916 minutes in 5-on-5 hockey per Hockey Analysis. The only forwards who played at least 200 of those 916 minutes with him were Stempniak, Michael Cammalleri, and Joseph Blandisi. Defensemen were more common; five out of the top six played over 200 minutes with Henrique.
The possession numbers for Henrique in this WOWY were pretty ugly. Even after adjusting for zone starts - which were favoring offensive zone starts with all three of those forwards - Henrique had a 48% CF% with Cammalleri, 45.1% with Stempniak, and a 44.6% with Blandisi. The run of play was not kind. However, there were goals in the cases of Cammalleri and Stempniak. Henrique’s goals for per 60 minute rate was an astounding 3.9 with Cammalleri and a strong 3.08 with Stempniak. It was not so impressive with Blandisi, but at least the 2.47 GF/60 matched their 2.47 GA/60. In other words, the run of play may have been rough for Henrique but the scoring rates at 5-on-5 made it more than acceptable to keep them together. Again, Cammalleri was a top scorer before he suffered an injury in 2015-16 and Henrique’s stick was hot over the whole season.
As for the defenders, Henrique started quite a lot on defense with Greene and Larsson. However, their scoring rates were quite good and their CA/60 actually stayed below 50 together. Further, they were better together than they were apart. As for the likes of Damon Severson, John Moore, and David Schlemko, Henrique often received more offensive zone starts with those players behind him. The combination with Moore was porous and all three of those defenders were better in the run of play apart from Henrique. But their scoring rate differentials with Henrique (GF/60 - GA/60) were positive and the GF/60 rate for Henrique together with Moore as well as Severson. So, again, there was the appearance of positivity.
Now let’s go to 2016-17. Per Hockey Analysis, Henrique played about 876 and a half minutes in 5-on-5 hockey. Six forwards played more than 200 minutes with Henrique and none of them played more than 300 with him: Cammalleri, Kyle Palmieri, P.A. Parenteau, Beau Bennett, Miles Wood, and Taylor Hall.
Cammalleri returned to play under 300 minutes with Henrique. They were not given plenty of offensive zone starts. While their CF% took a hit, the bigger concern is that CA/60. It’s over 60 - a big jump over the sub-50 rate they had in the prior season. While their scoring rate differential was again positive, it was a far cry from the prior season. As for Palmieri and Parenteau, Henrique did receive more offensive zone starts with them. The run of play was less kind to Palmieri and Henrique together; their scoring rate differential was at least quite good. The GA/60 over four for the Henrique & Parenteau combination was a massive red flag. What wasn’t a red flag: Bennett’s time with Henrique. Certainly not a lot of scoring happened but the play was pushed forward in spite of the duo facing more defensive zone starts. Looks like a good reason to keep Bennett - although it is too late for that. It was way better than the combo of Wood and Henrique, which was just plain bad in 5-on-5. Lastly, Hall helped Henrique actually break even in an attempts after zone start adjustments; shame about the scoring rates which likely led to that combination receiving less than 205 minutes. The variety implies that John Hynes did not find who would have played with Henrique enough to his satisfaction. Henrique’s teammates in 2016-17 were not as productive as they were in 2015-16 and they certainly provided few improvements from a possession point of view.
Let’s jump to the defensemen. Going from Adam Larsson to Ben Lovejoy was just a punch to the stomach. Even with a very low offensive zone start percentage, a 41.8% CF%, a CA/60 rate over 63, and a negative scoring rate differential all tells me the same thing. The Henrique and Lovejoy combination was bad. Quite bad. It was even worse with Greene given a GA/60 just below four; it was a definite step back from 2015-16. The time spent between Henrique and Moore was also bad. Things appeared to have improved with Severson - except for the starkly negative scoring rate differential. Sure, Kyle Quincey had a positive scoring rate differential with Henrique - but they were pinned back. Unexpected to me, the combination with Jon Merrill actually worked. At least better than the other defenders.
So what does this all mean from these WOWYs? What do all of these numbers point to? Clearly, Henrique did not play as well with his teammates in 2016-17 compared to 2015-16. There was less time among them and there was less production and worse scoring rate differentials. Possession was not so strong in both seasons, but they serve to highlight how the rates of scoring made a huge difference in how the run of play was perceived in each season of Henrique. There are two possibilities: Henrique himself played worse or his teammates were worse. Given that Cammalleri’s 2016-17 was worse than his excellent-when-healthy 2015-16, Greene took a step back in 2016-17 himself, Lovejoy was so bad, and Stempniak was not really replaced for Henrique, I do not think it all falls on Henrique.
Now I want to change things up and look at two stats I really should have been utilizing more. Both will allow us to answer the question of whether Henrique belonged in the role that he played last season: generally centering the second line. The first stat is called Game Score. Every player’s performance in a game is summarized into a score. Over the course of the season, this number builds up for a total score. The benefit is that it can be easily compared to other players in the NHL and establish who’s been contributing at a first-line level relative to the league, a second-line level, etc. Dom Luszczyzyn has a more detailed explanation here at Hockey-Graphs. He also has a general site for this stat. I asked him on Twitter to compare Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique over the past few seasons (and I botched the initial ask, hence the Larsson reference).
Thank you, Dom, for providing this. Here, we can see that Zajac was undeniably a first liner by his game score three seasons ago, crashed in 2014-15, and has risen up to just about first-line status last season as he played mostly with Hall and Palmieri. Henrique has been more consistent, either being above of just below the second line mark. The dotted lines show Dom’s projection for both and it appears that Henrique will be about where he is. While it is not exactly at the level of an average NHL second liner, he is not far off. With better or more appropriate teammates and a little more luck, he could surpass that mark. For what it is worth, Henrique’s 0.45 game score was the fourth highest among Devils forwards. Given that a top-six role has, well, six spots; it would be sensible to have Henrique in that spot.
The other stat is Goals Above Replacement, or GAR. This was developed by Don’t Tell My About Heart and there’s a detailed explanation that goes into the stat at Hockey-Graphs. Like Game Score, you can use this to compare players across the league. Unlike Game Score, there are six distinct components: even strength offense, even strength defense, power play offense, penalties taken, penalties drawn, and faceoffs. DTMAHeart had an older Google sheet for previous seasons, Sean Tierney made a tableau to calculate it for the 2016-17 season. From Heart’s sheet, Henrique had a total GAR of 3.43 in 2015-16. Penalties drawn and taken were negative values and despite the production, his offense and defensive value was limited.
Amazingly, his GAR in 2016-17 was much higher. I think I see why. While Henrique provided little value for even strength and power play offense, it was not negative. His even strength defense, of all things, represented much of his total 7.2 GAR value. That was surprising to me. Similar to Game Score, Henrique ended up fourth in GAR among Devils forwards. This points to his spot in the lineup to have been worth it despite issues with possession, his teammates not being so good, and a drop in production and shooting percentage.
From his WOWYs from 2015-16 and 2016-17, it is arguable that Henrique suffered from worse teammates and/or bad matches with teammates. Yet despite that and the other disappointments from last season, Henrique was still one of the top forwards on the team in 2016-17. The Game Score and GAR values point to that, with Game Score showing that Henrique was not that far off from contributing at a level expected for a second line center. Even if you insist that a second liner meets that mark or has a higher GAR, the fact is that Henrique finished fourth on the team in both Game Score and GAR. On the 2016-17 Devils, that means he was a second-liner - even if he would not have been on other teams.
While it involved looking at plenty of different figures to make comparisons, it has given me new perspective on Henrique’s 2016-17 season. Was it a good season on its own? No. But was it such a bad season where I want to see Henrique take a lesser role on the team? Not really. Relative to this roster, he’s still a top-six player. He’s a second line forward on the Devils and likely on a lot of other teams. In conjunction with Alex’s post about Henrique yesterday, there is a defense that can be made for Henrique to both stay in the Devils’ top six and stay on the Devils at all - even after last season.
Unfortunately for Henrique and his fans, I will make the opposite case tomorrow. (Hint: The two WOWYs point to one of the reasons why.) In the meantime, please feel free to give your take on the stats as well as whether this changes your perception of Henrique’s role on the team or his 2016-17 season in the comments. Thank you for reading.