I’m not here to make the case for Ben Lovejoy. I’ve already done that. I’m not here to make the case against Ben Lovejoy. John already did that. I’m here to say that “Love” him or hate him. He’s back for the Devils in full force this year. It seems clear to me for three reasons. Reason #1: He is our #1 penalty-killer. Reason #2: He played a lot last year at all times of the season and we’ve added no notable new piece since. Reason #3: He strong defensively at even strength.
1. He is our #1 Penalty Killer
Micah Blake McCurdy has a site called hockeyviz and if you haven’t looked through itself, do yourself a favor and browse for a while. The relevant chart for this particular moment is the Devils team shorthanded network shown here:
As you can see, Lovejoy was the central cog to our PK last year. More often than not, it was the tandem of Lovejoy and Greene, but when Lovejoy played 17 Greene-less games, he kept at the PKing with Jon Merrill during that absence. For better or worse, Lovejoy was the #1 utilized PK man last year. And it appears as though it was for the better. This is the chart of every defender that played more than 10 short handed minutes for the Devils last year their expected goals against per 60 minutes, and their time on ice.
As you can see, Lovejoy is second only to Severson, but Lovejoy played way more minutes. Based on this data, if you are to create confidence intervals on performance of each Devils defender in SH performance, Lovejoy runs away with the title.
2. He Played A Lot in 2017
Again, from hockeyviz, I present Lovejoy’s Player Summary:
As you can see from the second row chart, his time on ice was pretty reliably high throughout the whole year. Furthermore, as seen in the final chart, his “role” as a defensive specialist was solidified around games 25-30 when he was no longer paired with Auvitu (first chart).
He was consistently given around 20 minutes per game the entire season and the coaches never seemed to let up on that, even as criticism rained down from the fanbase. He led all Devils skaters in total minutes, playing 75 more than 2nd-place Severson and was 2nd only to Greene in time on ice per game.
We have added Mirco Mueller since last year and basically no one else. Some have faith in guys like Yaroslav Dyblenko to punch their way in, but there is no one that is obviously better than Lovejoy on this roster.
3. He Played Good 5-on-5 Defensively
I’ve mentioned DTMAboutHeart’s GAR metric a few time here, but if you don’t know what it is check out his 5-Part-Piece on Hockey-Graphs. In particular, the XPM component I think does a great job of highlighting Lovejoy’s unappreciated value to the team. It use play-by-play data and the all players on the ice, the zones the shifts started in , score adjustments, the team coaches, and if one of the teams is playing back-to-back as the explanatory variables. If you view his GAR sheet (you have to play with the filters), you’ll see that Lovejoy’s XPM is 0.26 which is second only to Severson (0.28) and twice that of the third best - Andy Greene. The XPM component was likely one of the largest contributing factors to Lovejoy’s final GAR rating which you can view here (again, play with the filters). Or, you can view Sean Tierney’s viz of the Devils GAR components.
According to GAR, Lovejoy is the Devils #1 skater in EVD (even-strength defense) and he is the #3 overall defender. He was the second best defender in the TAKE component (ability to not take penalties). He took 1.37 penalty minutes per 0.46 penalty minutes per 20 minutes of ice time. He was behind only Andy Greene’s absolutely absurd 8 total penalty minutes in 1448 minutes of ice time.
Ben Lovejoy has a role with the Devils. He is a 1st-2nd pairing man (on this roster, anyway) at 5v5 who has a lot of ice time because he is the best even strength defender on the team and specializes in his own zone. His ice time was pretty steady last year and nothing about this years roster seems likely to change that since no new players are particularly good and none of the old players are threats to his role. Furthermore, he hasn’t been terrible in his inglorious role.
So essentially what I’m saying is, if you’re among the majority of Devils fans who think Ben Lovejoy is terrible and get angry every time you hear Cangy say his name or see that #12 when looking for the culprit of the ensuing dump and chase, save your energy. You’re going to see plenty of him this year.
Silver lining: The Defense isn’t our problem! Soooooo yay?
Do you think the coaching staff will trot out #12 as much as they did last year? How bad a thing do you think this is if it happens? Do you think he is so bad that the coaching staff has to notice? If so, why did he play last year? Were we tanking? Should we tank again? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
And, as always, thank you for reading!