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Did the Devils Have a True Top 6 in 2017? GAR Says Yes!

According to a blend of the most popular GAR statistics, the Devils top 6 were all actually NHL top 6. I explain and offer caveats below.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils
According to GAR, Hall is a bona fide star and Zajac is a true top line player.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Devils had a true top 6 forward group last year and I’m going to prove it.

Goals Above Replacement Data

Hockey has been delving into the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) increasingly as of late. This past offseason, hockey analyst Dawson Springings (Twitter DTMAboutHeart) and Corsica-creator, Emmanuel Perry (Twitter MannyElk) have each published their own GAR/WAR model results.

Manny tweeted his out last week and Dawson’s has available been since March. I created a Google Sheet with both of them that I will be referencing in this short article describing my findings.

Weighted GAR

Briefly, my methodology was only slightly more complicated than a basic average between the two. Skip this next paragraph if you hate the maths.

The reason I didn’t just average them is that the two WAR stats differ in variance to the alpha=0.05 significance-level. Therefore, I wanted to standardize them so as to not unfairly reward/punish those that are at the extremes of the more variant data. So I calculated their z-scores and averaged them. Then, for interpretability, I multiplied that average by the pooled standard deviation. The results are in the Google Sheet I linked above.

Results and Devils’ Roster GAR Distribution

For a quick summary, I decided to plot how many of each level of player each team had. This is a summary of last year where there were 30 teams, and so a “Top Player” is a top 30 one, a “Top Liner” is a top 90 one due to each of the 30 teams having 3 top line players, and so on and so forth. I tweeted the results yesterday and they are shown below here.

As you can see the Devils, as mentioned in the title, had 6 top 6 skaters last year — which is to say that they had 6 forwards that ranked in the top 180 in GAR. These are the players and their weighted GAR scores which — for those who don’t know -- are intended to indicate how many goals the combined elements of a players game (offense, defense, penalties, etc.) are worth.

Taylor Hall (8.33 wGAR, 25th among forwards, Top Player)

Travis Zajac (4.18 wGAR, 81st among forwards, Top Liner)

Kyle Palmieri (2.78 GAR, 113th among forwards, Top 6)

Mike Cammalleri (2.69 GAR, 116th among forwards, Top 6)

Adam Henrique (1.80 GAR, 149th among forwards, Top 6)

P.A. Parenteau (1.07 GAR, 180th among forwards, Top 6)

Quick thoughts about that — it seems to favor John’s point about Adam Henrique becoming expendable, we didn’t get enough for Parenteau, and Cammalleri didn’t get enough for himself. You’ll notice that we don’t have 2 of those guys on the team anymore and one is injured for a significant portion of the year. So do we actually have a top 6 on this team? Well... kinda.

Marcus Johansson (5.66 wGAR, 61st among forwards, Top Line)

Brian Boyle (3.03 wGAR, 180th among forwards, Top 6)

Interpretation and Conclusion

When Zajac returns, we will not only have a true top 6, but we will have every level of this chart satisfied. Hall is a true #1; Mojo and Zajac are true top line players; Palms, Rico, and Boyle are true top 6ers; and who knows what the rookies will do because I don’t even have their stats from last year.

There’s few obvious things to point out here that I’m ignoring. For instance, Boyle may be worth that amount of goals, but he is clearly not playing as a top 6 forward the way we refer to them colloquially. Also these markers are being very favorable to us. Hall is a #1 but he’s the 6th worst one at 25 overall. Similarly Zajac is the 9th worst first liner at 81st overall. Thusly, this chart probably exaggerates the degree to which the top end of our lineup is legitimately NHL-caliber.

So when I said “The Devils have a True Top 6,” what I mean is that they have the minimum value required of each top 6 forward position. For a league average team, you need either high-ranking players in some of those categories, or a surplus of players in each category. Although I’m offering caveats as to the efficacy of my thesis, I do actually believe that the Devils forward group is now officially adequate and trending towards good. We have a legit top 6 and I haven’t included our #1 overall pick or any other encouraging young forwards.

The defense? ... Well, let’s not talk about them...

Your Thoughts?

Do you think we have a true top 6? Do you think any of the rookies or maybe Zacha earn their way into that distinction? Do you think this isn’t a fair way to asses the question of “true top 6”? Leave your thoughts below and thanks for reading!