After the New Jersey Devils exit from the 2018 NHL Playoffs, Devils fans (and hopefully staff) were forced to take a long, hard look at the team. While the team has a bonafide superstar in Taylor Hall, a surprising amount of forward depth and (should he continue his rebound from the postseason) a #1 goalie, the eye test reveals one key problem:
The defense just isn’t good enough.
Scott Stevens. Scott Niedermayer. Ken Daneyko. Brian Rafalski. All great NHL defensemen who have played for Jersey’s Team; suffice to say the Devils could have used one of them against the Tampa Bay Lightning; alas, father time has caught up to all of them, and New Jersey will need to find some good soldiers who may not be the same caliber of any of those names, but certainly more serviceable than John Moore and Ben Lovejoy.
One place that the search might take General Manager Ray Shero is over to Brooklyn where the New York Islanders have two left-handed defenders set to head to unrestricted free agency on July 1st. While the free agent talk of the league in terms of back end help is John Carlson of the Washington Capitals, a savvy GM like Shero will probably look at most cost-effective options such as the aforementioned pair. The question, however, is are either of these players an upgrade over what New Jersey already has?
A Brief Look at the Pair
With regard to stats, de Haan led all Islanders defensemen in SAT (49.02) and USAT (48.81) percentages last season, though not by large margins over the next closest player, Ryan Pulock. Additionally, de Haan only appeared in 33 contests and they were all prior to the turn of the year. The wheels completely fell off the Islanders bus only after he went down, so that either speaks well to his play, or it means his numbers would have suffered had he been healthy and playing.
Hickey is not nearly as strong in the SAT (47.66) and USAT categories (47.03) but still is above the line before the USAT numbers dip to 45 or lower for the remainder of the Isles defense corp. He also appeared in more games than de Haan and contributed 25 points in his 69 appearances. The “buyer beware” disclaimer that should accompany Hickey? He’s three years older than de Haan, and as such, is a lesser fit for the Devils squad/compete window.
Comparing Against the Status Quo
Comparatively speaking, neither of the possible ex-Islanders’ advanced stats are better than the players that have been mentioned as problematic. Lovejoy’s advanced stats actually blow Hickey and de Haan’s away by over 4% with Moore’s numbers resting comfortably in between both profiled players. In a limited role, Ben Lovejoy’s stats show that he’s a good player to have.
Except that he isn’t; Lovejoy gets mostly sheltered and penalty kill minutes, and anyone with a good set of eyes can see that he’s clearly outmatched defensively. Part of the reason his numbers look so good is that he has been paired with Will Butcher, who gets the puck up ice with ease, once the Devils forwards jump in to help that pair regain puck possession; for any outside readers who haven’t, watch a Devils game and prepare to see Lovejoy pinned in his own end.
The main issue that has been discussed is the idea of getting someone who can push Andy Greene down in the lineup, as he fell off a cliff this past season. In terms of Greene’s SAT (45.33) and USAT (46.21), it shouldn’t be that difficult to do. Additionally, whoever the Devils sign would be playing next to Sami Vatanen, who had some issues this year, but was a driving force from the back end.
With All of That in Mind
The Devils should at least kick the tires on signing Calvin de Haan; Hickey is a bit older than desired and even though he’s the healthier of the pair, de Haan should bring more to the current Devils team. Health, as just mentioned, could be the difference between signing de Haan and not signing him, but the Devils need to at least look into it, as rolling with the same group as last year is a disservice to the fan base.
What do you think about the Devils looking into de Haan and/or Hickey as viable options to improve the defense? Are their stats a concern of yours? Anything from watching them play that makes you want/not want them? Do you believe they are an improvement? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!