As this site has already been discussing since the end of the New Jersey Devils’ season, and as notably obvious throughout the season, the Devils have an issue defensively that needs to be addressed. There have been different discussions on that front, and I like CJ’s take on it from the other day. For this Devils team to continue moving forward next season, with that meaning another playoff berth and more success come April and beyond, there will need to be improvements on the blue line.
Today, I just wanted to showcase a quick bulk stat to showcase where the Devils defense was at this season, and how it highlights both a decline in defensive play as well as the change that this team went through from previous seasons to become more successful. The Devils finished with an ok CF% this season, sitting in 21st in the league at 48.59%. However, while we often look at the percentages when discussing these numbers, we look at the actual bulk numbers a lot less frequently. These can tell us the type of team that was out on the ice each night. A team with a 48.59% Corsi can be extremely stingy, with an excellent CA to go with a miserable CF, or it can be a dominant offensive team with a Swiss cheese defense letting up boatloads of attempts against. Either way you look at it, the end result is a net negative possession team, but how they each achieved that percentage is quite different.
Most previous Devils teams were definitely in the former category, with an excellent ability to suppress attempts against at the cost of generating attempts for. According to Natural Stat Trick, between 2007-2017, only in one season did they allow more than 3200 Corsi attempts against, and that was in 2014-15, which you could consider the rock bottom year before the rebuild went upward. In that year, they allowed 3335 attempts against, which was still good for 6th best in the league, so it wasn’t like the team was a complete sieve that year either. In the same time frame, the Devils allowed under 3000 attempts against four different times, which is a really great indicator of the team’s defensive capabilities over that time frame.
The 2017-18 Devils, however, found a different mode to success. Their team CA was the highest it has ever been since these stats began to be kept back in 2007. The Devils allowed 3794 attempts against last season, which ranked them 15th in the league in that stat. That is incredibly poor for a New Jersey team that has basically always been in the top 10 in that category, if not the top 5. Considering the team’s previous worst of 3335, allowing over 450 more attempts over 82 games is significant. That is almost 5 and a half extra attempts allowed per game.
On the flip side, the Devils produced 3586 attempts for last season, good for 25th in the league. Ranking 25th in the league might not sound very good, and for comparative purposes to other teams it really isn’t, but it is a step in the right direction for this organization. Over the same time frame, since 2007, that is the most attempts the Devils have produced in a single season. The previous high was 3437 way back in 2008-09, which was an entirely different team from the one you see today. The last three years have been significantly worse in CF production, considering the Devils did not even make 3000 CF events in two of them, and were under 3200 in the third year. Knowing those numbers, 3586 is quite good, and is a trend in the right direction.
For New Jersey to get to the next level, one of those numbers will need to go in the right direction next season. Either the Devils will need to maintain their improved offensive output while bringing their CA back to better levels, or they will need to keep raising their CF output while finding some way to stabilize their rising CA. The former will require finding better defenders to man the blue line, and the latter will require more secondary scoring behind Taylor Hall. Both of those have been presented as needs for this team, and it will be up to Ray Shero to decide where to go with that. But that is another reason as to why I agree with what CJ was saying the other day. It is not specifically about only finding defense. That may make sense given that the Devils are usually a strong defensive team, and what we saw this season was quite poor in comparison. But secondary offensive production is also vital. If they end up signing John Tavares like John mentioned, but only upgrade their defense in a minimal fashion, that could still work in the end to improve this team overall if it means a higher CF while stabilizing CA. The numbers dictate that either can move in a positive direction next season, and it will be up to Shero to decide how best to attack free agency and the draft to improve. Of course, improving both numbers next year would be optimal, but you know as well as I do that nothing is ever perfect.
In the end, these numbers are just another indicator that these Devils we saw this season were quite a different one from years past, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. But they also definitively show room for improvement, and we shall see how the team looks to address those needs come free agency and the draft.