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Why 3 Depth Forwards Got Very Different Deals

The Devils had a few surprising depth players this year. At hte top of the list were Coleman, Noesen, and Gibbons. Coleman got 3 years, Noesen got 1, Gibbons walked. What’s different about these players?

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Devils top 10 goal scorers this year were Hall (39), Palmieri (24), Hischier (20), Wood (19), Bratt, Noesen, Coleman, Boyle (all 13), Gibbons, and Zajac (both 12). Of those 10 players, 3 had deals up this offseason — Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen, and Brian Gibbons.

Of the following players, which ones would you re-sign?

Player A: 79 GP/ 13G / 12A / 14.4 ATOI
Player B: 72 GP/ 13G / 14A / 13.3 ATOI
Player C: 59 GP/ 12G / 14A / 14.4 ATOI

Virtually identical production, but one of the guys (Player C) did it in way fewer games. If you can’t make a decision that’s because these players are very similar. Player A is Coleman, B is Noesen, and C is Gibbons. It’s tough to say exactly what you would give these guys, but I’d say two things: 1) It shouldn’t be very much, and 2) It should be very similar.

What Happened?

Brian Gibbons was a UFA and so he hit the open market and signed with the Ducks for 1-year, $1M. This, while meager by league standards, is the highest salary of his career and so I doubt there is any animosity between Gibbons and us — team who gave him the chance that allowed him to earn his first (and possibly only) 7-figure salary of his career. But what’s curious is that while the Devils let him walk for peanuts, RFA arbitration deadline came around and the Devils re-signed Noesen to a 1-year / $1.725M contract, and then Blake Coleman to a 3-year / $1.8M AAV contract. What was so different about these 3 guys that got them such different treatment on the books?

Why Did They Get Such Different Treatment?

The biggest factor in this equation that I’ve yet to mention is obviously age. Noesen is only 24, Coleman is 26, and Gibbons is 29. Given that Gibbons had been in the AHL since 2015 and somewhat randomly just had a career year, it seems reasonable that the Devils would let him walk. Sure his contract was reasonable, but, for Shero, I think the bottom of the lineup is where he wants to experiment. He wants to be able to “find” guys that are capable of playing up in the lineup. At 29, Gibbons was not going to suddenly find a 1st/2nd line gear. Coleman and Noesen, after starting the season on the 4th line, ended up teaming with Zajac to be one of the best shutdown lines in the NHL. You can see the ascent of Coleman (purple) and Noesen (grey) in Micah McCurdy’s hockeyviz line chart shown below. I’ve highlighted some of the biggest stretches of their usage

The first half of the season Coleman and Noesen were switching between getting 3rd and 4th line minutes. Around the halfway point, they started getting 2nd-3rd line minutes. The 4th line minutes died out around game 56, 3rd line minutes died around game 70, 2nd line around 75, and for the last few games of the season Zajac, Coleman, and Noesen played more even strength minutes than Hall, Hischier, Palmieri.

As young guys who were being given their first extended chances, they were able to find a way to contribute up in the lineup. Gibbons had some time on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd lines. But he never climbed the lineup because he peaked early. After recording 12 goals and 6 assists in the first 30 games, he score zero (0) goals and 8 assists in the last 29.

Now, as to why Coleman was given a 3-year deal and Noesen was given just 1? I would wager it has something to do with a) Noesen being a bit younger, b) him being newer to the organization, and c) Coleman’s versatility (faceoffs and PK). They haven’t seen as much from Noesen and so he gets one “prove it” deal earning near identical salary to Coleman. I’d imagine that he’d get a similar deal if he performs as well as he did this past year.

Were These the Right Moves?

GAR are from 3 different GAR models, Manny Perry’s Corsica GAR, the Solberg Twins’ (@EvolvingWild) yet-to-be-released GAR, and Chace McCallum’s GAR.

I’m on record on twitter as being fully on board with Coleman’s game. From the eye test, he’s an absolute nuisance to play against due to his forechecking, physicality, and sneaky speed. I’m very happy that the metrics bear out that assessment. Coleman drives play and chances at an extremely prolific rate. In adjusted RelTxGF% he comes in at 8th in the NHL among the 400 skaters with 1000+ minutes. He trails Claude Giroux, William Karlsson, Jordan Eberle, Ryan O’Reilly, James Van Riemsdyk, John Tavares, and Jaden Schwartz. This is likely a significant factor in why he also shows pretty well in GAR metrics.

I always say that, due to the state of hockey analytics, performing really well in a metric, while good, isn’t enough. Due to the varying methods and lack of information, the most sure you can be in a players quality is if there is agreement across several statistics rather than if they are off the charts in a few. Coleman checks that box. Worth at least 4 goals in all GAR metrics, and drives possession, chances, and goals. His performance is worth the term, but it’s also worth noting that he’s older than you think. At 26, this is very possibly the best he gets, and it’s not impossible that he falls off the map. Age curves are a thing. I’d give this deal a B.

Noesen is also good across all metrics (though Manny’s GAR isn’t in love with him) AND he is two years younger. There are a couple reasons that I think he didn’t get the Coleman contract. Familiarity with the organization as I mentioned earlier may be one. And limited role is another. Of the three players mentioned here, Noesen received the fewest minutes per game. Coleman is extremely flexible, having played both the center and the wing and logging big minutes on both 5v5 play and on the PK in the past. Noesen is a 5v5-only right winger. We are shallow at that position, but given the fact that he doesn’t do many other things, he needs to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that his 5v5 play is good enough to give him a roster spot for an extended time. For that reason, I love a 1-year deal for him.

Gibbons was great while it lasted. He vanished in the latter half, especially after the injury. At 29, he isn’t getting younger. He started to drag in possession as the year went on as well. He gave us a great few months in the beginning of the season, and paired with Coleman to make one of the most tenacious PK units I’ve ever seen. But if this team is going to stay young, the bottom 6 is going to need to make room for guys like John Quenneville or Joey Anderson or whoever your favorite prospect is. Not re-signing him was the right move. We thank Brian for his service and wish him the best in Anaheim.

Conclusion and Your Thoughts

On the face of it, these are 3 depth forwards with similar production that got pretty radically different treatment from Shero. But digging into it, Coleman’s versatility and unique skillset (Only Lucic eclipsed Coleman in both hits and shots) earned him a deal to take him to the doorstep of 30 years old where many hockey players don’t make it. Noesen is still young and is being given a shot at proving he can be a steady middle (or even top?) 6 player. Gibbons is knocking on the door of 30 years old and has been an AHLer virtually his entire career up until this point, and probably should have been the second half of this year as well.

Given the information we have, I’m okay with all 3 of these deals. What are your thoughts? What do you think about the 3 players? Would you have offered Gibbons more to stay? Is 3 years too much for Coleman? What do you think this says about what Shero values?

Leave your thoughts below, and as always, thanks for reading!