Well just to inform you right off the bat: if you already know that the New Jersey Devils need more offensive production from people not named Taylor Hall next season, then what you will glean from this article today will not be extraordinary. However, this is just more data that showcases that last season, the Devils were mostly reliant on the top line, and specifically on Hall and to a lesser extent Nico Hischier.
Yesterday, Sean Tierney tweeted a couple of chart photos revolving around WAR and GAR (wins above replacement and goals above replacement). This tweet shows us that Hall was one of the most important players in the NHL last year, period, hence his winning of the Hart Trophy. Connor McDavid and Claude Giroux have higher WAR ratings here, but that is it. Other than that, however, no one else on New Jersey was pulling a big WAR. Hischier and Kyle Palmieri did well for themselves, but everyone else was either minimally positive or minimally negative in wins above replacement. That is not good enough to be a top contender. Look at Tampa in that same chart. You have six players there with a significant or at least a decently positive WAR. Same with Boston. However, when you look at the negative WAR on the chart, NJ’s is fairly long, one of the poorer teams in the NHL on the red side. Not great.
Sean’s second tweet shows the information in a slightly different way. Here, the players in blue were elite in terms of WAR, in green were secondary positive contributors, and red were negative. NJ had only two players in blue, Hall and Hischier (the fact that Hischier could have been considered an elite contributer last year despite being an 18 year old rookie is quite impressive in my opinion, and is a sign of great things to come). Everyone else was either a secondary contributor or an anchor. Again, this is not good, and clearly showcases top-heavy contribution from really one major player. Also, NJ was pretty heavy on the negative side, again a bad sign.
To dive slightly deeper too, Sean has a chart on his webpage showing forwards who had both positive and/or negative GAR when it came to both offense and defense last season (go to the ‘off vs def breakdown’ tab on the top, then click on NJ to see their players highlighted). Some players had positive offensive GAR, meaning they helped produce more goals for, but negative defensive GAR, meaning they allowed more goals against. The chart is great at showcasing who was good offensively, defensively, both, or neither.
Specifically, it obviously shows that Hall was head and shoulders above anyone else. In terms of being positive offensively, only two other forwards stood out: Patrick Maroon and Nico. Of course Maroon is gone, so for next year we have just the two. Defensively, more forwards stood out. Other than Hall, we had Stefan Noesen, Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac, and Brian Boyle as positive contributors when it came to shutting down the opposition’s offensive capabilities. Those names make sense as being defensively sound. Noesen was slightly positive offensively as well, but only just barely. Everyone else was essentially negative in both offensive and defensive GAR. 7 forwards highlight specifically in the bottom left, negative-negative bracket.
Compare this to some of the better teams in the league last season. Las Vegas had only two forwards with negative GAR both offensively and defensively, while over double that were doubly positive. Pittsburgh had zero forwards negative in both offensive and defensive GAR. Nashville had only two forwards negative-negative, but had five who were positive-positive. You should play around with that chart to see other teams.
In the end, what it means once again, as I noted at the top, is that this team is heavily dependent on Taylor Hall and somewhat dependent on Nico Hischier as the brunt of offense on this team. There are several forwards who are defensively sound, but offensively, this forward corps needs help. And as we know, not much changed in the offseason, so that help is going to need to come from within. Will Jesper Bratt be able to improve his game? What about Pavel Zacha? Can Coleman develop more of an offensive game? Can Miles Wood enter the true positive range offensively? Some of that will need to take place if New Jersey is to improve its goal output this year. It will be interesting to track WAR and GAR as the season goes on this year to see this play out in real time.