While the New Jersey Devils lost decisively against Our Hated Rivals today, Devils General Manager Ray Shero had a successful morning. As announced by the Devils, defenseman Ben Lovejoy was dealt to Dallas for defenseman Connor Carrick and a 2019 third round pick. Even nearly twelve hours later, this remains as a great trade by Shero.
Let’s take a step back. Shero turned a veteran, one-dimensional right-shooting defenseman and impending unrestricted free agent who was not likely to return to the Devils this Summer into a draft pick within the first three rounds and a NHL player who is about a decade younger, a right-shooting defenseman, and an impending restricted free agent. That’s an expiring contract for a draft pick in the top-93 in this year’s draft class and a player that can be easily kept. That’s one asset for two. From this standpoint alone, this is a great deal. I am very happy with this trade.
Let’s break down who the newest Devil is, Lovejoy’s impact upon leaving, and what’s next for Shero and the Devils.
The Departed Player: Ben Lovejoy
Ben Lovejoy was one of the few significant free agent signings by Shero. He has been a mainstay on the right side of the Devils defense for the better part of the last three seasons. After spending half of 2016-17 getting destroyed in the run of play when paired with Andy Greene and generally being really bad, Lovejoy was moved down to a third pairing with more favorable situations and fewer minutes at even strength in the following season. He was placed with rookie Will Butcher last season. The pairing did very well. While CF% is not everything, it speaks volumes that Lovejoy’s 2016-17 CF% in 5-on-5 play at Natural Stat Trick was a woeful 43.89% and his 2017-18 CF% was an Actually Good 52.34%. It demonstrates the power of easier minutes and match-ups next to a defenseman who complements him. In this season, Lovejoy’s CF% dipped to 48.98% - but that was still third best among Devils defensemen and when he was on the ice with Butcher, the pairing had a CF% of 50.85%. Again, CF% is not everything but that the run of play continued to do well for Butcher-Lovejoy in this season is further evidence of the pairing’s quality. It also is evidence for how smart it was for John Hynes and his staff to put Lovejoy in this spot.
It is impressive to a degree that the run of play was favorable when Lovejoy was on the ice because he quickly showed that he was a one-dimensional defenseman. Lovejoy is very much a defensive defenseman. His shot is not that good. He tends to handle pucks like they are grenades. He frequently ices the puck. He finishes his time in New Jersey with 190 games, five goals, and twenty-two assists per Natural Stat Trick. He is a slow player in a game that has increasingly favors speed. Whatever offense you get from Lovejoy should be seen as a bonus because he produces rarely and does not regularly contribute to a team’s attack.
Additionally, Lovejoy is no stranger to the penalty box. Over the last three seasons, Lovejoy has taken 41 minor penalties and 44 penalties total per NHL.com. Only four Devils have taken more than that. Given his lack of speed and his tendency to play physically, he will take calls here and there. Since he is a defenseman and not an attacking one, he does not draw penalties often enough (Natural Stat Trick has a total of 14 over the last three seasons) to make up for ones he takes.
However, when a penalty is taken by someone else, that is when Lovejoy can shine. Despite his issues, Lovejoy has been a key player in the Devils’ successful penalty kill. According to NHL.com, the team’s penalty killing success rate has risen from 79.6% to 81.8% to 83.8% - the latter two ranking in the top 25 over the last three seasons. In that time period, Lovejoy played 630:09 of shorthanded ice time, which is over a hundred minutes over the third most common player on PKs since 2016-17 (Travis Zajac) and is second to only Andy Greene. Lovejoy’s lack of offense, puck handling, and speed are not significant issues in shorthanded situations. All Lovejoy needs to do is battle for the puck, react quickly without having to make up ground, maintain his position, and ice/clear the puck when he does get it. He has done a very good job of all of that. Say what you want about the Younggren twins’ Goals Above Replacement model, but Lovejoy has a shorthanded GAR of 2.1. Only eight other players in the NHL this season are above two (and Greene is one of them).
The penalty kill is where Lovejoy will likely be the most useful for Dallas. I’m not sure their PK necessarily needs it. Prior to tonight’s games, NHL.com lists their success rate at 81.9%, the seventh best in the NHL. It certainly was not hurting their cause in their quest to make the playoffs. On the flipside, the PK will be where the Devils will miss him the most.
What Will the Devils Do Without Lovejoy?
The Devils have nothing to play for this season so they can afford to experiment with who takes Lovejoy’s spot on the PK. Earlier today against the Rangers, Damon Severson took Lovejoy’s spot on the first unit next to Andy Greene with Mirco Mueller and Eric Gryba serving as the pairing for the second unit. While Greene-Severson has not been good in 5-on-5 play this season, the pairing seemed OK on the PK. They were not the ones to be scored on, at least. We’ll see if that continues, especially when Sami Vatanen, the team’s #3 defenseman in shorthanded ice time this season, returns to action.
Outside of the PK, though, well, Lovejoy was a good third-pairing defenseman in the run of play. It is good to have effective players in a depth role, but he was not so good that he could not be replaced. The Devils have some options. Steve Santini is one of them. Against the Rangers, Santini lined up with Will Butcher. Santini is similar to Lovejoy in that they are both defensive minded defensemen with size. Santini is faster and a bit better on the puck, though. He’s also turning 24 in a few weeks, so he has a little room for development and growth. Today was a bad day for him in the run of play. With the blueline remaining somewhat crowded, it is not a guarantee he will keep receiving minutes.
Another option is Eric Gryba, who really does not have any upside or all that much quality. He is a veteran call-up; what you see is what you get, which is not much. He can be physical and the coaches have given him a few shorthanded shifts. However, he may be worse than Lovejoy when it comes to playing with the puck and Gryba is also slow. I suppose if you want to help keep a tank rolling, Gryba can provide the oil to the defense to slip up.
The Devils could also call up Ryan Murphy or John Ramage if they want a different look for a right-sided defenseman. Murphy is a small offensive defenseman who has been bouncing back and forth between the AHL and NHL for much of his career. He had one game with New Jersey, which was not the worst game, and has since been moved down. Ramage has been mostly an AHL player since becoming a professional after a successful college career in 2013. He would be a longshot to be given a chance, but if the Devils want to see what they have in him as they have done with Gryba, then they could.
Of course, there is the newcomer. Connor Carrick absolutely will also provide competition for the third-pairing RHD spot Lovejoy occupied. Let’s learn more about him.
The Incoming Player: Connor Carrick
This is the fourth organization for Carrick in his young career and he is not even 25 yet. His page at Hockey-Reference notes that he was a fifth-rounder in 2012, he is officially listed at 5’11” and 192 pounds, and he is a right-shooting defenseman. What has he done so far in his career? Not much.
Carrick never really broke through in Washington. He made 14 appearances in 2013-14, three in 2015-16, and then sent to Toronto as part of the Brooks Laich-Daniel Winnik swap in February 2016. Carrick seemingly found a spot in Toronto for the next two seasons and averaged between fifteen and sixteen minutes per game. Carrick would not get another season to try and secure a regular role in Toronto. Carrick was dealt to Dallas back on October 1, 2018 for a seventh-rounder. In Dallas, he suffered a foot injury and was again part of a crowded blueline. Carrick only played in 14 games with the Stars before today’s trade. Again, outside of a conditioning stint this season (four games), he only played one full AHL season way back when he was in the Caps organization. Carrick has been good enough to stick around in the NHL but not so much to play a lot in his 181 appearances as per Hockey-Reference. He also has not produced a lot with ten goals, twenty four assists, and 207 shots in his career.
Carrick has been primarily kept to even strength play in his career. His 5-on-5 stats seem pretty good. He had good percentages in his two seasons with Toronto per Natural Stat Trick: a Corsi For percentages above 52%, Scoring Chance For percentages above 54%, and High Danger Attempt For percentages also above 54%. If nothing else, the Leafs were not getting wrecked night-in, night-out when Carrick played. Carrick’s percentages dipped in Dallas but since he only played an average of just over twelve minutes in fourteen games with the Stars, I am not terribly concerned. I am also encouraged by what the expected goals model thinks of Carrick. According to Offside Review, the differences in Carrick’s expected goals for per sixty minute (xGF/60) rate and expected goals against per sixty minute (xGA/60) rate in even strength situations is all positive in the last three seasons: +0.16, +0.48, and +0.03. His xGA/60 was 2.60, 2.10, and 2.31, which further suggests that opposing players have not wrecked the team when Carrick was playing. By extension, Carrick might be effective in his own end.
As Carrick has had the most success in Toronto in his young career, I highly suggest reading Acting the Fulemin’s post about Connor Carrick at Pension Plan Puppets. As part of their site’s Top 25 Under 25, Carrick ranked tenth and it covers reasons why he was not able to have a stable job on Toronto’s blueline. The post points out that while his underlying numbers are encouraging, his observed on-ice performances sometimes tell a different tale. As such, he was not able to earn the confidence of head coach Mike Babcock and the staff to get more minutes. The post concluded that if Carrick was not going to take a third-pairing role this season, he was probably done as a Leaf. The post was off by a season; he was dealt in October. It’s a great post to learn more about Carrick.
I would also advise checking out Micah Blake McCurdy’s isolated player impact maps comparing Carrick and Lovejoy. It shows that Carrick has been a lesser defenseman than Lovejoy. But as Lovejoy is not getting any younger,
All together, it appears to me that Carrick is a third-pairing right-sided defenseman at best. I do not get the sense that he could kill penalties, and I doubt we will see him on the power play as long as Severson and Butcher are available. He may have averaged about a shot per game, but that alone does not make him particularly offensive as a defenseman. The good news is that is OK. The Devils should look elsewhere for the PK spot anyway. Now that Lovejoy is with Dallas, the roster spot up for grabs is for even strength situations. With Santini not able to lock down a regular role, Gryba being Gryba, and assuming no one else is called up, Carrick has a real shot at taking this spot. The Devils did acquire him in a trade so I would hope they are willing to give him opportunities to do so. Again, the Devils have nothing to play for in this season so they can afford to give him chances and let him acclimate with the Devils.
According to CapFriendly, Carrick is an impending restricted free agent with a current salary of $1.3 million, it will not cost much to keep him around. If he fails, the Devils can just not qualify him to cut him loose or trade him to another organization. Still, the Devils picked up a player that Toronto and Dallas has kept up with the NHL team rather than sending him back-and-forth to the minor leagues. That is an actual return for someone who was likely to go elsewhere in the offseason anyway. What put this deal squarely in the “I really, really like this” category is
What is a Third Rounder Worth?
A third round pick will typically be between 63rd and 93rd overall. Where it ends up will be based on how Dallas does. Intuitively, an earlier pick is better than a later one. Therefore, we should hope Dallas falls apart in the next month or so.
Back on June 21, 2018, Scott Cullen at TSN broke down what a draft pick is worth based on the results of the NHL Drafts from 1990 through 2014. By the time you get to the third-round picks, it appears there is a drop-off from the 63rd-72nd range and the 73rd-82nd and 83rd-93rd ranges. Cullen found that 34.5% of the picks in that range do make it to the NHL and play in 100 or more games. It was only 22.8% and 25.5% for the other two, respectively. The 63rd-72nd range also had a higher rate of yielding a top-six forward, top-four defenseman, or top goaltender than the other two. Based on history, we should hope Dallas falls flat on their face.
If you search for “nhl draft pick value chart,” you’ll find a link to a .PDF by Michael E. Schuckers who did a paper on the concept way back in 2011. He used a criteria of 200 games played and found that there is not a lot of value difference between a late second round pick and an early third round pick. Schuckers did find that #63 would have more value than #93, but it is not as large of a value difference between, say, #31 and #62. Between the two articles I found, a third round pick could a yield a prospect with a decent shot at a future in pro hockey. I would not expect great things unless the player himself turns out to be a fantastic player. But it’s more than just a roll of a die or a dart thrown at a board.
For what it’s worth, the Devils’ recent history of third rounds picks has been a variety of success as per HockeyDB. Joey Anderson broke through to the NHL after turning professional; he was the team’s third rounder in 2016. Blake Coleman was a late bloomer of a third round pick in 2011 and a definite success. While they did not last long, Scott Wedgewood, Alexander Urbom, and Blake Speers has had tastes of the NHL. Current prospects Reilly Walsh, Fabian Zetterlund, and Brandon Gignac were all from the third round. The most successful third round pick of the last ten years without question was Adam Henrique. There have been only three busts from the third round given a loose definition of a bust. Expectations are not high for this round of the draft, but a team can have some good prospects and the Devils organization can speak to that.
And this is assuming they use the pick. The Devils now have Anaheim’s and Dallas’ third round picks in 2019. Shero can package them in a deal to move up, get another player, or something else entirely. Having more than the standard number of picks gives Shero more options in deals and that is never a bad thing.
Circling Back to the Deal as a Whole
Where a team is definitely factors as to whether a deal is good or not. Dallas is currently fighting for a playoff spot and they had a very good penalty kill as-is. Given that Lovejoy was performing well as a third-pairing defenseman in New Jersey and the Stars apparently have plenty of those caliber defenders, I am not exactly sure why Dallas wanted Ben Lovejoy. Yes, he has experience and a presumably good reputation. But I do not think that will be so helpful to a team looking to hold onto a wild card spot in a tight Western Conference. I get that impression from Taylor Baird’s post about the deal from a Stars perspective at Defending Big D. Even the headline stated it was a marginal upgrade to their defense.
As for the Devils, they have nothing to play for this season and Lovejoy was an impending UFA. Whether Shero is going to re-tool his first rebuild or blow it all up a second time, I do not see a reason why the Devils would want Lovejoy to return anyway. He was great on the PK but between the Devils’ system and what is required for a PK, Lovejoy was not utterly irreplaceable. Lovejoy was good in his limited third-pairing role but even there he was limited in terms of what he brought to the table. Trading him for some return was the right call and I do not think many fans would disagree.
I also do not think many fans expected this return. If the deal was just Carrick for Lovejoy, then it would be an OK, sort-of lateral move. If the deal was just a third round pick for Lovejoy, then I think most would be fine with it given his limitations. But the deal was for both, which is what makes this great. The Devils can give Carrick a chance and see if he factors into their future. If he doesn’t, it is no big loss. If so, then it will be easy to keep him as he is a pending restricted free agent. That third round pick does not have a high or even a good probability of becoming a NHL regular, but it is not at all remote either. It is possible to find a decent prospect and/or make another move later.
So What’s Next?
So far Shero’s sales have been quite effective. Earlier, Shero moved a fourth-liner who played a bit in all situations in Brian Boyle for a second round pick. Now he moved a third-pairing defenseman who excels on the PK for a third rounder and an actual NHL player in Carrick. I can’t wait to see what he can get for Marcus Johansson.
Johansson remains as the most talented Devil with an expiring contract. Like Lovejoy, he has been scratched for precautionary reasons. While Johansson’s production has heated up in the last month or so, an injury would scuttle any trade. Therefore, I would expect that Shero is working the phones to get a good return for Johansson. Whether it will be tomorrow or Monday remains to be seen. All the same, this the one to watch for.
Other than that, any other deals may be minor if there are any deals. Unless Shero wants to move someone signed for next season or someone really wants Keith Kinkaid, Johansson is the last attractive pending UFA the Devils have. If he’s moved before Monday, then the deadline day may be boring for New Jersey. I think that is OK. Shero already turned two players who could easily walk away on July 1 has been turned into two top-90 picks in 2019 and Connor Carrick. The trades have been good for Shero so far.
I think this was a very good trade. What do you think of the trade of Ben Lovejoy to Dallas for Connor Carrick and a 2019 third rounder? Do you think Carrick will do well in New Jersey? Can he beat Santini and Gryba for a regular spot? Will Dallas fall in the standings and make that third rounder just a little bit better? Are you happy with Shero’s selling of pending UFAs so far? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the trade in the comments. Thank you for reading.