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An Early Evaluation of Connor Carrick as a New Jersey Devil

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Defenseman Connor Carrick was acquired by the New Jersey Devils in the deal that sent Ben Lovejoy to Dallas. He has played quite a lot since debuting on February 25. This post evaluates how the pending restricted free agent has done so far as a Devil.

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils
Connor Carrick (L) is trying to defend Dmitry Orlov (R)
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

On February 23, the New Jersey Devils traded Ben Lovejoy to the Dallas Stars for a third round pick in 2019 and defenseman Connor Carrick. At the time, I thought it was a very good trade. Here’s my initial reaction:

[Ray] 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.

Carrick made his debut as a Devil on February 25. It was a successful one for the 24-year old defenseman. He played 18 minutes, took three shots, and two of those shots led to the two goals the Devils scored in a 2-1 win over Montreal. Carrick has remained in the lineup since then and will likely stay in for the remainder of this season. How has he performed since then? Should the Devils retain his services? Let’s evaluate him.

Note: This was done before last night’s game against Boston. So there is some risk here. If Carrick does something amazing like score a hat trick or awful like give up the puck three times for three goals or weird like throw his stick down at center ice and proclaim he is joining a monastery during the second period, this post does not cover it. With that in mind.

Minutes, Minutes, Minutes

The first thing that surprised me a lot about Carrick is how often he has been on the ice. Carrick has received a lot of minutes. According to NHL.com, Carrick has the most ice time at even strength than any of the other Devils defensemen. Only Andy Greene and Damon Severson have surpassed him in total ice time and that is largely because of special teams. Greene and Severson have played on the Devils’ penalty kill, Carrick has not. If nothing else, you cannot say that head coach John Hynes and his staff have not given Carrick a chance to show what he could do for the Devils.

The only minutes Carrick has not really provided are penalty minutes. Carrick has taken just one minor penalty with the Devils. Given that he is a defenseman and has played nearly 240 minutes on a bad Devils team, Carrick has maintained a great level of discipline. I may have not liked that one minor penalty at the time; but in the larger picture of his time as a Devil, penalties have not been a problem. Natural Stat Trick lists that he drew a penalty in 5-on-5 play, so he’s even in terms of penalty differential - which is great for a defenseman even in a small number of games.

5-on-5 Stats

What has Carrick done in those minutes? Since the majority of his ice time was in the most common situation in hockey (and, again, he leads all Devils defensemen since February 25 in that too), let’s go over his 5-on-5 stats.

His individual stats have not really jumped off the page as per Natural Stat Trick. Not that the mostly-Binghamton-forward Devils have created a lot of goals, but Carrick has only had two more assists in 5-on-5 play since his debut against Montreal. At least he has matched his point total (4) from his time in Dallas this season. In terms of attempts and shots, Natural Stat Trick lists that Carrick has had 30 shooting attempts, 24 unblocked attempts, 15 shots, 7 scoring chances, and 2 high-danger chances. Given that Carrick is a defenseman, he is usually taking attempts from a distance where it is more likely to be blocked or miss the net. But these are good compared to the other Devils defensemen. Since February 25, according to Natural Stat Trick, Carrick has had the most shots, attempts, and unblocked attempts. His two high-danger chances is tied with Egor Yakovlev for the most and he is just behind Severson’s eight scoring chances since February 25. If nothing else, Carrick has not been shy about firing away when he does have the puck in an offensive situation.

Unfortunately, Carrick has seen more defensive situations than offensive ones. When Carrick has been on the ice, the Devils have been out-attempted, out-shot, and out-chanced as per Natural Stat Trick. Specifically:

  • Attempts For: 142, Attempts Against: 164, CF% of 46.41%
  • Shots For: 103, Shots Against: 111, SF% of 48.13%
  • Scoring Chances For: 74, Scoring Chances Against: 88, SCF% of 45.68%
  • High-Danger Scoring Chances For: 34, High-Danger Scoring Chances Against: 33, HDCF% of 50.75%

Given that this is based on twelve games, small differences could cause the percentage to look worse than it may seem. There are more mitigating factors in Carrick’s favor. For example, the Devils’ CF% as a team has been 44.87% since February 25 as per Natural Stat Trick. Carrick has had a more favorable proportion of attempts than the team as a whole. Further, Carrick’s CF% is only bested by Will Butcher, three games of Sami Vatanen, and Damon Severson. The team has really been getting wrecked when Greene, Yakovlev, and especially Steve Santini has been on the ice. To that end, Carrick’s on-ice numbers are not as bad with respect to the other team.

There are more favorable numbers. The expected goals model calculates, well, goals for and against based on where and how shots are taken on the ice when a certain player is on the ice. Offside Review has this stat. When Carrick has been on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils’ have an expected goals for of 8.69 and an expected goals against of 7.62. That’s the highest of any Devil since February 25 in each category. But this is still a positive expected goal differential - and the second best, trailing the three games Vatanen has played in the past few weeks. In other words, when Carrick has been on the ice, the Devils could have out-scored their opposition. It would be high-scoring, but still in New Jersey’s favor. Unfortunately, the expected goals model has not matched reality. The Devils have been out-scored 7-11 when Carrick has been on the ice in 5-on-5. That helps a perception that Carrick may not be so good at defending, even though the expected goals model suggests that he would at least help facilitate enough goals to out-do the opposition. Alas.

The biggest mitigation comes from some of Carrick’s relative on-ice stats. Relative means on-ice versus off-ice. When Carrick steps on the ice, the Devils’ rate of attempts and shots against them have went up. That is not good, but the rate of attempts and shots by the Devils has been much, much higher. For example, Carrick’s relative CF/60 is +9.95 compared to a relative of CA/60 of +4.77. While allowing more attempts is not good, Carrick has been present for much more in the Devils’ favor. That is good and it makes up for the increase of attempts against. However, it is not all good across the board. The opposition has taken more scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances when Carrick steps on for a shift compared to how many the Devils have taken. That suggests that Carrick and his teammates have not been so good at defending “the house,” or the area from the crease to the dots up to the tops of the circle where most unblocked attempts there are scoring chances.

Who Carrick Plays With

Carrick has played 202:34 of 5-on-5 hockey according to Natural Stat Trick. 133:55 of that has been next to Will Butcher. The With Or Without You percentages are intriguing. Carrick has a better percentages - Corsi, shots, chances, high-danger chances - with Butcher than without him. However, Butcher has been even better away from Carrick in those categories except for shots for percentage, where it’s a little worse apart than together. Still, it is evidence that Hynes & Co. have found a pairing they are comfortable with and it has not been an utter disaster. A CF% of 48.06% is not so good but on a team that has been below 45% since Carrick joined the team, it is a silver lining.

The forwards have been a bigger mix between injuries and line changes due to things just not working up front with all of the call-ups. Per Natural Stat Trick, he has had good percentages with Kenny Agostino and Kenny Rooney, but not so good with Michael McLeod and Blake Coleman. They have been terrible with Drew Stafford, who is his most common forward teammate on the Devils so far. I suppose if you get pinned back in your own end a bunch, you’re likely to increase the ice time you have together since you’re too busy defending to get a change. I would take this part with a grain of salt as these are all forwards who have played between 48 and 62 minutes with Carrick. It is not nothing but it is still prone to big changes should someone have a really good or a really bad night. I would caution the same with Butcher, although I’m more confident since Butcher has played with Carrick for over half of his 5-on-5 ice time in New Jersey.

Power Play?

Carrick has been included on the Devils’ power play since Shero acquired him in a trade. As per NHL.com, Carrick is second on the team in PP ice time since joining the Devils at 22:07. With the massive number of injuries at forward and who has been impacted by them, the Devils’ power play units have been a collection of people who are available as opposed to a collection of people who should be on a power play. Damon Severson has taken over as the lone defenseman with the first unit with Carrick and Butcher taking up two spots on the second unit. As per Natural Stat Trick, Carrick has been on man advantages with the likes of Drew Stafford, Agostino, Blake Pietila, Eric Tangradi, Blake Coleman, and Nick Lappin. There have been others, but those are the forwards with at least five power play minutes with Carrick. Not a lot of shots have been taken with any of them on the ice. Carrick himself does not have a shot on net on the power play according to NHL.com, which is a bit surprising given how often he fired the puck in 5-on-5 play. Carrick has witnessed one (1) power play goal. He at least assisted on it. Still, the lack of success on the power play with Carrick is more likely due to lackluster forwards than anything Carrick has or has not done. I’m inclined to think it is not really something to factor because of it.

I also do not really think it matters much for Carrick because I do not think he would be an option on the power play even if everyone was healthy. Carrick would not jump Butcher, Severson, and Vatanen if all were available. The Devils have consistently preferred to use just one defenseman, usually Butcher, on their main power play with Vatanen and Severson on the second unit unless a forward is available. Carrick would likely only get power play minutes if someone could not play or if the Devils make a fundamental change to their power play tactics such that they use two defenders on each unit. Right now, he’ll get them. Maybe not next season.

The Contract

Carrick is likely to return solely because he is an impending restricted free agent. As per CapFriendly, his current deal ends after this season. His cap hit and total salary was $1.3 million. That is not that much for a depth defenseman. Especially if the salary cap goes up for next season. He does have arbitration rights but all that would really do is force the Devils’ hand to sign him at some point in the summer.

Based on the preceding sections, Carrick has been given a lot of opportunities to show what he can do and he has shown that he can be somewhat decent. His on-ice stats are not so good on the surface. However, he does not rate as poorly as other defensemen since joining the team; the Devils as a team has been bad; the expected goals model favors Carrick’s play; and his relative on-ice rate stats have some strong positives in terms of the run of play. Carrick has been attacking when he does have the chance to do so in 5-on-5 play. No other Devils defenseman has made as many shot attempts or shots as him. While his production has not been consistent, the Devils’ offense certainly has not been. Carrick’s five assists is still the most by a Devils defenseman in the last twelve game and he is second to Severson in points. He has not been amazing, but he has been performing better than multiple Devils defensemen since the Lovejoy trade. I’m looking sternly at you, Santini.

To that end, Carrick would likely be cheap to retain. Carrick is by no means a game-changer or someone who would average over 19 minutes per game on a better and/or healthier team. However, the right-handed defenseman would likely be better depth than Santini, Eric Gryba, and Colton White.

Concluding Thoughts

I understand that this is a lot of evaluation based on just twelve games with the team. However, this is a reality and a challenge for management. It would be ideal if Carrick had more games with the Devils to make a decision on whether he fits into their plans for next season and possibly beyond. But he was acquired on February 23 and suited up for the Devils on February 25, and the Devils were already ravaged by injuries at that point and effectively out of the playoffs way before then. It is not an ideal situation for a new player to come into, much less one that needs a new contract after the season. But we do not live in an ideal world and neither does Ray Shero. I credit the Devils coaches to just let Carrick play a lot to partially offset the lack of appearances. How the end of the season goes plus these twelve games will help decide whether Carrick returns and, if so, where he ends up. You know what I think but we’ll see if the last eight or so games changes any minds.

One final thought: I would treat Carrick as a “finished product.” He will turn 25 in April. While some players are truly late bloomers (e.g. Coleman, Joel Ward if you want a non-Devil example), most players are not really developing as they get older and older. He is not likely to become faster or develop a significant new skill. A player can make tweaks and learn how to adjust and react, especially off the puck, but it is more important that he is put into positions where he can succeed at this point. Is he inexperienced at the NHL level? To a degree. Is he a young guy who can grow? In terms of the NHL, not really. What you see from Carrick is likely what you will get from him.

What he has done so far has been OK. It is not amazing work. The performances have not been so good that he will help the Devils defense not be a sieve going forward. But he has not been a bad defender at all; he shown that he can be better than other defensemen in the Devils’ system. He shown that he can attack, he has been well-disciplined, and opposing players have not wrecked the Devils when he’s on the ice. Despite the significant amount of ice time he has played with the Devils so far, I think he would perform better on a more limited third-pairing. If the Devils agree, then I would expect Shero to re-sign him and I think I would be fine with that.

Your Take

Now that you know what I think of Connor Carrick as a Devil so far, I want to know what you think. Do you think he has been playing well with the Devils? Would you want him back in New Jersey next season? If so, what role would you like him to serve? If not, why not? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Carrick in the comments. Thank you for reading.