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UFA Spotlight: Should the New Jersey Devils Go For Patrick Nemeth?

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As unrestricted free agency will begin in the near future, Ray Shero is expected to add more talent to the New Jersey Devils. With an older Andy Greene still leading the penalty kill, the team may want to consider a new face to eat up shorthanded minutes. This post looks at a defenseman who can do just that: Patrick Nemeth.

San Jose Sharks v Colorado Avalanche - Game Six
Patrik Nemeth may make it to July 1 - should the Devils be in on him?
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Since becoming general manager of the New Jersey Devils, Ray Shero has not made a significant splash in free agency. Brian Boyle and Ben Lovejoy are among the largest contracts handed out to unrestricted free agents (UFA) since 2015. It is arguable that the best player signed off the market so far has been Will Butcher. While there is hope, loads of cap space, and an impetus to be more willing to spend this summer, not every free agent signing by the Devils or by most teams will be big one that will grab headlines and get the people buzzing. One potential “under the radar” signing is the focus of today’s UFA spotlight: defenseman Patrik Nemeth.

Who is Patrik Nemeth?

As per Elite Prospects, Patrik Nemeth is a 27-year old left-sided defenseman who stands at 6’4” and 218 pounds. He has played 250 games in the NHL, mostly with the Colorado Avalanche in the last two years. He was initially drafted by Dallas in 2010 and split time between the Dallas Stars and the Texas Stars from 2013-14 to 2016-17. Dallas placed him on waivers in October 2017 and the Avs claimed him within the 24-hour period. Since then, Nemeth has been with the Avalanche, playing two mostly full seasons with the organization. It appears that his time with the organization may be up though. There has been no news about a contract extension; and he may be seen as unneeded after the Avs acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton in the recent Carl Soderberg trade.

According to CapFriendly, he is coming off a one-season contract worth $2.5 million. Given that he is a pending UFA defenseman and he is under the age of 30, I would not be surprised if he is looking for a similar amount should he make it to July 1. Especially if multiple teams are interested in him.

Why is Patrik Nemeth Being Spotlighted?

As I will show in a little bit later in this post, Nemeth is not going to be a complete Andy Greene replacement on defense or a big-minute defender. However, there is a team need for a defenseman to help out on the penalty kill (PK). Especially for the left side. Is this really a need? I think so.

The Devils’ penalty kill was one of the few good things about the 2018-19 season. It also leaned heavily on Andy Greene, who had the highest shorthanded ice time in the league last season. (Aside: Greene finished just under 336 shorthanded minutes, #2 in the league had played just under 266.) This was more apparent when his usual partner for the first PK unit, Ben Lovejoy, was sent to Dallas before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline. The PK was still successful after the trade. Greene was still the main defenseman on the penalty kill, with increases in minutes going to Damon Severson and a small bump for Steve Santini when he was in the lineup. Both of them are right-sided defensemen. John Hynes, Alain Nasreddine, and the staff did not really give enough opportunities to Mirco Mueller or Will Butcher to see if they could handle the role for the future. So as of now, one would expect Greene to still be the main LHD for the penalty kill. Greene has been excellent on the PK. However, he not getting any younger, he continues to decline as a player (expect a follow-up on this post this Summer), and for the Devils to improve on last season, it would be helpful that the penalty kill does not take a step back in 2019-20. Yes, P.K. Subban is now a Devil but he’s on the right side. Unless the Devils want to play him on his offhand, the need is still there.

The Devils would be wise to at least have a Plan B beyond hoping Greene is still a capable penalty killer for a lot of tough minutes or hoping that one of the younger left-sided defensemen can step up. This is where Nemeth comes into play. Out of the pending UFA defensemen available as of this writing, only Lovejoy and Nemeth finished in the top ten in shorthanded minutes played last season. We know what Lovejoy brings to the table, he plays on the right side which is no longer open, and he is also on the wrong side of 35. So let us focus on Nemeth, who can possibly address this need and see what else he can bring to the table.

How Good is Patrik Nemeth?

This section will go into how Nemeth has performed on the ice. Given the need, this will focus on his performances in shorthanded situations as well as even strength/5-on-5 situations. The penalty kill may be a special team but the majority of a player’s ice time will at even strength. Since Nemeth played full seasons in the NHL with Colorado, this section will focus on his last two seasons with the Avs.

All Three Zone Tracking

Continuing from other UFA Spotlight articles, let’s look at his All Three Zone performance with CJ’s A3Z Comparison Tableau for Corey “ShutdownLine’ Szjnader’s tracking data for the last three seasons. This is for 5-on-5 situations and to make the comparison interesting, I used Ben Lovejoy.

A3Z Player Comparison: Nemeth vs. Lovejoy, 2017-2019
A3Z Player Comparison: Nemeth vs. Lovejoy, 2017-2019
Tableau by CJ Turtoro, data by Corey Sznajder

While the sample sizes are different, you can see some clear differences. In Lovejoy’s move to the third pairing in the last two seasons, he has much more active in terms of shot contributions and defending entry attempts by the opposition. Nemeth has not been as effective at either. It is possible that his shot contributions were undercut by his teammates, but the entry defense percentiles suggest that his defensive work is performed in the zone and not at the blueline - which is not exactly ideal.

There is good news for Nemeth. He has been more effective at zone entries and, more relevant for a defenseman, zone exits. The metric “poss” means with puck possession - which is more valuable than throwing the puck away, which often leads to the other team retrieving it and going back on the attack. Not that Nemeth is particularly great at it, but he has been more successful than Lovejoy. Which should surprise few those that remember how Lovejoy would handle the puck.

Anyway, from this tool, Nemeth appears to be more of a defensive-minded defenseman. He is not contributing a lot of shots nor is he helping create shots for others. Seeing that his rate of breaking up entries and allowing opponents to gain his zone with the puck on their stick, that does not bode so well for defense.

On-Ice & Relative Rates at 5 on 5

Natural Stat Trick is the go-to source for stats when a player is on the ice (on-ice rate states) and how the stats are impacted when the player is on the ice compared to when he is not (on-ice relative rate states). It is with these stats we can get a sense of how the player performs on the ice. 5-on-5 hockey is the most common situation in hockey; therefore, it is important to understand what happened to Colorado when Nemeth took a shift.

Among the stats for this post, I am going to focus on the more defensive stats in 5-on-5 play. I will be looking at against-rate stats, or rates against the Avs when Nemeth was on the ice, in terms of shot attempts (Corsi, CA/60), shots (SA/60, expected goals (xGA/60), scoring chances (unblocked shot attempts from inside the circles to the crease, SCA/60), and high-danger scoring chances (unblocked hsot attempts from the slot and at the crease, HDCA/60). I am also including the percentages of each of those stats to show whether how the Avs performed in those categories when Nemeth was on the ice. For example, Corsi For% (CF%) would tell us the share of all shot attempts Colorado had when Nemeth was on the ice. The relative stats show how the on-ice stats went up or down when Nemeth was on the ice compared to when he was not.

You want the percentages to be as high as you can - 50% is break-even. Youand the against-rate stats to be as low as they can as it means the team took fewer in that category - which suggests Nemeth does well on defense. Nemeth was a regular defenseman for Colorado in each of the last two seasons, so I ranked his stats against other Avalanche defensemen who have played at least 200 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey in each of the last two seasons. This filtered out the defenders who only played a handful of games. Enough explanation here (ask in the comments if you want more); how well did Nemeth do? To put is succinctly: 2018-19 Devils-esque.

Patrick Nemeth 2017-2019 5-on-5 Stats
Patrick Nemeth 2017-2019 5-on-5 Stats
All data from the mighty Natural Stat Trick

Like many of the 2018-19 Devils defensemen, the Avs were rocked in the run of play when Nemeth was on the ice. They were out-shot. They were clearly out-attempted too. They were out-shot by a good margin. However, the Avs were very good about limiting scoring chances and especially high danger scoring chances when Nemeth was on the ice. This contributed to a more favorable expected goals for percentage and especially an expected goals against rate. Like the Devils blueline in general last season, when Nemeth was on the ice, the Avs kept plenty to the outside - it was just that there was a lot of it. Nemeth and his teammates struggled to turn the play around; which was also like multiple Devils defensemen last season.

However, there is a little more than meets the eye. Nemeth saw his ice time in 5-on-5 play reduced in 2018-19 compared to the prior season. A cut in minutes after reciving a raise in pay probably did not feel so good. However, the Avs may have been better off for it. Nemeth’s on-ice rates in 2018-19 were better than what they were in 2017-18. When he was on the ice, the Avs were better in terms every stat except HDCA/60, which was still solid on its own. His relative rates - especially in scoring chances - were also very favorable. These numbers suggest Nemeth protected Colorado’s house (the scoring chance zone does look like a homeplate) and, if I can lean into a tired meme in this community, Nemeth cleared the creases.

Only his relative rates for CF% and SF% were worse compared to the prior season, but they were bad to begin with and that they were at least -2% but with a not so high CA/60 and SA/60 relative rate, that means the offense (or lack there of) suffered with Nemeth. That is not so good but it suggests that his defensive work was not the big issue.

For the most common situation in hockey, I again highlight the big difference between shot attempts and shots against scoring chances. If you believe limiting the latter is more important in a defenseman, then you should feel more encouraged about Nemeth. If you believe a good defenseman would not see his team get out-shot or out-attempted by notable margins by his play plus limiting scoring chances, then you may not feel so encouraged. And if you believe his cut in 5-on-5 minutes last season helped his performances, then you may think Nemeth is more effective in a more limited role. Andy Greene needs his spot to be filled in; this guy is most likely not it.

On-Ice & Relative Rates on Penalty Kills

This guy also played a lot on the PK. Therefore, I want to look his stats for that. The filtering for minutes was tighter to focus on regulars and those who played quite a bit shorthanded. That impacted the rates. I also took out the for-percentages as shorthanded play is largely all about the defense. Teams and players have so low on-ice percentages on the penalty kill that I do not think there is value to compare them. I did add one new stat: Goals Against per 60 minutes (GA/60) because the main goal for a penalty kill is to kill it and not concede a goal. With fewer players on the ice and more focused goal to not give up one; I think there is more value to seeing that stat here than in 5-on-5 play. Anyway, here are Nemeth’s stats on the penalty kill for the last two seasons:

Patrick Nemeth 2017-2019 Penalty Kill Stats
Patrick Nemeth 2017-2019 Penalty Kill Stats
All data from the mighty Natural Stat Trick

While his role was more limited last season in 5-on-5 play, the Avs used Nemeth a lot in shorthanded situations. They were right to do so. While the rates in 2017-18 did not rank particularly well they were not so bad. As with 5-on-5 play, Nemeth did well at limiting scoring chances. What’s more impressive is that while his expected goals against per 60 rate was above seven and his on-ice shot attempt and shot rates were high, the Avs only conceded goals at a rate of 5.3 per 60. His relative GA/60 was actually quite favorable. This beat the model, which also had a favorable rate in 2017-18. The Avs with Nemeth on the ice would be even better in 2018-19.

That is a little surprising since Colorado’s penalty kill was not so successful in 2018-19. They gave up the third-most goals in the NHL with 58, Nemeth was not at all their problem. With about the same amount of work load and getting time with Ian Cole as much as Erik Johnson - his common partner in 2017-18 - just about every stat improved. Colorado focused more on four defensemen last season and Nemeth was just the best or near the best in each stat. Only GA/60 went up a bit but even that rate beat the expected goals model and Nemeth’s relative GA/60 was an astonishing -4.6. In other words, I am confident in stating that Nemeth was Colorado’s best penalty killing defenseman last season. With him playing as much as he did, to have seriously favorable reductions in attempts, shots, expected goals, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and goals is tremendous.

Nemeth was a great penalty killer last season for Colorado. Given that his 2017-18 was not shabby with a similar amount of shorthanded ice time, I am also confident in saying that Nemeth is absolutely a PK specialist.

Production

No one who is interested in Nemeth should expect a lot on the scoresheet from him. In his career, he has taken 231 shots in 250 games. There have been a few seasons where he is just above a shot-per-game rate but that has not been consistent. In his regular season career, Nemeth has scored four goals and picked up thirty-five assists. All four goals came in the last two seasons with Colorado as well as twenty-five of those thirty-five assists. According to Natural Stat Trick, his individual expected goals is 4.74 over the last two seasons so four goals kind of met the expectation. He is not unfortunate or underachieving per the model; he has produced about what he should given how little he directly contributes to the offense.. Nemeth is not someone who can be seen as an offensive player as per the findings in the A3Z model and as implied by his low on-ice CF% and SF% rates. His value is on defense, particularly on the penalty kill.

Discipline

Nemeth is a big man and he uses his size to throw big hits. As expected from the position and from someone who throws big hits, Nemeth is not a stranger to the penalty box. He was not the most penalized Avalanche defenseman in the last two seasons. His 94 PIM is fourth on the team as per Natural Stat Trick. The vast majority of these penalties came from minor penalties; Nemeth had 36 over the last two seasons. That does rank him second for most minor penalties in the last two seasons of Colorado hockey. Nemeth drew 20 penalties, which helped offset some of the damage from his own penalties. That was the fourth most on the Avs among defensemen. Whoever gets him is going to have to accept he’ll take some calls. It is not at a signficant amount like, say, Nikita Zadorov taking 69 minor penalties in the last two seasons. But he will be visiting the box.

So is Nemeth Good?

Nemeth has been great on the penalty kill, especially last season. Nemeth is limited as a player overall since he does not contribute much to offense either directly or indirectly. Nemeth’s on-ice rates did improve last season compared to 2017-18. However, that may have been a result of fewer minutes and possibly easier minutes to succeed in. My conclusion from the past two seasons is that Nemeth is a third-pairing left-sided defenseman who can be decent on defense, not help much on offense, and shine on a penalty kill. It is not a super-fair comparison but I do not think it is out-of-bounds to see Nemeth is a Swedish opposite-handed version of Ben Lovejoy, who is (hopefully) a bit better on the puck.

Is Patrick Nemeth a Fit for the Devils?

I am uncertain that he really is. Even before the P.K. Subban trade, the left side of the blueline already has four names for three spots in theory. Andy Greene, Will Butcher, and Mirco Mueller were the regulars last season. Greene is signed for next season. Butcher and Mueller were qualified as restricted free agents; they will return. Many are penciling Ty Smith to make the New Jersey Devils this season. He had an awesome season with Spokane of the Western Hockey League and he was a later cut last season. I do not know if he has anything more to prove at the major junior level. Should Smith make the squad and/or the Devils expect Smith to make the squad, that makes adding any LHD much more difficult. Even if you like the idea of adding Nemeth, is it worth keeping Smith from the lineup for some time? If Smith shows he is not quite ready for the NHL, then sure. If he is truly ready, then probably not.

Further, the right side does matter in the sense of how many defensemen the team should carry for next season. In just about every season, the Devils have needed to have at least 8 or 9 defensemen play 10 or more games. Pending restricted free agent Connor Carrick was also given a qualifying offer; so he is expected to return. That makes eight with Smith. I am not sure any defenseman from Binghamton may threaten to make New Jersey in the Fall. But surprises do happen and that would make 9 defensemen for six or seven spots on an active roster. Adding Nemeth is not impossible but he may end up not being a regular player right away - which would be a disappointment considering how much he would sign for - or forcing someone else to not be a regular.

Summarizing Thoughts

Pros

  1. Patrick Nemeth is really good on the PK. If you want to reduce Greene’s minutes or share the shorthanded work load, then he allows that to happen without trying someone relatively new out at it.
  2. Patrick Nemeth may seemingly handle third-pairing minutes based on last season with Colorado.
  3. He is seemingly good with limiting scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances, something the Devils defense seemingly emphasized last season.
  4. Patrick Nemeth is large and uses said size to throw hits. If you believe the Devils need this element, he can bring it.

Cons

  1. Patrick Nemeth appears to be one-dimensional specialist. If the team needs to kill a lot of penalties, then he’ll be useful. Otherwise, he will not be productive and will not facilitate a lot of plays for offense in the run of play; and he seemingly does not flip play around in the other direction when he is on defense - which is often.
  2. For a defensive-oriented player, Nemeth appears to struggle with defending at the blueline. While he may protect against chances, those are still offensive opportunities given to the other team.
  3. Patrick Nemeth will see the penalty box. While it is not a constant issue, he will be the cause for more than just a few shorthanded situations.
  4. Patrick Nemeth is coming off a $2.5 million contract. He is not likely going to go to any team for a lot less than that unless he receives little interest on July 1. That could become an issue in the future, depending on his term.

Overall, I see Nemeth as a luxury for the Devils. There really is not room for him on the roster unless the Devils make some room among the left side of the defense. Nemeth can handle a heavy workload in shorthanded situations but that is not the case in 5-on-5 situations, which are far more common in the game. What he has done on the ice is limited and while his play may not lead to a lot of goals being given up, they may not lead to goals being scored either. If Greene can still be at least competent in shorthanded situations at 37, then there may be less of a desire to lower his minutes - which would defeat some of the purpose of having Nemeth at all.

It is important that the Devils need to make sure their free agents provide value for what they signed for. After acquiring P.K. Subban, Devils need to be judicious with their cap space. They have a lot of it now, but that will dwindle quickly if/when they extend Taylor Hall, give new contracts to RFAs like Butcher, Mueller, and Pavel Zacha, sign other free agent forwards, and consider extensions for Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt among others. Every contract matters to a team that decides to spend more to the cap. The last thing we would want to see is the Devils move a significant player because they are tied up in a not-so-desirable contract to a player like Nemeth. Even if he will not break the bank today, it could be an issue down the line.

Should the Devils actively reduce Greene’s role and clear up a spot for the left side of the blueline, then a decision to go out and get Nemeth would be easier to defend. It may not be ideal, but it’s defendable. Even so, I do not think he is a player the Devils really need to go out and get this Summer. It would be nice to have another big-minute penalty killer, especially if Greene’s decline becomes sharper. It would be nice to have another defender who can “defend the house.” I’m sure some would say it would be nice to have big body presence. However, he is limited in what he could contribute; he was not making a lot of positive impacts in 5-on-5 play with Colorado in the last two seasons; he may not get to play a lot on the PK unless Greene’s minutes will be cut; he is not likely going to come cheap; and a crowded left side on defense means either Nemeth will have to battle for a spot at all, keep someone else like Ty Smith from a spot, and/or try to force a trade that may not happen much less be a good idea.

I would pass on the Devils seeking to acquire Nemeth at this point. No, they should not go for Patrick Nemeth.

Your Take

The previous post is what I think of Patrick Nemeth as a player, what he can and cannot bring to the proverbial table, and whether the Devils should go after him. Now I want to know what you think. What do you think of Patrick Nemeth as a player? Do you think he would fit on the New Jersey Devils? Do you think the Devils should go after him? If so, why? If not, why not? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about potential UFA-target Patrick Nemeth in the comments. Thank you for reading.