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Lining Up the Devils Defense

With so many changes on New Jersey’s blueline this season, what will our defensive pairings look like? Who can we expect to make the regular season roster?

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

For sentimental reasons, let’s start by taking a look at how the Devils defensive lineup looked at the beginning of this past season—

Andy Greene, PK Subban
Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson
Sami Vatanen, Will Butcher

And the end of our season on March 10th—

Mirco Mueller, PK Subban
Dakota Mermis, Damon Severson
Matt Tennyson, Connor Carrick

Ahh, good times. Okay now that that’s over with, basically just wipe the entire left half of the Devils defense from your memory. Gone, gone, gone, and banished back to Binghamton. Out with the old, and in with the new:

Left D: Ryan Murray, Will Butcher, Ty Smith, Kevin Bahl (maybe)

Right D: PK Subban, Damon Severson, Connor Carrick

Lets Start with the Numbers...

Of the guys who were here last season, here’s how they played together:

Connor Carrick x Damon Severson: TOI 17:15, CF% 42.86

Connor Carrick x PK Subban: TOI 22:03, CF% 36.84

Connor Carrick x Will Butcher: TOI 125:25, CF% 42.02

Damon Severson x PK Subban: TOI 221:42, CF% 52.51

Damon Severson x Will Butcher: TOI 118:16, CF% 42.69

Long story short: Damon Severson is astonishingly regular, and Connor Carrick should not play with PK Subban (albeit limited TOI, but still).

Working out the Details

The New Guy

Ryan Murray looks like he was typically a 2nd pairing defenseman in CBJ, who is generally at or above average in most individual stats but seems to struggle at defending zone entries (not necessarily an individual event at all) and is not much of a shooter, though he moves the puck well in the offensive zone. Its tough to crack the first pairing with Seth Jones on your team. I can see Fitz and Ruff looking to test the waters with Murray by seeing what he can do against top line talent, and PK Subban should even out his analytical weaknesses nicely. You can check out John’s full post-trade profile on him here.

The Baby Devils:

Now, who will make the main roster, Ty Smith or Kevin Bahl? In an ideal world, we’ll be able to make both of them work into the regular roster, possibly on a rotating basis with each other to be able to get both young blueliners NHL experience and not overwork them. So for the purposes of creating a projected lineup, we’ll rotate Bahl and Smith in the same slot.

The Familiar Faces:

Some may not agree with this but here’s my feeling on the top of the lineup: we pay PK Subban to be a 1st pairing defenseman, so despite the lack of performance last season, I would prefer to see him in the top pairing until he proves he cannot handle it this season. Therefore we will put Subban on the top line at RD.

Subban did the best with Severson last season, and with a good sample size too, but I’d prefer to not double up righties and lefties fresh out of the gate, so we’ll put Severson at RD#2.

Confession: I have Will Butcher at 3rd pairing. This is not at all an indictment of his play (CJ has a great analysis of his performance here). I had a hard time choosing which pairing to make 2nd or 3rd. Eventually it was the right side that made the choice for me, but I can easily see these swapping those pairings to keep our rookies a bit more sheltered. I like Butcher’s performance overall and think eventually his style might make a good match for a more mature Ty Smith, but I’m not ready to put Smith out there on an ‘offensive-defensive’ pairing just yet. At the moment I think Severson is the best defenseman to pair our young blueliners with. I also very much liked how Butcher and Carrick looked together on the few occasions they made the ice together—they seem to have extremely good chemistry and the passing choices they made were generally solid, sometimes even generating creative breakout chances. Given the lineup choices for this season I don’t think its unreasonable to want to see those two matched up together again.

The Lineup:

Ryan Murray—PK Subban

Ty Smith/Kevin Bahl—Damon Severson

Will Butcher—Connor Carrick

Your Take:

What pairings would you make for next season’s lineup? Who do you not want to see together? Leave your thoughts and lineups in the comments and thanks for reading!