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Devils Treating Severson as their #1 Defender

The Devils blueline has been pretty inconsistent all year, and the vacuum left by those peaks and valeys has been filled by Damon Severson

New Jersey Devils v Ottawa Senators Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

In 2018 I wrote an article titled “PSA: Severson is the Devils Best Defender”. To defend my point, I used on-ice metrics which showed that the Devils tended to perform best from a shot/goal differential standpoint when he was on the ice. Two things have happened since then: 1) there have been statistical innovations that vastly exceed that of simple “Rel” metrics (example: RAPMs and Threat%), and 2) I’m a little more informed. Over the past few years, it turns out that Severson’s impact numbers are not nearly as convincing as I once thought. He’s a net negative impact over the past 3 seasons in xG. But this specific season, he’s been improving dramatically.

Not only is Damon Severson experiencing his highest GAR rate and highest xGAR rate, but he’s the highest defender on the team, and has earned the trust of the coaching staff in the process. On a team with a captain that’s very well-trusted, and a $9M man on the same roster, it is Severson that has been given the most even-strength ice time and all-situation ice time.

Furthermore, they are using him in the highest leverage situations. He leads the Devils in 5v5 ice time when the game is tied or within one goal.

And he’s being used with an average distribution of talent among Devils forwards, and against a tougher-than-average complement of opposing players.

I’m not using these to clarify anything about his numbers — RAPMs, Threat, and GAR metrics all take these things into account. Rather, this is meant to demonstrate that he has gained the trust of the coaching staff early on and his ascent has continued in the Nasreddine era.

Has he earned it? That’s up to you to decide. The analytical case for him is murky — this year, he has reinvented his game as his offensive impacts are at a career low, and his defensive impacts are at a career high. On a team in which even finding players notably above replacement level has been a struggle, we can at least be reasonably confident that he’s cleared that bar — something that can’t be said of some our defenders. Is he a true #1 defender? HEELLLLLLLLLL no. The fact that he can even make a case to be the best defender on this roster tells you how much work the Devils blueline needs.

What do you think? Is Severson one of the Devils best defenders? Is he overused? Should he be traded? Leave your answers to these questions or any other thoughts you have in the comments below, and, as always, thanks for reading.