Today at All About the Jersey, I will take a look at one more player and discuss whether or not he should stay with the New Jersey Devils in the short or long term, or whether the team should look to move on from him. Miles Wood is signed for two more seasons at an AAV of $2.75 million. However, given the fact that he is only 24 and initially signed his ELC at 21, he will actually still be a RFA when this contract expires. That makes a fairly big difference when discussing his long term prospects on the team. With the Devils being able to mostly control his rights after this current contract ends, it adds a level of value to Wood the player, regardless of anything else we are about to discuss. For now, however, let’s take a look at him and what his status might be moving forward.
Miles Wood: A 2019-2020 Summary of Play
Miles Wood began the year as a bottom 6 winger for the team. In AATJ’s season preview, CJ predicted him to start the year as a fourth liner, alongside Pavel Zacha and Jesper Boqvist. In fact, he ended up being moved around somewhat in the opener, playing some second line action alongside Travis Zajac and Wayne Simmonds, but getting more time down in the bottom 6 alongside John Hayden and Pavel Zacha.
Over the course of the regular season, he would spend most of his time playing on a line with Zacha and Simmonds, a third line role for the most part. When not there, he also had fairly significant time on the fourth line alongside John Hayden and Kevin Rooney. So as expected, he filled a left wing role on the bottom 6 for this team. Now, considering that he is currently tied for the 4th-highest paid forward on the team (was 6th before trading Taylor Hall and Simmonds, and will be 5th once Hischier’s extension kicks in), that is not ideal, but before we judge him too harshly for that, let’s check out some of his stats, thanks to Natural Stat Trick. Ranks for forwards only, with at least 200 minutes played. There were 14 forwards who qualified.
Considering there were only 14 forwards who qualified, I think it is pretty clear that among these forwards, Wood was the worst when it came to defensive play. He consistently ranked dead last in the Against categories, being 14th in Corsi Against per 60, Shots Against per 60, expected Goals Against per 60, and so forth. The only defensive stat he was not dead last in was actual Goals Against per 60, where he was 11th out of 14. Simply put, however, in an organization that has traditionally valued defensive play from all of its players, forwards as much as defenders, being the worst defender among forwards will not gain you more playing time and will not endear you to the coaching staff.
His offensive stats were somewhat better, but not eye popping either. His best stat was Shots For per 60, where he ranked 6th. This pairs well with his actual shots at 5 on 5 play, where he had 129, ranked 2nd behind only Blake Coleman. He also ranked 5th in actual goals and assists. But it is also worth noting that he ranked 3rd in total 5v5 time on ice among the 14 forwards on the list, behind only Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. So that extra time will also help to add to his total goals, assists, and shots. And finally, Wood took far and away the most penalties, 6 more than Coleman, who was 2nd. However, he also drew the most, his 24 being nine more than 2nd place Nico Hischier’s 15. So I guess those two cancel each other out to a degree.
In the end, despite being only a bottom 6 forward, I have to conclude that these stats are underwhelming. For $2.75 AAV, being a dead liability defensively is not a net positive for the team. The Devils need any offense at all, and he helped in that regard, but the net overall was poor. Also, in 56 minutes of power play action, he did not record a single point. Of course, he did not play on the penalty kill given his lack of defensive abilities. Special teams play does not help his case any.
Finally, before we move on, here is the Devils’ forward shot chart from Sean Tierney. As you will see, Wood is the absolutely worst defensively, but at least comparatively, was OK offensively, perhaps mediocre when compared to the forward group at large.
What Do You Do With Wood Now?
The question for GM Tom Fitzgerald, then, is what to do with Wood. There are some positives about the 24 year old. He is a gritty player. He has top line speed. He seems to be a good locker room presence. He is young, and he is a RFA even after this contract expires. And, he produces some offense even while playing on the bottom 6.
However, do all of those things make his cap hit worth it? You have to take in the fact that he is an absolute anchor defensively, worse than any other Devils forward who played decent minutes this past year. In fact, his CA/60 was ranked 422 out of 428 among all NHL forwards who played 200 or more minutes at 5v5 during the regular season. That’s right. Of 428 forwards who played at least 200 minutes this season at 5v5, Wood ranked 422nd in Corsi Against per 60. He has no idea how to prevent shot attempts against. Plus, he cannot play on the PK, and he was very poor on the PP this year too. And given his age, that he will be 25 in only a few weeks, he might not have much more room for growth and seems locked into a bottom 6 role for his career moving forward.
Fitzgerald will have to decide what he wants to do with Wood. While I complain that he has the 4th highest cap hit among forwards currently, in reality, $2.75 AAV is not much, and is appropriate for a bottom 6 winger with some upside. And given that he will still be a RFA when his deal is done, that makes him easier to trade, and the Devils could get a decent price in return for him at some point. A young forward who the team can control and doesn’t have to pay a significant sum to has value. However, even if Fitz wants to move him, I doubt that happens before the trade deadline this upcoming season, if not next year. Remember, he has 2 years left on his deal. And if he becomes part of a trade deadline deal, that could gain more value in return than if he were dealt in the offseason this year or next.
So, what that means is that he most likely is on the team come the start of the new season. New head coach Lindy Ruff will most likely keep him on the bottom 6. You need your top 6 forwards to be able to handle better competition defensively. You cannot just let them get off shot attempts at will, and that seems like it is the case when Wood is out there. He has to play a bottom 6 role, where he can make use of his offensive value while minimizing his defensive liability. It would be awesome if he were surrounded by better teammates. Last season, he played most often alongside Pavel Zacha, Wayne Simmonds, John Hayden, and Kevin Rooney. Two of those guys are really nothing more than checking line guys, Zacha has underachieved offensively, providing less-than-great assistance to Miles’ offensive game, and Simmonds was dealt anyway.
If Fitzgerald can provide some much needed depth to the forward corps this offseason, Wood could receive a boost in his game simply by having better linemates on the third line, or even fourth line. He is not bad offensively, and that could help to grow his game by upping his scoring capabilities. The Devils could really use more scoring from their role players, and Wood can absolutely provide that, and does. Better teammates would improve that, which would be a big boost to the team. Until any potential trade, that is what Fitgerald and Ruff need to do to bring the most out of Wood and his game.
Will Wood See Out His Contract in New Jersey?
This is somewhat tough to forecast, but I think as you might be able to tell from my last section, I am leaning towards the answer being no. Given his age, and the fact that he will not be a UFA after this deal, and given that he has over 250 games of NHL experience already, he will command some value on the market. That will mean teams will be calling NJ at the trade deadline this year or next year, inquiring about Wood and his potential price. Any team who thinks they need to add some depth scoring to their roster to bolster their squad for a playoff run could use the likes of Miles Wood. Whatever you want to say about him defensively, he can score, and he does give it his all out there.
There are two scenarios that could realistically play out for the Devils. In scenario one, the easier scenario to forecast, they remain a bad team over the next two seasons. They bring in a lot of new talent, and the future looks promising, but they do not hit their stride yet on the ice. In this scenario, the answer is almost assuredly that he will be traded and will not see out his contract in New Jersey. Here, Fitz wants to stockpile more resources to perhaps trade for players or to draft more talent. This means he trades Wood for what he can, without a doubt.
Scenario two is a little tricker. In this one, the Devils get good quickly, and are a playoff-caliber team before Wood’s deal expires in 2022. Here, you can make the argument for keeping him through his current deal. If they are a playoff team in 2021-2022, they might want to keep Wood and his depth scoring on the bottom 6. That would mean he has better teammates surrounding him, and his output is rising as a result. It would be tough to trade that away at the 2022 trade deadline when trading him could hurt the offense, and therefore hurt the Devils’ chances at a playoff run.
However, even in this scenario, there is an argument for dealing him. If the Devils really are a playoff team by then, Fitzgerald might be in the market to trade for a rental player at the 2022 trade deadline. Wood could easily be a piece to give up in a trade like that. Trade Wood and get what you can for him, and leverage that into an even better player who could provide a bigger impact on a playoff team. It makes sense.
So there are your two scenarios moving forward. In one of them, he almost assuredly gets dealt. In the other, there still is a chance he gets dealt. And in my pessimistic mind, I also think that scenario one is more likely than scenario two. So just from the odds alone, I have to put my chips under the banner of Wood not seeing his contract through in New Jersey.
In the end, Wood is a good teammate, and someone easy to root for given his work ethic and gritty play. However, looking at it objectively, I think the odds are in favor of him not being on the team by the time his current contract expires. The odds just say it is so. If the Devils do not become a good team in the next two seasons, there really is no reason to keep him, and given his age and contract status, there will be value for him on the market, especially around the trade deadline in 2021 or especially 2022. And even if the Devils do get better, there are reasons to move him, in a quest to get better faster and compete sooner.
Now, given all of that, I do hope that while he is here, Fitzgerald can manage to put better players around him, and Ruff can manage to bring out more of his offensive game without exposing him too much defensively. In this past season, his offensive zone faceoff percentage at 5v5 was only at 38.56%. You know he is a liability defensively; give him more offensive zone starts. I know the bottom 6 tends to get worse zone starts, but I hope Ruff can figure it out better with Wood so as to try and minimize his defensive zone playtime. That would be a positive both in increasing his scoring chances, the area of the game he excels at, while also minimizing his exposure to playing defense, which is what he cannot do.
That is my take, however. What is yours? Do you think he will be on the team still when his current contract expires in 2022? Why or why not? What do you like about Wood and his game, and what bothers you? If the Devils do look to deal him before his deal ends, do you think he will have value on the market? If so, how much? When would be the best time to move him? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading!