Damon Severson has been what I would call a polarizing player among New Jersey Devils fans ever since roughly his sophomore season with the team. His rookie campaign (way back in 2014-15) saw him come from practically out of nowhere to be part of the top pairing. He would suffer an injury that would keep him out for two months and then return for the last five-ish weeks of the season while looking like he was shaking the injury rust off. Since that time people have come to either love or hate what he brings to the table, and while some people land somewhere in the middle, those fans are seemingly few and far between.
The Devils defense has been bolstered this offseason with the additions of Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton to the club. While Severson still factors in to be a Top 4 defender as the roster stands, he’s not going to be the leading minute muncher anymore with Hamilton in the fold. So with the team changing around him, and only two seasons left on a contract until he will need a new one and could look for a big pay increase, is Severson still needed by the franchise beyond the short term? Let’s take a look.
Praised more for his offense than his defense, Severson has been a regular since that rookie campaign where he broke through. Since that time, a major point of contention with him has been his defense. I will admit at this point that I am a fan of Severson, but I will be fair in stating that most games, he will have one mental lapse in his own end that will make you just kind of stare at your TV in disbelief for a minute or so. Now I’m not saying these gaffes always lead to a goal against, but it at least leads to a moment where his partner or his goalie needs to bail him out.
I will point out on the positive side that Severson is usually one of the better players with moving the puck out of his own end; he has a good lead pass and his decision making is usually solid. He’s also done a good job putting up points, with 184 in his 486 career NHL games. For a guy who has become relied on for more and more defense each season he’s played (especially after the departure of Andy Greene), the offense hasn’t dried up. Even with the addition of a stronger offensive defender in Ty Smith, whom he was frequently paired with last season, Damon still registered 21 points in 56 games.
I would say again for the detractors of Severson is that he’s only grown his game incrementally each season, rather than taking a leap forward at any point as many young players do at some point in their career. I think prior to the entire team being placed in medical protocol this season, Severson was playing the best hockey of his career, with few if any mistakes being made in his own end. Perhaps we didn’t get to see the rest of a leap forward due to he, like other Devils, playing through lingering symptoms.
So He’s Still Necessary Right?
In looking at hockey forums and readings this past week or so, there are fans who believe that Severson is genuinely expendable; the team should either trade him, or at worst, let him walk when his contract is up after next season. For me personally, I think it’s a terrible idea to let go of Severson, unless he’s either being traded as part of a package for a massive upgrade, or he asks for Hamilton money in free agency.
Until the Devils replenish the right defender section of their prospect pipeline, and come up with not one, but two players who play the position better, they need to hold on to Damon. His game certainly has some warts, but they were smaller warts this season and additionally outside of superstar players, which NHL players don’t? This is one thing I don’t understand about Severson’s detractors; is the problem that they expected him to be a superstar and he’s not? Is the problem that they look at his +/- stat as an indicator of his ability? Whatever it may be, if Severson was a bad player, he wouldn’t be earning 22 minutes of ice time a night.
As I mentioned earlier, his play from the start of this past season had him looking as though he finally had cleared up his defending issues while playing some of the most effective hockey of his career. Even with Hamilton in New Jersey in the fold and a new contract looming a couple of summers away, I think Severson is a key cog. Replacing him with just an average NHLer or a rookie will lead to the team having more issues in their own end, especially if they also choose to not bring back P.K. Subban after this season.
In short, Severson is necessary now, he’s necessary in the near future, and he will probably grow to be a strong veteran presence as the team’s contention window widens.
What are your thoughts on Damon Severson and if the Devils still need him; are you one of his fans or not? Do you think his deficiencies wind up being overblown at time, or are they justified? If they Devils do part with him, under what circumstances do you see it happening and how do you think they would go about replacing him? Do you see him being a veteran presence on the back end along with Hamilton going forward? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!