We are close to halfway through the second month of the 2022-23 regular season. Most everyone in the NHL has played somewhere between 12 and 15 games. It is early but not so early that we cannot see some odd trends. Some players have been absolutely and unsustainably hot, such as Shane Pinto shooting at just over 30% (8 goals on 26 shots including two last night). At the other end, there are 60 forwards with at least 50 minutes played this season who have yet to score a goal after Thursday’s games. Few may be holding their stick tighter than New Jersey Devils forward Erik Haula.
The 60 forwards that make up what I am calling the Zero Goal Club include a wide range of players. (Defensemen are not always in a good position to score, so I am leaving them out. And only Brendan Smith and Kevin Bahl, who both barely shoot, are goalless anyway.) You have depth players like Rem Pitlick, Kevin Rooney, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel in it. You have veterans like Eric Staal, Nick Bonino, Milan Lucic, and Pat Maroon in the club. You have young players like Shane Wright, Quinton Byfield, Vasily Podkolzin, Cole Sillinger, and Marco Rossi in this group. And then you have a select few who have played a lot and even contributed to the scoresheet such that it may surprise you that they are goalless. It is a bit of a stretch, but you can add Haula to this small group that involves Mat Barzal, Teuvo Teravainen, and Brock Boeser.
You may be wondering: Really. Erik Haula among the talented forwards? After getting stuffed at the net by Anton Forsberg and being robbed on a nearly wide open net in the second period? Him? Let me explain with his stats so far this season. Here is Haula’s stat line for individual offense in all situations per Natural Stat Trick after Thursday’s games.
- Haula has 4 points. This puts him a tie with Cole Smith, Connor Dewar, and Paul Stastny in the Zero Goal Club (ZGC). Only five players have more points: Vinnie Hinostroza (6), , Alexander Barabanov (6), Boeser (6), Teravainen (7), and Barzal (15!!)
- Haula has taken 35 shots on net. Only Barzal in the ZGC has taken more shots than Haula with 40.
- Haula has taken 55 shooting attempts, with eight last night. Haula passed Teravainen (54) and is solely behind Barzal (70) in individual shooting attempts in the ZGC.
- Haula has 30 individual scoring chances, including an impressive/frustrating six last night. Only Teravainen (31) and Barzal (45) in the ZGC have had more than Haula.
- Haula has 16 individual high danger scoring chances. Last night saw Haula broke the tie Vladislav Namestnikov, who also has 13, and is once again behind only Barzal’s 19 HDCFs.
- Haula’s individual expected goal count is 4.32. This is second only to Barzal’s 4.73 ixG. No one else in the ZGC is above 4 ixG.
Among the 60 forwards in the ZGC, Haula is one of the leading attackers in the whole group. Only a handful of players have more points. Even fewer have more shot attempts and scoring chances than Haula. Only Barzal has has more shots on net, high danger chance count and expected goal count than Haula. He really is the offensive standout among the goalless forwards. Being among the best of this dubious-finishing group should be seen as such.
What this also shows is that Haula is really, really, really snakebit. Last night’s game was just the latest example. Generally, the solution to not scoring is to take more attempts, take more shots, and take more chances. I can understand the frustration at reading that answer as Haula has absolutely done that. Haula has individual counts in all four areas higher than all but a few in the ZGC. He has higher counts than the many more forwards who have a goal already. Just about half of his shooting attempts are in scoring chance areas and a little more than half of those are in the slot or at the crease. He is getting in dangerous spots. He is doing the work and it has not paid off. The finish, for whatever reason, has just been lacking or the goaltenders have been able to just deny him over and over. Haula is not going to score his first of the season by not shooting, so the unsatisfying answer of “keep grinding” is the answer.
Haula is 31 so it is expected that the best years of his career are behind him. His big 29-goal, 55-point season in 2017-18 with Las Vegas was his highpoint in terms of production. He did quite well last season with Boston to put up 18 goals and 44 points. Yet, Haula’s non-scoring offense this season could be up there with both of them. Consider the individual rates he has put up so far this season with his past seasons according to Natural Stat Trick.
- Haula’s rate of shots on net per 60 minutes in 2017-18 was 7.95, the second highest in his career. He put up an 8.08 per 60 rate of shots with Minnesota in 2016-17. Haula’s rate this season with the Devils is 8.96 shots per 60. He is on pace to have the most shots on net in his whole career at age 31. Which is impressive and also adds to the frustration that comes with not yet scoring.
- Haula’s rate of shooting attempts in 2017-18 was 13.63 per 60 minutes. He has had higher rates in 2018-19 with Las Vegas with 15.43 and in his seven games with Florida in 2019-20 at 14.75. This season, Haula is racking up attempts at 14.08 per 60. Last night’s game provided a boost and individual games will still cause some swings as it is still early in this season. Still, he is firing attempts at a rate he has not done recently and among the highest he ever has done in the NHL.
- Haula’s rate of scoring chances in 2017-18 was 9.04 per 60 minutes. Haula’s current rate is lower at 7.68 per 60. Yet, it is higher than his last two seasons and may catch up with his Carolina tenure in 2019-20 (8.12 per 60). For high danger changes, his 2017-18 rate was 3.86 per 60 - and behind his 2018-19 with Las Vegas (4.34 per 60) and his 2019-20 (5.17 with Carolina, 4.92 with Florida). This season, Haula’s high danger chance rate is at 4.1 per 60 - beating his most productive season and closer to his previous highs.
- All together from the above stats, Haula’s individual expected goal rate is 1.11 per 60 minutes. That matches his previous high from a seven game stay with Florida in 2019-20. It is better than any full season he has had with one team in his whole career. Including his most productive season in 2017-18, where he posted an 0.88 ixG/60. Which is good, but again, well below his current rate.
In other words, Haula is attacking the net like he has rarely done in the past. And he is doing it at an older age in his first season with this organization. If or when these individual shots - be they attempts, shots on net, and/or part of scoring chances - then we could actually see Haula put up one of his more productive seasons in his whole career. It is a big ask for Haula to play all 82 games and maintain this kind these rates, but this is indicative of someone who is having one of the better offensive seasons in his career. Even if it has not yielded many points. But if or when the production does begin, Haula could be in a position to put up more than one may expect. Short of a super-hot streak to catch up after 14 goalless games, this season will likely end up short of his career highs. But putting up numbers similar to what he did with the Bruins last season? That is surprisingly doable with the amount he is putting on net even with this scoring slump. The puck just has to go in for him and more often for the teammates he is supporting while keeping up what he is doing.
Of course, if Haula continues to fail to convert, then he may be taken off a line that, on paper, seems quite dangerous. As the Devils have been wildly successful after the first two games of this season, head coach Lindy Ruff has found little reason to change Haula’s position in the lineup. Hence, Haula hasplayed quite a bit with Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt in 5-on-5 play during this winning streak. Those two are among the most talented offensive forwards on the team. However, that does not appear to be the case. Haula has also played with Miles Wood quite a bit as well as fellow does-a-lot-right-but-score forward Tomas Tatar. Haula’s individual shooting has been more prolific with Wood and Tatar than with Hughes and Bratt. This does make some sense to me. In a trio of Haula, Bratt, and Hughes, I would think Haula is the third choice to shoot among the three. With Tatar or Wood, sure, let Haula rip it. Perhaps he needs more shifts with those two instead of Bratt and/or Hughes to get more rubber on net in the hopes of getting one in the net soon. Then again, until the Devils lose some games or injuries force Ruff’s hand, I would not expect a lineup change anytime soon.
One of the positives of Haula on the Devils is that he is contributing in other ways. He is more than fine taking draws on a line with Hughes and then switching to wing after the faceoff. Faceoffs have been a strength. Haula has been exceptional on faceoffs with a winning percentage of 61% after Thursday’s games. That is the sixth highest winning percentage among players with at least 100 faceoffs this season. (Aside: Michael McLeod is seventh at 60.9%) While it is not a huge deal overall, it does make him useful in special situations. Such as the penalty kill, where Haula leads Devils forwards in shorthanded ice time and, per Natural Stat Trick, has a good line of on-ice rates in shorthanded situations. He has been effective on the PK. Less so on the power play’s second unit given the cold stick. But in the most common situation in hockey, when Haula is on the ice, the Devils are generally crushing it. As per Natural Stat Trick, Haula is among the top forwards on the Devils in various rate stats, be it CF% or xGF% or even HDCF%. By extension, he is among top forwards in the league in those categories. Haula has provided a lot to the Devils in the run of play and on the penalty kill. A whole lot - except for scoring.
Unfortunately, production does count for something and despite Haula’s best efforts has yielded just four assists and zero goals out of 35 shots. This is why I call him the most unlucky. Sure, Jesper Boqvist is also a member of the ZGC, but with fewer games played and not doing nearly as much as Haula, I cannot say he is more unlucky. Sure, Tomas Tatar is similar to Haula for being a monster in the run of play and just has two goals to show for it (one was last night against Ottawa). Only Tatar has two more goals than Haula so he cannot be more unlucky than Haula. Sure, we can even point to Jack Hughes for not producing more than the four goals and fourteen points he has in 14 games despite being one of the most prolific forwards when it comes to shots on net and individual attempts. Hughes is still third on the team in scoring; he is hardly unlucky among this offensive 2022-23 Devils team. Not to mention he could have had more points if he had a winger who was not goalless in 14 games. Haula’s situation and lack of goals for it is far more striking. Haula has put in the work on the ice, continues to put in the work, the work has been good, and has not been a problem save for a few ill-timed penalties. For whatever reason, on any given night or any given shot, he just has not scored. Which is quite unfortunate and unlucky.
Let me end this with some hope. The 2022-23 New Jersey Devils have got off to a hot start after their first two games and have legitimately crushed teams to a point where the People Who Matter and outsiders understand this team can be dominant on the ice. Sure, the last few wins have been close but they have been wins and not losses. The Devils have a team expected goals count of 54.4 and an actual goals count of 51 in all situations after Thursday’s games per Natural Stat Trick. Both rank in the top ten in the NHL. Specifically third in xGF and fifth in GF. The Devils have done this without Erik Haula (or Boqvist or Tatar or even Hughes) converting shots at a rate on par with his career. The Devils have achieved all of these wins without a couple of forwards who play significant minutes lighting the lamp. The 2022-23 Devils have the potential to be even more prolific at scoring than they have been when Haula has more of his shots beat the goalie instead of being stopped one. Likewise for Boqvist, Tatar, and so forth. There is a real possibility the Devils can already increase their scoring-by-committee strength. That will help ensure that the team keeps staying in games and getting results even even after the team’s winning streak ends. That will help with keeping the Devils as a dangerous opponent instead of a team to just roll through. For Haula’s sake, I hope it happens sooner rather than later.
That is why I consider Erik Haula to be the unluckiest Devil among active players right now. All of those shots, a handful of assists, loads of positive rate stats in 5-on-5 and penalty kill situations, plenty of faceoff wins, and ice time with more productive players, and Haula is still in the Zero Goal Club. He was robbed twice last night. And he even had a stick break on him during a 3-on-4 penalty kill in OT, just to add to his misfortune. I think he has been especially unlucky. What about you? Do you agree that Haula has been the unluckiest Devil among active players on the team? How do you think Haula has done with the Devils besides the lack of goal scoring? When do you think Haula will leave the ZGC? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Haula in the comments.