Heading into this offseason, despite the atrocious season that just passed, there is some definitive hope surrounding the future of the New Jersey Devils. There is a young, strong core of players on this team that, when combined with good complementary and veteran pieces, plus solid goaltending, could seriously compete as soon as next season. To make that happen, management will have to decide a lot of things in the coming months, including evaluating the coaching staff, finding free agents, and drafting the best players possible.
What all of those things are going to need to do for next season, and beyond, is turn expectations into reality. And when I say that, I specifically am referring to statistics. The Devils expected statistics were pretty strong this past season, and if you only looked at them, you would think that this was a team that was, at the minimum, competing for a playoff position. Check out this chart here comparing expected goals for to actual goals for for Devils skaters that played at least 700 minutes at 5 on 5. Stats come from Natural Stat Trick:
As you can see, the only player who played at least 700 5v5 minutes for the Devils and have a better GF% than xGF% was Andreas Johnsson. Every one of the other 15 skaters to make this list had a better expected percentage than actual percentage, some significantly so. Both Jimmy Vesey and Tomas Tatar had differentials over 10%, while Jack Hughes, despite still having a dominant offensive season, had an xGF% over 8 percent higher than his actual goals for percentage. That was also true for Yegor Sharangovitch. Among all of those 16 players, only two had an xGF% under 50%. If those expected numbers were their actual numbers, the Devils would be in the playoffs right now, there is almost no question about that.
To compare this to a team that is actually in the playoffs right now, let’s take a look at New York, considering we all think their team is a lot worse than what they actually produced this season. I mean, come on, makes sense, right? And, well, we have some statistical backing to believe this. The Rangers had 14 players play at least 700 5v5 minutes. Among those, first off, only two had an xGF% above 50%. So while the Devils only had 2 players with an xGF% under 50%, the Rangers only had 2 above that number. Pretty wild to see the difference. However, New York had 10 players who had an actual GF% above 50%. When you look at the differentials, only three of those 14 NY skaters had a higher xGF% than their actual GF%. All three of those skaters had an actual GF% under 50% as well. Anyone on the Rangers with a GF% over 50% had a higher GF% than an xGF%. This is basically the exact opposite of what the Devils had.
Now, I am not saying that the Devils should strive to become the Rangers. We don’t want a team that has really poor underlying numbers and overperforms expectations. I would be very happy with a goaltender who performs like Igor Shesterkin, but that’s about it. What we do want, however, is a team that can maintain the expected numbers that the Devils have, but also actually manifest a lot of those expectations into reality. That, of course, is where management needs to work this offseason, to figure out what to do to bring that out. The potential is there for a great team, but that potential needs to become reality, or else more losing is going to occur.