Last season, there were 81 skaters in the NHL who posted at least 200 shots on goal according to Natural Stat Trick. Those 81 skaters represented 26 different teams, meaning that only 6 teams had no skaters with at least 200 shots on net. The New Jersey Devils were one of those six teams (along with NYI, ANA, SEA, ARI, and MTL).
On New Jersey, there were two skaters who were mightily close to making the list. Both Jesper Bratt and Dougie Hamilton ended the regular season with 197 shots on net. The next best behind those two was Yegor Sharangovitch at 168, followed closely by Jack Hughes at 165. So as you can see, there were guys willing to take shots, and they were spread out, but no one really took the reins and was constantly peppering the net regardless. The question I posit, then, is whether that was good or bad? And then, of course, should it change this season moving forward? Let’s look at both sides.
Why It Isn’t a Big Deal
1. The Devils Offense Wasn’t Bad Last Year
This is, in reality, the main point on this side of the argument. Last season was one of the very few over the last decade where the offense wasn’t below average or worse. The team ranked tied for 10th in 5v5 Goals For with 181 to go along with a CF of 3865 attempts at 5v5, good for 10th once again. The offense wasn’t the major issue last season, especially at even strength where it matters the most, so who cares who was shooting the puck? The distribution most likely did well to keep defenders on their toes, as they weren’t sure who to focus on when defending, as anyone could shoot. In the end, it led to a pretty decent year from the offense, and since the last cup run, probably the only other year that could really be said was the playoff year of 2017-18 when they finished 15th in the NHL with 160 5v5 goals. This past year was even better than that, so there you go.
2. Injuries Kept Players From Reaching the 200 Shot Threshold
Without some injuries, there is zero doubt that at least one player on this team would have gone over 200 shots, perhaps more than one. Hamilton reached 197 shots across only 62 games played. Give him 10-15 more games and he is very comfortably over 200 shots, probably closer to 250. Bratt was only 3 away as well and played 76 games. That is mostly a full season right there, but he still missed 6 games. Add one more game and he probably hits 200. Beyond that, Hughes was at 165 across 49 games. That comes out to 3.37 shots per game. Multiply that over 75 games and he ends with 252 shots on net. So in reality, there were 3 guys who were on pace for 200+ shots had they played more games last season, making the point somewhat moot. If these three are healthy next year and play a full season, or close to it, then they probably all will break 200 shots.
Why It’s a Problem
1. All 6 Teams Without a 200 Shot Guy Missed the Playoffs
As I wrote above, there were 6 teams without a 200 shot player last year: NJ, NYI, ARI, ANA, MTL, and SEA. None of those teams made the playoffs last season. In fact, all 6 were pretty terrible, with only the Isles not finishing either 7th or 8th in their division. That is a rather strong correlation for these teams and seems to be beyond simple coincidence. It isn’t like they just missed the playoffs or were all over the standings. No, 5 of those 6 teams were at or near the bottom of their divisions, and the 6th team really never had much of a postseason shot. That is not the company you want to be associated with, but here the Devils were. Now, obviously getting 3 more shots from Hamilton or Bratt would not have changed NJ’s fate significantly, it isn’t like this threshold holds some magical powers or something. But it more describes the lack of a pure shooter, shoot first, think second kind of guy on this team. And it seems that teams that don’t have those types of guys, at least last season anyway, were really pretty bad teams.
2. Injuries Happen Every Year
This is the counterpoint to #2 on the other side of the argument. No matter what, every year there are going to be injuries, and your team has to adapt to them and adjust without those guys. Yes, some injuries are more significant than others, such as the Jack Hughes injury last year, but they’re still going to happen, you cannot use them as a consistent excuse for why your team did not perform. And the Devils, consistently, have not performed. It perhaps goes to some lack of offensive depth talent that no one was able to step in and start firing more pucks on net. Yes, the load was spread more evenly across multiple guys, guys like Sharangovitch for example, but it obviously was not enough to outpace the struggles this team had on defense and goaltending, and it certainly was not enough to replace the offense of someone like Jack. This season, injuries will occur to this roster, the question is just who, and for how long. If the Devils do not get a 200-shot guy once again next year, we can’t keep pointing the finger at injuries.
So the biggest question, then, is should this knowledge be cause for any change heading into next year? Should the coaching staff look to put shoot-happy players in a position to shoot more? I think it’s a tough question, but I would say that some small tweaks would be a good idea. However, I would not say to create major overhauls because of it. Find ways to get the puck on Jack’s stick more, and make sure he is getting those 3+ shots per game. His offensive skills will be the catalyst for this squad, hands down. Outside of him, I wouldn’t be against telling players like Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer to shoot more, they have the skills to get the puck in the net, so don’t always look to pass first. But beyond them, it also really depends on how this roster sets itself up. Will Alexander Holtz become a regular NHLer this season? If so, he is the shoot first, think later guy this team has craved for a long time. If he can become a top 6 winger like he was drafted to be, let him rip it as much as possible. Now, it might be a year too soon for him, we will see how his development goes. But if he takes a big step forward this year, that would be an easy answer as well, as he was drafted to be the 200+ shot guy, and you know he wants to be. And, of course, Jesper Bratt is still young, still developing as well, even with the huge season last year. If he keeps getting better offensively, he will most likely eclipse 200 shots as well just from his normal play style. That would be a nice positive for this team as well.
So in the end, I think it is something to keep an eye on next year, just to see how it is going compared to how the offense is doing overall. But I am not sure that big changes are needed to bring it about. However, if next season ends, the Devils still don't have a 200-shot guy, and they’re still 7th or 8th in the Metro? Then we have to look more deeply at this issue.