Through the first three months this season, second-year Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy only appeared in 17 of New Jersey’s first 34 games. Since 2018, Lovejoy has played in every game for the Devils, bringing his seasonal total to 41 contests. Since signing in 2016, Lovejoy has become somewhat of a scapegoat for the team’s disgruntled fans due to how susceptible he is to defensive breakdowns in his own end.
Although Lovejoy averages roughly 16:46 of ice time (making him the Devils second-least played defensemen that’s appeared in at least 30 games this season), his mishaps seem to stand out more than the team’s other blue liners, a trend that some argue is reflected in the team’s record. On a monthly basis, I broke down the Devil’s overall winning percentages, and how they fared with Lovejoy in the lineup…
|Month||Games||NJ Record||Winning Pct.||Lovejoy Games||Record W/Lovejoy||Winning Pct.|
At first glance, there appears to be a correlation between the Devils overall record and games with Lovejoy in the lineup. From October to December, the Devils went 22-10-6. Lovejoy appeared in just 17 of those games, during which The Devils went 8-6-3. In addition, Lovejoy has laced up for every game the Devils played in 2018 so far, and the team has visibly cooled down, going 10-12-2 since January 1.
This isn’t to single Lovejoy out and proclaim the Devils are an automatically worse team when he’s in the lineup. I also compared the Devil’s overall record and winning percentages to how the team played when each of their defensemen respectively played…
|Player||GP (W/NJD)||Record When In Lineup||Winning Pct.|
As I’m sure is the case with players on every team, the Devils clearly play better with certain defensemen in the lineup. When compared to the Devils’ overall .516 winning percentage this season, New Jersey seems to play best with Damon Severson (.542) and John Moore (.516), while Andy Greene and Will Butcher (.508 each) have also played in more wins than losses. The Devils have played best with Mirco Mueller in the lineup, winning 12 of 20 games (.600) he’s played. His season has been reduced due to injury, but even though Mueller is healthy again, he’s played in just six of the Devils’ last 13 contests. The Devils also won 21 of 36 games with Steve Santini in the lineup (.583), however he hasn’t appeared in an NHL contest since January 7 and is currently skating with the New Jersey’s AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Devils.
Since being acquiring from Anaheim, Sami Vatanen has played in 36 contests with New Jersey, of which they only won 18 (.473). Many opponents of the Henrique/Vatanen trade have pointed to New Jersey’s play since December as their argument against the trade. Not only did the Devils go 8-4-2 in Vatanen’s first 14 games, but he’s gotten 19 points since the trade, and averaged at least a point in his last eight contests. This leads us to Lovejoy, who the Devils have the worst winning percentage with when he’s in the lineup, winning 18 of 41 games (.439).
While New Jersey has won the same amount of games with Lovejoy and Vatanen respectively in the lineup (Lovejoy playing just three more), it’s worth pointing out Vatanen’s acquisition coincides with the time Lovejoy started playing more frequently. Since the Devils previously struggled in games where Lovejoy dressed (before acquiring Vatanen), this evidence can be used to further discount the notion that Vatanen’s acquisition is to blame for the team’s recently inconsistent play.
What the charts above merely point out is the Devils don’t play as well with Ben Lovejoy in the lineup. To reiterate, this isn’t to place all of the team’s issues on his shoulders, but raise the question of why someone like Lovejoy continues to slip through the cracks, while younger players like Mueller and Santini sit, despite the Devils having significantly better records when they play. The answer is quite simple, and might not be enough to justify how often Coach Hynes has been playing Lovejoy, but could indicate what coaching and management think this team is capable of doing.
Currently suspended in the Eastern Conference’s first wildcard spot with 20 games left, the Devils are in a solid position for postseason contention, and spent the vast majority of 2017-2018 occupying a playoff spot. If Ray Shero’s uncharacteristic pickup of Michael Grabner isn’t a strong allusion that he’s at least preparing to secure his team’s playoff status, it’s obvious such a young inexperienced team will need all the postseason experience they can get.
Yes, the Devils have relatively seasoned playoff veterans like Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Marcus Johansson, and Brian Boyle, but despite having only played in 58 playoff games, Ben Lovejoy has something no other player on this team possesses—a cup ring. Lovejoy played in all 24 playoff games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016, averaging 17:45 of ice time (sixth on the team). He’s averaged slightly less playing time this season, which means (if that figure remains unchanged) Lovejoy is finally being used in the same capacity when he played for the Penguins—a significant drop to his nightly average of 20:46 in 2016-2017. Whether this is a good enough reason to keep regularly designating a spot to Lovejoy remains debatable, but if Coach Hynes can find a proper balance in his ice time and situations where he’s used, Lovejoy’s playoff experience could be valuable to this young Devils team.