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It doesn’t come with saying much, but improving the Devils blue line is going to be priority no. 1 of Ray Shero’s offseason plans. Aside from Damon Severson, it was a rough year for the Devils defensemen and you need to look no further than the season Cory Schneider just had. Shero will have a number of draft picks to work with and a boatload of cap space to use when July 1st rolls around. It is a weak year for UFAs, especially on defense. The group is headlined by Kevin Shattenkirk, but other than that, it’s slim pickings.
Despite being a weaker year for defensemen, there are a few names other than Schultz and Shattenkirk that will be worth taking a look at. One would be Michael Stone, who finished the year playing with Calgary after starting with the Arizona Coyotes. The 26-year old posted 15 points in 64 games, a 21 point drop off from his 2015-16 campaign.
Stone will be one of a few options in a limited free agent market for New Jersey, but does that mean he’s worth the risk for Ray Shero?
During his last three seasons, Stone has struggled with his game at 5-on-5. He’s been a 47.6% possession player with a -0.9% relative Corsi For %. He’s also given up an average of 60.2 shot attempts per 60 minutes. On top of his poor shot metrics, Stone’s scoring rates were unimpressive as well. He averaged 0.64 points per 60 minutes, which is the same as Dan Girardi and Andrew MacDonald over the last three seasons. None of those numbers are particularly great and are not what you’d expect from someone who’s logged his fair share of top-four minutes.
Arizona has had their fair share of struggles over the Stone’s time there, so one may think that his underwhelming numbers may be tied to the team’s struggles. However, even after a move from one of the league’s worst teams in the league, he still had trouble finding his game after he joined the Calgary Flames. He was a 45.7% possession player for Calgary and had a -6.3% relative Corsi For %. He failed to suppress shots, much like his time in Arizona, giving up an average of 57.9 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Simply put, Stone had a pretty rough campaign in 2016-17 spread between both Arizona and Calgary.
Although Stone had a rough year, he is just one season removed from a career-high 36 points. His underlying numbers in 2015-16 were not all that terrible. Having said that, he did spend over 500 minutes at 5-on-5 paired with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one of the better defensemen in the league. When the two were paired together, they had a 50.1% Corsi For and allowed 53.4 shot attempts against per 60 minutes and generated 53.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes (via Puckalytics); all pretty respectable numbers.
While the two played well together, there is a discernible difference between Stone’s play when he was not paired with Ekman-Larsson. Stone’s numbers began to dip significantly. He gave up almost 10 more shot attempts than he generated and his possession sunk to 45.8% (via Puckalytics). Likewise, when Ekman-Larsson was away from Stone, his numbers were about the same or even improved slightly. His shot generation and suppression numbers were just about even, as was his possession. After taking a look, it seems that Stone was carried by Ekman-Larsson and he helped cover up for the flaws in his game.
The Takeaway: At a quick glance, Stone fits the mold of what the Devils are looking for. He’s only 26 and fills the need for a defenseman. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends. His 2015-16 campaign may’ve been the best season of his career, but that was in large part due to being paired with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and when he wasn’t paired with him, his numbers dropped significantly. The Devils should stay clear of Stone. The last thing they need to do is hand out a bad contract while they’re still rebuilding. Despite being a weak UFA class (especially for defensemen), there will still be other options via trade and free agency, so passing up on Stone won’t have any negative impact on the team going forward.
Advanced stats are from Corsica Hockey unless specified otherwise.