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It’s no surprise to you when I say the Devils have trouble scoring. They have a 44% goals for percentage, 3rd worst in the league, and are only averaging 1.75 goals per 60 minutes at even-strength, which is second worst. They’ve gotten good production from Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, but other players have come off their totals from last year such as Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique. They’re also barely getting any secondary scoring, which has been a common theme for the last couple of seasons. The Devils may not be getting enough scoring up front, however their forwards may not be the biggest reason for their offensive woes.
The Devils have gotten almost the bare minimum from their defensemen this season. The following table shows their defensemen’s goals, assists, and points through April 4th (minimum 15 games played).
As you can see, the only players they’ve gotten consistent production from offensively are Damon Severson and John Moore. After that, no defensemen has cracked the 15-point mark. The team has averaged only 12.3 points from their defensemen this season, which is one of the five lowest marks in the league. Of those defensemen, no one has more than 5 goals other than John Moore. With only 3 games remaining, he’s going to be the only Devils defensemen to finish with double digit goals.
If the Devils want to improve their offense, they’ll need to make big changes on their backend. The question is “how much production would the Devils need to average from their defensemen to be playoff the contenders?” The following chart shows the average point totals of defensemen (minimum 15 games played) from teams in playoff spots as of April 2nd.
|Team||Average Points from Defensemen|
|New York Rangers||20.5|
A majority of these teams average above or close to 20 points from their defensemen and if you calculate the average, it comes out to 19.7 points per team. As mentioned in the previous chart, the Devils only average 12.3 points from their defensemen, so they’re well off the pace of what current playoff teams are averaging. A seven-point average might not seem like a lot to make up, but it’ll take more than one defenseman for the Devils to improve on their offensive numbers.
So what options are there? Of course, there is Kevin Shattenkirk. He averages 49.8 points per 82 games and would be a significant upgrade to the team’s production at even-strength and on the power play. He averages 0.95 points per 60 minutes at even-strength for his career, which would be the best rate on the Devils for a defenseman (Damon Severson’s 0.69 points per 60 would be the closest to Shattenkirk). Even if you add Shattenkirk’s 49-point average to the Devils total average, they’d still only average 16.7 points from their defensemen. While that’s a significant upgrade, it’s still off the mark of what playoff teams are averaging from their defensemen in 2016-17.
Shattenkirk would be a significant upgrade for the Devils, but he alone would not be enough. There’s Justin Schultz, but the Devils aren’t spending more than half their $20 mil in cap space on two defensemen; it’ll either be one or the other. After that, the free agent class is quite weak. The Devils will need to get creative with the twenty-one draft picks they have available between this and next year’s amateur drafts. It’s pretty unlikely they’ll use all of them on drafting players, so you can bet on the Devils front office using some to trade for a young defenseman or two from a cash-strapped team, especially around the expansion draft.
The bottom line is the Devils need to improve their goal scoring. While they could use help up front, it starts with their defensemen. If they don’t have anyone on the backend who can move the puck out of their own end and to their forwards to start a break out, they won’t be able to generate any offense.
With an abundance of cap space and a surplus of draft picks, Ray Shero has the assets to make improvements this offseason. If they want to be in the playoff picture this time next year, improving the blue line has to be main area of focus this offseason. New Jersey needs at least two, maybe three puck-moving defensemen heading into the 2017-18 season. If they make the right moves, we could finally see the fast, attacking, supportive hockey Ray Shero and John Hynes envisioned when they took over.