Back in May and again when focusing on him as a free agent, I stated that re-signing Johnny Oduya was a must for the New Jersey Devils in their offseason. And before unrestricted free agency began, the Devils signed Oduya to a 3-year, $10.5 million deal. The reaction was positive and I was pleased with the move. Later that summer, I explained why I think we should expect that the best is yet to come from the Swedish two-way defenseman. It made sense: the $3.5 million cap hit/year for Oduya's services, Oduya entering his fourth season of NHL hockey, and that he's grown to play well on the top pairing with Paul Martin all would lead to a big season from the defender.
Seven games into the 2009-10 season, and Oduya has been the definition of struggling instead of solid. Even to the point where Jacques Lemaire switched him to be paired with someone other than Paul Martin in the last game. Others are noticing as well. In the comments of yesterday's news post, ILWT user elesias highlighted how bad Oduya has been. Today, at Puck Daddy, Greg Wyshynski identified Oduya as one of the 10 most notable players to struggle so far this season. Clearly, this isn't at all what anyone really expected from Oduya. Especially after that sweet deal he signed in end of June.
The key numbers for Oduya are 0 (as in points), -6 (as in his +/- rating), and 12 (as in PIM). I think his play warrants a closer look as to how bad Oduya has really played so far this season.
|2009 - Johnny Oduya||7||0||0||0||-6||12||0||0||0||0||6||0.0|
Offense - The Lack Thereof
Johnny Oduya, like the rest of the Devils defensemen, will never be confused with being a point machine. But last season he enjoyed career highs in goals (7), assists (22), and shots (106). In terms of a per-game rate, that breaks down to approximately 0.085 goals/game, 0.268 assists/game, and 1.29 shots/game. Currently, Oduya not only has no points, but he has taken only 6 shots on net - or 0.857 shots/game. Needless to say, he's not nearly on track of hitting those numbers.
What makes this more worrisome is that Oduya has been given time to contribute on offense. In addition to averaging 21:21/game; he has been getting time on the power play, 8:17 in total for an average of 1:13/ game. Moreover, Oduya lines up at defense for more offensive zone faceoffs (42) than any other defensemen, according to the even strength numbers at Behind the Net. In fact, he's been out there for more offensive zone faceoffs that the Devils won (26) than any other player on the team.
Yet, when Oduya steps onto the ice in even strength situations per Behind the Net, the shots for/60 number drops from 29.4 to 25.7, his relative CORSI rate is -5.1, and all this with a quality of competition not. I know he's been shifted around, but he's clearly not helping much on offense. Even if he's out there with a "checking line," I think he really needs to start shooting more. Just under a shot per game is not getting it done so far. That would be my first suggestion. At a minimum, he'd be making attempts at goals, get pucks forward for potential rebounds, and therefore would contribute in that way. Given that Paul Martin tends to lead the breakouts on his pairing, maybe shifting Oduya elsewhere can help in that regard?
Now, About the Defense...
Per Behind the Net, Johnny Oduya has been on the ice for 7 even strength goals against, 4 power play goals against, and even a shorthanded goal against. While earlier comments list him as a -7, NHL.com says he's a -6. Either way, it's definitely not a good start for any defenseman.
It's not like Oduya is getting minutes and getting burned by the opposition's weaker lines. Oduya has faced the highest relative quality of competition among all active Devils defensemen in even strength situations at 0.272. On special teams, he has faced the second highest relative quality of competition with -1.073 on the power play and 2.953 on the penalty kill.
Yet, the shots against the Devils to tends to rise when Oduya does go on the ice in a 5-on-5 situation. The shots against/60 increases from 22.3 to 24.7. That may not be much, but generally, a good defender would see that number drop when he comes onto the ice. For comparison purposes, when Paul Martin goes on for an even strength shift, the shots against/60 drops from 25.4 to 19.4. Sure, in penalty kill situations, the shots against/60 drops from 53.3 to 38.5 when Oduya comes on the ice; but that's not really praise worthy when he's been out there for more power play goals against than any other defender on the team.
Lastly, some of the goals against that came when Oduya's out there really made him look silly. The biggest example was Stephen Weiss' end-to-end rush for Florida's second equalizer back on October 10. In fact, here's a link to a video of that goal and watch #29 just get beat. I agree that not every goal against when Oduya was on the ice was necessarily his fault; but some of these really make him look bad. Overall, Oduya needs to tighten up his positioning and his decision making and then those shots against will come down when he's out there - and the goals against will likely (hopefully!) drop as well.
Breaking Down the Penalty Minutes
That Johnny Oduya is second among the Devils in penalty minutes is quite surprising. Oduya has taken 6 minors so far. Here's the list: He took the Devils' first penalty this season against Philadelphia (hooking at 7:40 in the 1st); two roughing calls against the Rangers (an extra one for beating on a turtling Chris Drury at 16:18 in the 1st); another restraining foul against Tampa Bay (a questionable holding call at 14:45 in the 2nd); a fourth straight game with a minor at Florida (hooking at 15:14 in the 2nd); and then the streak went to 5 games at Washington (holding at 12:40 in the 2nd).
There is some mitigation here. First, some of these were questionable - like the "holding" he committed in Tampa Bay as well as that extra minor Oduya got from trying to teach Chris Drury that knee-on-knee hits aren't allowed. in hockey. Second, only one time did the opposition strike back with a goal: the Rangers on the extra roughing minor. A goal that ultimately didn't decide that game.
That said, I really can't explain what Oduya was thinking for the other 3 minors. All are restraining fouls, all are calls defensemen should be smarter about not taking, and all are generally avoidable. He just need to make better decisions and have more awareness about where he's putting his stick and his arms. Fortunately, Oduya has shown some improvement in this regard. He hasn't taken any penalties in the last 2 games. That may not be much, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
Overall - Thankfully, the Season is Young
Johnny Oduya has struggled on both offense and defense as well as with discipline. I think it's fair to say that he's been disappointing early on. Though, I'm not going to claim that his season is doomed and the Devils have just wasted $3.5 million of cap space on him. There is plenty of time for Oduya to turn it around. He played his way up to the first pairing two seasons ago, and he continued to justify his role and his minutes last season. That shows true talent at the position and I don't think that was a fluke.
However, nothing is guaranteed. Lemaire has already begun experimenting with Oduya outside of the first pairing with Paul Martin against Carolina. Should Oduya continue to struggle, he will find himself away from the first pairing very quickly. I think he'll improve; I feel he really just needs to shoot more and make better decisions in his own end. If he can do that, then he'll be performing more like the player he was and the player we know he can become.
Either way, now is the time to have your say. Do you agree that Oduya has been bad so far this season? Do you think he can turn it around and return to his form from last season? As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments.