In this past offseason, the New Jersey Devils have lost some significant players to free agency. Here's a list of the notable departed players from last season:
- John Madden signed with Chicago
- Brian Gionta signed with Montreal
- Scott Clemmensen signed with Florida
- Mike Rupp signed with Pittsburgh
Bobby Holik retired
To replace those spots, the Devils gave Nicklas Bergfors a real shot to make the team as a scoring winger and has stayed up ever since. Also, after training camp, the Devils assigned Rod Pelley to center the fourth line as Bobby Holik did for much of 2008-09. With respect to the other three spots the Devils signed Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Andrew Peters, and Ilkka Pikkarainen as "tough" wingers; signed Rob Niedermayer to play center on the fourth line; and signed Yann Danis as a backup goaltender.
A reader suggested that I compare how these players are doing with respect to how the departed players are doing at the quarterpoint mark of the season. A quick comparison of stats via NHL.com follows after the jump.
Second Line Right Wing - The Departed: Brian Gionta
|2009 - Brian Gionta||19||8||5||13||3||8||2||0||1||20:53||65||12.3|
The Replacement: Nicklas Bergfors
|2009 - Nicklas Bergfors||21||5||9||14||0||6||3||0||2||15:23||55||9.1|
Now, Gionta broke his foot; but prior to that he was enjoying his hockey with Montreal. He's been scoring goals and playing on Montreal's top line. Only injury has really slowed down Gionta so far this season. Who actually is playing right wing on the second line is debatable as Jacques Lemaire switches his lines from game to game, often within the game. Based on his role as a scoring winger, I feel Bergfors would be the appropriate choice as his replacement. While the rookie doesn't have as many goals, he's got one more point than Gionta with less average time per game, and he has shown a good tendency to shoot. Of course, Bergfors should remain more productive just because he's healthy; but I feel he needs work with his consistency. After putting up 5 points in 2 games, he only has 2 shots on net in his last 4 games. He can't dip into spells like that, not as an offensive winger. But so far, so good.
As an additional note, David Clarkson potting in 7 goals (3 PPG) and 8 assists is a significant amount of production in Gionta's departure not necessarily being a big deal. Since Clarkson's role changes along with where he's moved to in the lineup (e.g. more physical on a fourth line, more defensive on a third line), that's even more impressive than Bergfors' start as a rookie.
Third Line Center - The Departed: John Madden
|2009 - John Madden||21||4||4||8||-1||10||0||0||0||16:47||36||11.1|
The Replacement: Rob Niedermayer
|2009 - Rob Niedermayer||13||2||5||7||3||4||0||0||0||17:38||19||10.5|
Madden has been playing his brand of defensive hockey for the benefit of Chicago. Rob Niedermayer was a late signing in preseason, but has been a mainstay on the Devils' third line until he got injured. Niedermayer has fit in well and even provided some early production as a nice bonus. Niedermayer was actually used more often than Madden has been in Chicago; but Madden has the advantage in shots against differential per 60 minutes in even strength situations over Niedermayer according to the numbers at Behind the Net. Had Niedermayer not get hurt earlier this month, the comparison would be more meaningful. As of now, it's Tim Sestito holding the role and there really isn't much of a comparison there. But when Niedermayer does get healthy, he'll retake his spot as the third line center.
Fourth Line Winger - The Departed: Mike Rupp
|2009 - Michael Rupp||23||4||2||6||2||29||0||0||0||9:05||25||16.0|
The Replacements: Andrew Peters, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Ilkka Pikkarainen
|2009 - Andrew Peters||13||0||0||0||-4||18||0||0||0||5:49||10||0.0|
|2009 - Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond||7||0||0||0||-3||0||0||0||0||5:16||2||0.0|
|2009 - Ilkka Pikkarainen||13||0||1||1||-3||6||0||0||0||8:17||7||0.0|
Yeah, this isn't really close. Rupp has been very useful in his limited role with Pittsburgh and has gotten more ice time on average than any of these three players. Whereas these three Devils wingers are incredibly limited and haven't contributed much of anything this season. Even in hits, Rupp has 53 - which is 5 more than these three Devils combined (Peters has 17, Pikkarainen has 17, and Leblond has 14). Granted, the position isn't crucial for success; so it's not like the Devils are sorely missing Rupp. Yet, you want a contribution from all your lines and the fourth line hasn't done much of that for New Jersey.
Fourth Line Center - The Departed: Bobby Holik
The Replacement: Rod Pelley
|2009 - Rod Pelley||20||0||2||2||-6||11||0||0||0||7:11||18||0.0|
Since Holik is retired, I'm using his numbers from last season for comparison. And it's not really that bad. Holik didn't contribute much outside of getting limited action per game, throwing a couple hits, winning faceoffs, and contributing a little production. I have no issue with Pelley's offense, but if he got minutes similar to Holik's then it should improve slightly. Pelley does have one big advantage over Holik. Pelley's not likely going to get benched in the second half of the season for getting aggressive and taking really dumb calls regularly. Then again, Lemaire hasn't shown much faith in the fourth line as seen by their average ice time, so it may be a moot point. So far, Pelley has done OK in that spot.
Backup Goaltender - The Departed: Scott Clemmensen
|2009 - Scott Clemmensen||5||247||3||1||17||4.13||139||122||.878||0|
The Replacement: Yann Danis
|2009 - Yann Danis||3||140||2||0||5||2.14||65||60||.923||0|
Scott Clemmensen has had a rough time in Florida as Tomas Vokoun's backup. He's been shelled for goals and not inspiring any confidence in his team. A big contrast to how he played in relief of Martin Brodeur when Brodeur was injured. Danis has been earning the confidence of the Devils' coaching staff however. They gave him two starts in back-to-back situations and was given the start in Dallas on Saturday after two losses. Sure, Danis was pulled in that Dallas game, but he had no real chance at the goals and I doubt he'll be placed in exile for it. While he hasn't played as much as Clemmensen, Danis has the better numbers and will likely continue getting a few more games here and there in New Jersey. Best of luck to Clemmensen in turning it around in Florida.
Looking just at the numbers, it's clear to me that the Devils have done an adequate job in filling in these larger holes in the roster. Granted, if Gionta wasn't injured, then it may be a different story. But we can only compare what has been done and honestly, the only real big gap is at fourth line winger as Rupp's job has not really been replaced. You can argue that third line center is an issue now with Rob Niedermayer injured and leaving Tim Sestito - an AHL callup - to take over with spot duty (though the job may be Dean McAmmond's now).
Perhaps this is to be expected. After all, despite going winless in their last three games, the Devils are still 14-5-1 and only a point outside of the Atlantic Division lead. From that alone, one could say the Devils have not been rocked too hard by the losses of these players. However, it is heartening to see that some of the replacements for their positions are generally doing as well as the departed players for the most part. Hopefully, this continues for the rest of the season.
Feel free to disagree or agree with how I'm looking at the departed and replacement players. Are you happy with the replacement players who aren't fourth line wingers? Do you wish any of those departed players didn't leave New Jersey as they did over the summer? Do you have a better way of comparing these players, or a different perspective? Please let everyone know what you think in the comments.