Back in August, I wrote a series of posts basically coming up with expectations for each Devil on the roster. Not all of them were statisically based, a lot of them came arbitrarily. Still, I felt it was better to state what I wanted to see out of each player prior to the season. Now that the New Jersey have played a third of the NHL season, it's a good time as any to see how my expectations are bearing out. Today, I will focus on the defensemen and goaltenders. If you're looking for the forwards; that went up earlier this week, you can find it here.
Now, for a lot of defensemen, I will likely state that the player has exceeded my expectations largely because of the injuries to Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya. In their absence, Andy Greene and Mike Mottau have played significantly more minutes than they otherwise would; and Colin White and Bryce Salvador took on additional responsibility as well. In retrospect, I was fortunate in my selection of the six defensemen for those posts as they are regulars. Cory Murphy isn't on the active roster; Matthew Corrente has been scratched upon Oduya's return; Tyler Eckford was only up for a few games; and Mark Fraser remains the only call up to stick around - and he'll likely be a scratch whenever Martin returns. I didn't expect those four to be up in New Jersey.
Lastly, I will say this prior to the jump. Please leave your thoughts on how the Devils defensemen and goaltenders have been playing so far in the comments, as well as any criticism for stupid-in-hindsight expectations or what I say below.
I see no reason to believe Martin Brodeur won't be one of the best goaltenders in the league in 2009-10. If Brodeur and the coaching staff feel he can/wants to play 70 games based on workload and such, then by all means, Brodeur should play 70 games. Again, I see no reason to believe that Brodeur will somehow get that much worse at age 37 than he was at 35 or 36. I won't give a stat line prediction, but I do expect Brodeur to set the NHL record for career season shutouts in 2009-10. I also expect him to continue playing at a high level, finishing among NHL leaders in goals against average, save percentage, and - of course - wins. Do I think he can accomplish all that? Of course!
What has he done so far:
|2009 - Martin Brodeur||28||1681||19||8||61||2.18||751||690||.919||2|
Yeah, he's been pretty good. Brodeur's on pace for at least 70 games (76.5 to be precise, but that won't happen); Brodeur is indeed currently among league leaders in wins (#1), GAA (tied for 7th), SV% (11th), and shutouts (tied for 7th and one away from breaking Terry Sawchuk's all time record of 103). Yeah, Brodeur is meeting my expectations. Will critics and foolish people realize that age or games played is not a factor with Brodeur at this point? Sadly, no. Reality is a struggle for them.
Yann Danis, What I Said Then:
Given he could see very little ice time next season, it's almost pointless to come up with any statistical expectations outside of general ones like staying below a 3.00 GAA and above 90% for save percentage (and Danis hit those marks with the Islanders last season). Danis just has to stay prepared throughout the season, don't get discouraged when he realizes it's been a month or two since starts, and perform competantly when he does see ice time in a game. And I think that's all we can really expect from him.
What he has done so far:
|2009 - Yann Danis||3||140||2||0||5||2.14||65||60||.923||0|
Well, he got a few starts, but the last time he was seen, he conceded 3 goals in one period to Dallas and Brodeur came in for him. Granted, those goals weren't his fault. I don't think he's been sitting because of that, despite the number of games, Brodeur hasn't seen a lot of rubber and so he's not as fatigued as a goaltender who faces 30ish shots per game. Therefore, Danis hasn't been given much of a chance even though in the two full starts he did get, he looked good in both games. Which falls perfectly in line with what I said in August, actually. So Danis is currently meeting my expectations so far.
Before I get to the defensemen, I'd like you to check out this chart I made for each of the six defensemen. I compiled the even strength on-ice/off-ice numbers from Behind the Net. Rather than clumsily state each stat for each defender, you can see it all in one place. So if the following reviews of my expectations seem a little flimsy, this chart should provide more meat on this meal of content.
Notice how everyone of the six defensemen have a positive quality of competition and a high quality of team. Since Lemaire has only recently been using his fourth line for 10 minutes or so, that means more defensemen are out there with top forward talent. Also, since Martin and Oduya were injured, that meant Greene, Mottau, White, and Salvador not only took on more minutes but better opposition. Another interesting common thread is that all of the defensemen don't have much of an effect on the Devils scoring goals; but they matter in the other three stats. Back to the players:
Paul Martin, What I Said Then:
Paul Martin is very important to the Devils' blueline and as such I think we can comfortably expect him to remain important and remain a defensive force. I am expecting him to put up more assists, though, at least 30 should be the goal. A cynical person may say that's entirely possible since it's a contract year for him. However, Martin's in the prime of his career and I think he will have the opportunities to achieve at least 35 points. He'll still remain as the Devils #1 defenseman and next June, we'll be hoping he sticks around.
What he has done so far:
|2009 - Paul Martin||9||0||2||2||1||0||0||0||0||23:57||9||0.0|
Now, this is a bit unfair as Martin has played a whopping 9 games before getting hurt. The low number of games means you should probably take his on-ice/off-ice numbers with a grain of salt. I'd take it anyway because Martin has been excellent in preventing shots from occurring. Yes, the goals against go up but I'd like to attribute that more to his regular partner in those 9 games as well as the possibility that the opposition had to take higher quality shots as the quantity hasn't been there. Defensively, great. Important, you bet - despite how the other defenders stepped up in his place, I think it's fair to say the Devils would want him back. Offensively, eh, not so much. He wasn't shooting much himself prior to injury and now because of it, I doubt he'll hit 30 points unless he gets hot upon return. Overall, I was pleased with Martin prior to the injury and with that small set, I'd say he was meeting my defensive expectations but not my offensive ones.
Johnny Oduya, What I Said Then:
I really do think the best is yet to come from Oduya. Given that he was the only UFA to be retained before July 1 (and to be the second-highest paid defenseman on the team), I would like to think that the Devils would agree. Therefore, I expect Oduya to do quite a bit in 2009-10. I want him to be the a definitive #2 defenseman: score 6-8 goals, put up about 35 points, regularly play 20 minutes or more per night, and get better on-ice/off-ice numbers on even strength. How Lemaire will use him on special teams, I think, will be a big factor as to hitting these offensive goals. If Oduya is a regular on a power play unit as well as being out there for Parise's and Elias' lines, I think he should hit those marks. Overall, I want Oduya to improve - and I really do think he has not hit his ceiling after 3 years of NHL hockey. Even cutting down his mistakes would represent such an improvement.
What he has done so far:
|2009 - Johnny Oduya||15||1||0||1||-4||16||0||0||0||21:34||13||7.7|
Prior to Oduya's injury, he really struggled to start the season. While he started off in that familiar #2 role along side Paul Martin, he was the weaker link in that pairing. He was burnt or made lethal mistakes in his own end for goals and it was pretty obvious. It's why his goals against when he's on the ice is so high and why the shots against when he's on the ice rises. I even wrote this post about Oduya trying to figure out how bad he has been. Not at all the best way to start a season, especially after signing a sweet deal. Then he suffered an injury that kept him out for November. After the injury, Oduya has looked a lot steadier and even potted in his first goal (and point) of the season. While he starts off with Mark Fraser, he's done well enough for Lemaire to give him about 20 minutes or more a night. So I'd like to think he's improving from that poor October he had. However, given his rough start, I have to say that Oduya is not currently meeting my expectations. I hope he continues to improve and turns it around; the talent is truly there.
Colin White, What I Said Then:
Essentially, I expect White to build on this 2008-09 season defensively (as in maintain these numbers or do better) improve his performance on the penalty kill, and continue working on keeping the penalties in minutes total as low as possible. Even if he can continue to cause fewer shots on net when he's out there like he did last season, then I would be very pleased. As far as physical play goes, I wouldn't mind more hits and blocked shots; but not at the cost of getting out of position or allowing more shots. White's not going to score a ton of points or be the team's hit-machine; but he definitely can be one of the better #3 defenseman in the NHL. And so that's what I'm expecting out of the 31 year old defenseman.
What he has done so far:
|2009 - Colin White||30||1||5||6||3||6||0||0||0||20:10||13||7.7|
As one of the top 4 remaining after Martin and Oduya went down to injury, White has showed why he's been a fixture on the Devils' top 4 for years. The shots against fall when the defensive defensemen is out there and he's facing the highest quality of competition behind Martin. It is a bit concerning that the goals against goes up while playing with a relatively high level of teammate quality. However, he's doing what I wanted to see. He leads the team in hits (50), tied for the team lead in blocked shots (44), and currently leads the defense on the penalty kill. On top of that, he's been very good with discipline. The only regular to have fewer penalty minutes is Andy Greene. I know, who would have thought Colin White as a disciplined defenseman when you consider how much of a PIM machine he was earlier in his career? I know some Devils fans don't fancy White, but you have to respect what he's done so far. White is at least meeting my expectations, if not exceeding them by a little bit.
Mike Mottau, What I Said Then:
Other than that, given his salary and his career, I don't know how much more one can really expect or Mike Mottau. It's great that the Devils gave him the opportunity and Mottau broke through to the NHL after all these years. But he is replaceable/can be improved upon. Yet, I don't think Devils will do that unless someone really impresses in training camp or until Mottau is free to leave next July. Until then, I expect Mottau to still remain as a regular defenseman. I think he'll start with White once again, but I fear that he may end up on the third pairing more often than not. I doubt that Mottau can score 20 points or more or improve his defense enough to get on a penalty killing unit or really clamp down on shots from the oposition. If he can provide small reductions in the shot against rate while on the ice in such a position, great.
What he has done so far:
|2009 - Mike Mottau||28||1||1||2||2||17||0||0||0||22:50||29||3.4|
Last season, he had significant changes on goals scored in a game when he stepped on the ice. This season, not so much. Like White, the shots against drop when Mottau's out there; but unlike White, the shots for also drop (and significantly so) - the goals don't change much. Despite having the second most shots on net among defensemen, it hasn't translated into points. But that's fine as I didn't expect much offense from him to begin with. Regardless, Mottau's minutes got jacked up after injuries to Martin and Oduya and he's handled the additional workload very well. That's something I didn't expect - just when I thought he was providing fair value for what he's worth as he did last season, he's now providing additional value by being steady overall with increased minutes. For that alone, I'd say Mottau is meeting my expectations. (Though, 17 PIM, Mottau? Watch your stick, please. And for the love of God, stop passing the puck into or across the slot in your own zone. Do those two things and I will have 0 complaints.)
Bryce Salvador, What I Said Then:
As far as what to expect? Well, I want Salvador to cut down on his minor penalties while maintaining his hits and blocked shots. One of his strengths is being physical and I don't want him to taken away from that - just that he should be more composed and intelligent about it. Also, I want him getting in the shooting lanes more often if only to cut down on the number of shots opponents take when he's out there. Lastly, if he's even kept on the penalty killing unit, then he needs to work on all facets of that play. The Devils PK unit wasn't strong last season and he was one of the reasons why. Again, at age 32, can we really expect him to do much more other than refine his game and hope his experience will lead to better decisions on-ice?
I expect him to be more defensively sound, but I know he's not going to turn into a supreme shut-down defenseman every night. Even if Colin White wasn't on the team, is he even a top-4 caliber defenseman? I doubt it based on his first full season with the Devils. And so I expect he will remain as the Devils #5 defenseman. At $2.9 million/year for 2 more seasons after 2009-10.
What he has done so far:
|2009 - Bryce Salvador||30||0||6||6||6||28||0||0||0||19:34||21||0.0|
I was pretty down on Salvador after last season. And in some ways, he hasn't exactly thrilled me with what he has done this season. He currently leads the defensemen with 9 minors, he fought twice (without Martin and Oduya, why is a veteran defenseman taking himself out of the game for 5 minutes, I ask you?), and the shots against actually rises when he's on the ice. All with the lowest quality of competition among these six defensemen. What I do like is his confidence to shoot the puck more, his durability, and he's been good on the PK. Per Behind the Net's PK numbers, the shots against per 60 do drop significantly (40.5 to 31.7) when he's out there; and only Andy Greene can say he's been on the ice for fewer power play goals against (Salvador: 5, Greene: 2). In terms of physical play, Salvador does have 41 hits (second on the team), and 38 blocked shots (tied with Mottau for second most on the team). That all said, I want to see more from Salvador. I want the shots against rate to fall when he's out there, especially if he's not facing strong competition. I want fewer penalties from #24. I can say he's looked like a #4 defenseman, and not just because he is one by default now. Since I set my expectations low, he's met my low expectations and exceeded them a little; but I want more from Salvador.
Andy Greene, What I Said Then:
Therefore, I expect Greene to have a better 2009-10 season. Hopefully, he won't get significantly injured like he did last season, ruining any momentum gained as the season goes on. While I don't think he should be on the power play, I do expect him to contribute a little more on offense - hopefully 10 points or more - and to take more shots. Defensively, I don't want to see the shots against per 60 minutes rise by 5 when he's out there; his positioning and decision making to step up on a forward needs to get better. Greene's not a physical player, he's not big, and he's not going to develop into a stud defenseman. But that's OK, all he has to do on the third pairing is play well enough at both ends such that he and his partner can spell the top 4 and work over the opposition's bottom lines. I think Greene can do it, and he'll pretty much have to perform better to stay as the Devils' #6 defenseman.
What he has done so far:
|2009 - Andy Greene||27||5||12||17||7||4||4||0||3||23:41||34||14.7|
To think, he didn't start the season on the third pairing! After a few games of Cory Murphy not being impressive, Lemaire gave Greene a shot and he never looked back. When Martin and Oduya went down, Lemaire put his trust into Greene and it has paid off significantly. He's already exceeded what I wanted from him on offense in terms of points and shots; and I never would have guessed he could handle an average of 26 minutes for a month. He doesn't succumb to pressure as much as he did last season and that's a big improvement. Instead, he's very calm with the puck either for a clearance, on the breakout, at the point, or when he jumps up on offense. He's the best disciplined defenseman among the regulars, he has 44 blocked shots, and he now creates a lot of questions. Should he be on the USA Olympic team? What do the Devils do when Martin returns? Is he a true top pairing defender after playing like one for the last 18 games? Did Lemaire and/or Lou think he had this in him? The only part of Greene's season that doesn't sparkle is that the shots against rate rises by 4 when he's on the ice; but that's mitigated by the drop in the goals against rate. That suggests that Greene's allowing quantity but not really quality. Greene has exceeded my expectations by almost-ridiculous levels so far this season.
You really can't complain about the current blueline with how they have played so far this season. Greene has been a relevation; White and Mottau have been good; Martin was good prior to injury; and the only defenders I'd like to see more from is Oduya (who's doing that now) and Salvador (who is meeting my admittedly low expectations). There's no problem in net, as usual. Consider that most of the top forwards have been meeting or exceeding expectations, then is it a surprise that the Devils have started this season at 21-8-1?
Please leave your comments about the defensemen and the goaltenders in the appropriate place called the comments. Thanks for reading.