For the last six games, New Jersey Devils rookie winger Mattias Tedenby has been a healthy scratch. Originally recalled on November 8th, he played in his first game on November 10, against the Sabres. Since then he played in 22 of 23 games. The one game he missed was against the Islanders on December 23, due to food poisoning - It was Jacques Lemaire's first game as head coach mind you.
Tedenby has been having trouble breaking Lemaire's line-up. He's only played in four games while Lemaire has been behind the bench. Lemaire's comments have been interesting regarding Tedenby's reason(s) for being scratched. He was mute during the first few games, then stated it was Tedenby's lack to "wow" him during practice. GM Lou Lamoriello stated later Tedenby had some soreness. Recently, Lemaire told media the reason is due to his defensive play.
What is really grinding people's gears is the fact that Adam Mair has combined for eight shifts and a little over five minutes of playing time the last two games. The veteran forward has been taking Tedenby's spot on the starting line-up, playing on the line Tedenby is playing on during practice (Mair plays defense).
This is a conundrum - Are Lemaire's fickle comments worth noting? Is Tedenby's defense that bad? What's the point of Adam Mair playing just over two minutes a game, wasting a spot on the bench, while the 2008 first round pick is up in the rafters? Would Tedenby be better off playing in Albany? I try to answer these questions and a lot more after the jump; please join me.
First, I'd like go over Lemaire's comments to the media during the last two weeks. They have changed over the last six games and I feel they need to be incorporated. Tedenby's last game was on New Year's Day against Carolina. He surprisingly saw only 5:28 of ice time, and only two shifts in the 1st period. He was called for a high sticking penalty, and the Hurricanes would score on the man advantage. Lemaire benched him for the rest of the period, only to find out in the intermission that the call was bogus - from Tom Gulitti:
"I sat him because I thought he took a bad penalty and I realized after the period it was not a bad penalty. It was not a penalty," Lemaire said. "So, I played him then."
This is perfectly fine. I'm pretty sure Lemaire doesn't have a TV or his phone out during the game when he's behind the bench. He went in for the intermission, watched some tape (to make adjustments) saw the replay, and changed his mind. But Tedenby only had 3:55 of TOI in the later two periods. Only eight shifts (well, actually seven; one shift was four seconds long). Other players were getting seven, eight shifts per period. Was this the plan all along? Was there something else that Tedenby did to deserve limited time?
After this game, Lemaire changed up the lines during practice to almost what they are now. Per Gulitti, the line were:
Ilya Kovalchuk - Patrik Elias - Nick Palmieri / Brian Rolston - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner / Mattias Tedenby - Jason Arnott - Vladimir Zharkov / Rod Pelley - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson / Matthew Corrente - Tim Sestito - Adam Mair.
He dived up the offense across all the lines, with Tedenby getting somewhat demoted. He is an offensive minded player, so it seemed he was a victim of Lemaire's "spread offense." The next game against the Wild, there was some confusion about who was out and it turned out Tedenby would be a healthy scratch for the first time. Later during the post game press conference, Lemaire was quiet about his decision in the 2-1 loss. Since he was reticent about other questions and agitated after the game, I would give him a pass especially after such a strange game (the game winner was a dump in gone wrong). Well, it turned out Tedenby wouldn't play the next game against the Flyers and again, Lemaire was quiet about it.
Lemaire seemed inclined not to answer questions about Tedenby after games. During off days on the on the hand, things get a little more clearer - sort of. Tedenby was brought up at practice the Wednesday prior. Here's the segment from Gulitti:
Lemaire said he "didn’t notice" anything about Mattias Tedenby in practice today that made him stand out after being a healthy scratch on Tuesday.
"It’s not a message really," Lemaire said of sitting Tedenby. "The kid is young. It doesn’t hurt to skip a game here and there. It’s nothing."
Lemaire said hasn’t decided yet whether Tedenby will play Thursday.
Tedenby said Lemaire did not explain to him why he sat him Tuesday.
"They have to try something," Tedenby said. ‘I don’t know what to say. I’ve got to work harder in practices to show that I want to play. That’s the only thing that I can do and I’m going to do my best every game and every practice and try to do what the coaches want me to do."
I'm fine with the coach sitting a 20-year-old rookie "a game here and there." Would this mean he would return to the line-up later in the week? Well, before the 2nd game of the home and home with the Flyers, Lemaire would decide to scratch Tedenby, once again bringing up practices:
‘When asked what Tedenby has to do to get back in the lineup, Lemaire replied, "Maybe catch my eye in practice, one, so that I’ll be thinking he needs a crack at it to play, (that) I want to see what he’s going to do because he’s doing well in practice.
"The thing is I’m asking the guys work," Lemaire said. "The guys that (Tedenby) will replace, those are the guys that I’m asking them to work hard and they do. If you work hard, I’m going to pull you out because I want to give a chance to the other guy? No. That just doesn’t work. I want the guys to work. Now, I got the guys to do this. It’s one step at a time."
Gulitti also mentioned that Lemaire's not going to make a line-up change for the sake of making a change. The guys who are in the line-up now are performing and wouldn't scratch them just to play Tedenby (from the same link above):
"We were in such a terrible spot," he said. "Now, it’s a little step that we have to make and this is one: having the guys that play hard keep playing that way. Not one game and OK, I’m going to play the other guy. Now, you played one game I’m going to play this guy because he didn’t play last game and just rotate. You won’t get chemistry by doing that."
He's doing well in practice, Lemaire just said so, but he's not getting the chance because the players in front of him are also playing well. I guess this is a good thing for a coach to have - having too many players performing well and playing hard, but not for a player like Tedenby.
In between the two game against Philly, Lamoriello mentions to Gulitti that Tedenby has some soreness. I don't want to call it a lie, players get bruises and bumps and play and practice with minor injuries (and Tedenby confirmed it later). But it seems both Lemaire (and now Lamoriello) are beating around the bush. Every day, it's something different. Us fans just want an answer.
The next week, Tedenby was scratched against the Lightning. Gulitti talked to Tedenby. Even he didn't know why he was being benched.
Tedenby said he has not been given any explanation from the coaching staff why he is not playing.
"It’s nothing I can control," he said. "I just have to make sure I practice hard every day. That’s the only thing I can control."
Again, it seems Tedenby isn't doing anything wrong. At this point is where I find Lemaire's comments a little spurious. He mentions Tedenby is playing well in practice, and that he's not going to play him to replace other players who are also playing well. At the same time, he's looking for Tedenby to wow him and to catch his eye. Well, which is it?
Well, I think we got the reason now (ironically right before the next game). This would be Teddy's fifth game in a row out. The reason now, his defensive play:
"He’s got good skills offensively. There’s no doubt he’s going to be a nice, a good little hockey player in the near future. But right now we have the guys that we need. He will have to show more in practices, be better defensively. That’s about it."
In the same article, Lemaire mentions the good play from the rest of the team, especially the bottom two lines:
"Right now, the team is playing better," Lemaire said.. "I have all the guys doing pretty much what I’m looking for [that] we need to improve. Changing the lineup wouldn’t be a good thing at this time. I say that is and tomorrow it could change.
"I like what the third and fourth line is doing, so where are you going to put him? So, that’s the reason why he’s not in."
Again, we see some more contradictions. He wants Tedenby to be better defensively, fine. Then he mentions the good play by everyone else, and there isn't room for Tedenby. Again, this a good situation to be for Lemaire, and wouldn't you know it? Teddy would be scratched for the sixth time against the Panthers.
Notes: Here's a chart of Devils' forwards who have played over 10 games and that are on the current New Jersey Devils roster. The players are ranked in "Corsi Rel" (Relative Corsi = Corsi On minus Corsi Off). I have also created some my own calculations: Goals Against per 60 Relative (GA/60 Rel) = Goals Against per 60 On minus GA per 60 Off; Shots Against per 60 Relative (SA/60 Rel) and Shot Attempts against per 60 relative (ALLA/60 Rel). Shot attempts are goals, shots, missed shots, and blocked shots combined.
Tedenby ranks seventh in terms of Relative Corsi. He manages a positive Corsi while he's on the ice (4.83), but the team is better when he's off the ice. This may not be because of poor defense on his part (a positive Corsi On), but better offense by other teammates.
Goals against actually go down by almost a full goal when he's on the ice (negative is good). Shots on goal against increase by over a shot and a half. When Tedenby is on the ice though, Shot attempts go up by over 5 shots. That's the largest among these forwards, the closest player being 2 shots better (Kovalchuk). This is all with a low quality of competition with the second best quality of teammates.
The poor defense is justified. A quick look at Mair and -15+ Relative Corsi, and one would say bench him. Though goals against only increase by 0.20, shots on goal against decrease by 0.4 and his total shot attempts are practically even. Managing that Corsi, yet seeing goals increase by a small amount does also justifies his good bottom six play. This is all with a slightly better quality of competition than Tedenby and a much lower quality of teammates.
Is it possible that in Tedenby's four games with Lemaire as coach, he just didn't perform well? Well the next chart breakdowns those four games, with his ice time, his line-mates and all their respected Corsi numbers. Perhaps he wasn't lined up with beneficial players:
I obtained his line-mates by matching him up with the two forwards he shared time with the most using Time On Ice's Head to Head Ice Time (like this one). The time's next to the line-mates are the time Tedenby was said player were together. The Corsi numbers were the players 5-on-5 for the whole game.
In the first three games, Tedenby enjoyed some good company. He got PP time as well. He managed a net Corsi of -3 under Lemaire. What shocked me was that Tedenby was able to manage a very bad -6 in only 4:45 minutes of even strength time in his last game. That's not good at all, and it's looking like this could be the reason for his limited time and eventual benching. So, it does look like Tedenby needs time to develop the defensive side of his game. If the players in front of him continue to play well (and they have been), he will continue to be scratched, despite Lemaire's "skipped here and there" comments.
It is confusing that Tedenby practices with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Zharkov to only see Mair take his spot during games. The last two games however, Kovalchuk has been double shifting with this line. With Adam Mair receiving minuscule time, maybe Lemaire doesn't want to limit Tedenby's time like that. But it can't hurt though. This season is over. Baring a double digit winning streak (most likely more than one), this is the perfect time for a player like Tedenby to develop and play. The coaches talk and make adjustments during the game; Tedenby would benefit hearing these things on the bench rather than watching from the stands. The Devils would even use the young forward for special teams on the powerplay. He has two powerplay goals and did his part during the good stretch the powerplay had. Funny, the powerplay is now 1 for 17 in the last six games.
Say he stays put and rides the bench some more. He practices in the big league, gaining knowledge from Lemaire hopefully seeing his defensive play improve in practice. Perhaps a player gets hurt (please no) or sees their play diminish to only gain a spot in the line-up. Will studying and just practicing hurt his development though?
The other option is sending him down to Albany where he can get the playing time he needs (and wants). Jacob Josefson is down there and is certainly benefiting. Could this option hurt? The only downfall is he will no longer be taught by Lemaire gaining the knowledge he would while up in the big league.
So now, I ask you, the reader, what should the Devils do? Should they continue the same path of scratching the rookie, making him work hard in practice and hopefully gain a spot in the line-up here and there. Should they play him, despite his rough defensive numbers? Or should they send him down to Albany to develop by playing and not learning as much as he would while in New Jersey? Please let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading, I know it was long.