Andy Greene is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, the biggest one from the New Jersey Devils. Over the past few weeks, I looked at Greene's underlying numbers separately and among other impending UFA defensemen (here and here) to get a sense of what he may be worth this summer. With the real possibility that the Devils may not be able to retain him or even sign a "replacement," the question has to be asked: can he be replaced from within?
In Part 1, I compared Greene's on-ice/off-ice numbers at 5-on-5 play with other Devils defenseman, finding him to not really stand out too much. Greene also was just "among the pack" when it came to quality of competition and Corsi at 5-on-5 play in Part 2. What is in Greene's favor was his production and his PDO from last season suggests that he could rebound next season, which I pointed out in Part 3. So far, the first two parts indicate that he could be replaced without too much of a problem, but the reality that he's only Devils defenseman who could put up more than 20 points - shown in Part 3 - makes it a far tougher call.
Today, I want to take a quick look at special teams. Greene played a lot of minutes at even strength for the Devils last season, but he was also a main part of the penalty killers - which ultimately did quite well with a 83.4% success rate, the eleventh best in the league.
This is going to be much more brief than the other three parts since only so many defensemen played on special teams. Plus, the population size is much smaller since these are, well, special situations that only last for a few minutes at a time. It's particularly small for the Devils since they did not draw a lot of power plays or get called for many penalties last season. Throw in the fact that the Devils often went with four or five forwards as their first power play unit, many defensemen just didn't get PP time. All the same, let's see if there's anything that can be learned from special teams performance.
Let's get the power play out of the way. According to the NHL's website, only two defensemen last season averaged at least a minute of power play time per game last season on New Jersey: Matt Taormina (3:07) and Greene (1:16). Yep, that's it.
The 5-on-4 stats at Behind the Net don't look good for either . When Taormina came on the ice, the rate of shots on fell, the rate of missed shots rose, and the rate of shots getting blocked rose. Greene was a bit better: while the rate of shots also fell, so did the other two rates. Well, maybe that's not really "better," since it suggests a drop in total attempts for NJ when he was on the ice.
Of course, I would take all of them with a grain of salt just because of the low amount of time on ice to begin with. Moreover, the Devils power play was bad with and without either of them. That it sucked and the Devils coaches still went with 5 forwards on their first power play units perhaps is telling of their opinion of the blueliners' offensive skills. Truthfully, I don't think there should be a concern about replacing Greene on the power play unless the Devils plan to have at least one defenseman feature on the first unit next season. Even then, it won't take much to do what Taormina and Greene did last season.
The penalty kill, on the other hand, is another story.
Greene was a regular on the penalty kill, third on the Devils last season in shorthanded time on ice (2:19). according to the NHL's website. Colin White (2:46), Henrik Tallinder (2:21), and Anton Volchenkov (2:08) were the other regulars; though Olivier Magnan (2:10) got featured on the PK when he was called up to the team. Mark Fraser also got not insignificant minutes in shorthanded situations when he was suiting up in New Jersey, as he averaged 1:17 last season. More players and more minutes will make for a more interesting take.
According to the 4-on-5 numbers at Behind the Net, Greene stands out. The shots against rate drops significantly when Greene's on the ice, as does the rate of missed shots against. While it may not seem great that the blocked shots rate also fell when Greene , as with the 5-on-4 numbers, it suggests to me that total attempts against were reduced when Greene was actively killing penalties. That's a very good thing in this case, though. The opponent attempting fewer shots means the PK was effective. In other words, Greene contributed quite a bit to the success of the PK units last season. Were Greene to go elsewhere, it's not going to be a simple hole to replace on the PK unit.
That said, most of the other five Devils don't look too bad in my opinion. That shouldn't be a surprise. Based on the team stats at Behind the Net, the Devils did only give up 36 goals in 4-on-5 situations (tied for third best) and had the second best shots against per 60 rate with 43.0. So while the underlying numbers for White, Volchenkov, or Tallinder were not as impressive as Greene's; the overall success of the team suggests to me that the PK won't necessarily be in shambles for 2011-12 if Greene goes elsewhere. Though, the Devils will still need to identify someone else on the blueline who can give about 2 minutes of PK work per game and do it well. Failing that, then a few defenders who can handle about a minute or so and rotate them in and out. Fortunately, the Devils have other players with skillsets appropriate for a penalty kill. Whether or not they'll be as effective as Greene is another question entirely.
In a few days, I'll try to wrap up this series into some sort of answer. All the same, what do you think of these findings? Were you surprised to see how good the underlying numbers looked for Greene on 4-on-5 situations? Who do you think should be on special teams for next season, given the current roster, with or without Greene? Did this brief look at special teams sway your mind one way or another about Greene? Please leave your answers to these questions and other comments about Greene and the Devils defensemen on special teams in the comments. Thanks for reading.