#1) Why is Adam Oates still coaching the power play?
The issue of Oates being an assistant coach in NJ has been widely talked about this season, and everyone has their own opinions/complaints. With that in mind, I’ll save you the boredom of reading more opinions, and instead show you a few statistics that I haven’t seen mentioned during these debates. So here we go. When Oates was hired as the power play coach prior to the start of last season, there was much hype as to how much this former NHL great would be able to help boost the production of our power play units. But what exactly were these claims based off of? In other words, what experience did Oates ever have as a power play coach? Has Oates ever demonstrated success in coaching and guiding the power play units for an NHL team? Or were we simply hiring him off of his body of work performed as a player in the NHL? The fact that Oates was only the powerplay coach in Tampa Bay for one season should already show you that this guy doesn’t have much experience under his belt. In fact, the stint in Tampa Bay was the only year Oates had ever coached in the NHL prior to joining the Devils staff. So how did the Tampa Bay PP unit perform before Oates was there, while he was there, and after he left for NJ?
To the stats:
Before Oates arrived, the Tampa Bay power play unit performed as follows:
For comparisons sake, the Devils were ranked better (#15) than the Lightning in the year before Oates coached in Tampa.
Now for the year Oates spent as assistant coach in Tampa:
New Jersey’s rank during this same season was #11.
Following the 2009-2010 season, Oates left Tampa for NJ. Let’s look at how both teams PP stats fared following this transition:
It’s no secret NJ had a horrible year which coincided with the first year Oates was in NJ. So maybe it’s unsurprising that our PP % ranked #28 in the league last season. We also scored the fewest PP goals out of any team.
Looking at the above stats we can speculate and draw conclusions (right or wrong) on a number of issues. But one thing pops out vividly: what exactly did Oates show in Tampa that qualified him as being worthy to hire by New Jersey? If one simply looks at the overall team rankings for PP% both before and while Oates was in Tampa, it’s obvious the team improved. (They went from being ranked #19 to #8 overall under Oates) The problem is that this obviously doesn’t tell the entire story. Despite jumping in the standings by 11 places, the Tampa PP actually only scored 2 more goals than they had the previous season. A small difference in shorthanded goals and the amount of overall opportunities aside, the difference between Tampa’s PP before and during Oates was all but negligible. To make matters worse, the Lightning PP unit drastically improved following Oates’ departure. After he left, Tampa responded by improving their overall conversion % and putting up 6 more goals than they had the previous year. Ironically, their SHGA also increased quite dramatically. On the other hand, and as I mentioned above, the Devils dropped significantly under Maclean and Oates, falling from #11 all the way to #28. So far this season we’ve obviously continued our PP woes, and are currently ranked #21 overall in PP conversion %.
Summary: Oates has no body of work which justified his original candidacy as a legitimate PP coach for our Devils, let alone a body of work which serves as evidence for why he should continue to be employed here. Our failures on the PP have been miserable despite having what I consider to be a top PP unit which should rival that of any other team in the league. Oh, and did I mention our SHGAs, and how we’re on pace to break the record?
Scoring PP goals equates to additional points on the board, and as a team that is traditionally hungry for any type of goal they can get, they’re even more crucial for our Devils. We’re involved in tons of close games and our SH unit has stepped up to provide secondary scoring to our 5on5 production. Who knows how our win/loss column might look had our PP unit simply performed to that of the league average, or slightly better. It also infuses confidence. Winning games adds confidence; players adding to their scoring totals boosts confidence, and not having a miserable PP unit that makes you more nervous about letting up a goal than you are excited about scoring one will add to confidence as well.
With that said, fire Oates.
#2) Why is Kovalchuk still averaging so much TOI per game?
Kovalchuk continues to average over 24 minutes of ice time per game. That’s good for more minutes per game than he’s ever averaged in his career. Has Kovy been terrible this year, absolutely not, but he continues to not fully live up to the expectations all of us had before he signed his big deal here. Elite players thrive on lots of opportunities and ice time, I get it, but we have to ask ourselves if we’re potentially burning out one of our star players. Kovy is still an incredible athletic specimen who has many years to help this team win a Cup, but can he really handle averaging two more minutes per game than the next closest forward in the NHL this year? Seriously, Kovy is not only playing more than he ever has before, and he’s not only playing far more than every other NHL forward this season, but he’s also has a higher ATOI than many NHL defensemen so far. I’m all for playing our best players as much as possible, but we can’t forget about how this may be affecting other areas of his game, and our team’s overall game.
Kovy also leads the league in turnovers/giveaways. This isn’t so much of a surprise since NHL.com statistics list him as a frequent overall leader in this category throughout the years. But the rate he turned the puck over early this season begged the question of whether the extra burdens of ice time we are continually relying on him for might be resulting in these elevated turnover numbers. Is he more tired than he traditionally is during games, and is he reaching a level of tiredness earlier in games than he has previously been accustom to? Has he been forced to slow his play down to ensure he’s able to survive his many shifts throughout each game? Does this "slowing down" of play result in him becoming more risky with the puck, perhaps even more "lazy"? Last year Kovy showed us all just how incredible of a second-half force he can be. Will Kovy be as dominant during the second-half of this season, and if not, will we end up attributing it to burning him out in the first half? We need him to be ready for the playoffs, we need him to be ready for future seasons, and we need to make sure we aren’t putting him in a position that facilitates the occurrence of an injury to one of our stars. These are all questions we need to consider as we move forward.
Consider the depth of last year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Boston Bruins. I will talk a little on our depth later, but comparing the Devils ATOI totals of this year to the Bruins of last year shows what a disparity there actually is. Boston’s top line averaged about 18-19 minutes of TOI per game, Parise and Kovy are averaging 22 and 24. This inevitably leads to not just the potential for star-burnout, but also a nearly non-existent fourth line.
Recent Stanley Cup champions and great NHL teams alike have shown us just how important depth, and particularly depth scoring, can be in winning it all. I understand that teams like Chicago and Boston had lower lines which could both put the puck in the net and fight, but I still don’t think NJ has that luxury. Instead, I question why we have taken the approach so far this season of ensuring we bring the fighting element more than the depth scoring element. Has asking Boulton and Janssen to lace up the skates and attempt to play hockey really resulted in deterring opponents from taking liberties on our players? We’re paying these guys to do something, fight, which I wholeheartedly enjoy as a part of the game, but when they continually prove they can’t do anything else I can’t help but become frustrated. Eric Boulton, and more particularly Cam Janssen, are the definition of one-dimensional NHL players. They literally cannot do anything but fight and skate full speed into the boards, hoping they hit or make contact with their target before it moves out of the way. Why are we paying these guys to only fight when there are plenty of similar types of players on other teams which can also do it, and even score occasionally as well? I don’t think removing Boulton and Janssen would be a detriment the safety of our team. Clarkson can play hockey and drop the gloves as well, Salvador can drop the gloves, and even Kovy has shown he’s willing to occasionally as well. And that’s just to name a few. The fact is that we have plenty of players who will stick up for each other should the opportunity present itself as necessary. Also important to remember is how much the league is shifting towards a system where players will no longer be needed, or even allowed, to protect each other as they have in the past. The Shanahammer and the league have shown that they desire to be the judge, jury, and executioner on all such types of illegal offenses. This transition, in which the league focuses more on player safety than ever before, clearly signals the decline of enforcers in the NHL.
4) Why aren’t we using our organizational depth effectively?
With the removal of Boulton and Janssen from the lineup, the roster vacancys allow us to finally ice a team that gives us the best chance to score goals, play defensive hockey, and win games each night. And honestly, what other areas are as important as these in a given hockey game? Opinions on Vladimir Zharkov are mixed, but I still love him and long for the day in which he can attempt to prove himself in the NHL again. I’m also a major Tedenby fan, but halfway through the season my stance on him has considerably and understandably diminished.
Josefson is pretty much back, Zajac will most likely return within several weeks, and it’s time to appropriately and effectively utilize our organizational depth. Call up Zharkov, keep Zalewski, or keep Palmieri, it doesn’t matter, but decisions must be made which result in us icing a better team each night than we have been all season.
Zharkov – Zajac – Clarkson
Tedenby – Josefson – Palmieri
I can’t find any faults or reasons to not be excited about those lines. We’d obviously be dealing with major sacrifices in the category of ENERGY, but I think a short amount of time would show that the pros ultimately and overwhelmingly outweigh the cons. Also keep in mind that with my suggestion in #2 above, we would be playing our superstars less per game so that they would be more fresh and have the legs to play as quality of hockey as they can late into games. This gives us more TOI to allot to our lower lines, as past great teams have done. Very roughly: 18-19 minutes to our first line, 15-16 to our second, 15-16 to our third, and 12-13 to our fourth.
Is there a lineup more skilled than the one above? I can’t think of one, and yet we still aren’t using it. To top it off, the above lineup is also infused with youth. I think it will lead to exciting hockey from all 4 lines that will result in more goals, better long term chemistry, and more wins. What’s not to love about a hockey team that can actually play the game?
#5) Why hasn’t Zach Parise been re-signed?
I don’t want to hear it anymore. I already know that traditionally, Lou does not negotiate with players during the season. The reason for this is so that it does not become a distraction. Hello? Unless you’re a Devils fan living under a rock, the uncertainty surrounding Parise’s contract is already a distraction, and has been since summer. (Even someone who lives under THE Rock is probably aware).
Before the season started I was nervous about whether Parise still "had it". Would he be the same Parise we love? Would he bring that same ridiculous intensity and passion to each game as he used to before his injury? The answer is a resounding yes. After a bit of a slow start, Parise has shown his ability to adapt to any sort of situation he’s placed in. New linemates, no problem, Parise will transition his game so that it brings out the best in everyone around him. We’ve known him as a guy who can score the ugly goals down low, but this year Parise has demonstrated his effectiveness at passing and developing plays. The emergence of the Henrique/Parise duo has been spectacular to watch, especially on the PK. Henrique deserves a ton of credit for pretty much saving this team and season, but in my eyes there’s no doubt that much of his effectiveness can be attributed to the play of Parise. Who’s the guy who often springs Henrique for those breakaway opportunities? Who’s the guy who ends up having multiple 2-0s in the same game, and decides not to take the shot on any of them? Parise is an unselfish player, the Captain, and the face of this team. He pursues opponents with a dogged determination unlike that possessed by any other player in the greatest hockey league in the world. It’s no secret he’s about to be a UFA, and it’s no secret that every team in the league is clawing at the opportunity to attain his services.
As I said above, prior to the season I was nervous that Parise might not be the same player after his injury. He’s now shown that question to be a thing of the past. Parise is back, and arguably better than ever before. He’s stated all along that he loves NJ and that he wants to stay in NJ. And we need him to stay here as well. Brodeur was worthy of an in-season contract negotiation. Why isn’t Parise?
Why is it, that halfway through the season, I’m hearing more tidbits and details about the negotiations from JP Parise, Parise’s father, than I am hearing from Lou Lamoriello? To me, this is unacceptable. The only unanswered question which had an answer contingent on time elapsing is now no longer unanswered. Parise is back, and he’s proven that he’s more than worthy of being signed to a big contract, so Lou needs to put an end to the shenanigans and lock him down for a long period of time. Parise is the type of player who commands and deserves a cap hit of $7-8+ million per year. Lou needs to offer it now and see what the response is. If Parise is going to demand $9-10+ million per season then the process of negotiating and attempting to work it out needs to be initiated now rather than later. Decisions must be made prior to the deadline. If we can afford to keep him then do it and get it over with. If not, then it better be because Parise surprised us all by demanding an unreasonable amount of money for him to stay in NJ. If this is going to be the case, figure it out now. In the terrible situation in which it becomes evident that Parise will not be re-signing, then he needs to be dealt and we need to be compensated accordingly.
Those are my "questions begging for answers"; do you have any that I forgot or any of your own? Which do you think is the most glaring of questions? Do you agree/disagree with any of them? Thanks for your input.
All FanPosts and FanShots are the respective work of the author and not representative of the writers or other users of In Lou We Trust.