The big news today involving the New Jersey Devils is a new position that the team will have to address in this offseason. Assistant coach Adam Oates will become the next head coach of the Washington Capitals. In addition, as noted in this NHL.com article about the hire, Oates was also named to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year. Clearly, it was a big day for him.
He leaves the Devils organization on very good terms. When Tom Gulitti first reported the news at Fire & Ice, he mentioned that he was well-liked among the players. In this second post about the Oates hiring by Gulitti, Lou himself was quoted as being "supportive" of the hire. As for a player reaction, this quote by team captain and impending free agent Zach Parise in this post by Gulitti was very favorable with one odd point. (The bold is my emphasis.)
"He was great for our power play, No. 1," Parise said. "I think he really helped develop a lot of players and develop a lot of guys’ games. Every morning he would have stuff on his laptop for you, showing you different things and helping guys out in different areas. Even defensemen too. He was unbelievable.
For the unaware, the power play was one of Oates' main responsibilities as an assistant in his two seasons with New Jersey. I'm sure Parise was being sincere, and I'm sure Oates instructing all players with video was helpful. However, I can't say I agree that Oates helped the power play while in New Jersey. Let's look at the team's power play performance over the last five seasons after the jump to see how they did under Oates and before him. After seeing the numbers, I think you'll agree that Oates going to Washington may not be such a big loss for the Devils despite how well regarded he is.
I went to NHL.com and Behind the Net for the team's power play numbers. NHL.com has the basic information associated with power plays: success rate and goals scored. Behind the Net has team data on shooting rates in various situations. Since teams play significantly more time in 5-on-4 situations than 4-on-3 or 5-on-3 situations - and look at the TOI if you don't believe me - I pulled the SF/60 (shots for per 60 minutes) rate for the standard one man advantage.
Personally, I favor looking at SF/60 over success rate to judge a power play's effectiveness. While the goal is to score, J Likens showed at Objective NHL that power play success is governed more by luck than skill. With such a short time frame to score as well as the differing situation, such as teams tending to set-up, attempt to get into the zone cleanly, go up against defensive players, a more effective power play would be the one that generating more shots on net. A team can't control, say, good bounces, but they can control the gameplan to create more shots that will lead to more potentially good bounces. Generating shots means the team had possession in the other team's end as well as the timing and space to take a shot. Those are pluses and more so than, say, a unit that is inconsistent but has good enough luck to have their relatively fewer shots go in more often.
Anyway, I went as far back as the 2007-08 season. John MacLean was the assistant who handled the power play then and did so until he got bumped up to head coach in 2009-10. That's when Oates came on staff.
|Season||PPG||PPG Rank||PP%||PP% Rank||BTN Link||SF/60||SF/60 Rank||5-on-4 S%|
You'll notice that in John MacLean's last two seasons as an assistant (07-08, 08-09, and I forgot he was in Lowell in 09-10, Mario Tremblay I think was in charge), the Devils generated at least 50 SF/60 in 5-on-4 situations. That's quite good. Back in 2007-08, it was one of the best in the league. In 2008-09, the power play performed incredibly well. Even with a low shooting percentage, it's no accident the Devils hit their highest success rate and power play goal total in the last five seasons in that season. Generating a lot of shots yields results. The team fell down to Earth in 2009-10, where a generous shooting percentage offset the drop. Still, that 2009-10 season had the power play units generate more than either team under Oates.
Interestingly, the 2010-11 season wasn't so bad for shot generation. The team was only a little bit below 50 and since the rest of the league happened to drop in rates, it turned out to be relatively average. The really low shooting percentage undercut them, as indicated by the five-year low in both power play goals and success rate. Of course, the low shooting percentage undercut most of the entire season.
The team rebounded in that regard last season and so the team found more power play success. Yet, they got worse at generating shots - a lot worse. This was a team that Oates mostly knew for one season, added Zach Parise and to a lesser extent Petr Sykora, and the team made moves to get a defenseman to play the right point: first Kurtis Foster and then Marek Zidlicky. On paper, one would expect a strong power play. Yet, the 11-12 team still managed to be the worst in putting shots on net in the last five Devils seasons. Sure, they were relatively average in terms of success; but imagine how much more successful they would have been if they were more effective in getting shots (and getting into the other team's end of the rink, for that matter). While plenty of blame should go to the guys on the ice for that, we have to at least assign some responsibility to the guy running that unit: Adam Oates.
This is not to say that it's "good riddance" to Oates. After all, the units themselves have changed from season to season, being near last in power play opportunities in past seasons - not in 2011-12 though - may have limited how many goals the units could have scored, and the coach isn't on the ice. I also don't think Oates was a waste on the bench. I think working individually with players can certainly help to some degree. It's always good for the room for an assistant coach to be well-regarded by those he's coaching. After all, this is a business and being able to work with someone has some value. I'm just saying that the team was not as effective on the power play under his tenure as it was in seasons prior. He can't be blamed for the shots not going in like in 2010-11, but he can be for the reduced rate of shots on net - which we saw in 2011-12. As such, the Devils should definitely keep this in mind as they look for a new assistant or someone else to take the power play over.
Truthfully, I couldn't tell you who's out there for the Devils that they can hire or whether the other assistants can step up and get the power play sorted out either in personnel or tactics to generate more shots. I know even less about available assistant coaches than I do about, say, the unrestricted free agents hitting the market. It's going to depend on who applies for the position and what Lou, Peter DeBoer, and the rest of management is looking for. I'm only hoping that power play shot generation is something they'll be asking about. The power play goal total may only hang around 50 in the future, but they only way I see that improving is to either shoot more and hope the percentages go their way again or to shoot more to make up for the drop in shooting percentage. And that's assuming the tactics will even fall in line with whoever is on the power play in 2012-13.
As for Oates, while I can't say I'll miss him in control of the power play, I'd like to congratulate him for his first head coaching position. I wish him the best of luck except in the four games he'll go up against New Jersey - including opening night.
In any case, what do you make of the news that Oates is now the head coach of Washington? Did Oates did a good job in New Jersey? Why or why not? What do you think about the team's power play under Oates compared to the power play under MacLean? Do you think the Devils need the eventual new assistant coach to get the power play to shoot more? Or do you think the Devils should prioritize other areas for the eventual new assistant coach? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this news and the Devils' power play performance in the comments. Thank you for reading.