The date was November 6, 2013. This was officially the day that marked the beginning of "The Cam Janssen Experiment". Credit for the title of this article to acasser. He used the phrase "Cam Janssen Experiment" yesterday. This phrase perfectly describes the oddity of what is occurring right now with the Devils lineup decisions.
At the time this strange experiment began, the Devils were coming off a weekend of back to back shutouts at their expense. The team had a couple lingering injuries (some of which are still lingering), and needed to add a forward. Since the team struggled mightily to score and even get shots on goal, the call up was offensive dynamo Cam Janssen. Yes, he of three career NHL goals prior to this season. Sure, it made all the sense in the world. Cam is mostly known for playing Punch-out with people's faces. But, as Lou explained, "He brings a little different dimension. He’s an excitable guy. He brings energy. He brings enthusiasm. He’s a great locker room guy. He’s got a lot of things going for him."
Amazingly enough, he also brought goals. Cam Janssen nearly matched his career scoring total in his first two games back in the NHL, both Devils victories. When the first goal happened, I think we all understood there would be a lot more Cam in our lives. While he didn't do anything wrong in the game prior to scoring, he didn't do anything of note either. His only shot on goal was his goal, and it happened to be a well executed deflection. When he scored again just two games later, it was borderline unbelievable. A guy who, before this season, had 3 goals over 312 previous NHL games, just scored 2 goals in a 3 game span. After checking to make sure we were all still alive, I remarked to one of my friends at the Rock that I could now tell my future children one day that I once saw Cam Janssen score a goal live.
Now 10 games into the Cam Janssen experiment, (7 more games since his last goal) and Cam Janssen has only one additional shot on goal. It's going to be a at least 25 - 657 games until he scores again putting up one shot every seven games. On top of that, Cam has only one fight. A staged bout against Daniel Carcillo last Thursday in Los Angeles. It was a pointless fight for several reasons; it was staged, he didn't win, and most importantly - the Devils were getting steamrolled before the fight, and they continued to get steamrolled after the fight. Regardless, this isn't about the merits if fighting at all - this one just happened to be stupid.
I'm just listing the accomplishments of Cam in the 10 games he's played: Two goals, four shots, one fight, thirteen hits. The two goals (and three of the shots) came in the first three games. Then just one additional shot over his last seven games played. He has 13 hits over 10 games. For a point of reference, Mattias "Bruiser" Tedenby has 12 hits, also in 10 games played.
I wouldn't expect any more production in the upcoming games either. Not just because it's Cam Janssen, or because his PDO currently sits at an insane 1144. No one is going to do all that much playing only 4:42 per game. For a point of reference on this ice time, look at the other Devils' forwards. No one else among them is averaging less than 10 minutes per game. For more detail on the situation, here is a closer look at the Devils forwards and their time on ice breakdown from Extra Skater. Cam only plays 10% of the team's even strength ice time every game (and just 7.9% of the game in total). His close score fenwick is horrendous, and he is generally facing the easiest competition possible in the few times he is on the ice.
Herein is where lies the problem. And it's not Cam Janssen's fault. As Lou said in the same interview quoted earlier, "Cam is Cam. He’s got to be disciplined on the ice and play his position." For the most part Cam has done this on the ice as best he can so far this season. The problem is, the best he is able to play his position is not good enough to get even semi-regular shifts during the course of the game. The Devils knew who they were bringing in and what he could do, and they made no bones that it wasn't really a decision made because he could help out the most on the ice. There were other reasons they wanted Cam around. The team had no confidence at the time. Why not bring in a guy who seemingly has confidence to spare? Maybe some of it will rub off.
Well, whatever the reasons, coincidental or not, it worked for Cam and it worked for the Devils. Over the first 8 games of the Cam Janssen experiment, the Devils were flying high at 6-2. However, there were signs by game four that having Janssen in the lineup could be problematic. In the fourth game against the Rangers, the Devils, while on the road, faced an aggressive forecheck from their opposition that pinned them back frequently. Cam often looked out of place in his early shifts and was not keeping up with the run of play. Pete DeBoer had no choice but to bench Cam for 2/3rd of the game. This is typically the trend in any sort of close game - Cam playing semi-regular shifts in the first period, possibly a couple early in the second (maybe not), and then stapled to the bench for the remainder of the game.
In years past, it was easy for the Devils to get past this problem because of Ilya Kovalchuk. He could double shift throughout the game, making the idea of playing shorthanded a non-issue on most nights. This group of Devils forwards is not built in any way to play shorthanded for over half of every game by choice. It's borderline absurd when you have literally one line producing on a nightly basis. Yes, it's easier to overlook when the team is winning games. But, after a loss to Winnipeg, dropping any sort of games this week to shorthanded Carolina or terrible Buffalo, and it won't be so easy to overlook. Were talking about a group of forwards which isn't jumping off the page at you in the first place, even on their best day. It's sort of unbelievable at this point that they are purposely handicapping themselves by basically agreeing to play one forward short every night.
There is no one in this Devils group of forwards who can double shift consistently on a nightly basis, and there's not even a great group to work by committee. The main guys you would want in this situation (Jagr, Elias, Zubrus, Zajac) are not really an option. The first three, mostly due to their age. The team is getting the most they can out of these players on a nightly basis. Zajac maybe could be an option, but with all the special teams time he gets, I'm not sure it's such a good idea to try to get any more out of him. He is finally playing at a high level. No one else among the forwards is playing well enough in their single shifts to warrant double shifts.
So, no second line production (which hopefully will now change), no third line production, and a fourth line that has to be disassembled at some point between 10 - 25 minutes into every game. In Tom Gulitti's recap of the Winnipeg game, Peter DeBoer said, "I miss that fourth-line identity. We’ve moved some of those guys around at the expense of having a fourth line that could do what they did." But to have a fourth line identity, you have to have a fourth line. Obviously, DeBoer wants his CBGB back. Right now, that's not an option with Gionta out. But lets just say it is an option soon. It probably will be, and you know DeBoer will be using Stephen as soon as he's available.
You could put your CBGB line back together, and they will produce to a certain extent, as they have in the past. It may not be ideal, but you esentially will have 2 fully functioning lines (1st and 4th). Then you could easily play Jacob Josefson higher in the lineup. Elias-Josefson-Brunner worked in the pre-season. I know that's not saying anything, but why not try it again even once? Regardless, through some work, it should be relatively easy to find one other line that works among the remaining six players, whatever that line may be. That would give the team three productive lines. It's certainly more production than the team is getting right now from up and down the lineup.
Regardless, injured or not, I truly don't believe Stephen Gionta to be the key to having a successful fourth line. He can fill the role (somewhat..but that is a discussion for another day...). The key is just having players you are comfortable putting on the ice for regular shifts throughout the game who can hold their own to some extent. You could theoretically get this accomplished with either Rod Pelley or Tim Sestito on a very short term emergency sort of basis, even Mike Sislo, Stefan Matteau or Harri Pesonen. You could play Tedenby higher up in the lineup and keep Josefson on the fourth line. There are a number of options. The point being, there are others who could fill this role. Stephen Gionta's injury isn't the cause of having no "fourth line identity" or fourth line production. The reason is consistently using Cam Janssen in the lineup.
In the previous quote, DeBoer alluded to moving someone up in the lineup, and that was Steve Bernier. "I felt like we had two lines there in the third period that were generating something and that’s the first time in a while that’s happened," DeBoer said. "Now, we’ve got to continue to build on that.." This is very true, and one of the solutions, for now, may just be the Henrique-Elias-Bernier (or Elias-Henrique-Bernier) line. This will almost certainly begin the night tonight as one of the three lines. If Steve Bernier works out higher up the lineup, keep him there for now. Ryan Carter and Jacob Josefson are both decent hockey players. Give them someone who is going to actually play and not just sit on the bench all game. Right now, Mattias Tedenby is the only other available forward. Play him. Play him over Cam Janssen. Make a fourth line of players you can and will actually use. If, for no other reason, to make your other struggling lines more productive and cohesive. If this can't be accomplished with the players in the locker room right now, it's time to bring up someone else from Albany.
The problem with Cam Janssen in the lineup is that the coach (understandably so) is not comfortable at all playing him in any sort of game critical situation that requires actual hockey. There is no one among the current group of forwards to eat up his shifts throughout the game and be productive. Cam's not in the lineup to fight, since that has happened once in ten games. He may be a fantastic guy, and a really positive presence. He may bring the awesomest bag of awesome to the locker room every day, making it worth it, in some way that I can't comprehend, to use a roster spot on him. If so, really? But fine, whatever. Just sit him in the team box when game time comes if there's no comfort level there to actually use him in game situations. This group of forwards right now needs all the help they can get, not to go into every game willingly intending to use 11 men rather than 12.