Until the final month of the season, the New Jersey Devils were near or at the bottom in generating shots for per 60 minutes in 5-on-5 play and in the bottom third of average shots per game. They bloomed in that regard in April - not necessarily with goals - to finish tied with Edmonton at 26.9 SF/60, the sixth lowest in the league and their overall shots per game average did jump to 18th in the league at 28.4. While the Devils were absolutely fantastic in their percentage of getting shooting attempts through compared to their opponents, it would've helped if the team was more prolific are putting rubber on net more often. Given their awful shooting percentage in 2013, maybe not that much in this past season, but it would be a benefit going forward. There's no way to score when you don't shoot, to turn a phrase.
Among the Devils' many pending unrestricted free agents, David Clarkson sticks out among the group. He's just under the age of 30. He's coming off a 30-goal season in the previous 82-game season and put up 15 goals in 48 games, which would result in 25 goals in a full season provided he scored at the same rate. As Mike noted last week, Clarkson was sensational in terms of possession at even strength and generating shots on net. So much so that he finished fourth in the NHL in shots on net in this past season. They weren't all great shots, but you can't deny that kind of production. For a team that could stand to put more shots on frame, keeping a guy like Clarkson seems like a logical conclusion.
Of course, that's also what is going to make many teams throw a lot of money at him this summer. It wouldn't surprise me if some of those offers are so large that it would make sense for New Jersey to walk away. That said, this year's UFA class of forwards doesn't really feature many prolific shooters. I took a list of the top 34 scoring UFA forwards - I replaced KHL-bound Roman Cervenka with Dustin Penner just for kicks - from CapGeek and added their shot totals from NHL.com. I organized the following chart by shots on goal per game to highlight how far ahead Clarkson is from the rest of the class. Incidentally, I also added the player's point totals if their point per game rate held up for 82 games, their shooting percentage for the 2013 season, their career shooting percentage, and the difference between the those percentages. I did all that to flesh out what each forward done on a production-basis.
|2013 UFA||Team||Pos.||Age||GP||G||A||Pts||82Pts||SOG||SOG/GP||2013 S%||Career S%||Diff|
This not the strongest UFA class of forwards in terms of shooters. Among the top 35 in scoring - and that's a range that goes as low as 15 points - only 16 forwards have averaged over two shots per game. I figure only 12 of them may actually be available since I can't imagine Daniel Alfredsson and Teemu Selanne signing elsewhere, who knows what a 41-year old Jaromir Jagr will do, and I don't think it's even an argument that Patrik Elias needs to be re-signed. Only two in that group of 16 have averaged over three shots per game: David Clarkson and a 35-year old Jarome Iginla. And Clarkson smoked Iginla in SOGs this past year. If Clarkson does go elsewhere, it's going to take several people to replace that amount of shooting alone. Even if Clarkson stays, the Devils have only so many viable options from the market.
Of course, it's not all doom and gloom. If you're a believer the Devils should go after Nathan Horton, then you should be pleased to find him high on this list. He even shot at less than his career percentage in 2013, so perhaps he could bloom a little bit in the future. This isn't to say he's a must in the coming offseason, but it's additional evidence to like the guy. The Devils may want to keep an eye on Damien Brunner of Detroit, too. He just finished his first NHL season after plying his trade in Switzerland. It's unknown as far as what his future career will hold. Usually, guys don't get that much better at age 27. But he certainly had no aversion to firing away and he did end up just ahead of Horton in points too. Lastly, the Devils may be wise to get two guys on the lower end of the two-shots per game rate on the list to try to make the team shooting rate succeed by committee. Ryane Clowe and Derek Roy would be two that would be worth a closer look, especially since they shot way under their career shooting percentages last season. As with stocks, it's preferable to buy a forward coming off a lull than if he was coming off a hot year.
That said, this chart should pour some cold water on the notion that Clarke MacArthur can really replace David Clarkson in terms of shooting. Given that Clarkson's aggressive approach to firing the puck is an asset of his, I don't see how MacArthur can fit in a similar spot. He may do other things well, but generating shots hasn't been one of them. Likewise, Brenden Morrow was not only one of the least prolific shooters but he was firing them in at a rate of 21.8%. That's not going to last. He's basically a "buyer beware" free agent, along with Mike Ribiero or Tyler Bozak in terms of production. There are others on this list that may be good fits in other roles, but not as someone to replace Clarkson, should that be necessary.
I know that this is only one piece of the proverbial puzzle. I will look at other metrics in the future, such as on-ice Corsi rates (spoiler: Clarkson's going to look real good here too), ice time, and others. Still, David Clarkson really sticks out of this UFA class a high-shooting winger. Only Iginla managed to shoot over three shots per game in this past season like him, but he didn't come close to Clarkson's rate. If you believe the Devils need shooters and/or need more shots on net, then it's imperative to keep Clarkson and also sign one or two guys who've averaged around two shots per game. If Clarkson signs for crazy big money elsewhere, then it creates a problem that the upcoming market cannot readily fulfill on it's own.
I'm personally coming around to the idea that I'd rather have Clarkson stay even if it takes Scott Hartnell money (but not the term) to do it. The Devils would be better off generating more shots as a team and a guy like Clarkson helps immensely with that. Clarkson fired away with recklessness at times and the team was still in the ditch in terms of SF/60 and SOG/GP until that final month of the 2013 season. This makes Clarkson more valuable, not less. Of course, Clarkson and his representation knows this and that's why it's going to be up to them to decide what they do this summer.