Forget the Best, Who Was the Worst New Jersey Devil?

This is not a good hockey player. But is he really the worst Devil ever? Maybe probably not! - Bruce Bennett

A common question for sports fans is to discuss who was the best. In the dead of the offseason, I ask the more difficult opposite: who was the worst New Jersey Devil?

A common topic of discussion for any fan of any team in any sport revolves around who was the best. Which team was the best team? Which defenseman was the best defender? Who was the best forward? What rookie year was the best? And so forth. They're all interesting questions in their own right and arguments can be fun to look at since we're focusing on successes. If we were to bring it up for the New Jersey Devils, then I'm sure we'd have to ask whether we value Martin Brodeur's successes over others. We'd ponder who was the better Scott: Stevens or Niedermayer. We'd try and rate Patrik Elias against forwards in the past. We'd think about how our favorite cult heroes fit in. While this sort of discussion is good to bring up in the dead of the offseason, I'd like to turn it on it's head. I don't want to know who was the best. I want to know who was the worst.

This is actually a more difficult question than figuring out the best because of survivor bias. If someone is truly bad at what they do, then they wouldn't be on the team for very long. Those who are perceived to be good enough to keep putting on the red, white, and black are at least better than those who weren't. We must consider two scenarios: who was the worst with a significant games played requirement and who was the worst without it. The former makes this an easier question to handle. For the sake of argument, let's say 100 regular season games is the requirement as that would mean the player would have had to appear in more than one season.

Thankfully, one man truly stands out among the 100+ games played crowd: Cam Janssen. Here's the list of skaters who have played at least 100 games in Devils history organized by points per game at Hockey-Reference. Janssen is at the bottom and it's not even close. He has two points in 147 games. Two. One goal, one assist, and that's it. Even David Hale, a defensive defenseman who was never expected - and didn't - develop an offensive game put up more points (9 assists) and more often. Even Jason Smith, who spent his first three seasons of his career and didn't get many offensive opportunities, put up more points (11 points) and at a higher rate. Defense-only defenders (e.g. Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov) and offense-deficient fourth liners (e.g. Rod Pelley, Erik Rasmussen) put up more than Janssen ever did. Goons brought more to the table. Krzysztof Oliwa really only could fight and even he still managed to put up 13 goals and 20 assists in 210 games as a Devil. And speaking of Oliwa, he and Mike Peluso managed to average over three penalty minutes per game. They certainly raised a lot more trouble than Janssen did either. Thanks to Behind the Net, we have further proof that when Janssen was on the ice against tissue-soft competition at evens, the possession battle was decidedly lost. His on-ice Corsi rate in 2011-12 was only bested by three non-short seasons: Rob Niedermayer in 2009-10 (tough minutes, low OZS), Niclas Havelid in 2008-09 (spent most of season with another team), and Eric Boulton in 2011-12 (more on him in a bit). Janssen has been horrid in possession, he's produced little, and he doesn't even rack up penalty minutes as evidence of some kind of fight machine - not that's a positive anyway. Among all players who've played 100 games (only 7 goalies have topped that for what it's worth), a strong argument can be made than Cam Janssen has been the worst Devil.

However, that's with a games played requirement. Again, someone (for some reason) felt Janssen would last over 100 games in the NHL and, to be fair, it's not like the team fell apart because of that (bad) decision. If we take that out and consider players who only stuck around for a season or a few games and then were unceremoniously dumped, then this is where the point of contention comes in. Eric Boulton put up no points with New Jersey and leads all zero-point Devils with 51 games played. He was absolutely atrocious in possession and just plain hard to watch. But what about those players who couldn't even get in that many games. Dan LaCouture was similar to Boulton. Sasha Lakovic actually put up three assists in 16 games back in 1998-99, but he earned the nickname "Lack of Skills" very quickly (he did only appear in 18 games) and for good reason. Olivier Magnan-Grenier maybe had some good moments but he was quickly exposed as not good enough for this league in 2010-11; as was Tyler Eckford. While Oliwa chipped in some points, there were nights I really did wish he wasn't on the team. These are all names that come to mind were I to throw away the arbitrary games played requirement. These are names I would even consider to be as bad or worse than Janssen on some level.

But I can't make a strong argument for either since they didn't play as much and I'm biased by my own era - players that I saw. That's where the difficulty really comes into play. Stats weren't consistently kept across eras and being truly terrible relies somewhat on the "eye test." I was a Devils fan from 1993-94 onward. This means I'm not familiar with the Devils teams from the early 1980s, which were rather bad. I don't know who stunk it up so bad in Kansas City or Colorado that they couldn't stick on those miserable teams. And goalies, well, look at the list at Hockey-Reference. We don't even have full save percentages for the many goalies on those bad teams, so I can't really say how bad Ron Low, Hardy Astrom, Phil Myre, or Al Smith were related to other Devils goalies. It doesn't help that goalies on bad teams usually get destroyed too. I'm tempted to highlight Steve Janaszak for making two appearances within the organization and giving up 13 goals total, but for all I know, he (and the team) just had two off nights. The same could be said for any number of players who were only Scouts, Rockies, or Devils for a few games; they got in games just to fill in for an injury or get a shot and it just didn't work out. Are they truly bad players too? I'm hesitant to say so.

I think that a truly awful player has to be seen to be believed. Analytics in hockey have and will continue to grow to identify who was bad as well as was good. But they're limited by era and subject small sample sizes too. They also don't state how slow or awkward of a stride they have while skating. They don't highlight how bad their decision making was, though they may suggest it. We know how little a coach may use them; but provided something bad like a goal against, a penalty, or some other significant event doesn't happen, they get lost in history. And so I just want to put the question to you to see if there's anything resembling a consensus. Who was the worst New Jersey Devil player? Please consider a player's time in New Jersey only and explain why you chose them in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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