With the start of free agency only a short couple days away, Lou Lamoriello needs to make some important and tough decisions with regards to the roster makeup of the New Jersey Devils. Key restricted free agents need to be qualified, such as Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, and Jacob Josefson. Along with that, unrestricted free agents will be able to pursue contracts with other teams, and Lou needs to decide if it is worth it to keep them or let them walk. While most of the starting forwards on the team are already under contract, specifically the entire top 9, the entire fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier are all UFAs. The question is should any or all of them be resigned? If not all of them, who should be kept and who should be let go? Let's look at some information and numbers to try and see.
The Line While Together
The first question that should be asked is should the entire line be resigned and kept together. To answer this question, the best statistic we can look at are With or Without You (WOWY) charts. By using these charts, we can analyze how well these three play with each other as opposed to playing with others. I will strictly look at Corsi For percentage to determine performance, but one can also look at Corsi Against, Goals For, or Goals Against. All charts are courtesy of http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com.
The first skater we will look at is Ryan Carter. His WOWY charts for the last two seasons can be found here. Looking at his Corsi For chart (the second one down on the webpage), both Gionta and Bernier had better possession statistics while with Carter. Bernier had a CF% of 53.94 with and 53.08 without, while Gionta had a CF% of 50.86 with and 48.91 without. Gionta certainly performed better with Carter, his possession numbers rising over 50% while Carter was on the ice with him. Bernier performed slightly better with Carter than without, although the number differential is minimal. Nonetheless, Carter was not a hindrance to either player while together. This is a good sign.
Next is Stephen Gionta. His WOWY charts for the last two seasons can be found here. Looking at the Corsi For chart, the numbers bear out a very different picture than they did with Carter. Both Bernier and Carter performed significantly better while playing away from Gionta. While Bernier's CF% was 50.05 with Gionta, his number without was at 56.54. Carter similarly saw a large jump in possession while away from Gionta, his CF% with being 50.86 and without being 57.85. I happen to really like Stephen Gionta, he is a high motor player who seemingly gives it his all on every shift. The numbers, however, show that he was a definitive liability while on the ice, especially when playing on the CBGB line. This is a very bad sign.
Finally, let's look at Steve Bernier's WOWY charts, which can be found here. The Corsi For chart is somewhat positive for Bernier. Gionta's possession numbers are nearly identical whether he is playing with Bernier or without, the CF% being 50.05 with and 50.04 without. Carter saw a jump in possession while playing with Bernier, owning a CF% of 53.94 with and 52.38 without. These numbers are quite similar to Carter's and not bad at all.
So now we know their WOWY possession numbers. Carter and Bernier had fairly positive numbers, although they were not amazing, while Gionta had miserable numbers. Does that mean Lou should let Gionta walk while resigning the other two? Possibly, but let's check out some more information before making a decision. Specifically, let's look at each skater's overall numbers over the past two seasons.
Again using the stats.hockeyanalysis.com website, we can gauge how each skater has done since the last lockout. Ryan Carter's numbers are here. Over the last two seasons, he generated 12 goals and 9 assists for 21 total points. Considering time on ice, this equates to 0.623 goals/60 minutes and 0.467 assists/60 minutes. These are not excellent numbers, but playing strictly on the fourth line, they could certainly be worse. What's interesting is that his PDO (a luck statistic) over the last two seasons is 0.968, meaning that he has been quite unlucky. This has undoubtedly lowered his production. Combine this with a Fenwick For of 53.6% over the last two seasons (indicating fairly strong possession numbers), and it seems that his play has been better than his point totals would lead us to believe.
Stephen Gionta did not have a great showing in the WOWY charts, so the hope is that his overall numbers are better. These can be found here. Over the last two seasons, he generated 7 goals and 14 assists for 21 total points, the exact same number as Carter. He produced 0.350 goals/60 minutes and 0.700 assists/60 minutes. Again, like Carter, these are far from great numbers, but can be somewhat forgiven considering his fourth line status. His luck was a little bit better than Carter's, with a PDO of 0.986, but his Fenwick For of 51.2% was less than Carter's. While that number is still over 50%, much of that can most likely be attributed to playing on a strong possession team. This is confirmed by Extra Skater, where we can see that his relative Corsi% over the last two seasons has been quite poor, with a -7.4% in the lockout shortened season and a -4.5% this past season. Again, it is clear that Gionta is not a possession driver at all, and he does not make up for those poor numbers with points.
Before mentioning any of Bernier's numbers, it must first be noted that he played a decent amount of minutes away from the CBGB line this past season, getting some time on the 2nd and 3rd lines while other skaters were injured. Therefore, his numbers should be somewhat more improved than the other two. Sadly, they are not. Since the lockout, he has produced only 7 goals and 13 assists for 20 total points, one less than the other two. This is quite bad, but one statistic that helps his cause here is shooting percentage. Bernier's has been at 4.22%, which is miserably low. He has clearly been ice cold, and also a bit unlucky. His PDO confirms that, with his number of 0.956 being the lowest of the three. With some more luck these past two seasons, his shooting percentage would have gone up, and he would have produced more points. His Fenwick For was at 53.9%, similar to Carter's, and not a bad number. So while his production has been poor, he does have some legitimate excuses.
So What Should New Jersey Do?
I know that I just threw a lot of numbers out at you. What do they conclude? In essence, they say that none of the three have been extremely effective. None of them have produced more than 21 points over the past two seasons. While they are undoubtedly an energy line that provides a spark for this team on occasion, they are not lighting the lamps and providing tangible assistance to this hockey club.
Given that, however, I would not recommend letting all three walk. Their WOWY charts show that both Carter and Bernier can be effective when away from the CBGB line, although Bernier's time last season on the 2nd and 3rd lines were not very productive. Given this, if I had to choose to keep one of the three, I would go with Ryan Carter. He is 30 years old, so while he may not improve much more, he still has several quality seasons left in him. Plus, his previous contract only cost the Devils $775,000 last year, and Lou certainly could retain him for similar payment. I feel that if he were playing with more talented line mates he could really contribute to this club.
The other two, however, are more interesting. Bernier's numbers were similar to Carter's so I would be fine with him being resigned. However, I would also be happy if he were allowed to walk. His time away from the CBGB line this past season was not positive, and while his shooting percentage is bound to grow this season, I am not sure if it will improve significantly. I could honestly see it going either way with him. But Gionta is the real conundrum. His underlying numbers are not good at all. Almost everyone performs better on the ice when he is not there, and he does not produce much at all in terms of points. But no one can argue that he is a high character guy who gives it his all and uses his high energy to get the team going. I find myself rooting for Gionta every time I see him on the ice, because I want him to do well. Sadly, the numbers do not work for him, and I do feel that it would be best for the team to move on from him. Putting someone like Jacob Josefson out there could potentially improve the fourth line for New Jersey, at least in comparison to Gionta.
Now that you have digested the numbers and heard my opinion, what do you think? Should the CBGB line be kept intact? If yes, why do you think so? If not, who should be resigned and who should be let go? Furthermore, if the team lets one of them go, who should replace him on the fourth line? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thank you for reading.