A season ago, the injury to a defenseman like Dougie Hamilton was a devastating blow for the New Jersey Devils. They will still feel the impact of losing the team’s best all-around defender.But unlike the 2020-21 season, their blue line is better equipped to deal with the loss of Hamilton, who was Broken jaw goes out indefinitely.
There are several reasons. Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald went out and paid to make the Devils defense better. Not only did he sign Hamilton in free agency, but he traded with the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan Graves ahead of the July expansion draft.
Even before that, Fitzgerald’s Acquisition of Jonas Sigenthaler Proved to be one of last year’s biggest steals ahead of the 2021 trade deadline. Combined with the improved performance of the Devils veteran, they have reason to be optimistic about overcoming Hamilton’s injury.
Siegenthaler and Severson up their game
Hamilton dropped out of the lineup last week, with Sigenthaler and Damon Severson Has become the Devils’ top defensive combination. The results so far have been impressive. But it didn’t start with Hamilton’s injury. They played well before that.
Sigenthaler and Severson have been paired together for over a month, and they’ve been developing well in five-on-five situations. Since December 1, they have played 290 of the 250 minutes together, with a Corsi percentage (CF%) of 51.79% and an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 54.49%. This season, they have a CF% of 52.31 and a tandem of 55.48 xG%, the best numbers in the team’s most common defensive combination.
Both Severson and Siegenthaler played great hockey, but they were very different defenders. We’ll start with Siegenthaler, who surprised us. He didn’t play much with the Capitals due to their defensive depth, but he always had solid numbers. Still, it’s hard to predict how well he’ll play with the Devils.
There is no doubt that Sigenthal is the team’s best defensive guard. But it doesn’t stop there; he can also be said to be the best defensive player in the league right now. His average defense is worth the expected goal of more than 5.7 substitution (xGAR), which is the best of all blue line players in the league. He may be a bit like an offensive black hole, but he has had a significant positive impact on the defensive end, as shown by the dark purple and blue bars below:
As for Severson, his defense is also solid-his average defense is worth 1.3 xGAR. But unlike Sigenthaler, Severson is the team’s best blue line for possession after Hamilton. Since he and Sigenthal became a regular defensive partner on December 1, he has scored 11 points in the past 15 games. The two contrasting styles seem to complement each other.
Severson enters COVID protocol yesterday. But with only one game on schedule between now and January 19, he shouldn’t miss too much time. That’s good news for the Devils, who need him and Sigenthaler to show up as often as possible, as they are the backbone of a team’s blue line without Hamilton.
Graves & Subban also have something to add
Siegenthaler and Severson are currently the number one defensive combination of the Devils, but let’s not forget the rest of the blue lines. Before Hamilton was injured, Graves spent most of his time on top, and so far, his season has been good.
Graves, also known as a defensive defender, has an xGAR of 1.6 for his average-strength defense. He’s excelled at that, but his offense has improved this season. He had 13 points in 31 games — 34 in 82 games, which would be a career high. The Devils are currently using his second pair of roles with PK Subban. But there’s no reason he couldn’t handle the softer minutes after a tough race against Hamilton.
Speaking of Subban, it’s clear he’s not the player he used to be Devils acquired him in 2019. In the first two seasons in New Jersey, he was a player below the reserve level. But so far, his GAR in the 2021-22 season is 2.3.
Subban’s defensive capabilities have dropped significantly, but he still contributes on offense. In 2021-22, he’s averaging a 2.9 offensive rating and a 1.3 xGAR, both solid. His 13 points in 33 games would give him 32 in 82 games, his most since scoring 31 with the Nashville Predators in 2018-19.
Subban’s five-on-five performance on the ice was also higher than on the water. He has 51.22 CF% and 50.6 xG%, so the Devils won’t succumb to his shift even if his defenses drop. Graves has more offensive advantages than Siegenthaler, but he’s also a defensive defender first and foremost. Like Siegenthaler and Severson, his and Subban’s contrasting styles fit each other perfectly.
Smith will go a long way to turn it around
The Devils’ top four is in good shape along with Sigenthaler, Severson, Graves and Subban. That won’t happen in 2020-21, but they still have some deep concerns about the third pair.it starts with Ty SmithWhen approaching the midpoint of the season, his performance was very difficult.
Smith had a solid rookie season, scoring 23 points in 48 games, which would give him 39 points in 82 games. There’s no defensive play, which isn’t surprising for a 21-year-old guard, but he makes up for it on offense. Smith has been one of the worst defenders in the league this season. His offense has dried up, and since he’s only nine points in 31 games, he doesn’t add much to his current roster.
Smith Absent Training Camp And the start of the regular season with an injury. It did look like it affected him in the first few weeks, and he hasn’t recovered from it. Since he’s still on an entry-level deal, the Devils could send him to the AHL’s Utica Comets. But that seems unlikely at this point, so their best hope is for him to turn things around. Head coach Lindy Ruff won’t let him play against elite or even mid-level games, so he needs to find a way to take advantage of that, especially on offense.
With Hamilton out, Smith will likely have Christian Yaroche and Colton White as defensive partners. Neither moved the needle significantly, but they were solid and played well for the limited minutes Ruff asked for. At worst, they should be able to get Smith to attack, which is his greatest advantage.
All in all, even without Hamilton, the Devils’ defense is in a good position. Siegenthaler has become an elite defensive back, forming a lockout pair with Severson. Graves and Subban could fill the second pair adequately, and if Smith starts to figure it out, their depth could improve. As long as the players stay healthy, the Devils’ defense should be able to overcome Hamilton’s injury.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers with a passion for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades.He previously wrote for the New Jersey Devils fan blog “Devil’s Army Blog” from 2015 to 2017