New Jersey Devils’ Personnel Decisions Continue To Mystify


As if things weren’t ugly enough for the New Jersey Devils, it is becoming more evident by the game that personnel decisions may be worse now than they were during the Peter DeBoer era.

New Jersey’s recent hot streak – now a thing of the past as the team dropped their second straight game last night at the hands of the Western Conference-worst Edmonton Oilers – of going 4-0-1 during their recent five-game home stand may have been more sheer luck than it was actual good play, as the Devils have continually failed to put up a respectable shot total.

Over their last six games, the team has amassed a total of 100 shots, an average of just under 17 shots per game – not a recipe for winning by any means.

Making matters worse is the fact that the Devils’ power play, which has been a top-10 unit all season, has virtually vanished over their last several games. They can’t seem to get anything going, or even keep the puck in the attacking end for that matter, never mind actually shooting the puck.

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But the statistics don’t show everything behind the team’s recent rise and fall. The team’s roster decisions have been raising eyebrows all season, with the Devils’ personnel calls during last night’s game exemplifying that notion.

Jaromir Jagr’s Downward Trend In Playing Time

During last night’s game, New Jersey had one power play chance, in which they scored zero goals. On that power play, Jaromir Jagr spent zero time on the ice. Conversely, fourth-liner Jordin Tootoo spent 1:05 on the ice during New Jersey’s power play chance. Now, Tootoo has been great for the Devils, but he is by no means a power play specialist and should not be on the ice instead of Jagr (the team’s leading point scorer) during a crucial scoring chance.

Moreover, Dainius Zubrus – who has scored a mere two goals this season – spent more time on ice throughout the game (16:53) than Jagr (15:37). It’s understandable that Jagr would see less ice time as he continues to recover from his recent illness, but to see a player like Zubrus receive more ice time than Jagr is downright illogical given Zubrus’ ineffectiveness this season.

Eric Gelinas’ Continued Absence

“I didn’t sign up for hockey to watch hockey.”

Eric Gelinas

Eric Gelinas hasn’t played January 28 in favor of Peter Harrold, presumably because Gelinas’ defense isn’t at a level that the team is comfortable with. But why play Harrold in favor of one of New Jersey’s top defensive prospects?

Harrold has posted a -9 plus/minus rating in just 25 games this season, only posting a plus rating in five of those 25 contests, while posting a minus rating in 11 games. Gelinas has actually posted a plus-two rating this season in 34 games. Gelinas definitely has room to improve, but has not been worse than Harrold.

Continuing on the Devils’ recent power play woes, it can’t be a coincidence that, for a team that often sets up point shots when given a man advantage, the team has struggled while their best slap shot in Gelinas has been absent from the lineup.

Mark Fraser’s Penalty Kill Role

When Mark Fraser was signed, many believed it would be a short-term, fill-in type role. But Fraser has actually become a key cog in New Jersey’s penalty kill, which has looked eerily similar to Bryce Salvador’s penalty kill time prior to his injury. Fraser spent 3:44 on the ice during New Jersey’s time shorthanded last night, which led the team.

Fraser has by no means been bad, but it’s hard to fathom this team’s fascination with leaning so heavily on lumbering, immobile defenseman when shorthanded. Granted, with Adam Larsson committing one of the team’s three penalties last night, New Jersey may have been forced to choose between Fraser, Harrold, and Marek Zidlicky – not exactly a choice you’d want to be making as a coach. This also speaks to the Devils’ need to get Damon Severson back from injury sooner rather than later.

Regardless, Fraser should not be the one the Devils lean on when playing shorthanded.

Steve Bernier A First Line Player?

This has been going on for several games now, but Steve Bernier has been a pleasant surprise for the Devils this season, scoring nine goals and adding eight assists in 39 games. And of late, he’s been particularly hot, as he’s scored six goals in his last 10 games.

But to be playing on the first line, while the team’s leading goal scorer in Mike Cammalleri and leading point-getter in Jagr are playing on the third line in favor of a player who has been a bottom-six forward for the majority of his career is not something you want to be doing long-term if you are trying to win hockey games.

What To Make Of It?

For what it’s worth, the New Jersey Devils most likely wouldn’t be a playoff team if they had made personnel decisions to appease the fans anyway, but it sure is difficult to understand the decisions of this team’s coaching staff – whether it be the decisions of DeBoer previously or the combination of Lamoriello/Stevens/Oates presently.

The Devils might have a better record under the new coaching regime than they did under DeBoer this season, but with each passing game, it is becoming crystal clear that not all that much has changed.

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