Last season, the New Jersey Devils defense was awful. Listen, there were some positive things to come from the blueline. P.K. Subban was much better than he was the season prior even if he still wasn’t the player the Devils hoped they got at the 2019 NHL Draft. Ty Smith exceeded all expectations. Damon Severson was really good when he was really good. Unfortunately, that didn’t last.
The other major positive for the Devils fanbase was when Kevin Bahl joined the defense. He didn’t play much, but when he did, he was impressive. His size really stood out. It’s not hard to understand why. He is around 6’7. Even in a land of really tall people on skates, 6’7 stands out.
Bahl seemed to have a really good hold on his size. He knew how to use his body to his advantage. He was winning battles. The Devils had to have been happy with what Bahl did in his seven-game sample size. He was able to look like an NHL player in a very short stint with New Jersey.
Bahl was one of the main pieces in the Taylor Hall trade to the Arizona Coyotes. Reports said that former Devils GM Ray Shero actually held out to get Bahl in the trade. That comes with a lot of expectations. At the very beginning, Bahl looked good.
However, when we look deeper into the numbers, there are some issues that arise. According to Natural Stat Trick, Bahl was second to last on the team in CorsiFor%, only behind Connor Carrick. He was on the ice for 100 total chances at 5v5 while only being on the ice for 70 chances for. That could have a lot to do with the situations head coach Lindy Ruff was putting him in. Although, Bahl only had three more defensive zone starts than offensive zone starts.
Kevin Bahl has something to prove once camp begins for the New Jersey Devils.
Things get a little worse. When looking at high-danger chances allowed, Bahl was by far the worst. He was well behind Matt Tennyson for allowing more high-danger chances than his team got. There are other factors here, but other players on the Devils didn’t have numbers this bad. The impacts clearly didn’t hurt the other players on the blueline. Bahl was on the ice for 21 high-danger chances against in 109 5v5 minutes. To compare, Subban allowed 136 high-danger chances in 770 minutes.
Obviously, it’s not a huge difference (a high-danger chance every 5.5 minutes for Bahl and roughly every 6 minutes for Subban), but the difference here is what Subban brings offensively. Bahl was on the ice for just 10 high-danger chances at 5v5. Subban was on the ice for 126. Bahl saw a high-danger chance every 10 minutes. Subban got one every 6 minutes.
Those aren’t great numbers from Bahl. The eye test and the analytics don’t match here. This is way too small a sample size to actually take too much from this, but 100 minutes is nothing to sneeze at.
The Devils made huge moves during the offseason to revamp the defense. They added Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, Christian Jaros, and a returning Jonas Siegenthaler. The Devils defense will look nothing like it did the season before. There isn’t much room on the roster right now. That made Bahl a long shot to make the roster anyway, but he had a chance. Honestly, he still has a chance, but he has to prove that he has fixed his inconsistency issues. If he’s going to make the team next year at any point, he has to cut down on the mistakes that lead to high-danger chances, and he has to take advantage of the offensive opportunities.