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Examining the Devils' free agent options on the left side

June 13, 2018, 10:29 AM ET [27 Comments]
Todd Cordell
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The New Jersey Devils need help on defense. In particular, they need help on the left side.

While it's possible they address this issue via trade, it seems more likely they dip into the free agent market – a place where they can add players for nothing but cap space, which they have an abundance of in the short-term.

With that in mind, I thought I'd go through most of the "notable" left-handed defenders who could be available and share my thoughts on how they could help or if they're worth pursuing at all.

Calvin de Haan

I've talked about him at length in the past​ so I'm not going to get into too much detail here. In short, over the last three years the New York Islanders were a better team across the board – Corsi For%, Goals For%, etc. – with de Haan on the ice than without him. He is a fine skater, he can move the puck, he can chip in some offense, and his demands in dollars and term should be reasonable. I think he's a pretty clear upgrade over John Moore.

Jack Johnson

Johnson is somewhat of a name brand defender. In a shallow market, he should have plenty of suitors. Despite the Devils' obvious need for help on the left side, I don't think they should be one of them.

If you're a regular reader, you've probably seen me throw around the term 'possession anchor' from time-to-time. I'm not sure there's a better way to describe Johnson.

He has now played 11 NHL seasons. In 10 of them, his teams have controlled a larger percentage of the shot attempts without him on the ice. His relative chance and goal numbers have been similarly, if not equally, alarming.

Johnson's offense has also completely dried up. He has tallied 48 points in 219 games – an average of ~18 per 82 – over the last three seasons and been a less efficient 5v5 producer than the likes of Brooks Orpik, Robert Bortuzzo, Ron Hainsey and Johnny Oduya, among many others.

He's not a guy I'd want on my team regardless of the asking price which, apparently, is quite high. Word is he's looking for a raise from the $4.35 million he was pulling in annually with the Jackets.

Thomas Hickey

Hickey's counting totals don't pop off the page but he's quietly been an effective 5v5 point producer with the Islanders.

Over the last three seasons, Hickey has registered more points in that game state than Rasmus Ristolainen, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, and Sami Vatanen, among others, despite appearing in fewer games.

His rate stats are impressive as well. During that time, Hickey averaged .94 points per 60 – an identical number to Seth Jones, Jake Gardiner, and Keith Yandle. Obviously those guys are more gifted, especially quarterbacking power plays, but it helps illustrate Hickey has something to offer at 5v5.

He's not an ace defender by any stretch, however, his relative shot suppression numbers are better than John Moore's and he is also a more capable and efficient 5v5 producer. He's not a sexy name, but he'd be an upgrade.

Ian Cole

Cole is more of a traditional defenseman. He plays with a bit of an edge, he blocks shots, he kills penalties and, most importantly, does a good job of positively impacting his team's shot and goal suppression numbers at 5v5.

He doesn't bring much offense to the table, although his totals improved in Pittsburgh, but he strikes me as a guy Ray Shero and co. would have interest in if he makes it to the open market.

Dan Hamhuis

I've done it. I've found the polar opposite of John Moore. Hamhuis is not a guy who will jump into the play and look to create offense. He's not a risk taker. He's not a great skater. He is, however, a smart decision maker who is a far better player than Moore from the offensive blue line out.

In 83 tracked games over the last two seasons, he's been a plus-defender in the neutral zone and his shot suppression numbers are solid.

On a short-term deal, Hamhuis could be a solid addition.

Michal Kempny

He is a really hard guy to get a read on. In 81 games with Chicago over the last two seasons, his defensive numbers were among the best on the team. Despite this, and the team's clear shortage of quality defenders, they traded him for pennies anyway. In 22 (regular season) games with Washington, his defensive numbers were among the worst on the blue line. The same held true over 24 playoff games.

If he tests free agency and is after a somewhat lucrative deal, there is plenty of risk involved.

Kevin Connauton

The good: 133 defenders logged at least 1,000 minutes at 5v5 in 2017-18. Among them, Connauton ranked 21st in points per 60 and 24th in shot attempts per 60. He's a good offensive player.

The bad: his play in the defensive zone leaves a lot to be desired. Emphasis on a lot.

I think the Devils are looking for a more stable two-way contributor, as they should be, so I don't see a fit. Connauton would be better suited joining an offensively starved team that can shelter him.

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