Monday, December 28, 2009

Why Haven't The Devils Had Playoff Success Post-Lockout? Part 1, 2005-06

Two things need to be noted before the discussion commences:

First - We tend to eschew topics on the Devils, in part because we are self-confessed fans of the Devils, and think it incalculably gauche to turn what is supposed to be a league-wide blog into a bitchfest about fan minutiae - there are certainly other places for that.

Second - We are proceeding in full knowledge that we are committing the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc - we are not saying these are the complete, unvarnished causes, nor are we laying bare any distinct truth about Devils strategy, or personnel, or any such thing as this. We are merely suggesting why the Devils have only two playoff series wins in the previous four seasons, not suggesting that it was expected or (god forbid) necessary that New Jersey has only these modest achievements. We are merely noting possible causes for why this *may* have been the expected outcome.

We whipped up a little chart here whose results were of great interest to us:

Some explanation is needed. The first column are the playoff teams from the Eastern Conference in 2005-06. The second column is the number of points they got. The third column is their goal differential as listed in the NHL standings. The fourth column is their goal differential, with all overtime goals and shootout 'goals' removed. The fifth column is the most interesting one - it is the goal differential with overtime removed, and if the best goalie on the team had started 73 games, and if the second best one had started 9 games, as Martin Brodeur and Scott Clemmensen did in 2005-06. We used their 2005-06 save percentage to determine which goaltender was better. As you can see, the Devils now rank last out of the Eastern Conference playoff teams in goal differential. Why would we do this? Backup goalies do not generally play in the playoffs barring injury. The correlation between backup goalie success and playoff success would seem to be minimal at best. Yes, wags, we have noted the irony of calling Cam Ward the 'backup' when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy during this season.

Now surely we can find many, many fallacies with the above statistic. Let us address four of those here - we still do not think it alters the major point, which is that the Devils are overrated.

Refutation The First: Since the statistic merely measures goals against, we are creating a hypothetical league in which more goals are scored than are given up.

: True enough. However, the statistic is merely meant to be illustrative, not definitive. We are not saying that the Devils were the worst playoff team in the Eastern Conference, just that they were not likely one of the best.

Refutation The Second
: We are assuming that goaltenders play the same on short or no rest than they do on much rest. How can we assume this?

Rebuttal: Once again, we are not saying that teams should start their starting goalie at an 8 to 1 ratio. We are just looking at the league if that were the case, and if goaltender performance were not affected.

Refutation The Third
: The Devils had a vastly different roster at the beginning of the season than they did at the finish - they began the year mediocre and ended it on a 11 game winning streak. Shouldn't we count that for something?

Rebuttal: Sure, it should. The Devils excised Vladimir Malakhov, Alex Mogilny, Dan McGillis, Darren Langdon, Krys Oliwa, and Sean Brown in favor of Brad Lukowich, Patrik Elias, Ken Klee, Jason Wiemer, Cam Janssen, and Tommy Albelin. The addition of Elias was likely worth 5 points alone. However, even so, their goal differential was not remarkable.

Refutation The Fourth
: If we excise overtime results, shouldn't that change goal differentials and the way that teams play the third period?

Rebuttal: Once again, questioner, you are right, it likely would, but not in any significant way. Most of these concerns are minor, and we will continue to point them out when we go on to the 2006-07 season.

There are many more points that can be raised, all of them likely fair criticisms. The conclusion, however, is still clear - the Devils, while they do get the benefits of home ice and playing ostensibly weaker opponents, get little other benefit in the playoffs from playing Martin Brodeur as much as they do.


  1. In the regular season, the Devils gain a lot of marginal goal differential through special teams. You look at their shot attempts at even strength this season - their ratio is basically league average. But their ratio on special teams (i.e. PP shot attempts/PK shot attempts allowed) is amazingly good. That's mostly because they perennially take so few penalties, and partly because their PK is good. Either way, if you buy into the idea that the impact of special teams is lessened in the playoffs, and the impact of even strength is heightened, well that downgrades the Devils from a very good team to a slightly above average team.

  2. you're killing me here, sunny, one of these entries was going to explore that very thing. i think i still will, though.

    i imagine there's something to be said for g. desjardins's exploration of the minnesota wild shots against, which article you've no doubt read:

    assuming new jersey's ES shot against chart looks like that, it's got to be helping them out defensively as well.

  3. well, but if they suppress shot quality at even strength, i don't see why that would really change much in the playoffs. ???

  4. sorry, i was making two different points - the second part was about how i think new jersey is better this year at ES than they were in season's past.