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The New Jersey Devils have finally signed RFA goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood to a deal worth $2.8 million each of the next three seasons. This is a huge deal for the Devils, who now have a solid two goaltenders for two seasons after signing Corey Crawford in the offseason. Both are good enough to make a bottom-five defense in the league look far more serviceable. Blackwood and Crawford are the biggest keys to the Devils team this year and any success they have will be thanks to their efforts.
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Last season with Blackwood in net, the Devils record was 22-14-0-8 while without him they were as bad as the bottom of the league sporting an awful 6-15-0-2 record. This is why so much relies on good goaltending.
With solid stats on a bad team including a 2.77 goals against average and a .915 save percentage at only 24 years of age, Blackwood has room to improve. If the team in front of him takes a step forward, these numbers could push him into a top-10 goaltender in the NHL. His save percentage was good enough for 26th in the NHL last season. While that does not sound great, factoring in the defense that’s in front of him, it is very good. While comparing and looking at more advanced stats, Blackwood was only one of four goaltenders last season to have a positive goals saved vs expected goals against. All the others (Tuukka Rask, Carter Hart, and Connor Hellebuyck) were on solid teams.
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When looking at this from a team cap perspective, Blackwood is making less than bottom-pairing defender Will Butcher and only $50k above bottom-line forward Miles Wood. Around the league, the other goaltenders Blackwood is comparable to are making three times his money. While he still, if he continues this level of play, has a big chance at a contract when he is a free agent in three seasons, this is still a steal for the Devils with zero risk. Fitzgerald has given a team with a ton of cap space room to make moves and keep anyone they need. With this contract in the books, all focus will be on Jesper Bratt and what he signs for next before camp can get under way and the season of hockey to begin.
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NEXT: Ranking New Jersey Devils Possible Divisional Opponents
It is a good day to be a Devils fan.
Normally, I use a studfinder as if I’m reading the wall: left-to-right. So when I hit the left edge, that means that there is a stud coming up. In other words, the screen indicates a “future stud”.
I could have gone a few different directions with this, but I wanted to choose someone who is steadily improving and is not quite a stud yet. Over the past 2 seasons, among the 82 goalies who have faced 200+ shots, Blackwood has been worth 24.2 goals more than a replacement-level goalie (21st in NHL) and is saving 0.12% more goals than expected (33rd). So, he’s clearly not elite YET. But he’s younger than every goalie on that list other than Carter Hart and Ilya Samsonov and, unlike the other possible choices for this category, the age curve is in his favor — the average peak performance for a goalie is 26.7 years old on my model.
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And it’s not just blind faith. From the time Hynes was fired, Blackwood prevented more goals than any other goalie in the NHL (13.6), according to Evolving Hockey’s GSAx. He’s got draft pedigree, size, athleticism, stretches of elite play, and an age curve pointing upward. The NJDSF scans Blackwood and sees a stud in our future.
Right Edge: P.K. Subban
If you’re reading the wall left-to-right, then the right-edge shows you’ve hit the end of the stud. As a player, this means your days as a stud have come to a close.
There’s only one player on the team who was indisputably a stud at one point, and is indisputably not a stud anymore: P.K. Subban. Given last year’s results, I think it’s important to remind everyone of the scope of his greatness. This is his value in standings points per year.
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He was worth about 5 standings points from 2011-2018. That made him the most valuable defender in the NHL during that time. He fell on hard times in 2019, but with 7 years as the best D-man in the NHL, and 1 as a replacement-level player, that’s absolutely a chance that you take, and Shero did. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out. And that’s putting it mildly.
P.K. Subban — the most valuable defender in the NHL from 2011-2018 — was the least valuable defender in the NHL in 2020. He tied Johnny Boychuck, being worth 10.1 goals LESS than a replacement-level player.
To be honest, I do expect a little upward regression. Someone as talented as Subban doesn’t become this bad this fast, typically. But both my aging curve, linked above, and Micah McCurdy’s show P.K.’s age, 31, as an inflection point where performance typically nosedives. Perhaps he hit it a bit early. Regardless the NJDSF scans P.K. and sees the end of a stud.
Center: Nico Hischier
When you see this marker on your stud finder, it means that this is where you want to drill. Putting up my TV, I want to hit the center of the stud to make sure that the screw catches the wood comfortably on all ends. This is the screen you see when it’s time to go all in — you’ve got yourself a stud.
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To me, this is Nico Hischier. His rookie year, you could write off as benefiting from Taylor Hall. Sure enough, the next season, with Hall injured, Nico’s point rate did take a dip ever-so-slightly, but his impact on the pace of play remained in the top 2% of the league due to a supremely underrated even-strength offensive impact, and an improved defensive game.
In the tire fire that was the 2020 season, Hischier was not immune to the spiral, but was still in the top third of the league in value (and more stable metrics had him in the top quarter).
No matter what was you slice it, Nico is a stud. The NJDSF says this is the player you plant your pilot hole in and build the mount around.
Deep Scan: Will Butcher
Some walls are built a little thicker than others and that can wreak havoc on the studfinder readings. When this happens the Tavool studfinder has a “deep” setting that increases the depth of the scan up to 1.77 inches into the wall. This is what you use when you have to look a little deeper than the surface to see the stud that’s there.
There is only one reasonable choice here, to me, is Will Butcher.
Butcher is 25 which is near the peak age for a defender. And his peak is pretty peaky. It’s among the peakiest in the NHL. Since joining the league 3 years ago, this is his peer group in terms of value.
I know, I know, I can already hear the chorus of commenters that has invaded my past 3 “Will Butcher is great” articles. But the whole premise here is that this is a player that might be a stud if we just look a little closer.
His pairing with Ben Lovejoy was among the most efficient in the NHL. He never found a pairing that worked last year. There are a lot of new faces likely to join the starting 6 this season and that gives Butcher a chance to prove that not only was last year a fluke, but that he can handle increased responsibility while maintaining his efficiency.
Butcher is small, slow, and plays 18 minutes a game. He does NOT looke like a stud. So, when NJDSF prepares to scan him, it needs a deeper setting.
Metal Scan: Blake Coleman
I know, he’s not on the team anymore. But, that’s why he’s perfect for this setting. This setting is used to change the type of stud we’re searching for. A metal stud is serves the same purpose as a wood one, but you can’t drill into it. So, for the purposes of mounting a TV, the stud just won’t work out.
Blake Coleman was a STUD with the Devils. He was the NHL equivalent to a 3-and-D forward. He could score by getting in the high-danger areas with his underrated athleticism, and he was a Selke-caliber forward in terms of defensive impact, both even-strength and penalty-killing.
Blake Coleman was absolutely a stud in terms of value to the team. But, he didn’t pan out here. He was a little too old for the core of this team, and we wouldn’t have room for his next contract. To some degree, he was never able to shake this “depth forward” mystique and so, with the potential to acquire two chances at usable studs in Nolan Foote and Shakir Mukhamadullin, management decided to move on.
NJDSF scans Blake Coleman and sees a stud, but not one to build a mount on.