New Jersey Devils: First Half Report Card (Part II of II)

levinakl@levinaklCorrespondent IIIJanuary 14, 2009

Well, it looks like the Devils played some inspired hockey last night to knock off the Canucks in Vancouver for the first time in nearly ten years.  It also gave me a 43rd game to use in grading the defense and goaltending.  If you missed Part One, click the link to see how the forwards were graded.


Johnny Oduya (43 GP, 3 G, 13 A, 16 P, +10, 14 PIM, 1 PPG, 1 SHG, 2 GWG)

Oduya is a very tough guy to get a read on, as he often goes unnoticed.  However, coming from where he started out as a Devil, that can be looked at as a compliment. 

It wasn't long ago when Devils' fans were screaming for Oduya to be benched or cut.  For the most part, those jeers have turned to mostly jeers.  But Oduya also seems to often leave you thirsty for more. 

A pending free agent, Oduya is due for a huge increase in his current paltry $600,000 salary.  The question is, if you are GM Lou Lamoriello, do you open up the wallet to pay Oduya a large amount?  After all, Oduya has been solid and remains a top-four defenseman for the Devils, and at least this year, would be hard to replace. 

Grade:  B

Mike Mottau (41 GP, 1 G, 8 A, 9 P, +15, 19 PIM)

Last year's unsung hero, Mottau doesn't often look pretty, but he continues to put up pretty good numbers.  He leads all Devils' defenseman in plus-minus. 

I can tell you while it's not tracked officially, no one, not even Oduya, loses possession of their stick more than Mike Mottau.  When he loses his stick, it almost always seems to lead to a goal—definitely one of Mottau's best maneuvers. 

Because of it, it astounds me that Mottau is a plus-15.  He often looks slow or over-matched when you watch him closely. 

However, for the most part, Mottau tends to not necessarily look pretty, but he usually gets the job done.  Ideally he is a sixth or seventh defenseman, but on this team, Mottau has cracked the top four on occasion and not looked lost. 

I wouldn't want to have to rely heavily on him over a long period though. I think he ideally compares to the role assistant coach Tommy Albelin played in the 2003 season—filling in when or where needed. 

As long as you don't keep expectations too high, Mottau fills a role on this team, even though he doesn't always look pretty doing it. 

Grade:  C+

Paul Martin(38 GP, 3 G, 9 A, 12 P, +8, 20 PIM, 2 PPG, 1 GWG)

Martin is a player who started off the year playing wonderfully.  Somewhere along the way though, he definitely regressed a bit. 

I can remember being at the game against Montreal on Jan. 2 and wondering what had happened to Martin.  He was absolutely brutal that night.  Perhaps it was just a midseason swoon because no one is more valuable to the New Jersey backline then Martin—the closest thing the Devils have to a legitimate No. 1 defenseman. 

He is a poor man's Scott Niedermayer because he often makes certain things look too easy, and it makes you wonder if he is working hard enough. He does almost everything well but doesn't possess a good shot from the point. 

If it weren't for that swoon over a few weeks in late December early January, Martin would get an A minus but that slump brings him down a bit. 

Grade:  B

Colin White (38 GP, 1 G, 9 A, 10 P, +10, 24 PIM)

Man, Colin White is a tough nut to crack.  White has actually matched the point production he put up or exceeded it from the last two seasons.  At a plus-10, you'd think his game was looking better than ever these days.  However, I think the stats are a little misleading in the case of White, at least if you compare him to pre-eye injury form. 

White came up as a pretty good shutdown defenseman who occasionally would take a stupid penalty but would rarely get out-muscled.  These days, White still takes an occasional dumb penalty but definitely doesn't have the defensive presence he had in the past, whether it's a crushing body check or a blocked shot. 

You'd have to think it's a result of the eye injury.  Either way, he may be overpaid at $3 million a year, but White still has a place on this team, even though it might be better served on the third pairing going forward. 

Grade:  C

Bryce Salvador (37 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 P, +1, 28 PIM, 1 GWG)

Salvador was a key acquisition by the Devils—basically stealing him from St. Louis for pugilist Cam Janssen. 

Re-signing Salvador in the offseason was a shrewd move by the Devils as well.  He fills more of the role White used to a few years ago and gives the Devils a physical presence on the backline. 

I think Sutter should pair Salvador more with Paul Martin to create a legitimate No. 1 pairing, but since Salvador's inner ear problem, he seemed to have his play regress a bit. 

I think by the time the playoffs roll around, I would expect Salvador and Martin to be playing a bulk of their time paired up (assuming there is no major acquisition made between now and then). 

Grade:  B

Jay Leach (21 GP, 1 A, 1 P, +1, 21 PIM)

This year's version of Mottau, Leach literally came out of nowhere to contribute good defensive play when the team needed it most.  Leach is what he is—pretty solid in his own end and adding a little grit but won't contribute much at all offensively. 

It is imperative to team him by using a more mobile defensive defenseman—helping him to best use his skills.  Leach should be a good guy to keep around and could fill in for an injured player. I think Leach will be a good No. 7 defenseman for the second half of the season. 

Grade:  B

Andy Greene(20 GP, 1 G, 6 A, 7 P, +2, 12 PIM)

Greene was a victim of a broken hand on Oct. 29 against Toronto.  It happened to take place in the middle of the best stretch of games Greene had all seasons.  In fact, he had three assists alone in that game. He had six points overall in his first six games. 

Unfortunately, since coming back from the injury, Greene has only been okay.  His numbers show it—only one point and playing at a -2 in the fourteen games since he returned. 

Greene has had flashes, but hasn't ever been able to replicate the success he had in the 2007 playoffs against Tampa Bay and Ottawa.  Even though the team was a big disappointment in that series, as a rookie Greene seemed to thrive.  He's been chasing that success ever since. 

Grade:  C

Sheldon Brookbank (15 GP, +1, 25 PIM)

Technically, Brookbank probably belonged in Part I when we looked at the forwards.  He has played the Devils' good soldier—filling in on the front line when a run of injuries forced the Devils to play him at the forward position. 

While Brookbank deserves that credit, it definitely exposed his lack of talent.  He adds some toughness to the lineup when he is playing but not much else.  He appears to be a poor man's Leach when he's playing defense which isn't too much of a compliment. 

It would be shocking or an act of desperation if Brookbank were to become a regular for the Devils.  It's only low expectations to begin with that prevents this grade from being lower. 

Grade:  C-

Anssi Salmela(15 GP, 3 A, 3 P, +2, 4 PIM)

Salmela was brought in from Finland, and immediately, people tried to compare Salmela to a former Devil who had started his professional career in Finland, Brian Rafalski. 

However, while Salmela definitely has some talent, he does not project to be the same player Rafalski was or is.  Salmela appears to have a very good shot from the point and definitely has a potential future at quarterbacking the Devils' power play. 

To become a regular at the NHL level, Salmela definitely has to tighten up his defensive play.  While that might work on some teams, lack of defensive responsibility will get you a permanent ticket to Lowell.  Just ask Petr Vrana. 

Grade:  C


Scott Clemmensen(27 GP, 26 starts, 16-9-1, 2.40 GAA, .918 SV%)

Clemmensen started the season as the third option in net and has been the biggest surprise of the season—thanks to the injury to Martin Brodeur on Oct. 1 against Atlanta

Clemmensen probably expected to spend the season as the No. 1 goaltender in the AHL.  Instead, we get to the All-Star break with talk of Clemmensen being mentioned as a possible All-Star replacement for the injured Carey Price. 

While I think Clemmensen is short of the All-Star label, his play as a whole can be classified as nothing short of heroic.  To be honest, if you look at just his numbers, they aren't all that significantly different than what you might expect from the legendary Brodeur—except for maybe the lack of any shutouts. 

Needless to say, Clemmensen should be in a position to get a nice NHL contract for next season when he is a free agent at year's end.  Until then, he will be counted on to hold the fort until Brodeur's return and will be insurance for the Devils afterward. 

Only the propensity for a bad goal here or there keeps Clemmensen from an A. 

Grade:  A-

Martin Brodeur(10 GP, 10 starts, 6-2-2, 2.16 GAA, .916 SV%)

When Marty went down with his injury, most Devils' fans figured that was likely the end of the Devils' season.  To be honest, I thought the playoffs were the best this team could hope for. 

However, the Devils appear to be on their way to another playoff berth (every season since 1995-96), and it should be interesting to see what happens with a rested Brodeur come playoff time.  If he comes back to form, the Devils could find themselves poised for a run at Lord Stanley. 

Brodeur was set to set the NHL all-time win record, but that will have to be put on hold for now (he remains seven wins away from tying Patrick Roy's record of 551 victories). 

The key will be for Marty to get healthy and return to his elite level of play.  Then, the records will take care of themselves.  The injury keeps Brodeur from his normal high grade. 

Grade:  Incomplete

Kevin Weekes(9 GP, 7 starts, 3-4-0, 2.79 GAA, .908 save %)

If there is a guy that you feel bad for this year, it is Kevin Weekes, the good soldier for two years now, not really getting a lot of playing time but always coming across as one of the nicer guys in the game today. 

After only playing in nine games (five starts) last year backing up Brodeur, you would think he would have expected a lot more action this year after Marty's injury.  While he has played more than last year, he still has remained the backup most of the time and hasn't complained once (at least in public). 

Weekes played a very solid game in Los Angeles on Jan. 10, and I would be surprised if he didn't get into more of the games between now and Brodeur's return.  Having a player like Weekes is invaluable, with his attitude and outlook, even if it doesn't appear on any stat sheet. 

Grade:  B

Guys, there you have it—a look at the players on the 2008-09 New Jersey Devils.  There is a lot to look forward to in the upcoming weeks.  You have the return of Brendan Shanahan to the Devils—see how he impacts the team with his leadership and goal scoring ability. 

Then you have the All-Star debut of Zach Parise on Jan. 25 in Montreal.  In late February, early March, you can look forward to the return of the legendary Brodeur.  

Come April, it's time for the playoffs, and let's hope this year, the Devils find themselves to be more successful than last year's disastrous first round loss to the New York Rangers

I would also expect a trade or two at some point. GM Lou Lamoriello is always known for tinkering with his team when the right opportunity presents itself.

Let me know what you guys think about the grades I've handed out, and if you disagree with any, give me your thoughts.


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