Where would the New Jersey Devils be without injuries?
CJ Turtoro takes a closer look at the impact they've had on the team's season.
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By CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil)
The New Jersey Devils are in the thick of a playoff battle in a year they were supposed to compete for a President’s Trophy. In fact, before the Vegas game the Devils were the closest they’ve come all season to being 50/50 to make the playoffs, according to sportsbooks.
It’s not shocking that fans have started to hear smatterings of “Fire Lindy” chants at games as one outlet for their anger. Others put blame on the goaltending for being among the worst in the league, or Tom Fitzgerald for not addressing that position – in the off-season or since. Others still pick individual underperformers (Timo Meier, John Marino, Jonas Siegenthaler, etc.) to castigate.
And this need to find someone to blame is particularly odd considering that the main villain in this story is not a coach, a GM, or a player – but injuries.
In this article we’ll look at a couple ways of quantifying just how consequential these injuries have been.
Note: To put it into the context of the playoff race, we’ll be using a playoff probability determined by logistic regression of the Eastern Conference playoff teams since the 2013 realignment.
The starting point is the current 56.7 PTS% which translates to a 1/(1+e45.5-80.7*0.567) = 55.7%
Won battle but lost WAR
The Devils “won the off-season” for the billionth consecutive year as Fitzgerald extended Meier and Jesper Bratt at reasonable rates, then went on to add a top line winger in Tyler Toffoli and a solid veteran defenseman in Colin Miller. It turns out these moves’ impact are really just to keep the team’s head above water. Injuries have subtracted any value added…and then some.
NHLInjuryViz is your one-stop shop for the impact of NHL injuries. They consolidate an old benchmark metric called CHIP (cap hit of injured players) and have recently added WAR lost (Evolving-Hockey’s version) to their database.
According to their aggregations, the Devils have lost just over two wins above replacement from injuries. That’s a big deal because that’s 4+ points in the half-season we’ve played which means 8-9 points over a full season.
It’s not really fair to assume the Devils would have had NO injuries, right? As I learned from fans on Twitter “every team has injuries, they need to learn to deal with them.” Okay so let’s take their NET WAR lost from injuries. According to NIV’s calculations the average team has lost about a game and a half from injuries, which puts the Devils at around 0.6 WAR lost.
That would be worth a point or two in the standings now, which would increase the year projection by 2-3 points, which raises playoff probability from 55.7% to around 80%. And this may be conservative because WAR assumes you’re replacing them with a replacement-level player.
The Devils have lost bigger cap hits the last few games than any team at any point in the season other than Chicago. That means they’ve been forced to dig deep into the Santeri Hatakka’s of the world; players who are quite arguably lower than replacement-level.
Meiered in a slump
Timo’s speed has dropped off this season due, at least in part, to the mystery nagging injury that Ruff said affected his skating. It’s made him, at times, the worst player on the roster. This from a guy that was just given the biggest contract in the franchise since Ilya Kovalchuk. He was incorporated into the figures above, but that honestly doesn’t do it justice what was lost from Timo’s injury.
In his time with San Jose, Timo was worth 0.17 SPAR/60 (1 standings point every ~18 games). When he was traded to NJ he went down to 0.05 SPAR/60 last season (1 standings points every ~60 games). And then this season he’s fallen off a cliff to -0.16 (costing the Devils a standings point every ~19 games).
I’d like to hope that the player we acquired is at least 80% of the guy we thought he was, but let’s be super conservative and just say that Timo should be the guy he was with New Jersey last season.
If he were healthy, he’d have played another 13 games and been somewhat dramatically better in the games he’d played. All-in-all, this combination would’ve added...
…over 2 standings points of value! That’s a massive bump for a single player that hasn’t even technically missed that much time. This is an example of why playing injured is sometimes even worse than not playing at all.