Early Saturday morning, the New Jersey Devils traded defenseman Ben Lovejoy to the Dallas Stars for a 2019 third-round pick and defenseman Connor Carrick. Lovejoy, 35 years old, has seven points in 51 games and is averaging close to 18 minutes a night. Carrick has four points in 14 games and has struggled to stay in the lineup on a regular basis. Even with his struggles, the Devils were smart to take a flyer on the 24-year-old defenseman.
Devils Losing Valuable Lovejoy
Lovejoy got off to a rough start in his Devils career. He had a much-maligned 2016-17 season, where he saw regular top-pair minutes. He was playing alongside Andy Greene most of the time and saw the opposition’s toughest competition almost every night. The Devils asked too much of him, but things changed in 2017-18.
They were able to find a more suitable role for Lovejoy alongside rookie defenseman Will Butcher. The two played over 450 minutes together and had a Corsi For (CF%) of 55.34 percent. They also controlled 60.06 percent of scoring chances when on the ice together. Even though they posted great numbers, the Devils sheltered the pair and kept them away from tough competition.
One of Lovejoy’s biggest strengths is his ability to kill penalties, a reason why Stars general manager Jim Nill acquired him. Since the start of last season, he’s suppressed shots at a rate of 86.86 shot attempts per 60 minutes, ranked fifth in the NHL for a defenseman (min. 200 minutes played). He also has the fourth-best high-danger chances against per 60 minutes among NHL defensemen.
The Stars will benefit from having Lovejoy, but only if they use him properly. They already have a strong penalty kill, ranked seventh in the league, so he’ll help strengthen it even more. But they have to keep him sheltered at 5-on-5 because he can’t handle tough defensive minutes. If they can do that, then they’ll be able to get the most out of him. The Devils will miss his presence, especially on the PK, but Carrick should be a fine replacement.
Carrick Will Make Up for Lovejoy’s Loss
Carrick hasn’t been great this season, but he has a decent track record as a depth defenseman. He had a CF% of 52.72 percent when on the ice from 2015-18 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They also controlled 54.87 percent of the scoring chances when he was on the ice too. He doesn’t put up a lot of points, but that’s not why the Devils acquired him.
Even though Carrick isn’t a significant upgrade, he’ll be able to help in some areas Lovejoy couldn’t. The Devils’ defensemen have struggled to pass the puck this season, and that’s led to them getting hemmed in their own end too often. Carrick isn’t an elite passer, but that’s where he has an edge over Lovejoy.
Carrick has done a commendable job exiting the defensive zone with possession over the last three seasons. He’s also had a solid impact on shot contributions, and he’s done a good job of not allowing the opponent to enter the defensive zone with possession. All of these are areas that Lovejoy struggled with and are things Carrick should be able to help improve.
The one area Carrick might not be able to help is the penalty kill, where he only logged 26 minutes between 2015-18. Lovejoy was one of the Devils’ most used penalty killers, so it’ll be interesting to see if Carrick will get some of his minutes. Given where the Devils are in the standings, it’s worth a shot.
Carrick is a nice pickup for the Devils. They acquired a right-handed shot who’s only 24 years old and under team control for a bit. He should also be able to fill in for Lovejoy right away, aside from being able to kill penalties. The Devils’ acquisition of a draft pick also gives them nine selections in this year’s draft, so they continue to stock their cupboard with assets. That will help them as they continue to prepare for an active offseason.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick