Devils At The Break: The Curious Case of Brian Rolston

In the third installment of “Devils At The Break,” I’ll take a look at the Brian Rolston, the Devils’ left-winger. His second go-around with the Devils has been subpar at best, and I’ll take a look at his performance.

In the summer of 2008, Rolston was one of the big free agents on the market. The 33-year old winger came off three straight 30+ goal seasons with the Minnesota Wild, and his big shot ability allowed him to quarterback the powerplay. And his powerplay numbers were stellar, as he accumulated three straight seasons of 10+ goals.

The New Jersey Devils needed a goal scorer, but Rolston’s powerplay ability enticed the team. The Devils didn’t have a true point man, with Paul Martin still a few years away from becoming an above-average offensive defenseman. The Devils offered Rolston a four-year, $20.25 million dollar contract, which the left-winger accepted. Rolston was, once again, a New Jersey Devil.

Brian Rolston

 

In his first season as a Devil, Rolston underperformed. The winger lost an edge and crashed into the boards in Atlanta, and had to be helped off the ice. Rolston suffered a high-ankle sprain, and the winger missed considerable time. The winger played through the injury, and his numbers reflected it. He finished last season with 15 goals, 17 assists, and 32 points, his lowest offensive output in seven years. He didn’t deliver on the powerplay either, finishing with eight goals and eight assists.

This year, Rolston continues to underperform. The winger has 17 goals and 13 assists on the season, which will place him above last year’s numbers. But Rolston’s major problem comes from with his lack of shot accuracy. Although there is no specific stat to track missed shot attempts, I can confidently say that many of Rolston’s shots miss the net. He fails to hit the net time and time again, especially on the power play. Those misses greatly diminish the impact of his shot. Rolston can make goalies duck in fear, as Jean-Sebastian Giguere all showed us. His shot leveled Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, leaving him laying on the ice for several minutes. But the winger hasn’t shown that same power with the Devils. As a result, Rolston hasn’t been as effecitve scorer worth almost five million dollars a year.

But the Devils should have seen this decline coming before offering him a contract. Rolston, who recently turned 37, began to decline while with the Wild. Here are his numbers from his three years in Minnesota:

Year              Goals        Assists           Points          Plus/Minus         Powerplay Points

2005-2006       34             45                  79                 14                              32

2006-2007       31              33                 64                   6                              34

2007-2008        31             28                59                   -1                              28

As we can all see, Rolston’s production declined each of his three years in Minnesota. He was still productive, scoring over 50 points each season. However, his goals, assists, points and plus/minus all steadily declined. It should come as no surpise that, as Rolston ages, his production will decline. But with his offensive firepower, it shouldn’t fall off as steeply as it has. I cite his lack of shot accuracy as one of the main issues for his decline. But I’m sure that age accounts for part of the reason.

Almost halfway through his four year deal, Rolson hasn’t been the investment the Devils planned on. He hasn’t brought any significant upgrade to the powerplay, and his offensive skills look average at best. With the Devils in almost desperate need of some blue-line help, I would think Rolston would be the one dangled to other teams. It would be a tough sell for trades with his diminished production, but general manager Lou Lamoriello may be able to sell Rolston on his potential.

It’ll be interesting to see if Rolston stays for the length of the contract, but from what I’ve seen, Rolston already wore out his welcome. He’s become an older player whose skills have diminished. If he can find his offense, he can be a productive member of this team. But he continues to hurt the powerplay, and now skates on the third line (a checking line). Brian Rolston, a player who came with such high expectations, shouldn’t be expected to contribute as he did in Minnesota. He’s merely become an older player who will produce at a high level.

Photo Credit: Al Bello, Getty Images

 

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