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2023-24 Player Review: Damon Severson is a cautionary tale

Apr 1, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Damon Severson (78) and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Sean Walker (26) go after a loose puck during the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

A complaint about Jarmo Kekalainen that we’ve repeated in articles and comments here at The Cannon, and on The Cannon Cast, is that he collected good players, but didn’t effectively build a team out of them. He also overpaid too many depth players, which left little flexibility under the salary cap.

One example of this problem is Damon Severson. He’s a solid player, but was it worth signing him to an 8 year contract as he entered his age 29 season? Is he worth a $6.25M cap hit per season? Per CapFriendly, the best comparables for him are Hampus Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. He’s simply not in their class.

Another problem with the signing is, did we need another veteran right-handed defenseman? Erik Gudbranson was already the experienced player on that side (and also paid too much for too long). Meanwhile there were a number of other still-young players who were NHL ready or close to it on that side: Adam Boqvist, Andrew Peeke, Nick Blankenburg, and David Jiricek. Severson was an upgrade over some of these guys, but the minutes taken by him and Gudbranson left little room for the young guys to get room to develop.

In terms of actual production, Severson was tenth on the Blue Jackets with 28 points and seventh with 19 assists in just 67 games. He outpaced the production in his final year in New Jersey (33 points in 81 games) and played over a minute more per game.

One knock on Severson coming in is that when he would make mistakes in the defensive zone, they tended to be huge. That held true, as he was third on the team in giveaways with 33 (though he did have 36 takeaways). It is also reflected in the number of high danger goals allowed when he was on the ice at 5v5: 1.72 per 60 minutes, which was the worst of the seven most-played Blue Jackets defensemen.

His underlying numbers do show some signs of promise, however. He had the worst PDO of those defensemen, with a .894 on-ice save percentage. He was by the worst in goals allowed per 60 minutes at 5v5 (3.49) but in terms of expected goals he was middle of the pack with 2.85. He was second, behind Jiricek, in shot attempts allowed and behind just Jiricek and Ivan Provorov in unblocked shot attempts allowed.

You can also see from this chart that he tended to make his teammates better at either defense or offense:

2023-24 Stats

Games: 67
Goals: 9
Assists: 19
Points: 28
Plus/Minus: -10
PIM: 51
5v5 Corsi%: 50.63
5v5 Fenwick%: 49.60
Off Zone Start %: 46.05

Contract

Severson has seven seasons remaining in the long-term deal signed last une as part of a sign-and-trade between Columbus and New Jersey. The annual cap hit is $6.25 million. He has three years remaining with a full no-trade clause. In 2027-28 it becomes a 20 team no-trade list, then a 12 team no-trade list for the final three seasons.

High Point

The season was well out-of-hand by early April but the Jackets managed to ruin the Flyers’ season on April 6 at Nationwide. Severson scored the last goal of the first period and first goal of the second, with the latter being the game-winning goal in a 6-2 victory that featured exclusively blue-liners scoring for the home team.

Low Point

In just the third game of the season, a 4-0 home loss to Detroit, Severson was -2 and played only 11:57. He was benched for the entire third period. This was an early example of Pascal Vincent benching veterans and rookies alike for poor play.

Report Card

C-

You could justify the grade being lower when you consider it in the context of his contract. He didn’t make nearly the impact he was supposed to in improving the blue line. On the other hand, he had some decent underlying numbers and bad puck luck, so one wonders what he could have done with more consistent partners, or an actual coherent defensive scheme. He has the puck-handling and passing ability to be an asset in a system which appropriately values puck possession.

His contract means he’s not going anywhere anytime soon, so can the Jackets deploy him more effectively before his skills start to decline? Luckily with the defenseman aging curve he could still have at least 4-5 more solid years.