Where were you when New Jersey Devils fans saw their franchise shaken to its foundations?
Lou Lamoriello, ruler of all he surveyed since 1987 with the Devils, left the team for the Toronto Maple Leafs in July 2015, two months after stepping aside as general manager in favor of Ray Shero. (And, obviously, stepping down as one-third of their coaching staff.) “Lou Lamoriello created and defined what it meant to be a New Jersey Devil,” said owner Josh Harris, in an understatement.
But it was time for something new, something different. Shero hired John Hynes from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, becoming the youngest coach in the NHL at 40 and generally being like a little pitbull in look and comportment.
The Devils finished 38-36-8 (84 points) under Hynes, threatening a playoff seed for a bit before falling off and finishing 12th in the conference. Their offense was putrid (184 goals) and their possession stats were second-worst in the NHL (thanks, Patrick Roy) at a 46.17 Corsi percentage. But the team produced two 30-goal scorers in Kyle Palmieri, who was one of Shero’s first moves, and Adam Henrique, establishing a career high. Their third-leading scorer was Lee Stempniak with 16 goals, before his deadline trade to Boston.
But the story of the season for the Devils was Cory Schneider, who was 27-25-6 with a .924 save percentage and a 2.15 goals-against average. And probably should have been the starter for Team USA in the World Cup, but that’s another blog post…
2015-16 Season, In One Picture
Did They Get Better, Worse, Or Are They About The Same?
Um, yeah, better.
The Taylor Hall Trade – all caps, which is what we do for the big deals – is the Devils’ most significant move for an offensive player since the Ilya Kovalchuk Trade, the difference being that Hall is just 24 years old. He has 132 goals in 381 games in the NHL, on some rather putrid Edmonton Oilers teams. One assumes he’ll play with Henrique, who was a junior hockey teammate, and this could be a lethal combination.
Will they miss Adam Larsson? Of course. He was a steady top four defenseman, and getting better each season. But other than goal, the Devils’ best position of strength from which to deal was from the blue line. And if Shero passed up a 1-for-1 deal with Larsson for Hall, he would have been our greatest argument for mandatory drug testing of general managers.
The Devils added Ben Lovejoy to that blueline after he won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins, for 3 years and $8 million; as well as veteran Kyle Quincey for one year.
Up front, the Devils added some grunts. Veteran Vernon Fiddler signed for one year; ditto Beau Bennett, formerly of the Penguins. Luke Gazdic (Oilers) was also added.
As of this writing, the future of one significant name was unclear: Patrik Elias, an unrestricted free agent. The 40 year old with 408 career goals was limited to 16 games last season.
Five Most Fascinating Players
1 – Taylor Hall
Obviously. He enters this season with a Rexall Place-sized chip on his shoulder after the Oilers traded him, feeling like he had enduring during the down years and now won’t be there if they turn the corner. Is that going to be the motivation for a career year in Jersey? Perhaps.
2 – Pavel Zacha
The big (6-3) prospect at center for the Devils spent most of last season with the Sarnia Sting. Are they going to give the 19-year-old more seasoning, or is Zacha going to make the jump to the NHL and a significant offensive role this season?
3 – Michael Cammalleri
He had a sneaky great year last season, posting a 0.90 points per game average despite being limited to 42 games due to injury. The 34-year-old winger has three more years on his deal, and will be essential to the team’s secondary scoring beyond the Hall line.
4 – Damon Severson
As Eric Gelinas’s trade to the Colorado Avalanche showed, there are no guarantees with promising young defensemen. But two years into his NHL career, Severson looks like the real deal, with 21 points in 72 games. In theory, the loss of Larsson sees his ice time increase (18:09), but the Devils have enough depth where they can bring him along at their own pace.
5 – Kyle Palmieri
His previous high in goals was 14, before hitting 30 last season in 82 games. A contract-year fluke, or was it just time for the 25-year-old winger to shine? We’ll find out this season.
Mascot Hijinks Video Break
Can We Trust Them At Even Strength?
You couldn’t last season, with just 109 goals scored at 5-on-5, which were 11 less than the second-to-last team in EV goals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Combine that with being second-to-last in possession, and the Devils obviously have some work to do here.
Jacob Josefson (50.85 Corsi percentage) was one of their few possession bright spots in 58 games, and Cammalleri had 11 EV goals in 42 games. But Travis Zajac, Palmieri, Henrique and company need to be better at even strength. We’ll see what adding Taylor Hall, Bennett and potentially Zacha do to the offense.
On the blue line, Severson was respectable (48.99), but the rest of it was bleak, including a rough season for the usually dependable Andy Greene as far as possession. Can Lovejoy, Quincey and potentially rookie Steve Stantini help on the even-strength front?
As a team, they only generated 24.4 shots per game, worst in the NHL.
Can We Trust Them On Special Teams?
The Devils were ninth in the NHL on the power play last season at 19.9 percent, scoring 48 goals. With the addition of Hall, that number should rise. And they should get their share of power plays with The Great Blandisi on the team.
The Devils were eighth on the penalty kill at 83 percent effectiveness. They were shorthanded 264 times. Schneider had a better PK save percentage (.884) than Vezina winner Braden Holtby.
Can We Trust Their Goaltending?
Of course. Schneider is one of the top netminders in the NHL, and kept the Devils in contention despite their punch-less offense.
Player Mostly Likely To Be In Vegas Next Season
This is no way an indictment of what is, in actuality, an underrated player, but 31-year-old Travis Zajac is signed through 2021 at $5.75 million per season.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)
Four. Hynes is obviously going to have the backing of Shero and the chance to grow with this team. But the jury was split on his first season in Jersey: He might have gotten more out of this team than expected, or he might have coached them into offensively challenged possession hole with only Schneider bailing them out.
Hall gets over 30 goals, Schneider has another Vezina worthy season, but the Devils need to find a way to elbow their way into very crowded wild card picture. They’ll get over 90 points, and they’ll get close to the postseason. How close depends on how much Hall and the other tweaks improve then at 5-on-5. Gun to the head, they miss the playoffs.
2016-17 Season Preview
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