There is no doubt that the New Jersey Devils will be a more exciting team to watch this year than they were during the 2015-16 season. Last year, the combination of a lack of offensive pop and injuries to regular players put this team solidly in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. But some changes have recently been made, and the future looks brighter for the Devils. The question is, is the immediate future bright enough for the team to make the playoffs this year?
The short answer is, unfortunately, no. Although the recent additions of Taylor Hall, Pavel Zacha and PA Parenteau have added to the offensive prowess of the team, and Cory Schneider, the goaltending backbone of the Devils, is back and healthy to start the season, the defense is not what it was before the Hall trade, and the additions to the offense are just not enough to consistently put goals into the back of the opponents’ net.
On the defensive side, last season, New Jersey only allowed 208 goals against–a statistic that was ninth best in the NHL. Schneider, who was in large part responsible for the low goals against number, had only one regular season loss where the Devils scored at least three goals. The problem was, the Devils did not score three goals often–New Jersey only recorded 184 goals over 82 games, the lowest number in the league.
The Devils tried to fix this in the off-season and the team will definitely improve their standing in the league. But, even assuming that the additions to the offense (minus Lee Stempniak, who is now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes) give the team more goals, it still won’t be enough to make the playoffs, as the other teams have improved and there is some slip expected in the Devils’ defense.
The loss of Adam Larsson, the team’s defensive stalwart, in the Hall trade is expected to affect the blueline negatively. Granted, New Jersey has tried to fill the defensive void by adding veteran blueliners Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Quincey. But, absent a career year for both, these two NHL average defensemen will not take the place of Larsson in preventing goals.
Of course, that does not make the Hall trade a bad one for New Jersey. In fact, the opposite is true. Not only does Hall have the potential to be an NHL all-star, he is expected to be the building block of an eventual Stanley Cup winner. But for now, he will be playing with a chip on his shoulder (it is no secret that he was not happy with Edmonton’s decision to make the exchange), which bodes well for the Devils.
Additionally, Devils willingness to make the trade signals management’s willingness to go out and sign young highly-paid elite forwards. This will not go un-noticed by highly-prized prospect Pavel Zacha, who is about to begin his rookie season on the Devils’ top six. Zacha himself could turnout to be a premiere NHL player. A natural center, Zacha could soon wind up centering New Jersey’s first line, with Hall on his left.
More pieces need to be put in place, but the future is bright in New Jersey. It just is not quite there yet. It’s like fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers used to say on opening day, “wait till next year.”