The New Jersey Devils tried to make a splash last offseason, bringing in Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar, and Ryan Graves. However, the tough Metropolitan Division proved to be too much for the Devils, who faltered in front of terrible goaltending. The youth movement led the way, with their top-six forwards by points all under 25 years old. That is progress, but the team needs to advance a lot more until they can be genuinely competitive again.
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By the Numbers
Power Play: 15.6 percent (28th)
Penalty Kill: 80.2 percent (14th)
Goals For: 248 (19th)
Goals Against: 307 (29th)
The Devils received the total breakout that they were looking for from Jack Hughes, albeit in just 49 games. Hughes tied for the team lead with 26 goals and was fourth in assists with 30. Injuries held him back from nuclear final stats, so we will have to wait at least another season for something in the 75+ point range. Hughes stole the spotlight from Jesper Bratt, who tied him in goals, along with the team-leading 73 points. Hughes was able to finish the entire season without a single penalty minute. No other player with at least 40 games played was able to do that.
New Jersey’s goaltending was an abomination all season, and MacKenzie Blackwood has to absorb the bulk of that as the team’s starter. Blackwood only appeared in 25 games, as seven different goalies started games for the Devils. Of those seven, only Jonathan Bernier had a save percentage over .900. He had a .902 save percentage in 10 games before going down for the year. Overall, the team had a .886 save percentage with a 3.52 GAA. Blackwood was at a 3.39 GAA and a .892 save percentage, not helping the cause at all. New Jersey’s woes went beyond poor goaltending, but it was the biggest issue.
Behind the Bench Analysis
Hiring 60-year-old Lindy Ruff before the 2020-21 season is still an incredibly odd choice. Ruff had not coached since 2016-17 with the Stars and had just one playoff series win since 2006-07 under his belt. Two years later and the Devils are not in a better position than they were when Ruff was hired. He has been able to support New Jersey’s youth movement, and the piss-poor goaltending is not on him. Still, Ruff has a lot to prove next season. He has extreme guy-before-the-guy vibes.
Front Office Analysis
The report on General Manager Tom Fitzgerald has not yet been completed. He has even more cap space to play with this offseason, as P.K. Subban‘s $9 million cap hit comes off the books. Fitzgerald has done a great job retooling the defense. Between the signing of Hamilton and trades for Graves and Jonas Siegenthaler, the top four is competent. The Hughes extension that kicks in next year looks like a steal currently. Until further notice, Fitzgerald is the guy to build this team going forward.
2022 NHL Entry Draft
Unbelievably, for the third time since 2017 the Devils have won the draft lottery, this time moving up to the second overall pick. That won’t get them Shane Wright, but it will get a quality prospect. New Jersey has no additional picks in the first three rounds, but trades made at last year’s deadline set them up with three picks in the fourth. With a high pick (again) in the first round, Fitzgerald has another chance to give the team a massive boost.
The team has to decide if Blackwood is the guy in the net. Keeping him as the “1A” makes sense for another season, but signing a very good backup is necessary. The Devils have another season of Bernier under contract, but coming off a major surgery, he is not the most reliable option. Marc-Andre Fleury would be a bit too ambitious, but players like Casey DeSmith, Mikko Koskinen, or Ville Husso would make sense. Another major point of focus is defensive depth, especially with Subban on the way out. Ty Smith took a big step backward last year. Getting a legitimate option on the back end will be key.
Follow Carter LaCorte on Twitter @CarterHudBlog
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