NJ Devils: Youth vs. Veterans – The Roster Divide


The New Jersey Devils skate into Long Island tonight to take on their Metropolitan Division (still find the name strange) rivals the New York Islanders (7 PM EST – TV: MSG +) in what is essentially a tale of two teams at very different points. The Islanders with a record of 20-10-0 through 30 games are flying around the ice and playing with consistency.

Dec 13, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; New Jersey Devils center Scott Gomez (21) and right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) celebrate Gomez goal against the Dallas Stars during the third period at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeated the Devils 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Conversely, New Jersey has a record of 11-15-5 through 31 games and much has been made in the media and on this site of their inconsistent play, which is a huge issue at this juncture in the season. The Devils have also played 20 games on the road and just 11 games at home, which is a really lopsided way to start the season, particularly for a team which plays better characteristically on their home ice.

Head Coach Pete DeBoer spoke about the home and road disparity recently and paraphrasing his quotes, he basically stated that the schedule will eventually even out because the Devils will play several home games in a consolidated stretch later this season. However, if the team is out of playoff contention by then, will that schedule shift to more home games even matter? DeBoer himself openly questioned that if the team does not keep itself afloat to get to that stretch, it probably will not make a difference.

Others within the fan base will point to the injuries that the roster has endured. The flaw with that argument is that every team has injuries that they deal with over the course of the season. It is a part of a sport as physically demanding as hockey inherently exists.

The bigger issue in my mind and the key question for the Devils during this season is whether they want to continue to play the veterans or do they want to turn the team over to the young guys?

Roster Divide


New Jersey, up until this point, has been trying to ride the middle lane on this roster divide question. They have tried to play the young players with a mix of veterans. Some fans will complain that the veterans are looking slow or are getting beat up by the opposition, and then those some fans are critical when the Devils play the younger guys and those players make mistakes due to their lack of NHL experience.

The Devils front office, and we as fans, cannot have it “both ways” as the saying goes, we have to either be resigned to the fact that the veterans are going to have some problems against faster and more athletic opponents; or we are going to have to deal with the fact that the rookies and younger guys will make mistakes in big spots.

I know that some people believe that a youth movement, or “letting the kids play” is an admission of a given team “tanking the season” or “dumping the season”. I have not looked at it that way. I come from the rationale that the younger players that an organization, in this case the Devils, have invested resources in developing can only learn from playing time at the NHL level.

It is through this process that the front office will have an understanding of the players that they have and can adequately evaluate their roster depth at each position. In the case of a season sliding away, similar to this 2014-15 campaign for the Devils, I believe that it makes the process shift to a youth movement that much easier. We can debate in our fan forums on Facebook and Twitter all day long about whether the Devils intended to struggle through this season or not, the reality is that they have a losing record. The reality is that their veteran players are discussing with the media that the window to the playoffs is closing faster by the day.

Adaptation Is Difficult


I would be remiss if I did not mention that a big potential stumbling block to the process of deciding to play the younger players in the AHL is the current Head Coach. Pete DeBoer has a reputation apparently throughout the league as being a coach that prefers veteran players on his roster compared to younger players. He has been scrutinized for his decisions on playing time for younger players throughout his tenure both with the Florida Panthers and the Devils.

However, I am a believer that people can adapt even when adaptation is difficult. In the case that the season is backsliding away, the younger players may present themselves as the best course of action for this team to win in the long term future. That could change Mr. DeBoer’s mind if he thinks his future as coach depends on playing the young players in their system.

The call up today of Tim Sestito has been a divisive one for many fans and my colleagues on this writing staff. I can understand that Sestito has underperformed in prior call-ups he has had to the “big club”, but I think that this move represents something deeper than it appears at face value. I believe it represents a shift in the front office towards the understanding that they are going to have to begin the process of evaluating their young talent.

I think the Devils organization finally realizes that the goals for this season may look unrealistic, and that it is time to adapt to a younger roster filled with guys that we as fans have heard about and have not really seen play on this level. The future of the organization may depend upon these decisions. We, as fans, have to remain patient and continue to support this process.

(Background information courtesy of NHL.com)