New Jersey Devils: Turning Point Or Turning Back?


Dec 29, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; The New Jersey Devils celebrate their 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils earned a huge victory on Monday night over the Pittsburgh Penguins which my colleagues have covered on this site as well as throughout the hockey media sites which cover the team. Some reporters feel it was turning point in the season for the Devils, others feel it was the best game that they have played this season, and for still others in the media the questions remain regarding this team.

So I found myself today, a fan of the Devils since they started playing here back in 1982, asking myself: is this a turning point, or will this team turn back? Will the team get a big bounce from this victory over a top-tier team? Will they go right back into a period of losing results?

I have seen past editions of the Devils back in the late 1980s and early 1990s that were teams plagued by inconsistency. This team in 2014-15 has looked the same way at many points during this season. They will win a game and look great in doing so, and then drop three straight games. The power play will look terrible one game, and look terrific the next two games. It is just one of those type of starts to a season for the Devils, and I am not sure whether or not it will change.

I know other people who have downplayed the win over the Penguins because they essentially believe that too many conclusions about the future are being made from just one game. We, the fans, have seen this before and then watched the Devils revert back to playing inconsistent hockey.

However, the one variable that has changed at this point for this edition of the Devils is the coaching situation. The decision by Lou Lamoriello to come down from his office upstairs to go behind the bench and then hire Scott Stevens and Adam Oates to coach the team in a three-headed system has raised some eyebrows around the NHL. This is just the second game for this new “head coach by committee” setup, and New Jersey played very well in all phases of the game. The passes were tight and right on “tape” as the expression in hockey goes, and the forechecking was resilient. The power play executed well also in setting up scoring chances against a top quality opponent in the Penguins.

Turning Point?


New Jersey displayed the type of team they could be against the Penguins, the issue is that this team seems incapable of putting everything together at one time. I am not sure if the coaching change will solve that or not, but I have to say that I was a vocal proponent of bringing Oates back and to have Stevens working again with the defensive players. Those two coaches maximized the output from their players in the 2012 run to the Stanley Cup Final, and their approach could provide very beneficial effects for this team.

This season the Devils have struggled to score goals, that is no great revelation, but the experts and the fan base remain divided on whether it was the players underperforming or the fault of the system used by former coach Pete DeBoer. In my own view, DeBoer was too attached to the dump and chase strategy and he should have been open to trying another method to get this team in position to score goals.

The inability to produce offense up to this point in the season puts a greater emphasis on the defensive strategy of the team. The work that Scott Stevens does with that group will determine just how far this team could bounce back after a disappointing start. Stevens has some veteran leadership on this roster, but the defensive corps lacks the “enforcer” type player which was so prevalent in the many playoff runs during the mid-to late 1990s.

Dec 29, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save on New Jersey Devils right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) during the third period at Prudential Center. The Devils defeated the Penguins 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

I understand that some fans are still questioning whether this team has truly turned the corner. I also understand that sometimes too many conclusions can be made from one game. However, I have seen teams change their entire season around based on one big victory, a “statement win” can do wonders for a team.

Between the new coaching change and the passion that the Devils displayed in the game against Pittsburgh, I think when we look back on this season, this will be a turning point. It is a long season, so we will have a group of games that we will scrutinize, but this will definitely be among that group of games. It was the most complete performance this team has put together this season.

It gives me confidence that this coaching setup, while certainly very unique, may end up being successful; either way the fans have to be patient and give these men a chance to coach the team.

Trade Winds


The other big topic surrounding the Devils right now is the potential for a trade to reshape the roster. The rumors have centered upon their most desirable piece to any potential trade, Jaromir Jagr, who has been asked about his future almost incessantly in recent weeks by the “beat” media covering the team.

Jagr has been forthcoming about his desire to remain with the Devils, but at the same time, parsing those comments by stating that he does not have control over the decisions made by the front office on how they choose to improve the team. The key in any deal surrounding Jagr, and for the most part any other trade, is that it has to provide a way for the team to get better.

Sometimes teams get stuck in this situation where the front office thinks they have to make a trade at all costs. That type of thinking could make your team slightly better in the short term, and worse in the long term. Other teams have made a few trades to “shake up” the roster, and it has hurt the team chemistry and back fired on them.

In the case of Jagr, we all know at his age he is not going to play another 5 to 7 years here, he is on a year-to-year basis. That being stated, he is also a future Hall of Famer playing at a high level right now. His leadership to this team is invaluable so it makes that trade even more complicated. The Devils would have to gain a player or players in return who improve the team in some capacity and have the leadership qualities they will lose when Jagr goes out the door.

We all know that this roster has areas of weakness, nearly every roster in the NHL has weak points too, but the trade of Jagr who enjoys playing in New Jersey, it just does not make sense in my perspective. I think the roster is better with him on it, than without him.

In the end, I think Jagr will be a key component to whether we can gauge if the Devils have fully turned their season around in the New Year. The other way it could go is that the Devils return to their inconsistent ways and the bottom really drops out on this team. I would like to know what my fellow fans think: is this the turning point to the season? Will the Devils revert back to inconsistency in the weeks ahead?