New Jersey Devils: Worst in the Metropolitan, Best for Rebuilding


Aside from the eternal optimists, most fans can agree that the New Jersey Devils are not going to be primetime contenders in 2015-16. The offense has continued to sputter out of control since the loss of Zach Parise in 2012. The defense is still a work in progress even though it shows great promise. The only strength of the team is goaltending which will not be a concern until Cory Schneider starts slowing down – many years away.

More realistically, this team is about to ice one of its worst rosters in 20 years with a new general manager, rookie coach and entirely new coaching staff at the NHL level with one exception (goaltending coach Chris Terreri). There are forwards with top-six potential and there are defensemen with top-four potential, but that’s no different than every other roster in the league. Success requires players performing to their potential.

There is some hope. It is a tad overzealous to expect New Jersey to be finished with its rebuild and qualify for the playoffs in 2015-16, but would it be so crazy to say that they could compete? Depending on your rebuilding philosophy, this may not be desired. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that the Devils are a playoff bubble team in the best-case scenario.

It is easy to say that New Jersey could contend for a playoff spot, but it is much more difficult to figure out how the Devils are going to do that. After all, the Metropolitan figures to be highly competitive in 2015-16, which spells bad results for Jersey’s Team.

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First off are the New York Rangers, the returning President’s Trophy victors, who boast a (mostly) young and highly talented roster from top to bottom. Then there’s the New York Islanders, who, despite sputtering out of control in the last few months of the 2015 season, look to build off their strong overall performance. The Washington Capitals took the New York Rangers to game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals but were unable to finish them off; their ensuing moves this offseason – including the acquisitions of Justin Williams and TJ Oshie – should lead to greater success. The Pittsburgh Penguins did nothing but improve in the short-term when they traded for Phil Kessel and are a good bet to contend.

Aside from those playoff teams, New Jersey will also have to best the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and Carolina Hurricanes if they want to avoid the basement of the Metropolitan division. Columbus is a virtual lock to compete in 2015-16 and is sure to surprise after a major retooling. I see no reality in which the Devils surpass the Blue Jackets next year. The Flyers also look to be better this year as their young offense and defense continue to gel. They did not lose anybody of significance this offseason and brought in Sam Gagner, so they too will be trending upward.

Columbus’ bad fortunes last season were unprecedented They are a lock to contend in ’15-16. Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

That just leaves New Jersey and Carolina to fend for the seventh and eighth seeds. While New Jersey lost plenty of deadweight, they also parted ways with Jaromir Jagr, Marek Zidlicky, Steve Bernier, and Scott Gomez since last February and it seems that only one of those will be suitably replaced as Kyle Palmieri joins the team. New Jersey stands to do worse this year (shockingly).

Carolina, on the other hand, will feature a new look goaltending situation (thanks to Eddie Lack), two new top-four defensemen (Noah Hanifin and James Wisniewski) and lost no talent of significance. As the Carolina and New Jersey finished within seven points of one another last year, there looks to be some competition between the two cellar-dwellers this year.

That was a long-winded way to say that things look bad for New Jersey this year. But is that bad for the team’s future? Assuming that expansion is on its way, the Devils will need a home-run pick in 2016, for fear that the two new expansion clubs will have priority in the 2017 NHL Draft. And, while the new lottery system does not favor tanking, the worst team in the league will be picking top-4 in the Draft, regardless of the lottery’s results.

Lastly, easing off this win-now philosophy that they have been stuck in for the past 20 years will do wonders for the team’s youth. Now, players like Seth Helgeson, Eric Gelinas, Reid Boucher, and Stefan Matteau will be afforded more room for error while newcomers like Blake Coleman, John Moore, and Sergei Kalinin will be able to make their way into the lineup before finding their long-term role.

For New Jersey, the present is bleak. There is not enough talent to make this team a potential contender and there is not enough potential to make this team a paper champion anytime soon. However, there is hope. The youth will be given every chance to succeed and the team will continue to improve as they acquire more higher round draft picks.

What do you think? Are the Devils years away from competing or will they shock the world and make their claim at a playoff spot? Let me know your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.

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