The New Jersey Devils defense was supposed to be fixed when P.K. Subban came to town last offseason. Adding him and Ty Smith to the 2019-20 Devils roster might have given them a decent blue line. They aren’t the Carolina Hurricanes or anything, but hopefully, they’d be competent. Well, that hope quickly turned into sorrow, and the Devils once again had one of the worst defensive cores in the league.
This season, the expectations were phenomenally lower. Two different bouts with COVID-19 hit the defensive group in waves, and the blue line as a whole didn’t really mesh. There were times where the team looked pretty good at 5v5, but the major issues on the penalty kill led to one of the worst goal differentials in the NHL. The Devils ended the season with a -49 goal differential. Only the Ducks, Blue Jackets, and Sabres were worse.
The Devils have a lot of work to do on the blueline, but there is hope for the future. It all starts with a former 1st-round pick that looks like he could be on the top line for a long time. All advanced stats come from the wonderful people at Natural Stat Trick.
Ty Smith exploded onto the scene this season. He missed out on making the team last year, but he more than made up for lost time this season. He played 48 games despite missing the end of the regular season with an injury. Smith was at his best when he was paired with Damon Severson, who was at one time having a really good season. Smith was able to add offense at 5v5, and there was some showing of power-play prowess on the team’s first line. He ended up second on the team in assists behind Jesper Bratt, and he will finish somewhere in the top ten in Calder Trophy voting. He has some defensive inefficiencies, but those pale in comparison to the impact he has all over the ice. Smith fell off a little bit towards the end of the season, but there’s no way he could end this season without an A.