There is a lot of drama around the New Jersey Devils fanbase about one simple phrase. “Just the goalie”. It’s a phrase meaning the Devils are in good shape roster wise, but the fact they’ve had to play seven different netminders this season is what tanked the season. It’s hard to argue against it. The Devils have by far the worst goals saved above average of all NHL teams. They lost both starters pretty early in the season, and even when they were playing they were playing hurt.
It’s gotten under the skin of some Devils fans because they believe it’s an easy way out to make an excuse for a front office and coaching staff that produced a product that wasn’t good enough. While players like Jack Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich, and Jesper Bratt took a significant step forward this season, players like Michael McLeod, Janne Kuokkanen, and Pavel Zacha took significant steps back.
Looking at the roster as a whole, the Devils could come into next season with almost the same forward group if they wanted to. Only Jimmy Vesey is an unrestricted free agent, and all of their restricted free agents are likely to come back (if they aren’t traded for assets). The theoretical lineup is full of young players, with only Miles Wood, Andreas Johnsson, and Tomas Tatar coming in over the age of 25. The Devils have Tatar and Johnsson signed for another year.
The Devils can really put together an NHL lineup on day one without making any changes to the roster. Here is what the four lines and the extras could look like just with NHL and AHL players under Devils control in 2022-23.
This isn’t an overwhelming lineup and there are a lot of depth issues, but think about this. This is how the lineup looks without any surprises from the minor leagues. This is no Arseni Gritsyuk signing, no Tyce Thompson injury recovery, and no Nolan Foote progression in the offseason. It’s also missing the longshot chance a player from the 2022 NHL Draft joins the lineup.
The Devils have reportedly been looking at the aspects of trading some of their players, and they even considered it during the NHL Trade Deadline. Zacha’s name was hanging around a lot, but nothing ended up going through. There was talk about turning Zacha into Brock Boeser with some other pieces involved, but the Canucks likely asked for a lot more in the deal.
That’s just one piece we don’t expect back in 2022-23. There were also rumors the Arizona Coyotes were looking to take on the contract for Andreas Johnsson. He might excel in Arizona where he can get top-six minutes exclusively.
It does feel like the Devils are dealing with major depth issues, and they have to add at least two more forwards to the lineup. They need a top-six winger who could easily pair with Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes, and then they need a bottom-six forward who could kill penalties. Maybe they bring back Jimmy Vesey to take the modern version of the Drew Stafford role.
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The Devils have an amazing core in place, and they have to figure out the salaries of Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt, and Pavel Zacha this season. They also have to upgrade the goaltending position, and they have to replace P.K. Subban on the blue line (but they could do that in house). It feels like the new forward number is going to sit at two when it comes to forwards coming from outside of the organization. The Devils could sign multiple players to PTOs in the offseason like they did this past season, but most won’t make the opening night roster.