Looking Back At Changes In New Jersey Devils Roster Show Where Team Failed

Everyone has been trying to figure out what went wrong with the New Jersey Devils last season, but a simple roster comparison shows why it didn't work out like we hoped.
Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils
Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils / Elsa/GettyImages

The New Jersey Devils made many changes in the last year, and though a fair number of them were needed, the roster changes were a step backward and a bigger one than expected. How big of a roster turnaround are we talking about here? Take a look at the changes in roster below:

2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Extras: Boqvist, Smith

End of 2023-24 season

After seeing how this roster performed last season, it's clear how different the talent level is between the two sets of lines. While there is a full offseason still ahead, the team has a lot of work to do, and that is assuming players step up. Looking first at the top forwards, the Devils current first line, which for the purpose of this look at the team is Nico Hischier's line, was incredible down the stretch.

It has a bit of everything on it, but after that, the holes are just too much. Haula has no business in the top 6, but quite frankly, no one below him showed much of anything last season, hence why he is slotted in there at the moment. The question marks on the other wing are there for a reason. Yegor Sharangovich showed to be a big-time goal scorer and great two-way guy in Calgary. The team lost him (and a pick) for Tyler Toffoli, who got us back two picks that will either be dealt with more to fill this hole or be maybe looking at breaking this roster in a good four years.

This was terrible asset management and a disaster trade already. It has now left two top-six wing spots open, and the best shot to fill them that the team currently has is also the biggest piece of trade bait.

Getting onto the bottom six, the shadow of Ondrej Palat is here to stay unless someone wants 40 games of a guy who used to be good for $3-4 million over his value, and the two guys on his wing are a hard maybe to be on the team. Dawson Mercer is the most likely to move up the lineup or be traded for a goalie, and while Alex Holtz showed he can score, the team showed they have no faith in him. If he is here, unless the new coach likes him, he could easily be lined up beside Curtis Lazar and Kurtis MacDermid.

The fourth line is also a massive change as Nathan Bastian had a rough year. It's easy to understand why after Michael McLeod's arrest for alleged sexual assault. That being said, the Devils bottom six missed McLeod's impact. He is going to be almost impossible to replace as the number one NHL faceoff man, a great defender, and someone who made an impact every game.

The other guy on that former line is Miles Wood, who also brought a lot of that energy the previous season, and he got his share of hate. The team is slower, smaller, easier to play against, and less engaged than when he was here. Adding MacDermid was a great move, and he is by far the toughest guy on either of the rosters. However, his hockey ability is far below some of these other guys', and the team needs toughness that can play alongside him.

Getting to the defense, it was a disaster without Dougie Hamilton. No one can be faulted for that, and Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec both did incredibly well and will only grow from here, but it was a big step back and relying on young players can be rough. If these guys take a small step back next season is in jeopardy big time, and while these two are way better than past Devils defenders, let's not forget Will Butcher and Ty Smith being some of the best on the roster, playing like first-round picks before falling out of favor.

The loss of Ryan Graves and Damon Severson, even though we knew it was going to happen, was also harder than expected. Neither did well on their new teams, but in New Jersey, they were solid and brought some size and grit versus the very passive defense we got used to. They were the perfect compliment to the team, and teams did not take as many liberties with the Devils for a reason, while Severson was not noted to be tough, he had no trouble getting into scrums that we just can't expect an 18/19-year-old to do, and Graves was just a 6'5 monster.

The Devils did not lose much skill, but what set them back was losing too much size, toughness, physical drivers, and complimentary defenders. Of the best and most active hitters, the team lost Graves, Wood, McLeod, and, let's be honest here, Severson would be one of the physical guys versus the current roster. As of this moment, that has been replaced by MacDermid, who will not play a lot of minutes, and Lazar, who is small but the best we have at getting engaged and hitting opposing players. When it comes to defense, Tatar played that role massively with Hischier on a shutdown line, Sharangovich could score and defend, and McLeod was a defensive beast. None of those roles have been replaced.

All in all, this team has a lot more holes to fill than people think and at a minimum needs a legitimate top 6 winger who can hit, a big physical defensive defenceman who can play tough minutes, a bottom six player with a lot of work ethic and grit who is not just an AHL plug and probably a goaltender. All the fans watching playoff hockey right now can also see what this team will need to do if they want to win when it matters most and look at the teams remaining and how much team toughness there is moving on in the playoffs, how many insanely dirty plays there are and ask ourselves would this Devils roster survive? If you are unsure of that answer, just wait for the Rangers/Panthers.