New Jersey Devils: 3 Reasons For Optimism After The All-Star Break

The 2023-24 season hasn't been ideal. Despite all the negativity surrounding the Devils, there should still be hope for a team that has playoff and championship aspirations.

Carolina Hurricanes v New Jersey Devils
Carolina Hurricanes v New Jersey Devils / Elsa/GettyImages
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The All-Star break is here, the New Jersey Devils are out of a playoff spot, and vibes are at a low. It's been a season from hell in what was supposed to be one of Stanley Cup aspirations. Through 47 games, the Devils have amassed only 51 points. For comparison, the Devils had 68 points through 49 games at last year's All-Star break.

Yet through all of the doom and gloom, the team is right in the thick of a playoff race. The week off comes at a great time for players, coaches, and fans to reset their bodies and minds. In a season where everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, the Devils will need a little more luck in the second half. With all the negativity surrounding the team over the last few months, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the Devils in the second half of the 2023-24 season.

Injuries

Let's start with the most obvious one. After making it through 2022-23 relatively unscathed, the Devils have been ravaged by injuries this year. Teams deal with them, and the Devils are no different, but the compounding injuries have left them icing one-third of an AHL lineup.

The list of players who have missed time is astonishing. While we all want to see them compete and win games, one look at the amount of injuries explains why they've struggled with continuity on a night-to-night basis.

Jack Hughes has missed 15 games with multiple upper body injuries. Dougie Hamilton has missed 27 games with a torn pec and is out for the rest of the season. Nico Hischier has missed 11 games with an upper-body injury. Jonas Siegenthaler has missed nine games and is out long-term with a broken foot. Timo Meier has missed 13 games with mid-body injuries. Ondrej Palat has missed 10 games with a lower-body injury. Brenda Smith has missed the last six games with a knee injury. Erik Haula has missed five games through injury. Colin Miller has missed 20 games through multiple injuries. Tomas Nosek has missed 41 games with a foot injury. And lastly, Curtis Lazar has missed two games with a lower-body injury.

A list of injuries that would make it hard for any team to win. They've lost their top two centers, an elite goal scorer, their top defensive pairing, most of their bottom six, and defensive depth all too injury. The week off should allow these guys to rest and recover before having to go full-throttle in the second half.

Reinforcements Coming?

We are a little over a month away from the March 8, Trade Deadline. Where this team is in the standings will tell us all about how active GM Tom Fitzgerald will be come that date. What we do know, however, is that the Devils have been in on a few discussions.

All season long, if a goalie's name has been in trade rumors, the Devils were said to be in the mix. Most recently has been Elliot Friedman's report that he believes the team has discussed a reunion with Adam Henrique.

With the recent development regarding Michael McLeod and his involvement in the 2018 Canadian World Junior sexual assault incident, there's no doubt that the likelihood of a trade has gone up significantly. The Devils are still in the thick of a playoff race, and Fitzgerald, while not mortgaging the future, will want to make a move or two to bolster his team down the stretch.

Another wrinkle in trade discussions is Dougie Hamilton being added to LTIR. It always looked inevitable, but now that the move is confirmed, the Devils have an extra $9 million in cap space to play around with. That gives them more than enough room to add another center, possibly a goalie, and even a depth piece or two, and still be comfortably inside the cap ceiling.

The 2022-23 Florida Panthers

It's a strange one but hear it out. The NHL and sports in general are copycat leagues. What better template to follow than the Florida Panthers of just last year? Entering last season, the Panthers were coming off of a Presidents Trophy and were a lot of people's Cup favorites. They started the season with no consistency in any facet of their game, and at the All-Star break, found themselves three points out of a Wild Card spot. They had just 54 points in 52 games and were in danger of total collapse. Fast forward to the end of the season, where they finished going 18-10-2 and snuck into the final Wild Card spot. The rest is history as they went on their remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Final.

While there are differences between the Panthers' and Devils' situations, there are a few key parallels that should give fans optimism. For starters, both teams dealt with injury issues and poor goaltending. Alexander Barkov, Sam Bennett, and Aaron Ekblad all missed significant time through injury.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight both struggled, posting identical 0.901 SV%s and 3.07 and 3.18 GAA, respectively. It took Alex Lyon to come in late in the year and stand on his head to carry them to the playoffs. The Devils have found themselves in a similar situation with Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid posting terrible numbers. However, it remains to be seen if Nico Daws is the savior in the net or if an outside goalie will come in and play that role.

The other thread connecting the two teams is their underperformance. That Panthers team was filled with elite talent in all areas of the ice. The Devils are not too dissimilar. A lineup with relatively full health boasts elite talent, with Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt leading from the front. In addition, both teams entered the season with high expectations that they could be Cup contenders, only to fall flat on their faces in the first half of the season. The Devils have all the talent in the world to match what the Panthers did last year and go on a run.

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