New Jersey Devils Disaster At Third-Quarter Mark; What Went Wrong?

It's been a disaster season for the New Jersey Devils. What went wrong?
Mar 3, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Phillip Danault (24) scores a
Mar 3, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Phillip Danault (24) scores a / Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After falling to the Los Angeles Kings Sunday afternoon, the New Jersey Devils are now sitting 30-27-4 with 64 points in 61 games and seven points behind the Flyers for the final playoff spot. To climb into that spot, they would also need to pass the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders while staying ahead of the Sabres and Penguins who are two points behind. While making the playoffs is not impossible, it is not likely and not deserved for this team. In the past, we've given third-quarter grades for every player at this point in the season, but not today. Here, we just review everything that's been bad about this season.

Goaltending Stinks

This is the nicest way to put it and every Devils fan knows it. Before the Kings game, this team had Nico Daws as the 4th worst goalie in the league based on goals saved above expected. Akira Schmid and Vitek Vanecek are right there as well. Nobody is shocked by this. We expected some regression, but this cliff fall in every metric with all goalies is almost comical and we can only imagine how the players in front of them feel knowing they probably need four goals to win every game.

That being said, fans are jumping way too fast on "he's the guy." First it was Schmid this season who fell off a cliff and then it was Daws after about four good games and now he is overworked and terrible letting in four goals on 14 shots in consecutive games. This team needs a legit starter, but way too many are jumping on the Jacob Markstrom train and it really looks like a 50/50 split of Devils fans who want him now. The guy is inconsistent, one of the oldest goalies in the league and we should have already learned the old goalie lesson after the last few attempts. The situation needs to be addressed in the offseason as well, when the entire league isn't talking about how disappointing this team is and how desperate they are for a goalie, or the overpayment will backfire very fast.

Alex Holtz should be in the top six

Lindy Ruff hates him, and Devils fans have been joking about it for a long time. He scores with awful linemates, limited ice time and will still get buried on the fourth line there is literally nothing he can do to get out of the dog house. The team drafted him to be the sniper next to Jack Hughes and he is showing that is where he would thrive but instead they are going to trade him while doing the worst job possible to showcase him.

Bad Trades

Tyler Toffoli has been good this season. That being said Sharangovich has three fewer points and is almost 10 years younger. This team traded low on him while trading for a career-year player who is going to be a UFA this season and probably wants money for what might be his last contract. Sharangovich was an average skater at best but still way better than Toffoli and he is a better defender by miles which makes this look terrible year one. Just wait another year or two when it really looks bad. Toffoli is a shooter and this team needs those (he leads the team in goals), but if when he loses half a step he will be finished in this fast league him signing for three or more years is a frightening thought which is why they need to seriously consider trying to get a first rounder for him at the trade deadline.

No compete or leadership

This team just rolls over when things get difficult. No one hits, almost no one plays defense, and no one is holding them accountable. Lindy Ruff won't punish stars who make the same mistake 10 times for some reason and no one on this roster gets on anyone's case about it, which is a problem the entire leadership core needs to look at. Nico Hischier is not a loud guy, but he needs to get on guys about this if the coach doesn't because if they can't handle a simple "stop throwing the puck in the middle you cost us five goals in the last two weeks," they wont be helping a playoff team ever. This team would be eaten alive in a big market like Toronto, Montreal, or Boston.

This team needs a replacement for Michael McLeod in a massive way. McLeod was arrested after allegations of a group sexual assault back in 2018. He was the NHL's best faceoff guy, was scoring, hitting and never took a shift off. They have to find a way to replace this or it is going to be a hole in the lineup for another year at best.

This team plays on the perimeter and somehow takes a lot of shots a game while never getting into those dirty areas. Its pretty clear teams know the Devils are not willing now and will let them float pucks on net racking up some analytic numbers but doing little else. On top of that the powerplay doesn't move enough with all the fast skaters and thanks to the skill they do get openings but still refuse to shoot for whatever reason.

Watching how the Devils play they must be physically easy compared to a to other pro teams. They don't like to hit or get hit and let's be honest, it is probably elementary to score. The best teams practice like they play and this team doesn't have a lot of guys who battle hard and has lost guys who did like Ryan Graves and Miles Wood. They might not be the best players but Wood would have been vocal about people slacking off and the team could use that right now.

Mediocrity from too many

Dawson Mercer disappears a ton and looks afraid to shoot. Ondrej Palat is easily forgotten on this team sometimes because he is noticeable once every 3-4 games. Timo Meier is playing better when healthy, but he went from a black hole on offense that can't skate to an overpaid third liner. The team better hope its an injury that he heals from in the summer or Hubredeau has competition for the worst contract in the NHL. These guys are here to be key pieces. None of them are doing it, which would make it pretty hard to succeed and be a Stanley Cup contender even without the other problems, and if any other team thinks Palat still has it from his Tampa days, the Devils should be moving him to them ASAP before he dispels that notion with a third straight bad year next season and probably misses more time.

Defensive regression/growing pains

Luke Hughes needs to be sheltered way more, but the other guys are so bad the team feels they can't do it. He is an offensive machine, but like many young players, he makes too many mistakes. For the last 20 games, it feels like he gives up multiple odd-man rushes or breakaways and is basically at fault for a goal in a game. Its astounding a message hasnt been sent.

John Marino went from a top shutdown guy in the league with Graves to an average NHL guy without him. People expected Graves to be the one who fell off a cliff (and he did in Pittsburgh), but it was just some magic chemistry for both. We all knew Graves wanted way too much money to stay but this one was a massive loss this season.

Jonas Siegenthaler quickly regressed from his one good season back to being a bottom-pairing guy. Next season will be significant because he is an absolute mystery when it comes to where he fits in the lineup now since if he cant defend like he did before he does absolutely nothing else and the team needs a big hitter who defends on the 5/6 pairing.

Brendan Smith is still really bad and possibly Lindy Ruff's favorite NHL player for some reason. They need to move him at the deadline just so fans don't have to stress about them resigning him next season.

This team missing the playoffs could be good for them. They would have been killed by the Rangers or Hurricanes anyway. They might see one of their star players injured in the series, and that wouldn't be worth it for a few nights of playoff gate. It will also be a massive wakeup call to the players who should see that they can't just "out skill" the other NHL teams and they need to put in effort into every shift even without the puck.