New Jersey Devils: How Far is Too Far Gone?

A gut-wrenching loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday night on a special night has us wondering "when is enough enough?".

Dallas Stars v New Jersey Devils
Dallas Stars v New Jersey Devils / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The New Jersey Devils are the most unprepared team in hockey. After their latest loss - an embarrassing 6-2 flop against the Dallas Stars on the night Sergei Brylin was inducted into the Devils Ring of Honor - the team has crossed over into a negative goal differential.

But that's not all. The Devils are well below .500 at home, with a record of 9-11-2. In the second leg of back-to-backs this season, New Jersey is 1-8-1. That's one win out of 10 and three points out of a possible 20. Currently two points back from the Detroit Red Wings for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, those games make all the difference.

Some fans will point to the mounting injuries, and others will point to the languid goaltending that the Devils have endured for most of the season. Those are fair arguments, in general. However, the team wasn't playing that well when they were healthy, and when they've had the goaltending, they can't score.

Zero goals against the Boston Bruins and zero even-strength goals against the Montreal Canadiens won't cut it. Neither is being down 6-0 to the Stars and scoring two garbage-time goals with less than seven minutes left.

This is the same Stars team that played the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday in Philly, lost 5-1, and got outshot 43-15, including a one-shot first period.

Did the Devils not watch any film from that game in the last two days?

If you're general manager Tom Fitzgerald, you have to be frustrated. 2020 seventh-overall pick Alex Holtz has four goals and three assists in his last nine games and still can't get on the ice, even with Jack Hughes and Ondrej Palat on the shelf.

The Devils swung big on Timo Meier last February but still haven't been able to get him going, injuries notwithstanding. Trading Fabian Zetterlund and a first-round pick for Meier has started to look like trading your gas-efficient Hyundai and $10,000 in cash for a Lamborghini with a manual transmission, and you don't know how to drive stick.

That's no slight on Meier, who has generally been miscast during his time in New Jersey. There is a major disconnect between the Devils and the on-ice product because there's no consistency from game to game. So far for Fitzgerald, $70.4 million has been set on fire because nobody seems to know how to use Meier effectively.

And, speaking of Meier, how about Santeri Hatakka - the defenseman acquired from the San Jose Sharks in that trade? New Jersey called him up on Jan. 18, and he still hasn't made his Devils debut. Indeed, calling up a 23-year-old with limited AHL experience to make him watch from the press box seems like a great strategy for building towards the future.

Meanwhile, Brendan Smith, a left-shot defender, was placed on injured reserve that same day. However, before calling up Hatakka, also a left-shot defender, the Devils called up Cal Foote, a right-shot defender. It makes very little sense.

Then, the Devils decided it would be best to insert Foote into the lineup and pair John Marino and Simon Nemec together. NHL teams pairing two right-shot defenders together is extremely uncommon, and there's a reason for that.

Marino and Nemec have been outscored 2-7 in 56:13 together. They've also allowed five high-danger chances while being on the ice for zero of their own. You don't need me to tell you that this pairing is bad and is not working.

Two of the Devils' best defense pairings, ranked by expected goals percentage, have been Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec, and Kevin Bahl and Colin Miller. Those two pairings have combined for fewer than 150 minutes together so far. But, as we established earlier, the Devils don't seem to know what is working and what isn't. See: Holtz, Alex.

The Devils need to get their acts together for both the present and the future. If it's a lost season and the white flag is being waved, start giving Holtz and Hatakka real minutes. If it isn't, start playing your best lineup, establish some semblance of a defensive structure, and score a goal once in a while. That loss to the Stars was a slap in the face to Sergei Brylin, and it was a slap in the face to the loyal fans who pay to see a losing product on home ice.