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We Weren't Totally Wrong: Looking Back at Our 2011-12 Predictions for the New Jersey Devils

Conversations That Didn't Happen in This Photo:  "They predicted we'd be back in the playoffs."  "And they were right." (fistbump)  Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE
Conversations That Didn't Happen in This Photo: "They predicted we'd be back in the playoffs." "And they were right." (fistbump) Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE

The New Jersey Devils played all 82 games of the NHL regular season and achieved a record of 48-28-6. They earned 102 points, finished fourth in the Atlantic Division, sixth in the Eastern Conference, and ninth in the league standings. They will be going back to the playoffs after missing them entirely last season, facing off with the Florida Panthers in the first round. Who would have thought all of this would have happened before the 2011-12 regular season began?

Not many in the larger media. Before this season, I decided to ignore much of the media predictions for how the Devils will do. As Kevin highlighted back near the end of September in this post, the myopia regarding the Devils was quite notable. Yes, the Devils finished in the bottom third of the league; but they got a new head coach, a healthy Zach Parise, and much of the same team that played very well in the second half of that terrible 2010-11 season. Yet, the assumption was that it would be more of the same. There wasn't a lot of respect. It was enough for me, at least, to proclaim that I really don't care.

As it turned out, I really should have cared for that sweet feeling of "I told you so." Whatever low predictions of New Jersey were proven dearly wrong in this season. This FanPost by user Alamoth has a great comparison what actually happened with what Scott Burnside of ESPN predicted to show how wrong they were. It was a great FanPost and worthy of being bumped to the front-page.

Yet, what about us, the writers of In Lou We Trust, the third best New Jersey Devils blog on the Internet? We follow the team, we think and write about them constantly, and we'd like to think who's doing well and who's not. Would our predictions from late September hold up? How would we look when the harsh mirror of reality reflects on us? Since the Devils' first game against Florida will take place on April 13, there's a little time for some reflection of the regular season. Now's a good time as any to see how our predictions stood up. Since I wrote a whole post on the pleasant surprises with this season, you can be sure we didn't nail everything and we got some things wrong. I can admit that I was wrong about Adam Larsson starting his ELC and signing Petr Sykora out of camp among other matters.

However, as the title indicates, we weren't totally wrong. Continue on after the jump to see how we did.

Our prediction post was put up on September 23, 2011 in the midst of preseason. The overall summary I put together for the Devils' then-upcoming season figured that 2011-12 couldn't have been as bad as 2010-11. Here's a main set of questions I had for this team referencing the 2010-11 struggles:

Sure, I'd love to believe that this season has to be different from last season. The Devils won't be undercut by injuries as they were last season again, right (Travis Zajac excepted)? Peter DeBoer cannot possibly fall on his face like John MacLean, right? The new captain won't be a repeat-excuser like Langenbrunner was last season, right? The team can't shoot that badly again, right? The goaltenders - both Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg - won't be seemingly constant victims of poor play in front of their own net, right? New Jersey won't be right up against the cap, hindering their in-season flexibility, right? Well, the last one is a definitely true, at least.

My point is that, yes, it's reasonable to think that the Devils will get back to where we want them to be. I certainly hope so, at least.

We now know the answers. Peter DeBoer did more than a fine job coaching the Devils. Zach Parise was named captain and has provided no drama at all. The Devils shot at 8.5% at 5-on-5 play; which was far better than their league-worst 6.5% from last season. The goaltenders were fine. The salary cap didn't prevent Lou from making trades during the season or signing players to NHL contracts.

The Devils also had to deal with significant injuries beyond Travis Zajac, who was re-injured shortly after his first comeback in late December. They were without Andy Greene for a good portion of the season. They lost Henrik Tallinder with blood clots found in his legs, and he's not likely to return this season at all. Jacob Josefson broke his collarbone early in this season, came back, and fractured his wrist in the third-from-last game of the season. The Devils didn't suffer too much from these significant injuries, as indicated by their record. They did get back to where we want them to be: the playoffs.

Now what about the predictions themselves? I'll go first. Note: I'll excise the non-prediction parts of the prediction.

After all of these caveats, questions, and concerns, I do think they not only can get into the playoffs but they won't just sneak in as the eighth seed. I don't think they'll get home ice; but I think the Devils will get into the first round of the playoffs and give their opponent fits. Will it be enough to win it? We'll see.

I turned out to be right. The Devils got into the playoffs, they didn't get home ice, and they weren't the eighth seed. I was also intentionally vague. That's partially because my summary indicated what I thought. It's also because I didn't want to be proven horribly wrong months later. That's the thing about making predictions. Even with doing research and coming to a reasonable conclusion, it's still a risky guess into the unknown future. In retrospect, I wish I was bolder.

Going back to the top of the list within the post, here's what Tom predicted:

That's all in the past though. From the ashes of last season came new blood in the form of Josefson, Tedenby, Palmieri, and Fayne. The Devils added a franchise defenseman in Adam Larsson who is poised to make his mark on the NHL this year and saw the return of one of the top scorers in the league in Zach Parise. If Parise stays healthy and the younger forwards develop, this will be a much more potent offense than last year. The defense returns the steady Tallinder, Volchenkov, Greene, and the injury-free Masterson Award Salvador. A healthy mix of competition with the bottom defense pairing will only help put the best team on the ice. The goaltending is a year older (preview cliché alert!!) but unless both Brodeur and Hedberg go down, goaltending should be fine.

This is a good team. I think Jacob Josefson takes a big step this year, becomes a solid top 6 forward and he helps provide the spark to make this team a playoff team. They are no means out of the running for a division title in an Atlantic Division in which each team has major question marks coming into the year. I believe they make the playoffs, with a 4-7 seed and win a round in the playoffs. Tough to see them go through the conference semi-finals, so I will predict a quarterfinal series victory and then a loss in the following series.

They haven't won a round in the playoffs (yet - I hope); but Tom was spot on for the final position for the team as the Devils finished sixth in the East. However, they didn't make a run for a division title; but they weren't so totally behind everyone else. After all, the three teams ahead of them in the division finished #1, #4, and #5 in the East.

Jacob Josefson didn't turn out to be a solid top six forward, though. Josefson only got to play half of the season and he ended up usually on the third or fourth lines due to the emergence of Adam Henrique. Also, the new blood of Mattias Tedenby and Nick Palmieri didn't last as Tedenby got demoted and Palmieri got dealt to Minnesota. Tom can smile that the defense was strong, the goaltending was ultimately fine, and the offense was more potent along with the return of Zach Parise (31 goals, 38 assists, 24th in league scoring).

Kevin also predicted a return to the playoffs, though he noted a different player would step up:

I've seen many a publication count out the Devils this season when it comes to making the playoffs. Pythagorean expectation expects the Devils to be battling with the Sens and Oilers for the first overall pick. I really don't feel the same way. Peter DeBoer (or more or less, any coach) is infinitely more competent than John MacLean; and the added hijinx caused by Kovalchuk getting thrown around and Jamie Langenbrunner and his diva attitude. This year, the Devils have a coach who knows what he's doing and a more focused Ilya Kovalchuk who was able to train rather than worry about legalities and all that stuff. The Eastern Conference is getting tougher, but the Devils do have a good roster which can compete with the rest of the Eastern Conference. They're probably not going to win the Division, but they will be able to make the playoffs.

Peter DeBoer certainly showed that he's far better than John MacLean in this season. Ilya Kovalchuk also had a marvelous season. There has been many words written about his new focus and acclimation to the team. I don't think he's doing so much different he wasn't doing before except for penalty killing work. But he definitely had a far better 2011-12 as he led the Devils in scoring with 37 goals and 46 assists. In fact, he finished fifth in the NHL in scoring. Focus or not, he got the job done. In any case, Kevin also got the team prediction right: they didn't win the Atlantic but they did make the playoffs. The Devils did compete within the East as they beat up on the Southeast, did well against the Northeast except against Boston, and went 13-11 within the Atlantic.

Matt Ventolo put in more detail in his prediction, some of which he nailed and some of it didn't quite happen.

It's tough to predict a team like this between everything that has happened in the last year - who knows what type of Devils team we'll see? But you know what, maybe last season will be a blessing in disguise. The Devils will simplify their goal this season instead of thinking ahead - just get into the playoffs. They brought up homegrown youth and potential with lots of speed and a heavier defensive core with plenty of players capable of getting NHL time. Parise and Kovalchuk are going to play their games in separate lines, but skate together on the powerplay - which is where I feel the biggest difference will be compared to past seasons. Now regulars like Josefson, Tedenby, and Palmieri have to contribute on both sides for this team to excel since their roles will be clear and more involved once the season starts. Adam Larsson will make the team, get quality minutes and contribute well as the season goes along. Marty and Moose will hold the last line of defense with a more mature defense in front of them. Peter DeBoer's system is clear and plays to the strengths of this team. With only one game under their table, it's obvious the players are sold on his system and do the things he wants them to do. The Devils may not win the Atlantic Division (which is yet again stacked this season), but they'll get a playoff spot. Maybe second or third in the division, fourth to seventh in the conference standings. A playoff spot is a playoff spot and if they make it, I feel they'll make some noise with a first round upset.

Parise and Kovalchuk didn't play on separate lines for a majority of this season. They were opposite each other at even strength; though they were together on the first power play unit. Also, Tedenby and Palmieri played themselves out as being regulars as the team went on. The homegrown youth that stood out was Henrique.

That said, Matt was mostly correct about Adam Larsson making the team and playing quality minutes. While he didn't face a lot of tough competition, he was averaging around 20 minutes per game until his bone bruise injury and he did lead the Devils defensemen in points. Rookie aside, the defense was more mature and turned out to be the second best team in the NHL in shot prevention. The team most definitely bought into what DeBoer was selling, too.

As far as the team prediction goes, Matt was right on the conference positioning but just off on the division. Most of all, they did make the playoffs. While the Devils are the lower seed against Florida, would it really be an upset if they won? Hold that answer for later this week.

Matt Evans wasn't long with his prediction, but he took some bold stands in his statement:

Marty will play 60+ games, Kovalchuk will thrive under DeBoer, Parise will not do well until late November, our defense will not be as good as some suspect, but Adam Larsson will adjust and be a top four defenseman by playoffs. Did I say playoffs? Given the assumptions I've made above, the Devils will exit in game 7 of the second round. An acceptable season after last season's debacle.

Martin Brodeur played only 59 games this season, the defense had the second lowest shots allowed per game rate in the NHL, and Larsson fell out of the top four on the blueline after his struggles after his injury. It's an open question whether he'll be in the playoffs. Those were misses, though he was a game away from being correct on the first one. There were some hits, too. Matt was right that the Devils would return to the playoffs. He was also right that Kovalchuk thrived under DeBoer and that Parise wouldn't get going until late in November - Parise's production shot up in December.

C.J. Richey counted scoring chances for some time before he couldn't anymore. I thank him for his contributions. Still, he made a prediction so let's see how it turned out.

The question now is can Pete DeBoer get out of his players what Lemaire did or fail like John MacLean. I believe that he can and that the Devils will make a return to the playoffs this year. My prediction is the Devils will finish 3rd in the Atlantic and 6th in the Eastern Conference. I don't think that they can manage a deep playoff run though but wouldn't be surprised if they pulled off a first round upset.

He was right to believe in DeBoer. Just look at the Devils' record. The Devils finished fourth in the Atlantic but C.J. was exactly right about their final position in the East. Again, as with Matt Ventolo, would a first round win over Florida really be an upset? Again, hold your thoughts on that until later in the week - say, Wednesday.

Lastly, Josh Weinstein contributed with daily links. As with C.J., real life intervened and so he couldn't contribute further. I appreciated his contributions all the same. He also made a prediction, so let's see how that turned out as well.

It's obvious that last year was a disaster, but I don't think we will see anything like that in the near future for the Devils. If they can lock Parise up this year long term, then the outlook could be bright for them. I think this year's team has a decent shot of making the playoffs if they can play consistent hockey all season long. I can't see them advancing deep into the playoffs if they do make it however.

Well, the Devils didn't lock up Parise - or anyone else - long term in this season. While the 2011-12 Devils ran some hot streaks followed by some cold streaks, they were consistent enough to finish where they were. They did make the playoffs, so I'd call that a "hit." Also: this season's team really wasn't anything like last season's team.

Overall, across then-six different writers at ILWT, we all thought the Devils would make the playoffs. We also didn't think they would win the Atlantic Division or get home ice; just that they would get in. Overall, we got that right and some could say that's what matters most. Some of us were more bold and specific and those who did got some of that right while some of it didn't turn out as thought then. Good feelings as required all around.

As much as it feels good to know that we were all correct that the Devils would be playing in mid-April again; I do understand the issue with predictions. No matter how much you research and ruminate about what could happen, reality doesn't necessarily follow. That's really why this post is called "We Weren't Totally Wrong" instead of "I Told You So" or "We Knew the Playoffs Would Return" or something like that. It's just as accurate while avoiding getting a big head about it - lest we get subjected to a Burnsiding or some such.

We did it to us, now how about yourselves. What did you predict about the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils season that turned out to be true? What did you think would happen that didn't? Please leave your answers to those questions and other thoughts about various season predictions coming true or not in the comments. Thank you for reading.