Playoffs are the goal for the 2014-15 season. Of course, the goal of any team is to try and win the greatest trophy in sports. To get there means making the playoffs, something the New Jersey Devils have not achieved in the last two seasons. All week long, we at In Lou We Trust have been previewing the team based on what they've done, who they've added, who they've lost, what we've observed, and a whole lot else in between. Here's a list of each post in case you missed it:
- Part 1: Forwards by CJ Turtoro
- Part 2: Defensemen by Alex Potts
- Part 3: Power Play by Mike Stromberg
- Part 4: Penalty Kill by John Fischer
- Part 5: Goaltending by Gerard Lionetti
- Part 6: Coaches and Tactics by Ryan Stimson
But, for many, the whole point of doing a team preview is to answer two basic questions: 1) How good is the team? and 2) How well will they do? Today, we will give our predictions based on our own thoughts for both questions.
It is worth noting that predictions elsewhere have been all over the place. Last Saturday, Alex highlighted several predictions around the Internet that have placed the Devils both in and out of the postseason. As part of the SB Nation Season Preview on the NHL hub, a panel of eleven have the Devils as high as second in the division (Hello, Andrew Berkshire) to as low as seventh (I see you, Travis Hughes) in their predictions for the Metropolitan Division. Now it's our turn to tell you what we think the Devils will do in this coming season. I speak for everyone that we all hope reality exceeds what we think in all cases.
The ILWT Staff Predictions
John: I've given best and worst case scenarios for the Devils for the SB Nation NHL Preview on the hub. My own opinion is obviously somewhere in between. I really do think the Devils are stronger in net. I believe is Cory Schneider really good and I'm confident Scott Clemmensen or Keith Kinkaid won't be as much of a drain as Martin Brodeur was last season. I also think that the Devils will get the benefit of more offense at even strength. With the large amount of forwards, Peter DeBoer will have room to mix-and-match without really undercutting offense to a minimum. I'm expecting some more goals at evens, which is crucial because I agree with Mike that the power play is not likely going to be as good as last season and I argued the same for the penalty kill. On their own, I think the Devils will be marginally better than last season.
The good news is that the division is arguably weaker. The Rangers should get into the postseason, but I think they got worse. I'm not convinced the Capitals are a threat. Carolina and Philadelphia are looking at a large hill to climb. Who knows how much better the Islanders really are (they are improved). In spite of a 41-year goalie conceding plenty of softies and not winning any shootouts, the Devils remained competitive last season. A slightly better Devils team, some better breaks in close games, the sheer improbability of losing all shootouts again, and a weaker division means we'll be seeing the Devils in the postseason for the first time since 2012. I think they'll sneak into third place in the Metropolitan. Whether they win a round will depend on their matchup; I'll say they will just because I like to be optimistic in that regard.
Brian: I believe the Devils will finish third in the Metropolitan and make the playoffs this upcoming season. The Devils have been one of the top possession teams in recent seasons and I see no reason that will change. Lack of goal scoring, poor goaltending, and an unlucky shootout record hurt them last season. I doubt they continue to be historically bad in shootouts and I feel Lou Lamoriello has addressed the other two issues this offseason.
Moving on from an aging Martin Brodeur and going with Cory Schneider full time is a big upgrade. Last season, Brodeur was 15% below league average goaltending, or 12.33 goals below average according to Hockey-Reference's Goals Allowed %- and Goals Saved Above Average metrics. Schneider was 8% better than league average, a 7.39 goals above average. That roughly 19 goal difference between them could be worth about three wins, or six points in the standings. Add that to the 88 points the Devils had last year and they're a playoff team. Also, the additions of Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat should give a much needed boost to the offense. Mike Cammalleri's finishing ability should complement the strong possession game of the Travis Zajac-Jaromir Jagr duo while Martin Havlat and his ability to enter the offensive zone with possession should fit in nicely with a player like Patrik Elias to create more goals.
Mike: I'll come right out and say it: I think the Devils will find themselves back in the postseason this year. With improved goaltending, a bolstered offense, and a group of young defensemen who should be coming into their own, I think the team has enough pieces to finally make those strong possession numbers stand up. I think Schneider will continue to be strong in net with his increased workload, the team will continue to limit shots well, and the offense will scrape together enough goals to win games. By sheer luck, they should be able to win a shootout or two as well, which would be a nice bonus.
Part of why I think the Devils make the playoffs is how completely wide open the Metropolitan Division is, as well. There's probably one team in the division that is a real safe bet for the playoffs, and that's Pittsburgh, of course. Everyone else is fairly flawed, Devils included; but with strong possession and goaltending, New Jersey should be able to end up in the top half of a muddled division. The Devils will land around 95-97 points and nab the second or third spot in the division. Once in the playoffs, I think the Devils are a team built to make a little noise. They push past their first opponent before being dispatched in a hard-fought conference semifinal. The Devils don't hang a banner, but they erase some of the bitterness of the last two seasons.
Gerard: After missing the playoffs three of the last four seasons, the Devils have made some offseason moves to address their main area of weakness (scoring) while retaining their depth at the forward position. A full season of Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr together could do wonders for the Devils’ scoring, as could a healthy Ryane Clowe. Mike Cammalleri should provide a formidable scoring presence no matter who he winds up playing with, and Marty Havlat could be a steal if he stays healthy and finds some magic playing with Patrik Elias. The team finished third to last in goal scoring last season, yet completed the season only five points out of a playoff spot.
The defense is somewhat of a question mark this season simply due to changing personnel; Jon Merrill, Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas are going to have to step up in a big way. The same system remaining in place will help, as will Andy Greene, who in my opinion is as underrated as defensemen come in the NHL. Marek Zidlicky should help provide some points from the blue line, and Bryce Salvador is still the captain, which after watching him play this preseason is the nicest thing I can say about him. If the right players are assigned the big minutes, Cory Schneider might not see many shots get through to him on a nightly basis; while he hasn’t looked particularly sharp yet this preseason, I predict that Cory will excel as a true #1 this season. Keith Kinkaid or Scott Clemmensen will get the backup job, and will need to put forth some solid efforts so that Schneider is not overtaxed.
If the returnees find a way to score some more goals, the new forwards chip in some scoring, and the team miraculously finds a way to win a few shootouts, the Devils will be back on the right track. I see this team finishing anywhere from third to fifth in the Metropolitan, depending on how they perform in the shootout; they could easily slip in to the playoffs, either as the last seed in the division, or as one of the wild cards.
CJ: I'm cautiously optimistic heading into this season. If you disregard the shootouts, we were a playoff team last year, and even if you include them, we are still due for regression in the rest of our game due to our poor "luck" numbers. The young defensemen will have a lot of responsibility and even one injury on defense could make things very difficult. Fayne and Volchenkov aren't huge losses on the face of things, but they are 2 veteran bodies on the blue line that we don't have to fall back on if there are injuries.
I thought I was in love with Cory Schneider until I saw articles pushing him for the Vezina and even one for the Hart trophy. I am not THAT high on him, but I think he will be a top 5 goalie in the league and a full year of him obviously helps especially with Marty's poor play last season. That combined with the aforementioned regression should make us better by the numbers. Numbers never lie.
The forwards could withstand having the entire 4th line go down with injury because that would make decisions a lot easier. Though the top line gets all the buzz because of the sexy acquisition of Cammalleri, I think Elias and Henrique make sure all 3 top lines are getting plenty of scoring opportunities. I don't think this is a great regular season team, but with the dearth of elite teams in our division outside of Pittsburgh, I think we have a good chance finishing top 3 in the division. I want to stress that this is not because I think we are a vastly improved regular season team, but rather because I have little faith in the rest of the division. My projections would be Pittsburgh, then Philly, then us. And a strong possession team like us, watch out when we get to the playoffs. I think we can take whoever finishes second in a best of 7 so I'll say the Devils lose in the division finals.
Alex: The last two seasons have been bummers for the New Jersey Devils. Simply put, the Devils have not had enough scoring, and the goaltending has been suspect. This season, however, we could see a change to that. Lou Lamoriello brought in some new guns on offense to create a spark, and Cory Schneider is now the undisputed starter between the pipes. Those improvements alone should get this team closer to playoff contention.
However, it is nowhere near certain. The defense has some young blood in it which could lead to some growing pains. The new forwards on offense might not necessarily help to generate too many more goals, especially given the system of hockey that Peter DeBoer uses. And Schneider has never started more than 45 games in one season. This team is certainly one that is hard to predict. However, I do think that New Jersey has improved enough to make a run for the playoffs. With a banner year from Schneider and improved goal scoring, I think this team grabs the fourth spot in the Metropolitan and gets in with a wildcard. What happens after that will largely be based on health and momentum.
Ryan: First off, to quote a famous New York Giants moment, "this team’s going to the playoffs." They simply have to make it, right? What are the odds they miss a third straight season? The better goalie from last season will get the majority of starts, the lineup is deeper, and they’re bound to be luckier in the shootout. They did only miss the playoffs by five points last season. They weren’t worlds apart. I think they get in and Philly falls out of the playoff picture. This should be the absolute minimum for this group. Any failure on this front and DeBoer should be out the door.
Cory Schneider will win 40 games. This is easy. He’s one of the best goalies in the league playing on a team that gives up the least amount of shots against. He’s been waiting for this opportunity since he proved himself in Vancouver and I think he’ll assert himself and be a Vezina finalist. Perhaps even win the thing.
Adam Henrique scores. And scores. And scores. If the first preseason game was any indication, it was that this team is on another level when Henrique is on his game. With the added depth in the lineup (Cammalleri, Havlat, Boucher and/or Matteau sticking with the big club), Henrique can hopefully be afforded some comfort in the form of regular line mates. With Elias, Boucher, Ryder, Clowe, or whomever he ends up centering or playing win to, there’s plenty to be excited about. He’s been a goal scorer at every level and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. I’ll predict that with Elias centering Boucher and Henrique, "It’s Over!" lights the lamp 35, maybe even 40 times, depending on how Elias’ body can hold up.
Reid Boucher finishes as a Calder finalist. I’m bullish on Boucher this year. Hugely. This comes with a big asterisk in the form of Pete Deboer not benching him for missing a back check and giving his minutes to Stephen Gionta or Steve Bernier. In the games he did play last season, Boucher was one of the more efficient shooters and passers on the team. Put him on the ice and offensive chances were created.
Lastly, the inevitable trade never arrives: With so many forwards in Jersey, everyone has assumed for months that a trade would be made at some point. I doubt it. We’ve heard this for years with the glut of defensemen and even when the team "should" have made a move in 2010 due to their cap situation, they ended up just putting Salvador on IR and playing three lines against the Sabres because they couldn’t afford to have more forwards on the team. I remember; I was in Buffalo for that game.
This is the team barring some minor shuffling of players to and from Albany or a trade dump (like Henrik Tallinder to the Sabres a year or so ago). I’m sure Lou wants to see if the young D will take this opportunity and run with it, and which of the young forwards will stake a claim in the lineup. If someone’s game goes to hell or Clowe gets concussed again, maybe you see a small move (Brunner to a team for mid round pick), but nothing substantial.
You've read other predictions, you've read our preview post-by-post, and now you know what we predict. Are we generally positive about the team? Of course! We all support the Devils. We earnestly believe this is a good team. So why wouldn't we all think they'll get into the playoffs? It's by no means a guarantee as our predictions indicate, but we think they'll do it. What do you think of our predictions? Which one do you agree or disagree with the most? More importantly, what do you think the Devils will do in 2014-15? Will they make the playoffs? Where do you think they finish in the division?