After last night's game, I had to make some edits to this article early this morning; while it started out positive and optimistic that maybe, just maybe this New Jersey Devils team could qualify for the playoffs, I had to change my mind after last night's reality check sunk in. Two bad sequences in a row involving the 2-7 pairing in the last fifteen seconds of period 2 (which caused the start of period 3) served as a firm reminder that this is not a playoff team.
As a quick aside, I distinctly remember the broadcasters saying the penalty was on Marek Zidlicky, but the box score says it was against Jon Merrill; as I wasn't able to watch the third period, could someone fill me in on who was correct?
Getting back on track, the season shouldn't be chalked up as a total loss; the team might be able to acquire some assets for rentals at the trade deadline (especially if we drop the upcoming game against Boston) and we've had some bright spots this season. Quickly, let's break down those bright spots that we can look forward to in upcoming seasons.
CJ wrote an excellent article last week detailing just how good Schneider has been; to save myself some space here, I recommend that you read it if you haven't...go ahead, I'll still be here when you get back.
Schneider's mind-boggling good numbers are carrying a weak offensive team back into the playoff conversation right now; while he has put the team on his back, he probably won't be able to drag the carcass far enough. The good news is thankfully we gave him a contract extension at the end of last season before the dumpster fire that was the beginning of this season; with Cory believing in himself and playing like an elite goalie, perhaps the turnaround will come sooner for the Devils rather than later.
Okay, now I know there were fans who said that Peter DeBoer was the problem when it came to Adam Larsson; as of right now, it looks as though they're correct. Ever since DeBoer's departure, Larsson has taken off like a rocket; his defensive game has been extremely good, and 13 of 17 points from this season have come from those 24 games as well. While some of this could possibly be attributed to playing with Andy Greene, Larsson hasn't been a slouch while playing top minutes. While he has had a couple of mediocre and/or bad games, he's still looked a lot more like a former fourth overall draft pick than ever before. My main question is can he be just as effective away from Greene? My next paragraph states why we may not have to wait long to find out.
The Returning Damon Severson
Our resident rookie phenomenon is close to joining the team for practice according to Fire and Ice's Tom Gulitti. Severson was off to a phenomenal start before his injury; there were some growing pains in terms of point production, but he was still playing great defense against top competition on a regular basis. While Damon has yet to play for the Coaching Hydra, his comfort level on the ice should allow him to succeed even under a new regime. The major question surrounding Severson's return is who will he play with? His usual partner was Andy Greene, who has been playing phenomenal while paired with Adam Larsson; does Severson move down and slot in with Jon Merrill? Does he pair with Eric Gelinas and push Peter Harrold back to the press box? Or do the Devils go back to Greenerson and have Larsson pair with someone else who has been struggling? This will be a tough decision to make for sure but could wind up giving us a good idea of just how strong our defensive core will be for years to come.
A (Fairly) High First Round Pick in a Strong Draft
This still depends on how the team finishes the season, but the Devils are looking at a pick in the single digits, which will be a good step towards replenishing our depleted forward stock. I don't want to jinx the possibility either, but there was a fairly recent draft lottery where we had low odds to win, and yet we still won to move up from eighth to fourth; who's to say that we don't get lucky once more? This time however the prize would be far greater; instead of moving up four spots, we could theoretically win the McEichel Sweepstakes.
Quite a Few Contracts Expiring
The Devils will have quite a few unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, many of them being players that many fans would be happy for the team to shed. Michael Ryder won't be back whether he's traded at the deadline or leaves in the off-season; Martin Havlat and Mark Fraser should follow him out the door as well. Jaromir Jagr and Marek Zidlicky are good trade bait that might leave at the deadline; Scott Gomez, Steve Bernier and Jordin Tootoo (really didn't think I'd be adding that last name when the season started) have all played well enough to merit another contract each. Peter Harrold might be traded; he might also come back and I'd welcome it as long as he's not used as more than a serviceable seventh defenseman. If I'm forgetting anyone else, please feel free to mention what you think will happen to them.
The team is going through some growing pains right now, but as we can see above there are some things that should have us believing that our management can turn this ship around sooner rather than later. I'd like to hear any opinions you may have on this subject; will our team be better next season? Do you think any other players will be shipped out at the deadline? Will any other free agents be retained? Can we win the draft lottery once more? Leave any and all comments below and as always thank you for reading!