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A Breath of Optimism

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For a fan base of a rebuilding team, sometimes optimism for the upcoming season can be tough to come by. People are expecting a bad year, and the excitement level is not as high. Today, let's try to bring some optimism back!

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Let's face it.  We all expect that the New Jersey Devils will not be a very good team this season.  In my opinion, John summed it up very well in this article he wrote a little over a month ago: the Devils can play their hearts out and do their best to succeed, but when looking at the big picture, it is unlikely they will win more than they lose.  Instead, this is a season of development and improvement.  As fans, we need to look for the positives in a season potentially filled with lots of losses.  We need to see player growth, team chemistry form, and hopefully begin to see a core of players develop that will bring this team back to dominance.

On Thursday, NHL.com did their 30 in 30 on the Devils, and in the video, EJ Hradek and Dan Rosen both predicted that New Jersey would miss the playoffs because of the anemic offense that they predict this team will have.  They did mention some positives for the team, giving the goaltending situation an A+ and really praising the young defense which could potentially become really formidable sooner than later.  Both just do not see this offense improving much on the 2.15 goals per game that were put up last year.

In reality, I have to agree with them.  I hope to see improvement from the offense.  I would love to see a 30 goal scorer, I hope Adam Henrique really improves and becomes a leader of this offense, and I hope that at least one of Stefan Matteau, Reid Boucher, or even Pavel Zacha really impress.  In reality, however, even with all of this, there may not be enough goals to go around that will win this team enough games to make it to the postseason.  This is just the reality of a team in year 1 of a full breakdown and rebuild.

Despite all of this, today I want to be optimistic.  Forget that I—and basically everyone who writes on this site—do not have high hopes for this season in terms of wins and losses.  Today, I want to see what the Devils might actually need to do to make the playoffs.  What could they actually do that would possibly win them enough games to make the dance?  While this is most likely a fruitless exercise, I still feel that having some hope for this team, even if it is misguided hope, is positive.

Some Number-Weaving

First, we need a benchmark of numbers to see what this team would need to reach.  Last season, Pittsburgh made the playoffs with 98 points in the regular season.  That was the lowest number of points for a playoff team in either the Eastern Conference or Western.  The year before that, however, Dallas got in with only 91 points, and in the East Detroit and Columbus got in with 93.   Therefore, to play it somewhere in the middle, let's use the nice round number of 95 points that the Devils or any team would conceivably need this season to have at least a good shot at grabbing one of the wild card spots.  Last season, the Devils produced 78 points.  Therefore, they would need to gain around an extra 18 points to be in playoff contention for this season.  That is 9 wins, just a little over 1 extra win a month!  That does not sound too terrible, does it?

Next, we should look at the differentials between goals for and goals against for playoff teams to get an idea of how many more goals the Devils will need to score than they give up.  Again, I think that using the last two seasons as a benchmark is a good idea, as they are the only two full seasons the NHL has had since the new CBA came into play.

Here is a chart of last season's playoff teams from the Eastern Conference, and their goal differentials.  At the bottom of the chart I also threw in New Jersey's stat line for some reference:

Team

Goals For

Goals Against

Differential

NY Rangers

252

192

+60

Montreal

221

189

+32

Tampa Bay

262

211

+51

Washington

242

203

+39

NY Islanders

252

230

+22

Detroit

235

221

+14

Ottawa

238

215

+23

Pittsburgh

221

210

+11

Average

239.125

208.875

+31.5

New Jersey

181

216

-35

Now, here is the same chart, but for the playoff teams from the 2013-2014 season:

Team

Goals For

Goals Against

Differential

Boston

261

177

+84

Pittsburgh

249

207

+42

Tampa Bay

240

215

+25

Montreal

215

204

+11

NY Rangers

218

193

+25

Philadelphia

236

235

+1

Columbus

231

216

+15

Detroit

222

230

-8

Average

234

209.625

+24.375

New Jersey

197

208

-11

So, clearly the Devils were lacking most in Goals For.  In both seasons, New Jersey scored under 200 goals whereas every single playoff team scored at least 215.  On the other hand, the Devils performed well in the Goals Against category, hovering right around the playoff average in 2014 and only giving up around 8 more goals than the playoff average this past season.  Therefore, I think that the answer is clear: with Cory Schneider in net, the Devils will again perform like a playoff team in the Goals Against category.  That should become even truer as the young defensemen grow and become better as a unit.  In this regard, I think we can simply average what the Devils have done the past two seasons, and say that the team will give up around 212 goals this year.

To raise the differential, then, this team needs to generate more goals, just like Hradek and Rosen said on NHL.com.  How many more, though?  Well, the average differential for the average playoff team over the last two seasons was around +28.  The Devils can be a little worse than that, however, as we are just looking to make a wild card spot here, not be in the middle of the pack.  Taking Detroit's unreal -8 out of the equation, we can average somewhere between Columbus' +15 and Pittsburgh's +11, so I would say we need to get the Devils to have around a +13 differential.  And if we assume the 212 goals against, that means New Jersey needs to score 225 goals this year.  That would be 44 more than last season.  That sounds like quite a lot of goals, and it definitely is.  But if we want to put a positive spin on it, it is just a little more than one goal every other game.  If the new philosophy of fast, attacking and supportive can work to produce one more goal every other game as compared to last season, the Devils would actually have enough goals to compete for a playoff spot.

The Optimistic Conclusion

When you look at it in the most positive way possible, the Devils could actually compete for a wild card this season if they win one or two more games a month as compared to last season, and score one more goal every other game as compared to last year.  From that vantage point, it really sounds like something that could be achieved.  This team has a lot of young, raw talent.  If some of that talent really blooms this season under John Hynes' tutelage, it could help to generate those extra goals.  Then, considering that Cory Schneider is in net and will always keep the team in games, those extra goals could conceivable lead to more wins than last year.  If it adds up to 9 or so more wins, New Jersey would legitimately be in contention for a wild card.

The Sober Conclusion

In reality, of course, the odds of this occurring are rather slim.  Winning games in the NHL is no easy task.  It requires exceptional teamwork, dedication, skill, and experience.  Much of this Devils team lacks that experience, including the head coach who has not yet coached in the NHL.  Generating those extra 44 goals will take a lot of time.  44 goals is a large number, especially for an offense that has not produced a 30-goal scorer since Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk were on the team.

I would love to be hopeful that this Devils team could compete for a playoff spot, and I hope that by reading this article, maybe I gave you a little more hope and reason to tune in come October.  The realistic side of our brains may know better, but at least in our hearts we can think positively!

Your Thoughts

Do you have any thoughts on the matter that you would like to share?  Are you attempting to enter this season with some optimism and hope, or are you going to expect the worst and just look for developmental improvement for the upcoming years?  Are there any other numbers that you can throw out there that would also spin things in a positive light?  Or, do you feel the whole process of doing so is a waste of time?  Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.