All week long here at All About the Jersey, we collectively previewed every major aspect of the New Jersey Devils ahead of the 2016-17 season. From fantasy to coaches, from power plays to penalty kills, and from the back end to the front end. All of our posts for this season’s preview are here, from Alex’s post on the forwards to my post about the PK. To close this out, it’s time to go with the old classic: predictions.
I asked everyone at All About the Jersey to give their predictions for the 2016-17 season. With the Devils performing better than expected last season, there’s a wider range of opinions of how this one will play out. Some are outright saying the playoffs are possible. Others, not so fast. All the same, I thank all of the writers for giving me their take for your reading pleasure. And I thank you for reading this and our other posts this week.
Without further delay, here are our predictions in alphabetical order by first name:
The AATJ Staff Predictions
Alex Potts: Entering year 2 of the rebuild, I feel there is definitely an aura of improvement around the Devils. That makes this year exciting to enter into. There will be some interesting things to see over the course of the season. I want to see Taylor Hall and what he can bring, I want to see a breakout year from someone like Pavel Zacha or Steven Santini, and I want to see continued dominance from Cory Schneider. Not only will these be fun to watch, but they will also continue to help the team move closer toward playoff contention.
Given the changes in the roster and another year to gel under John Hynes’ tutelage, I have to feel that the Devils will finish better than they did last year. The question, of course is how much better. If the defense can be as good as last season, and if the offense can considerably improve with the new personnel, a big jump would be possible. However, it is tough to predict that. Just because Hall is here, and just because everyone is currently healthy does not mean that the offense will all of a sudden become great, and who knows if the defense can be as good as last year given the loss of Adam Larsson and the overall youth of the group. With that in mind, I do believe the Devils can reach the 90 point threshold, but I don’t think they will get too far beyond it. And sadly for NJ, since the Metropolitan could be very competitive again, I believe 90 points will have them finish only 6th in the division, 5th if they’re lucky. I think they are moving upward, and there is a chance that they can exceed my expectations, but I also think they are one solid year away from being able to realistically predict a playoff berth.
X Factors: I think there are a few major X Factors this season that could be the difference between fighting for a playoff berth or fighting to stay out of the Metro basement all year:
1. Hall needs to be Hall. He needs to be who he was offensively in Edmonton, if not better.
2. If Zacha is NHL ready, that gives a huge boost to the offense, especially the depth of the forwards. And if he can actually reach 20+ goals, watch out.
3. Possession improvement! Anyone can predict anything they want, but if the team does not have better possession this year, they are not going anywhere. Need to be at least a 48%+ Corsi team, 50% or better if they want to seriously contend.
4. The health of Michael Cammalleri. The last year he played 80+ games, he scored 82 points in 81 games for Calgary. But it was way back in 2008-2009. Can he even play 70? Please? He hasn’t played more than 68 since that season.
5. Damon Severson needs to be at least 80% of what Larsson was, especially if he plays alongside Andy Greene, or else this defense might not be as good as last season.
Brian Franken: I continue to be optimistic about the direction that the organization is heading under Shero and Hynes. With that said, I still think the Devils are going to be in for another tough season. Specifically, I'm going to predict that they'll finish 7th in the division. Cory Schneider is going to steal points for the Devils but even that alone will not be able to make them climb the standings. The addition of Taylor Hall will make this a much more exciting team and I hope that Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri can build upon the seasons they had last year, but still goal scoring is going to be an issue for this team. Hopefully Beau Bennett and Michael Cammalleri can stay healthy to provide some much needed secondary scoring, otherwise the Devils could be in for an even tougher year. I'm also interested in seeing which young players step up and earn a spot on the team.
On the back end, I think they have an interesting mix of vets and young guys looking to make their mark. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Damon Severson, Jon Merrill, and Steve Santini do this season as I think they are crucial to the rebuild of this team. In Merrill and Severson, this year will be crucial to earning the trust of the coaching staff. I'm cautiously optimistic about Ben Lovejoy adding a stabilizing influence on the back end and I'm hoping to see a guy like Yohann Auvitu get an chance at some point to show what he can do.
CJ Turtoro: I have one massive problem with this Devils team and it is the blueline. If Andy Greene gets injured, we have the worst group of 6 defenders in the league. I've mentioned how much Adam Larsson and Greene were able to mask last year in so many different articles that I can't even list all the links here. Greene and Damon Severson worked great together before Larsson came along so hopefully that plugs the whole somewhat. I expect them to be used in the offensive zone more this year since guys like Ben Lovejoy and Steve Santini should be able to handle the defensive zone better than anyone we had last year. As a consequence, both should easily top 20 points and Severson may get 30-35. As much as I've written about my appreciation for Greene/Larsson, I've written a similar amount about how much I believe Merrill to not be an NHL player.
The forwards are fascinating. New Jersey’s top 9 has got to be one of the better ones in the NHL at this point. The Devils’ have 4 potential 30-goal scorers in Cammalleri, Hall, Henrique, and Palmieri. Obviously, not all of them will, but any of them could. I have 2 predictions for our forwards.
1. Hall does not lead us in points. I think that Rico and/or Palms will benefit from his presence tremendously and that will bring them up to a 70-point threat. Cammalleri is also still the best point-per-game producer.
2. After a year in which we saw 25 different forwards get time, this year we will see somewhere from 16-18. I think this year is not nearly as experimental. Our top 6 are set. I don't think you'll see many games that don't include Zacha, Boucher, or DSP either. I think that there are only 3-4 forward spots that will see any turnover. We are becoming a team.
That being said - I think that the decline of the defense matches the offensive improvement and so we will not finish better than 6th in the Metropolitan and miss the playoffs for the 5th straight year.
Devin Yang: While the acquisition of Hall was great, I really don't think it was enough to help the Devils jump into the playoff picture. Our offense is better, and Cory Schneider is good enough to help the Devils win games on his own. However, I don't believe we have enough to jump over the Rangers, Penguins, Capitals, Islanders or Flyers. I do believe the Devils can jump the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes this season though, barring a Sergei Bobrovsky amazing season. Thus, I believe the Devils will finish 6th in the Metropolitan and will not make the playoffs.
I like the youth on the team now. I predict Boucher will get between 30--40 points and around 15 goals, and Zacha will get between 40-50 points, with around 15 goals as well. I'm more hesitant on Severson, but I do believe he'll be a good top 4 defenseman. Schneider will be as great as he's always been, and his play will dictate how well the Devils do.
I don't think we'll be bad enough this year that we'll be in contention for the first overall pick, but I strong believe we will not make the playoffs. This year will dictate what Shero should do in the future, so it'll be an interesting one, indeed.
Gerard Lionetti: I was a pessimist last year when making a prediction to how our New Jersey Devils would do, and they actually wound up exceeding my expectations, as I had them pegged in the bottom 3 last year. I see the team building off of last season and moving higher in the standings.
The forward depth is probably the best it has been since 2011-12; not saying the forwards are that good, but the rosters between then and now haven't exactly been fantastic. The addition of Taylor Hall should address the lack of even strength scoring from the last few seasons. Beau Bennett has looked pretty good riding along with Hall and Adam Henrique. Pavel Zacha should have a home with the big club; Vernon Fiddler will help to shore up the bottom 6 and hopefully the face-off circle. Combine that with the returning players and New Jersey's offense certainly looks a lot better at least on paper.
Conversely the defense is a giant question mark this season; Andy Greene is a known quantity but we have to hope that age doesn't start to catch up with him. Damon Severson needs to take the crucial next step forward in his development; Yohann Auvitu has seemed like he can be a key cog so far in the preseason. The Jo(h)ns are what they are at this point; one of them should be sitting every night in favor of recently signed Kyle Quincey, summer signing Ben Lovejoy and the defenders all mentioned before them. If the defense can be at least as good as last season with an improved offense, this team has a chance to go places.
Cory Schneider is Cory Schneider; as long as he doesn't get hurt and we have a back-up (my gut says Wedgewood gets the job) capable of taking at least 12 games of the season and giving Schneids ample rest, then the net shouldn't be a problem.
Some Bold Predictions:
1) Yohann Auvitu makes the opening night roster, finds himself in the top 4 by the end of the season, and finishes with 35 points.
2) Pavel Zacha adjusts to life in the NHL by finishing the season with 40 points; however, he doesn't unseat Travis Zajac as 2C until next season.
3) Perhaps the boldest prediction of them all...the Devils make it back to the Playoffs.
Overall: Devils will finish 4th in the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs as a wild card.
John Fischer: The Devils proved me wrong last season. I thought they were headed straight for dead last in the Metropolitan. They didn’t stay in the basement. They didn’t even get there (thanks Columbus). They finished seventh, but still finished outside of the bottom third of the league. They were more competitive than expected and that was good. So I can understand the thinking that this season will be even better. I could see it, but I still don’t think the playoffs are happening.
As this is the eighth post in a week-long preview, allow me to make this prediction based on outside factors. Namely, the other teams in their division. Recall that last season, a big reason why the Devils were on a playoff bubble was because the other teams never really got “going.” For multiple months last season, my division snapshot would be summed up as Washington ruling first place, Columbus securing the cellar, and six teams stuck in the middle not so far apart from each other. I’m not so certain the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins will be floating between second and fifth place for months. I don’t think either New York team will be unable to pull away from the rest of pack like they were last season.
Yes, the Devils added Taylor Hall and removed plenty of dead weight. But is that enough to surpass a Carolina team that has had some very good possession numbers and really just needs some better shooting luck and league-average goaltending? Is it enough to be better than a Philadelphia squad that seemingly has figured out their goaltending, might bring in another young defenseman in Ivan Provorov , and add a talented Travis Konecny to an already beefy forward group? The same Philly team that made a run late last season to get into the postseason? I don’t quite see it in either case. And if Columbus doesn’t get wrecked with injuries and fall flat on their faces to start the season like they did last season, then maybe they’re a team of concern. I don’t think so - but I could be wrong again.
It’s odd, but the Devils very well could improve as a team and end up not being able to make up a lot of ground within the Metropolitan. And that doesn’t even consider the other division with respect to the wild card. There are still concerns with the roster as it is constructed that Ray Shero, John Hynes, the staff, and the players will have to address in their own way. Can the team improve in possession? Can this team not have the least prolific offense in the NHL? Can the defense maintain itself without Larsson? These are all big questions and the answers may not always be great ones. I do predict that the 2016-17 Devils team will be a better team than the 2015-16 team in some regard. I think they’ll be a more exciting team to watch, too. I’m really looking forward to 82 games (I hope) of Taylor Hall. However, because I don’t think they’re really that much better than anyone else in the Metropolitan other than Columbus and maybe Carolina (I think goaltending dooms them - again), they’ll finish sixth in the Metropolitan and around 20th in the NHL. So it’s another playoff-less year. It’s not all bad: I think as the team keeps re-building in multiple areas, they may be able to really push for the postseason in 2017-18. We’ll see.
Matt Torino: I think the Devils will be better this season, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll make the playoffs or even improve their record. The team probably overachieved last year and it's unlikely Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri will both have what amount to career years again. Taylor Hall coming in obviously helps the offense and you make that deal 100 times out of 99, but there are now pretty big holes on defense that I'm not sure someone like Ben Lovejoy of all people will be able to fix.
The biggest X-factor this year is Damon Severson. If he can recapture his early rookie season, pre-injury form on a pairing with Andy Greene, then the defense is probably in just as good a position as last year's if not better. The addition of Taylor Hall gets this team a lot closer to the playoffs in that case. But if he's anything short of that, I don't think the team has the defensive horses to be able to seriously challenge for a playoff spot. Lovejoy is okay, John Moore isn't particularly good and John Merrill looks like we're closing in on bust territory. Santini could come in and be fantastic or Auvitu could be Brian Rafalski 2.0 in terms of guy coming from Europe to greatly fix the defense, but those are a lot of things that need to happen for the defense to be playoff worthy. So my prediction is 6th in the Metropolitan Division.
Mike Stromberg: The 2015 offseason started the first honest-to-goodness rebuild I've ever experienced as a Devils fan. Since then the Devils have made some very positive strides towards getting back into contention. Last season, the Devils were a pleasant surprise, remaining in contention pretty deep into the season and gathering some solid assets along the way (while proving the Kyle Palmieri trade really was a robbery). This summer was well managed by GM Ray Shero as well, with the Devils having a solid draft and, of course, the trade that brought Taylor Hall, one of the best forwards in the league, to New Jersey. There's certainly a lot to feel positive about in New Jersey right now and I think the Devils are on track to be back in contention soon.
That said, it still feels like this team isn't quite there yet for me. The forwards have some significant promise now, particularly with Hall in the fold, but they are still probably only topping out somewhere near average even if the younger players like Pavel Zacha and Reid Boucher seize the available lineup spots and play well. On the back end, the picture is significantly more troublesome. Andy Greene will hopefully be his usual rock-solid self, but beyond him, a lot of players could be out of their depth. Ben Lovejoy was a decent enough add, but on his own doesn't seem to fill the void vacated by Adam Larsson. The Devils will need a big step forward from Damon Severson and perhaps some surprising contributions from a guy like Yohann Auvitu or rookie Steve Santini to make the back end a success. There are just a lot of "ifs" on the blueline, and that usually isn't a good spot to be in.
In net, the Devils, of course, have the great equalizer named Cory Schneider. If they make the playoffs this season, Schneider will almost certainly be the biggest reason for it. But looking at this roster as a whole, again, I just don't think it's complete enough. The forwards might decent and the defense hopefully will be able to hold itself together, but I think they're still a year or so away from really being in the thick of things. I wouldn't be shocked, necessarily, if they snuck into the playoffs on the back of Schneider and a big season from Hall, Palmeiri, and Henrique, but my prediction is they finish on the outside looking in once more, 6th in the Division and 10th in the conference. As long as they look like they're making progress on the ice, I think I'll be able to live with that.
Trevor Post: What a difference a year makes. After a surprising year that began with nothing but pessimism for a team that ended up over performing expectation, here we are going into this season filled with hope. If your not, you certainly should be. Save for possibly defense, which I will expand upon, this team that did rather well last season, has only improved.
The "stud" group are the players which we should expect to see out there for 16-19 minutes for forwards (Cammalleri, Palmieri, Zajac, Henrique, Hall) and the 20+ range for defensemen (Greene, Severson). This is not solely based on point production, although I believe much will be expected of this group outside of Greene and Schneider. The "reliable" group are the players that may find themselves in a more fitting role this season due to our newfound depth such as Sergey Kalinin, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Reid Boucher. For example, Kalinin should be a solid 4th line player, not 3rd or even 2nd at times as he was last year. That is an upgrade to the bottom line already. This group is also those players that we know what they are and what they offer in the role they fit best in. When the bottom six consists of some combination of Pavel Zacha, Smith-Pelly, Josefson, Blandisi, Boucher, Kalinin, Vernon Fiddler, it feels much stronger than last years bottom six.
As for the defense, let me convince you why it will be improved and have better results even without Larsson. Hockey is a possession game, we can agree on that? He who has the puck more often should win more often. With a healthy Cammalleri and new addition Hall, our top six plus Zacha, should see improved possession numbers. Let's do some cause/effect: if we have the puck, who doesn't? If we have the puck, who can't score? If the Devils have the puck, who can score? Keeping the puck out of the other teams hands will directly lead to better defensive numbers. We already know Greene and Severson are good, and I see no reason Severson can't still improve. The prime age of NHL players is typically 26-30. Three defensemen fall into this category, if you allow Merrill at 24 to be considered. John Moore is 25 (turns 26 in Nov), and Auvitu is 27. That's 3 players who are reaching their peaks, and Severson (22), who has already played well, well ahead of his prime years.
And here’s the reason the goaltending will be good this year: Cory Schneider.
Here's some gutsy predictions for this season:
- We will have 3 30 goal scorers this season (Henrique, Camm, Palms, Hall all fit the bill)
- We will also have 2 20 goal scorers this season (Whoever doesn't make it from the above, Zacha or Bennett)
- Schneider will have 6+ shut-outs and is a top-3 Vezina Candidate
- Taylor Hall will be a 40 goal scorer for the first time in his career
- Season predictions: Finish the season around 94 pts for a wildcard spot with a record of 42-30-10, a goal differential of +14, and a GF/GA 216/202. Oh, and the first-round will go seven games.
Steve Wozniak: I've been very impressed with what Ray Shero has done with the franchise so far. That said, it's only the second season of a significant rebuild. I'm not expecting results until next season.
I really hope the team figures out how to get the best out of Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique. I can't imagine it's going to click right away (and that will be frustrating to watch), but I believe John Hynes will solve it. It'd be real nice to leave this season with some confidence, and we might actually get that if we see consistent scoring from those two, Palmieri, and both Cammalleri and Bennett have healthy seasons.
On a positive note, Schneider's due for his first 30 win season. I think it'll happen, regardless of the question marks on defense.
I think the Devils will play competitive hockey (for the most part), start to trail off at the All-Star Break, and clean house at the trade deadline. That's not a particularly bold prediction considering it largely echoes last season, but as a fan I think it's the best case realistic scenario. I'm going to go with 7th place in the Metropolitan.