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Last in the East: A Crossroad

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The New Jersey Devils have fallen well out of contention in the Eastern Conference standings since their hot start. With a little more than half a season to play, what is the best course of action for the team?

With the way that the 2016-17 season started for the New Jersey Devils, I never thought I would be writing an article discussing our team being last place in the Eastern Conference, and yet here we are. The season has seemingly slipped away already and the bright 9-3-3 start that the team enjoyed is but a distant memory at this point. While there are some players on the team who are playing somewhat well and contributing, there are a number of disappointments on this team, as well as a few guys who look like they don’t even belong in the NHL resulting in the dumpster fire that we are seeing sent out on the ice game in and game out.

At this point, something needs to be done one way or another this season, because at this point the Devils aren’t even competitive on most nights. While there are two options available, there’s really only one in this writer’s mind that would be acceptable and I think most fans would agree.

The first option is to sit back, play out the string (even though there’s a lot of hockey left this year), and tank while not really tanking. The team as it is right now isn’t good enough to stop 4 or more goals from going in each game, let alone think about sniffing the playoffs; while we’re not actively trying to ice a terrible roster, it’s happening nonetheless, mostly thanks to employing 4 bottom pairing (or worse) caliber defenders.

The second option is to do what’s in the best interest of the fans and the team and that’s to try and find someone, anyone within the organization worth developing and allow them some time at the NHL level; even if we continue to lose games, we want to at least see players who could contribute in coming years.

It almost goes without saying, but at this point Jon Merrill should be waived; he’s not contributing anything positive at the NHL level. Merrill is someone who I have been hard on in numerous articles, but I think the general consensus has most Devils fans/writers feeling the way that I do. Jon contributes next to nothing offensively, and he is the definition of a train wreck in his own end of the ice; it’s maddening to watch him be pressured by an opposing forward and fan on his pass from behind the net that results in a turnover at least once every game. Maybe he’s being kept around to expose in the expansion draft, but there are at least two other defenders in Ben Lovejoy and John Moore that we could expose without seeing the team suffer.

Speaking of Lovejoy and Moore, they along with Kyle Quincey round out the 4 bottom pairing (or worse) guys; I’m tired of watching the asinine defensive plays Lovejoy and Moore make, especially in terms of mistimed pinches leading to odd man breaks. Quincey isn’t perfect, but as I’ve said before, I could tolerate him in a bottom pairing role, as I don’t see him making the same mistakes and being constantly out of position (looking at you Moore) each and every game.

Why not waive a guy or two at this point in the year; I know Nashville claimed Reid Boucher earlier this year, but does anyone see another team claiming any of the players directly tied to this downward skid? If we tried to send Merrill to Albany in order to call up Steve Santini, Reece Scarlett or say any other player contracted to New Jersey who hasn’t had a shot at the NHL level, is it still bad asset management if the player waived is claimed? At this point, I don’t think it is. Even if any player we call up at this point is way over their head at this level, it just puts up back to where we’re at right now.

The forwards aren’t without blame either; our bottom 6 was supposed to provide more depth scoring this year, and while Miles Wood and Nick Lappin have shown value, the same can not be said for everyone in that role. Jacob Josefson is somewhat of a whipping boy among some Devils fans, and he’s just not getting it done in any capacity when healthy/in the lineup this season. He’s another player who I wouldn’t blink an eye at seeing the Devils waive this year. Devante Smith-Pelly is another player that I’ve been disappointed in this year; while I did not expect him to keep up his production from last season, the snarl he brought to the team last year hasn’t been as prevalent. Also, please, please, PLEASE keep Luke Gazdic far, FAR away from this team.

I’m not a fan of tanking in the NHL; I think each team should always be trying to improve themselves during seasons as well as in between. The New Jersey Devils may not be a playoff team this year, but that doesn’t mean the remaining 47 games can’t be used to grow and evaluate players for next season and beyond.

Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on the above matters; should the Devils keep status quo or should they be evaluating players to see if they have value to the main roster? Would you mind seeing a player like Jon Merrill or Jacob Josefson waived? Who on the team has been underwhelming in your eyes this season? Leave any and all comments below and thank you, as always, for reading!