Welcome to the offseason. Well, welcome to the second day of the offseason. Whatever. It's a long offseason. The days will start blending in with each other. The 2015-16 regular season ended after the horn sounded on the Devils' 5-1 beat down of Toronto. It was high note to an otherwise poor season. Yes, they did not finish dead last in the Metropolitan or in the bottom five of the league. They still finished seventh in the division and just outside of the bottom ten in the league with the league's least potent offense overall. Playoffs weren't expected and the Devils didn't provide them. Some hope of it, sure, but that went away as other teams stepped up and the Devils faded at about the same time. You can be pleased that they overachieved and that 2015-16 was not as bad as originally thought before it happened. But if you're going to be honest, this was not a good season either.
In any case, it's time to hand out some non-existent awards. We've traditionally done this around the end of the season for quite a few years now. As with last year, I asked the AAtJ writers for their selections (along with myself) and the majority vote ruled for most of these awards. They've provided it and that's what will be presented in this post. I've included their commentary absent their names to give you an idea of what the thinking was, whether or not they voted for the winner. As with last year, we even came up with our own superlative awards for more offbeat findings. That's there too. I hope you enjoy what we thought for each of these awards. Let us know whether you agree or disagree with our selections in the comments; and please feel free to add your own superlatives. Thank you in advance for reading:
Team MVP: Cory Schneider
The Writers' Thoughts: "Can't imagine New Jersey is even close to a playoff spot without his fantastic play all season." "The man that stole a number of games for us and made us look formidable in a number of games where we scored 2 goals or fewer, Cory is our All-Star representative for good reason. He's 4th in the league in GAA and 6th in SV % with a number of guys who are their team's back-up (and somehow qualify as "league leaders") skewing those positions by being ahead of him in both categories." " He gave the team in front of him a chance to win every night, even if they did not deserve it." "This one seems like a no-brainer. This team finishes nowhere near where it does without Schneider standing on his head night in and night out." "If the guy with a 93.3% even strength save percentage isn't the MVP on a team that averaged about 1.33 even strength goals per game, then I don't think the phrase 'most valuable' is understood correctly."
Voting Commentary: This wasn't unanimous. There was one for Kyle Palmieri. Just one, though.
Best Goaltender: Cory Schneider
Forget what the other writers said. I'll just repeat what I wrote last year. "Well, duh. See Team MVP."
Voting Commentary: Unanimous. As it should be.
Best Defenseman: Adam Larsson
The Writers' Thoughts: "He's been far and away our best defensive defenseman." "I think Lars solidified himself as a true NHL defender this season while adding 17 points." "Andy Greene could get this award as well, but the Devils’ Corsi and Goals For percentages seem to be a little higher when he is out there, and I like Larsson’s WOWY numbers better when without Greene than vice versa." " Larsson ate up a lot of quality minutes this season and came out looking like the player we all hoped he would be when he was drafted." "While no one has a good CF% without some caveat, Larsson and Greene took as much of the tough competition and zone starts that John Hynes would give them and tried to survive. Larsson was better than Greene in general, although both were great. It also helped that none of the other defensemen looked anywhere near trustworthy when the going got tough."
Voting Commentary: As much as Greene was mentioned, only two voted for Greene. Larsson was nearly unanimous.
Best Offensive Forward: Kyle Palmieri
The Writers' Thoughts: "I was torn between Palms and Cammalleri, but only one of them played the full season, so I have to tip my hat to Kyle. He doubled his previous career high in goals, scoring 29 (so far) this season and added 25 assists to lead the team." [Now, 30 and 27] "I’m sure Mike Cammalleri would have gotten this if healthy for the entire season, but alas he was not. What a revelation Palmieri has been though. He is what this team needed, and then some. Around 30 goals, 25+ assists. Big time." "Obvious toss-up amongst Palmieri, Cammalleri, and Henrique, but I'm going with #21 because he actually put the damn puck on the net a lot more than everyone else did." "Palmieri was a key cog in the Devils' surprising run this season." "He was a shot machine and a true difference-maker. Hard to say how bad this offense would have been without him." "Cammalleri was on pace of being the team's top scorer by far; but when he went down, Palmieri essentially emerged. He's not just the points leader, but his shots per game rate rose to 2.7 - more than Cammalleri's 2.4. On a team that lacks production, the guy who has it stands out. That's Palmieri. Now watch him get paid."
Voting Commentary: Near unanimous for Palmieri. Two exceptions. One shout for Joseph Blandisi on the basis that he displayed creativity at a pace that no one the team has. I can sort of see that, but Palmieri won in a walk otherwise. The other: Cammalleri if only because the offense really went south when he went on the shelf.
Best Defensive Forward: Travis Zajac
The Writers' Thoughts: "He is a top defensive center in the league. Without getting into advanced stats, I can almost guarantee he has the lowest Offensive ZS% and still produces." [Not quite true, but he's really low at around 40% OZS] "Honestly outside of Trav and Rico, do any of our forward play elite defense? I have to give the nod to Zajac here because he is ALWAYS playing against the other team's toughest competition, and more often than not, he shuts them down. Couple his defense with the fact that he created numerous shorthanded opportunities this season and it made the team better and more fun to watch, especially in the early parts of the season." "Has the 2nd highest PK time in terms of forwards, behind only Henrique, but Travis had a much higher percentage of his 5v5 zone starts in the defensive end. Henrique is another great option, but I feel that Zajac’s gig is his defensive play, and he did well with it this year." "One of the reason's he's still around is that he's a key part of the team for his positioning and his tough puck work on the boards. It works on both ends of the ice." "Remains the forward I am most comfortable having out against other top lines." "As with Larsson (and Greene), Zajac's numbers won't impress many. But as with 5-6, #19 is still the first choice to go up against the other team's best lines and power plays and he's handled his business better than others. The Devils do need more forwards that can defend; that helped make Zajac standout for his play in his own end."
Voting Commentary: Unanimous for Zajac. Not even a stray vote for Henrique or...well, Henrique. It couldn't be anyone else.
The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Adam Henrique
The Writers' Thoughts: " Goal scoring? Check. Assist producing? Check. Top Devil in power play minutes? Check. Top forward in penalty kill minutes? Check. 2nd most faceoffs taken on the team? Check. Frequently changing linemates but still producing? Check. What doesn’t he [Henrique] do?" "It’s a tough award as almost every forward is a two-way player. I’m going to give it to Travis Zajac who was our 2nd leading scorer on the PP, quietly led the team in assists, and I’ve already endorsed as our DPOY." "Travis deserves some recognition for this season, especially because fans got a glimpse of how bad the team could be without him, and let me say it definitely was not pretty. While he may not be the highest scoring forward, nor the most skilled, he is our team's jack of all trades, as well as the only player who can win a face-off when we really need it!" "Rico does it all, folks." "No one really did multiple positions well in 2015-16 (That's the key part of this: playing well. Brylin didn't suck.), so it comes down to situational play. While Zajac was better on defense, Henrique provided offense - which the team needed more. I give the edge to him."
Voting Commentary: As you can tell by the thoughts, the voting for this one was less definitive. Henrique just beat out Zajac.
Best Comeback: Lee Stempniak
The Writers' Thoughts: "The guy was signed on a tryout at training camp and was traded for a 2nd and a 4th. He led the team in points when traded and was a 20 goal scorer. He may be on the Bruin now but he was fantastic." "From a professional tryout, to a 1 year deal with his 8th NHL team, to 16G/25A/41P in 63 games, to netting the Devils a 2nd and 4th round pick... I'd say everyone won out here." "This was a tough one, as he never really was anywhere in prominence before coming to NJ. However, he went from a camp tryout who worked his way onto the roster to someone who was very valuable trade bait at the deadline. He is also someone I would be happy with if the Devils signed back in the offseason. He revitalized his career in the short time he played here. His 41 points for the Devils is still top 5 on the team this year." "After a disappointing 2014-15 campaign in which he only put up 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists), Zajac responded with a nice bounceback this season with 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists as of this writing)." "With a lowly 25 points last season (11 goals, 14 assists) many Devils fans were writing Zajac off as being done, on the decline, and having an albatross of a contract for the next few seasons. With John Hynes coming in to coach the team, Zajac has flourished; while his goal total did not jump much (14 this season), it's important to bear in mind that he has only broken 20 twice in his career and garners most of his points by setting up teammates. He has doubles last season's assist output to put his numbers in line with those of a second line center while bringing Selke-caliber defense to the team. He may be slightly overpaid still, but if we get 15 goals and 30 assists a season from Zajac and he keeps up his strong work in the dot and on defense, then he's doing his job for this team." "[Reid Boucher] Came back from what could have been the prospect graveyard to put together an impressive second half in the NHL." "Lee Stempniak went from going unsigned from most of the summer, needing to earn a job in camp, to being worth assets at the deadline and being one of the pleasant surprises of the season. Stempniak salvaged his NHL career in 2015-16. That's big"
Voting Commentary: Boucher got a vote, Zajac got two after his very poor 2014-15 in production, but Stempniak got the majority of votes. There was one for Ray Shero, which would be valid in that he's back to being a GM and it's been so far, so good with the re-build.
Best In-Season Move by the Devils: Trading Stefan Matteau for Devante Smith-Pelly
The Writers' Thoughts: "Traded a sunk cost in Matteau for a forward who has actually contributed and fit in well so far in Jersey." "He scored a healthy amount of goals right after the trade, which provided some excitment in those games post-trade deadline." "Smith-Pelly is actually good, believe it or not. He's slowed down but has 12 points in 15 games as of April 4th. For Stefan Matteau, who has rotting in the press box, that's great value." "I'll be honest, I was hopeful that Stefan Matteau would be able to become something for the New Jersey Devils, but I was always in with the camp that believed the Devils should have forfeited that pick. Matteau is a bust plain and simple, and while Devante Smith-Pelley will not continue at the torrid pace that he started at, the fact is he is at least an NHL player, whereas Matteau is not." " Best comebacks can lead to best in-season moves if done right, and this was. A preseason tryout that was signed for pennies turned into a second and a fourth rounder. He [Stempniak] likes it in NJ, and is a free agent this offseason, so could even come back if the price is right. That’s a heck of a deal." "Smith-Pelly put up eight goals and five assists in his eighteen games with the Devils. Matteau has played in 44 Devils games and put up two goals and one assist. I know he was younger, but the basic numbers speak loudly. DSP brought something to the table that Matteau may never bring." "[DSP] Came over and produced right away (albeit at an unsustainable level). Still he helped out this year and figures to fit into their future plans. A nice return for a player that had no future with the club."
Voting Commentary: Trading for Smith-Pelly won by a healthy margin, but two preferred the Devils trading Stempniak for picks. Since he was brought in for next to nothing, that was very good value.
Best 2015 Offseason Move: Acquiring Kyle Palmieri
The Writers' Thoughts: "The Devils got a young NHL forward who still has upside to grow into and he started to do just that this past season. Great move." "Second and third round picks for Kyle Palmieri. A very good looking move at the time that turned out to be a great one." "Exciting to see him home and letting him find success in his first season with NJ." "Is this even a debate? Got a then-24 year old player who will undoubtedly anchor this team’s top 6 for a decade. And only for a 2nd and a 3rd rounder. If he continues the pace he is on this season for the next decade, it could end up being the trade of the decade." "If you told me last year that we would be able to acquire a young forward who could score and play both sides of the puck for a couple of draft picks, I would have said you were insane. Yet here we are with Kyle Palmieri." "If the picks sent to Anaheim turn out to be players better than Palmieri, then that's the only way this wasn't a smart move. And we won't know that for a few years. Clearly the best move made so far."
Voting Commentary: This was a unanimous decision.
Worst 2015 Offseason Move: Signing Jiri Tlusty
The Writers' Thoughts: "Admittedly, this is a bit harsh and I don't mean to be overly critical to a player who missed most of the year with an injury. I was excited when the Devils got Tlusty on a cheap, one year deal as the underlying numbers were pretty positive towards him. It's too bad it didn't work out, I wish him the best for the future." " What looked like a good bargain pickup turned out a disaster. Luckily, it was a low-risk contract." "Thought Shero was fantastic this offseason. I'll give it to John Moore's deal which has another 2 years on it." "Tlusty seemed like he could be a good piece for an offense starved team, but it just didn't pan out. Jiri played 30 games for the Devils and only managed 2 goals and 2 assists while mostly playing with Zajac and Palmieri; for a guy who's supposed to be a scorer, that just doesn't cut it. He hasn't played since January, and I firmly believe that even once he is healthy, he will not be in the NHL next season." "Total bust. Was hoping for Lee Stempniak-type production from him, instead got 4 points in 30 games played. Mike Sislo has more goals this season than him. Just didn’t fit." "Brian O'Neill, I guess? The Devils gave up a conditional 7th round pick, and he didn't make an impression at the NHL level. So it goes." "I don't like picking on someone who missed most of the season with an injury, but a former top-six forward had every chance to earn a top-six spot or at least bolster the top-nine - and he didn't. It didn't work."
Voting Commentary: Tlusty won by a majority but the other votes were interesting. I had one non-vote because they liked what Shero did this summer. Someone didn't like John Moore getting three years; the Brian O'Neill vote was similar to the non-vote as that person didn't feel too strongly about the others; one vote for signing Sergey Kalinin; and I got one vote for not trading Eric Gelinas earlier. That made me laugh.
Most Surprising: Lee Stempniak
The Writers' Thoughts: "Thought it was a savvy pickup at the time, but didn't imagine he'd lead the team in scoring." "I expected Palmieri to be a contributor, but not really the team's leading scorer. He put up some strong numbers in his first season with the Devils. Here's to hoping he can repeat those kinds of numbers in the future." "Bobby Farnham scored 8 goals and only 1 suspension." "Kyle Palmieri getting as good as he did as fast as he did. I’m not surprised he did well, but surprised with how well he did and how quickly he got there. I was hoping for a top 6 center when they traded for him, but there was nothing in his previous numbers to suspect what the Devils got already." "Farnham was an early waiver wire pickup from Pittsburgh and he quickly established himself as a fast moving pesky player which our team needed. He also wound up contributing offensively, scoring 8 goals and adding an assist in 49 games which is good production for a fourth line player; out of all the UFAs in the bottom 6, Farnham would be at the top of my list to bring back for next season." "This category has a ton of potential guys. Palmieri, Stempniak, Schlemko and Wedgewood, just to name a few could all garner votes. Boucher had struggled in Albany in 2014-2015 and was looking like a non-NHLer but has proven himself to be an extremely essential part of this team. He's producing at .5 ppg which is nothing to scoff at as a 22 year old. I can see him being a 20-25 goal scorer in the future. Wouldn't be surprised if he puts up 50 points next year." "I was pretty happy when the Devils signed Stempniak as he was a player that I thought was pretty useful when I watched him on a game to game basis during most of the 2014-15 season. I figured he'd slot in nicely in the top 9 but I didn't expect him to produce as much as he did." "I was hoping Stempniak would just provide some help on a third line. I didn't expect him to put up his second most productive season and mesh incredibly well with Cammalleri and Henrique for three months."
Voting Commentary: Stempniak won by a close margin. I think the other votes have merit. Palmieri producing as much as he did on a team like this was a surprise. Farnham putting up anything at all was a surprise in retrospect. Boucher making himself look like a viable NHL player was a surprise given how he didn't look at all like one early in the season or in past seasons.
Most Disappointing: Jon Merrill
The Writers' Thoughts: " It seemed to be a bit of a lost year for Merrill. I'm still not ready to give up on him but I was hoping he'd take the next step this season. Seemed to have too many lapses in concentration which would lead to some foolish mistakes." "At one point, Jon Merrill looked to be a part of the future for the Devils' blueline. This season, I still don't know what he's going to be other than that he's not good beyond being a depth player right now." "Bit of a rocky sophomore campaign for the young defenseman [Damon Severson]. Had some issues on defense and had somewhat underwhelming offensive numbers, given the amount of PP time he had. Hopefully just some growing pains." "He [Merrill] went from a potential top-4 guy to really struggling this year. I'm not sure what his future holds but he had been less than spectacular this year. " "I was hesitant to put Ruutu's name down because I expected little to nothing from him to begin with this season, however 0 points in 32 games gets you my vote for most disappointing." [He got a point in game #33.] "See: Worst 2015 Offseason Move. [Tlusty]" "Losing Mike Cammalleri for half the season, especially since the Devils were finally shaking off their success being a fluke." "Patrik Elias, I guess it's more sad than disappointing, but still disappointing - we'll see #26 in the rafters soon, though." "Time catches up with us all, put it was disappointing not to be able to see Patrik Elias be able to contribute more this season. Not much he could have done about it, but it's a bummer to see age/injuries catch up with one of the greatest Devils."
Voting Commentary: This one was all over the place; Merrill just won with three votes. Some interpreted the category as what was disappointing and losing Cammalleri for most of the season was a disappointment. As was Elias being hurt and being old. Severson, Ruutu, and Moore took a vote away, leading #7 to take this one.
Offbeat awards by the individual writers, identified by their initials. Let's have at it to close out the season!
Rookie of the Year (GL): Joseph Blandisi - I gave consideration to Scott Wedgewood as well for his strong play in Cory Schneider's absence, but Blandisi has been plugged in to fill different holes in the lineup, and has produced at about a .5 PPG clip. He's been in a slump lately, but he's shown he can play at the NHL level. While Reid Boucher had a great season, he no longer qualifies as a rookie via Calder Trophy rules, and as such was not eligible.
Saddest Thought (AP): Patrik Elias potentially going out like this. He was injured most of the season, and it seems to me that he has come back these last few games so that he does not retire on an injury. However, if he does retire in the offseason, it is still a sad way to go out, not playing most of the year and not being an effective contributor. I would hope for a better farewell from the last player standing of the old dynasty, and I bet he would too.
Best Locker Room Beef (CM): Team Palmieri vs. Team Larsson. This was one of the seasons' funnier moments. Everyone on Team Palmieri but Greene. And even then, Greene was egging on the conflict. Glad we finally get to see Larsson's personality.
Prospect of the Year (BF) - Pavel Zacha - When it comes to tools and potential, he's the most exciting prospect the Devils have had in some time. Will he put it together? Time will tell, but he gained some more valuable experience in the North American game in Sarnia where he was one of their key players all season. He really excelled in the playoffs when his team needed him the most which is certainly an encouraging sign. It may not be long until he see him in NJ on a full time basis.
ADevil of the Year (BF) - Mike Sislo - Once again was a key leader in all situations for Albany. Currently leads the team in goals and points per game. He may never be a full time NHL player but he's shown that he offers a lot of value to an AHL club as he is a key reason while Albany has had so much success this season.
Ken Daneyko Award for Most PIMs (AP): Jordin Tootoo. Crushing the 100 PIM barrier. Way to go!
Best Beat Writer (JF): Tom Gulitti. We will miss you.
Best Fantasy Performer (MM) - Kyle Palmieri - he leads the team in Goals (him, Henrique, then nobody else), Points, PPG, PPA, Shots (by a lot), 3rd in Hits, 2nd in Blocks by a forward,, plus he played every game.
Worst Change at the Rock (SW): DJs in the arena
Best Bounceback Season (MS) - Travis Zajac - Quietly put together a solid season after a rough 2014-15.
Best Dive (SW): Joseph Blandisi
The Oscar Goes To... (Best Actor) (NP): Joe Blandisi. 10/10. Even the Russian judge was impressed, Joe.
Best Dive (runner-up) (SW): Joseph Blandisi, a few games later
The Second Annual Ilya Bryzgalov "Why You Have To Be Mad" Award (GL): Eric Gelinas - While he is no longer a Devil, I stand by the integrity, criteria, and tradition of this award that I made up last year. The first recipient (Michael Ryder) was given this award for complaining about his lack of playing time while simply not doing what was asked of him as a player to help the team. Gelinas is this year's recipient due to his public comments about his lack of playing time, and while he insisted (and I believe him when he said) that he did not ask for a trade, he was jettisoned to Colorado at the trade deadline for either his comments, his poor play or a combination of both. Judging by his low number of games played so far in Colorado, it seems the Avalanche have learned what we already knew: Gelinas may not be an NHLer after all.
At Least Someone Learned That This Team Needs More Shooting (AP): Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri has well over 200 shots this season, and no one else will have more than 150 unless Henrique goes off to end the season. For a team that is in desperate need of scoring, you need to shoot first to score. Finally, at least one person has figured that out.
Most Under-appreciated (CM): David Schlemko. Played incredibly well in the top-4 and his contract was insanely good for his level of play.
The Zach Ryder "Are You Serious, Bro?" Award: Devils management raising season ticket holder's prices againfor 2016-17. It's not by much but we all know this is a rebuild. We all know the playoffs are years away. Why continue the nickel and dime-ing? Of course, I'm the sucker, I still buy the tickets.
Please Come Back in 2016-17 (GL): David Schlemko - Good signing after a rough start; solid second pair guy, toss some money and minutes at him and hope he comes back.
Most Substantial Eyebrows (MS) - Kyle Palmieri (Runner-up: Joe Blandisi)
Most Predictable Return to Earth (MS) - Bobby Farnham
Most Forgettable (CM): Brian O'Neill. He played 22 games, Yep over a 1/4 of the season. Ruutu is an honorable mention to be fair, he has 32 games with ZERO points. Yep. That happened.
Most Unscratchable (MS) - Stephen "Teflon Gion" Gionta
Most Impressive Call-up (JF): Scott Wedgewood: Four games, one shutout, 116 shots against, 111 saves made.
The "Miraculously Was Never A Healthy Scratch" Award (NP; credit to Mike in last year's awards): Stephen Gionta. How.
The "Peter Harrold" We Have No Idea How You're Playing But the Coaching Staff Loves You Award (CM): David Warsofsky. Yeah there were injuries but he played over Damon Severson some nights. Enough Said.
Worst In-Season Move by the Devils (GL): Claiming David Warsofsky off Waivers from Pittsburgh - Yuck; Warsofsky has been a detriment to the Devils every time he has been in the lineup, and I honestly can't understand how he hasn't been placed back on waivers yet. We may have injuries, but even with multiple regulars out, there's still no way War should have cracked the top 6. Shero needs to move on from him this summer.
The Hüsker Dü Prize (JF): This is a tie between Paul Thompson, Jim O'Brien, and Marc-Andre Gragnani. I had to look it up that they were on the team at some point this season.
Best Modelling of Assorted Coats (MS) - (Tie) Adam Henrique and John Moore
Best In-Season Moment (CM): Brodeur's retirement ceremony. His retirement ceremony didn't leave a dry eye in the house. We're lucky to have him and then Schneider. It's awesome.
Moment Most Likely to Make You Wonder If It's a Little Dusty in Here or If Maybe Someone is Chopping Onions Nearby (NP): Brodeur's jersey retirement ceremony. Seriously, how great of a night was that?
Best Devils Given At Least a Video Tribute at a Game This Season (JF): Brodeur. Duh. Runner-up: Lou.
The "Where Was This Last Season?" Medal (JF): Overtime wins. Forget the shootout, the Devils were so successful in overtime play in 2015-16 that a few of those wins in prior seasons would have prevented a shootout at all. Alas.
Worst Case of NHL Bloggers being NHL Bloggers (SW): "There's a lull in NHL news right now... let's all pretend there's a Kovalchuk story until the trade deadline hits."
Please Don't Come Back in 2016-17 - or Ever for that Matter (GL): Tie - David Warsofsky and Tuomo Ruutu - Double yuck; send these guys packing!
My Favorite Game to Attend (JF): February 23, 2016. After being knocked out with the flu for over two weeks, this was the first game I attended live. It was against Our Hated Rivals. The 5-2 win was absolutely glorious. I let out a sound of pure joy when Kalinin beat Lundqvist to put NJ up 4-2. Runners-up: St. Patrick's Day against Minnesota (7-4 win); 11/14 vs. Pittsburgh (4-0 win); 11/6 vs. Chicago (4-2 win)
Worst Fundamental of the Game Executed Night After Night (JF): For the second season in a row: passing the puck.
The Best Readers (JF): You. Amid all the changes from April 2015 to now, you're still here.
Thanks to CJ, Mike, Brian, Alex, Gerard, Chris, Steve, Matt, and Nate for their contributions to these awards. Thanks to you for reading what could be the longest post of the season. Have your say about the awards in the comments.