The Regular Season is at long last upon us. The Devils are ready. The Avalanche are ready. Game 1 of 82 is less than 12 hours away. This is All About the Jersey's game 1 preview.
The Matchup: The Colorado Avalanche (1-0-0; SBN Blog: Mile High Hockey) at the New Jersey Devils. (0-0-0)
The Time: 2:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, Digital Audio - The One Jersey Network
The Devils: CJ Turtoro of All About the Jersey said back in July that he believes the Devils are on the last leg of their rebuilding phase, and will soon be back in the contention phase. The Devils used their first overall pick in last year's draft to pick, according to TSN's Bob Mckenzie and eliteprospects.com, the number one ranked North American skater, in Nico Hischier. Hischier is a rock solid choice for the Devils as their first overall selection, and he proved that in preseason. He's a gifted offensive talent who possesses two-way ability. He has a great hockey IQ, good size with room to build muscle, and he has truly elite, first line center potential. Hischier is added to a Devils organization that already boasts the third-best prospect pipeline in pro hockey, according to Bleacher Report’s Allan Mitchell.
The Devils got no closer to improving the defense this offseason. In a market where the team could've attempted to add pieces such as a Travis Hamonic through trade (at a very reasonable price and term, I might add), or a Michael Stone via free agency, maybe even Kevin Shattenkirk, the Devils have done the very minimum to field a competent defense this season. That could be GM Ray Shero admitting that his team is simply not yet a contender. The asking price on Hamonic was a bit high after all, and the Islanders were looking for exactly what the Devils couldn't afford to give away, draft picks. But I can't help but let out a disappointed sigh at the end of the day, regardless of whether the additions would've helped the team. And to be honest, any additions would've helped the team on defense. The Devils defense allowed 244 goals a year ago. To keep that in perspective, the 02-03 Cup winning Devils team allowed 166 goals while scoring 216 in a season with similar scoring totals per-game to last season. The Devils allowed the fifth-most goals in the NHL a year ago. They also failed to break the 200 goals-for mark, something that only 3 other teams in the whole league did. Ouch.
So like I said, I have my reservations for this year. If all goes well then New Jersey should have an improved offense, which will in turn help the defense not get exposed so often and should keep the Devils in the race for 8th in the East, hockey's tougher conference. If all does not go according to plan, then the Devils will have to ad-lib like they did much of last year, relying on the first line of Taylor Hall and whoever else is there this week, keeping an open mind about a top-2 defensive pairing of a 34-year-old (soon to be 35) Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy, and hoping that Roland Melanson can right Corey Schneider's ship after he had his worst season of hockey in a Devils uniform.
The Avalanche: On the flip side of the coin, the Colorado Avalanche, today’s opponents at the Rock. Their 2016-17 was worse than New Jersey's, or anybody else in the league, for that matter. Colorado has been the NHL's saddest story for the last three years. In 2013-14 this was a team who won 50+ games and finished first in their division. Every season since then has seen win and point totals decrease, and last year the whole thing came to a sad, sad point. The Avalanche won only 22 games, they managed to secure at least a point in just 26 games all year long. They finished with 48 points (Last in the NHL by about 22 points, the closest team to them being the Arizona Coyotes), the league's worst goal differential (A porous -112), and were ultimately unable to find a trade destination for their biggest trade asset, Matt Duchene (A reality they face because of GM Joe Sakic's stubborn-ness). Yes, the situation in Colorado a year ago was awful. This team couldn't even win over the favor of the NHL Entry Draft, dropping to number four in the selection order. Talk about rough.
But, for all their hurting from a season ago. The Avalanche are ready to get underway this year, and it has come after an offseason of much turbulence and indecision. For starters, Matt Duchene is still a member of this team. It'll be his ninth NHL season since being drafted number three overall in 2009, and he only has until 2018-19 on this current contract, a deal which is paying him around $6 million a year, according to sportrac.com. Keeping Duchene around may not be beneficial to the Avs in the long run, as his trade value will decline with each passing day, but he will certainly serve a purpose for the Avalanche in the present moment. Duchene may not be the same sort of elite-level offensive talent that a Taylor Hall is, but he's a pretty great young center with loads of playmaking talent and two-way skill. In spite of this team also having young Nathan MacKinnon at the position, Duchene remains Colorado's best center and also their best offensive talent. With the Avalanche adding some names in the offseason, look for Duchene to be playing alongside some stronger wingers, and potentially making some noise early in this season as he attempts to open up the possibilities of being traded for high value, something Joe Sakic has yet been able to do. The Devils will get a good look at one of the Avs’ additions, Jonathan Bernier will be in net come 2 PM EST.
The Future: After this Saturday afternoon game, the Devils will prepare for a week in which they'll play 4 times in 6 nights, playing only once at Prudential Center in that span, a Friday night game against Washington. Their next game will be in Buffalo against the Sabres on Monday afternoon at 3 pm.