It has become a regrettable yearly tradition now for Devils fans: What day can we declare the hopes for the playoffs truly over? With the team now eight points out with a litany of teams to jump over and the Devils looking uneven at best, we have probably reached that point in the 2016-17 season. While I’m sure some holdouts may remain, it’s very hard to see this team as anything other than out of it at this point in the campaign. The reality is that this team has not been very good and still has some serious work to do to get back to round one of the playoffs and beyond.
It’s a pill that becomes more bitter to swallow with each passing season without a postseason appearance. With a drought which will likely now extend to five seasons, the Devils will tie the mark for longest stretch out of the playoffs since the team arrived in New Jersey. For Devils fans of a certain age (pretty much anyone under 40), we are living through the low point of our existence as hockey fans. The Devils of the past five seasons have not been as bad (for the most part) as those early Devils teams from the 1980’s, but they have to be every bit as frustrating, if not more so. The 2016-17 team will go down as another team that, for one reason or another, could not elevate its play above “mediocre” for any meaningful amount of time.
The reason for this team’s demise can probably be traced to its defense, which was going to be a major problem on paper from the very beginning. There isn’t really any unit on this team that you can say has worked particularly well, though. The offensive output remains one of the worst in the league, neither of the special teams units are particularly impressive, and Cory Schneider has had an off year in net. Simply put, this hasn’t been a very good team, and as a season, 2016-17 is shaping up to be another dud.
With the playoff hopes of 2016-17 now all but snuffed out, we now turn our attention to the 2017-18 season and beyond. Such is life rooting for a team that has been in the Devils’ position over the last several years. Each season we hope until those hopes are fully squashed and then we dust ourselves off and shift those hopes toward the next season. Will 2017-18 be different? It’s obviously difficult to say at this point, but I think most would agree that there is quite a bit of work left to do in this rebuild for the Devils to get to where they need to be.
It’s clear the Devils need to sell at this point. The assets that they have to sell aren’t necessarily plentiful, but they should be squeezing every future asset they can find out of this deadline. Ray Shero and the front office must be realistic and turn their eyes toward the future. Beyond the trade deadline, the team will have some big questions to ask of themselves. Can this team be improved through free agency? Is John Hynes the right coach to go forward with after an underwhelming second season? How should the team approach the draft? With a fifth consecutive season of finishing 20th or worse now approaching a certainty, fans will be anxious to see improvement going forward.
Despite the failures of the last five seasons, we will continue to root for this franchise, holding out hope that this is the summer that things all fall into place. The reality of being a fan of a team that stinks is that you are hoping that your hours of disappointment are being banked for some future payoff. No one really wants their team to be bad, but as we watch another season slip away for New Jersey, it’s easy to see why people are inclined to jump on “Team Tank.”
There is a cold pragmatism at work in rooting for your own team to fail and with the team basically done at this point it’s hard to argue that the team crashing into the bottom three would be a bad thing for this franchise. The Devils need help by any means necessary, and if trading any and all rental assets for futures and bottoming out over the last month-plus aids the team in the long run, then maybe that’s not such a bad thing to root for. Shero has made mostly positive moves over his tenure as GM, but it’s clear that the Devils still need some difference makers to take another step forward. Giving up on a season as a fan is a difficult thing to do but it appears it’s time to shift our hopes and outlook forward once again. The 2016-17 Devils are dead, long live the 2017-18 Devils.