Yesterday, the long slog of the 2016-17 regular season ended in Detroit. Over months, the New Jersey Devils proved to be a bad hockey team with quite a long way to go to be re-built. The team’s offense remains low-scoring. The team’s defense was quite porous compared to previous squads. The run of play was often against the Devils in 5-on-5 hockey. Special teams weren’t enough to salvage these issues. Even the goaltending wasn’t always good enough to bail the team out every night. On some nights, simple fundamentals like passing the puck or not skating into your own teammate seemed lacking. If I seem down on this past season, well, can you blame me? The Devils won a whopping three games since the trade deadline as they crashed hard into a bottom five finish in the league. Lipstick can only do so much on a pig.
That said, it wasn’t all bad times in 2016-17. There were Devils who stood out among the rest. There were some sweet goals, fine moments, and notable events. How do we look back at a whole season? By handing out some awards. As we did last year, we at All About the Jersey took a vote for the various categories prior to the last three games of the season (Games 80 - 82 weren’t going to make a difference - and they didn’t.) and I selected the winner by majority rule. I've included their commentary for who they voted for without 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. 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 this post and throughout the season:
Team MVP: Taylor Hall
The Writers’ Thoughts: “Transformative player. We are simply a different caliber team when he is on the ice.” “Could argue Palmieri here, but I think it has to be Hall. Has team points lead despite playing in 8 games less than Palms, and is always a threat whenever out there. One of the few absolute bright spots on team.” “Oh boy, do I have to choose? Taylor Hall gets my vote. One of the few bright spots of just a terrible season.” “He's fantastic to watch and he's been their only sign of playmaking life for most of the season.” “I gotta go with Hall. He's dynamic, exciting, and actually produces. Sure, he may have some bad turnovers here and there, but he brings so much value offensively, I gotta name him my MVP.” “Hallsy leads the team in points, assists and overall creativity compared to his teammates. Shero needs to get this man some help (outside of Zajac, Rico and Palms) ASAP!” “A very basic choice, but he's the best player by far on this team. A legitimate superstar with numbers bad for him, let's hope his numbers improve in the future. “
Voting Commentary: This was unanimous. So here’s a fun fact. Going into the final weekend of the season, Hall is still on track for his lowest season shooting percentage in his career. Yet, he still has a 0.76 points per game rat, twenty goals, and a WOWY that shows he just carries a lot of weight. Well earned.
Best Goaltender: Cory Schneider
The Writers’ Thoughts: “Schneider, but it's closer than it should be.” “He had a down year. It doesn’t really help that the defense is a trash fire, but we didn’t see Cory at his best this year. He wasn’t able to steal games like he had in the past and we suffered in the standings because of it.” “ I appreciate him showing up to play every night (even if it is behind the screens of his own defensemen). I also like that he wasn't afraid to get fired up about the play of the rest of the team. I hope his numbers return to form next season.” “Schneider’s numbers weren’t so hot, but he had a goals saved above average of 6.4 to Kinkaid’s 4.6. So there’s reason to think he was better in at least 5-on-5 situations.”
Voting Commentary: Only two dissenters picked Keith Kinkaid. The sentiment was that Schneider wasn’t as good as the last two seasons and that’s true. Given I received these votes before Schneider was beaten seven times on April 6, that one GSAA stat took a hit as Schneider fell to 4.7.
Best Defenseman: Damon Severson
The Writers’ Thoughts: “Points leader on defense. Top pairing as well, yet has highest relative Corsi amongst D-men. Of all the young guys we discussed 3 years ago who were supposed to pan out on defense, he actually has, and he’s getting better.” “A small bright spot on possibly the worst defense iced in decades. He produced a significant amount of points given how lackluster the offense is. He did have his struggles defensively but I felt he took a big step forward in his play.” “I'm not positive where he slots in on a good team's defense but on this roster (and with Greene very much showing his age) he's a positive contributor, basically making him the best by default.” “I'm going with the 22 year old Damon Severson for this award. He's logged over 20 minutes a night, provided some offensive production from the back end, and has played well against a range of competition. He's certainly been one of the few bright spots on the Devils blue line and I don't think he gets the credit he deserves due to the dumb +/- stat.” “He’s been a positive influence on a team lacking them.”
Voting Commentary: Only two dissenters for this one too. They both selected Andy Greene instead.
Best Offensive Forward: Taylor Hall
Voter Thoughts: “No question. Leads the team in assists, points, and shots by a staggering amount. He is the player making things happen and putting points up even despite his career shooting percentage. He'll be even more of a catch assuming his shooting % returns to form next season.” “He makes everyone around him better and is just a dynamic player.” “He's on a different level than the rest of the team. More fun to watch with the puck than any Devil in a while.” “While Kyle Palmieri has more goals, Taylor Hall is the best offensive forward by far. He can do things with the puck no other player can do, and that already makes him the best offensive forward this team has to offer.” “Leads the team in scoring, is exciting to watch, and is the first star forward the Devils have had in a few seasons.”
Voting Commentary: Only one other vote and it was for Kyle Palmieri, who leads the team in goals.
Best Defensive Forward: Travis Zajac
The Writers’ Thoughts: “The veteran is just plain reliable and it's a nice luxury to have on a rebuilding team.” “He wins faceoffs. He backchecks. I still remember the play where he stripped the Vancouver forward, and dished it off for an overtime winner.” “Is there another choice here? No one on the team hustles or plays consistently against other teams’ top players like Travis does. His defensive play that led to the game winner against Edmonton should be on a highlight reel of the right way to play the game!” “It's always between Henrique and Zajac, but I'll draw a hard line this year with Zajac as #1. Tied for lead in forward DPS, shares the first PK unit with Rico, but at even strength Zajac annihilates Rico in possession and particularly in shot suppression. Rico is bottom 5 on the team in shot corsi against, expected goals against, and scoring chances against per 60 minutes after adjusting for zone, score and venue. Zajac should run away with it this year. If you want the less statistical things that people look for in Selke consideration, he also has a significantly better faceoff percentage.” “One of only three current Devils forwards with a positive Corsi despite consistently playing against top competition. 2 nd most PK time amongst forwards.” “Taylor Hall might honestly have a case here too, but I'll give it to Zajac, who was his normal defensively responsible self.”
Voting Commentary: This was also unanimous.
Rookie of the Year: Pavel Zacha
The Writers’ Thoughts: “Has found a way to contribute some offense on a bad team and gained valuable expereince at just age 19. Has found more consistency in his production since the end of December with 17 points in 30 games at the time of this writing.” “I initially wrote Miles Wood here, and Santini was on my mind too, but hard to argue against Zacha. You could potentially argue that after McDavid, Eichel and Marner, no forward from the 2015 draft has been better than Zacha so far.” “Started well, played underwhelming and then really took off the last third of the season. He provided fans with a lot of reasons to be excited with his play. While is production point wise is somewhat questionable, he is still 19 and has had very impressive plays throughout the year. ” “Another not exactly crowded category. Zacha caught some grief for a rough start to this season, but came on pretty strong in the second half. Hopefully it carries into next season and he can start to become something of an impact player.”
Voting Commentary: This award made a return this year as there were rookies who played enough to warrant voting. And this was a close one; Zacha won with five selections. Four picked Steve Santini, who has been a decent defenseman since being called up in his first pro season. Here’s one of the writers on this vote: “Steve Santini has been everything we could have hoped for since bringing him up. He's not being sheltered very much at all with the situations he's played in and he's been exceptional in them. He has the second highest expected goal percentage on the team behind only Taylor Hall. Furthermore, when adjusting for zone starts, he leads the team in xGA60 meaning he is one of the best defensive defenders on the team already. I'm sure I'll lose this debate, but to me it's honestly not even close. Santini was obviously better than Zacha this year. And both were clearly better than Wood if anyone is thinking that.” Speaking of, one writer picked the speedy winger, Miles Wood.
The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Travis Zajac
The Writers’ Thoughts: “Third in points, plays defense, and can still hold his own against anyone in maintaining puck possession on the boards.” “Usually I would give this to Adam Henrique but I didn’t feel his play warranted it this year. Zajac has produced offensively, defensively and in a lot of different situations. His versatility is one of his strengths and he’s been steady.” “Top PK unit, top PP unit, leads all forwards (including Hall) in average ice time per game, best faceoff man, 3rd leading scorer (4th in goals, 2nd in assists), leadership role. Only thing he doesn't do is shootouts (0 for 1).” “He can be used in all situations, and that makes me put him as the most versatile Devil this team has.” “You can play him at center or on the wing, at even strength, the powerplay, or penalty kill. He can eat minutes and provide some offense and solid defense.”
Voting Commentary: This wasn’t unanimous but it was close. Only two writers didn’t pick Zajac; they picked Adam Henrique. Here’s an interesting case: “While many would rightly say his play fell somewhat this year, he never had solid linemates. He has the most points amongst Devils not on the Hall-Zajac- Palmieri line. Has 20 goals despite centering a zillion different guys, and then getting thrown on the wing to mix it up all over again. Give him static top 6 linemates and then see what he can do.”
Best Comeback: Kyle Palmieri
The Writers’ Thoughts: “Palmieri for finally waking up and putting up goals at a great rate over the last little bit of the season.” “He had 30 goals last year, started the season very slowly and will likely finish just under 30. He definitely ‘came back.’ His contract is looking real good.” “His comeback from his absolutely dreadful first half is incredible. Before, it was questionable whether he would even get to 20 goals. Now, he has an outside chance, but still a chance, of reaching 30 goals. He's found his game again, which is great for the Devils.”
Voting Commentary: This was a plurality. Palmieri won because three writers named him. He started off the season slow in scoring; that he picked it up to surpass 25 goals counts as a bounce-back. Jon Merrill and Joseph Blandisi finished right behind him. Merrill did improve within this season and Blandisi earned his way back up with the team after starting in Albany. Others receiving votes: Beau Bennett for not being as injured as he was in the past, Greene, and Severson.
Best In-Season Move by the Devils: Claiming Stefan Noesen Off Waivers
The Writers’ Thoughts: “Off the top of my head I can't really think of any in-season acquisitions bigger than this. I feel like I'm missing something obvious due to being tired or maybe it's really just been that "meh" in terms of acquisitions. Noesen is still young though and fits a position need so I'll go with him. Maybe can be a decent role player in the bottom 6 if the Devils ever figure out this rebuild.” “Adding a former first rounder at no cost is always a plus; the fact that he, Josefson and Zacha wound up forming an effective line (before Josefson got hurt) was just a bonus. Stefan has been a solid depth piece for the team and is a player I hope NJ brings back next season.” “This in-season move, unless I forgot one, wins by default. I personally thought all the Devils trades were terrible, and Noesen at least looks like he may have a future with the Devils, so I'll choose this.”
Voting Commentary: Not exactly a whole lot of excitement. Tallying up the votes was a little more interesting. This was decided by one writer at the end. This was almost in a tie with the trade of Vernon Fiddler for a fourth round draft pick. To quote one writer: “Got picks for a fossil. As much as I love Fiddler, that's exactly the kind of move you have to make in a rebuild.” That these two moves stuck out the most among ten AAtJ writers who voted speaks volumes about the in-season moves made by the Devils this season.
Best 2016 Offseason Move: Trading Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall
The Writers’ Thoughts: “Still can't believe this one happened.” “Larsson’s play was great but we added an elite left wing. You still do this trade every day of the week.” “Larsson was great for us, but in Edmonton he's merely been a part of a decently effective 4-man D-platoon including Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, and Kris Russell. He's done very little to distinguish himself from the other 3 in that group/ Hall has proven, however, that he is every bit the dynamo he appeared to be. This is coming from someone who was actually not a big fan of the move originally.” “Is Larsson a solid defender for a strong playoff contender? Yes. But does anyone regret this trade? They shouldn’t. If the Devils are smart, Hall will be the cornerstone of this team for a decade.” “What did I write in June? Oh yeah - they traded a ‘B or ‘B+’ player for an ‘A’ player.”
Voting Commentary: Ten out of ten selected the Hall trade. I know about the state of the defense, but could you imagine this team’s offense without Hall this season?
Worst 2016 Offseason Move: Signing Ben Lovejoy
The Writers’ Thoughts: “I didn't expect him to be great or anything, but was at least hoping he'd be solid in his own end and provide a veteran presence. He's just been plain bad though.” “Ben Lovejoy signed for 3 years at $2.67M per - I don't want to be too hard on Lovejoy because he's being trusted with a considerably larger role than he should be but... this is a bad contract.” “After losing an arguable top-two defenseman in Adam Larsson, what do the Devils decide to do? Sign a declining 32 (now 33) year old defenseman to take his place - and one who served as a depth defenseman for most of his career. Furthermore, it was for three years, which is just annoying. I hope he can turn into something - maybe trade bait in the future.” “I know why it was done, but Lovejoy has been terrible this season. He’s a shut-down D-man who can’t shut anybody down.” “Seriously, I wrote thousands of words about how bad he’s been this year. It’s got to be the Lovejoy signing.”
Voting Commentary: Eight out of ten selected the Lovejoy signing. There was one dissenting vote for Luke Gazdic being signed at all as he was a whole lot of nothing. The other dissenting vote was for a move that wasn’t made: not re-signing David Schlemko. If the Devils signed Schlemko, then that would have likely prevented this signing that was roundly rejected in retrospect by the writers.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Miles Wood
The Writers’ Thoughts: “The speed, the peskiness, the fact that he has some offensive skill; Wood has slowed down since being a ball of fire upon recall, but with some refining, could be a really good player for this team for years to come.” “Earned his way onto the roster playing fast and tough. Has as many goals as Zacha in 10 less games played, plus has 20 more shots. Devils need offense and speed, and Wood provides pure speed with offensive upside. Just work on possession please.” “This might just be my lack of education on Wood as a prospect, but I didn't view him as a generator of offense at all. I thought his career working out would manifest as an effective 4th line guy. He is ridiculously fast though, and while I think Devils fans on the whole overrate his overall game, he is top 10 on the team in points. That production was absolutely a pleasant surprise to me.” “Yes, he can't play defense. Yes, he doesn't have hands. But his speed is incredible, something which I definitely didn't know about him before this season. He's hard-working and gritty, and I can definitely see him as a core piece for the Devils in the future, if he continues to develop.”
Voting Commentary: Five writers picking Wood was enough to give him the edge. The other five were completely split. One picked Blandisi. One picked Noesen. One picked Kinkaid. One picked Santini. And as commentary for 2016-17, one for “this season is almost over.”
Most Disappointing: Michael Cammalleri
The Writers’ Thoughts: “I hate to use the eye test, but, wow, he was just not on the same page with his teammates on so many nights. Amazing to think he was at a top-ten scorer’s pace in the first half of last season. He seems like sucj a different player now.” “As bad as Lovejoy has been for this team, I can't say I was completely surprised. Cammalleri on the other hand, I expected the decline to be more gradual. His extreme drop in production and overall play has me worried. Hopefully, he bounces back, but I doubt it.” “For someone who gets paid solely to score goals, 10 measly tallies in 57 games just doesn’t cut it. The 20 assists he provided makes it less of a bitter pill to swallow, but when a goal scorer can’t score goals the team struggles as a result.” “I'm a Cammalleri fan and appreciate what he did for the Devils the 2 prior seasons. With that said, it seems like age has caught up to him and led to his down year. I didn't necessarily expect him to be a big offensive threat, but I hoped for more than 10 goals in 58 games.” “What happened to him? He went from a top forward on the team to someone I hope gets exposed and taken by Vegas. And it happened so quickly.” “Father time is a jerk.”
Voting Commentary: Six out of ten picked Cammalleri. Other votes: Devante Smith-Pelly (1), Cory Schneider (1), Adam Henrique (1), and Carey Price (1). I don’t believe I ever saw a vote for a non-Devil. At least, I can’t recall one off the top of my head. For that last one, here’s what the writer had to say: “Carey Price not being suspended after assaulting a defenseless, non-engaged Kyle Palmieri with his blocker, after mistaking the collision for Chris Kreider's special move. Price has been the best goaltender in the NHL for years now, but that was a truly embarrassing display on his behalf, and one of the most egregious blind eyes from the Department of Player Safety.”
Offbeat awards by the individual writers, identified by their initials. It’s a fun way to close out this season:
Best A-Devil (BF): John Quenneville
I have to give Quenneville some props. He immediately stepped into Albany's line up as a rookie and became their go to guy. It was nice to see him establish himself as one of the top rookies in the AHL and I look forward to seeing what he does with New Jersey next season.
The Third Annual Ilya Bryzgalov "Why You Have To Be Mad" Award (GL): Michael Cammalleri
In keeping with the standards of this prestigious award (previously won by Michael Ryder and Eric Gelinas) I had to select a player that had issues with his playing time. While certainly not at the level of the previous two winners, Cam was “displeased” to be a healthy scratch for the first time in his career earlier this season. If a goalless streak that is now almost half a season long isn’t enough of a reason, I don’t know what is. Honorable mention goes to Carey Price; he’s technically ineligible for the award as he is not a Devil, but going berserk on Palmieri when his own D-man knocked Palms into him is reason enough to ask, “Why you have to be mad?”
Most Surprising Game Winning Goal (JF): November 11, 2016.
Yes, that’s a defenseman, Andy Greene, being awarded a penalty shot in overtime. That’s Andy Greene scoring on a penalty shot in overtime.
Best Prospect (BF): Michael McLeod
I gotta give this honor to McLeod. He's very talented, exicting to watch, and has been on an absolute tear since the start of January. As of this writing he has 27 goals and 30 assists in 37 games (regular season + playoffs) since 1/6. That's a crazy 1.54 Pts/GP and it seems like all parts of his game are coming together at just the right time.
(Aside: Chris also picked McLeod for the same superlative.)
The Sherman Abrams Appreciation Certification (JF): John Hynes.
Sherman Abrams thinks quite highly of you and your staff that seemingly hates power plays, zone exits that do not have forced outlet passes on defense, and breakouts with short passes. Roll on, young Hynes.
Most Under-Appreciated (CM): Travis Zajac.
Fans are too hard on this guy. Our offense is miserable and he’s played well on both sides of the puck. People talking about trading him make him the most under-appreciated player out there.
Best Quote (CM) & Best Henrique Burn (SW): Adam Henrique.
Moment of day: Stan Fischler tells Adam Henrique last time a team faced 3 penalty shots in 2 games was 1934: Henrique:"Were you alive then?"— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) March 19, 2017
Best Henrique Pleasantry (SW): This.
Thanks for the best GIFt we could ask for this holiday season, @AdamHenrique! #PHIvsNJD pic.twitter.com/Y554wfbWGZ— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 23, 2016
Ken Daneyko Award for Most PIMs (AP): Miles Wood.
He dominated the Devils in total PIMs, almost 30 more than anyone else. Way to go!
Surprising Amount of Truculence (NP): Miles Wood, who saw that coming?
Best Personal Bodyguard Work (SW): Vernon Fiddler.
Feel the Vern! #PHIvsNJD pic.twitter.com/UXkkdg4Ks5— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 23, 2016
The Zach Ryder "Are You Serious, Bro?" Award (JF): Yohann Auvitu not receiving a second call up and/or regular minutes.
So the Devils sign this offensive defenseman, he shows actual offensive abilities, he isn’t appreciably worse than others on defense on this team, and then he gets bumped down to Albany whilst Karl Stollery, Seth Helgeson, and others get shots ahead of him? Was the plan to sign him and give him more reason to go back to Finland? Come on, Shero.
The “Please Get Taken By Vegas” Award (AP): Michael Cammalleri
It’s time to move on, what a bad season.
The Hüsker Dü Prize (JF): Kevin Rooney.
Of all of the 36 skaters that suited up for at least one game this season, Rooney was the most anonymous. By the way, did you know he was signed to an entry level contract so he could come up and do very little in four games this season? Indeed.
Most Unheralded Devil (AP): Keith Kinkaid
Despite playing on a very bad team, he had a very solid season as a young backup. If he cannot find work as a potential starter, the Devils need to bring him back.
The "Would Actually Be Pretty Good if the Entire Game was Made Up of 3-on-3 OT" Award (MS): John Moore
Best Off-Ice Interaction (SW): Miles Wood getting Alex Ovechkin’s autograph.
Favorite Game to Attend (JF): December 23, 2016.
Devils beating the Flyers 4-0 and days after learning how they hate people going ‘Woo.’ The Rock and I embraced our inner Ric Flair as the Devils styled and profiled all over the Second Rate Rivals in what would be the first of four wins over Philly this season.
Worst Return (SW): Only getting a 6th round pick for P.A. Parenteau.
Worst In-Season Move by the Devils (GL): Dalton Prout Trade
Might as well have traded Kyle Quincey for future considerations…
Get an Education Award (JF): Miles Wood.
Seriously, learn some defensive skills, give an effort at backchecking, and plead to the coaches that you can be effective without chasing down launched pucks with no support. Wood could be rather good if he plays smarter.
The "Maybe He'll Bring Us Some Lottery Magic" Award (MS): Taylor Hall
Best Jersey Investment (aka the "Most Likely to be Devil in 2023" Award) (CT): Adam Henrique.
The longest contract currently signed is Cory Schneider through the 2021-2022 season. I think, by that time, the Devils will be good (hopefully) and he will be entering his age-36 season. Zajac will be 37. Hall is amazing and if we're not contending for a Cup he will absolutely move on from the glory that is Newark, NJ. Greene will be in his 40s. It's between Palimeri, Henrique, and Severson. Severson is too young to know what he'll be still. Henrique is already firmly entrenched in NJs community and folklore (Henrique, It's Over!!), but Palmieri is the hometown boy. I'm gonna say Rico is the best Jersey to buy, because he's the only one that will be on the team for a long time and was on the team for a Cup run.
Please Come Back in 2017-18 (GL): Mike Cammalleri’s Goal Scoring Ability
The Devs don’t have any noteworthy free agents up for grabs, so I figure this suffices for this award. If Vegas doesn’t take him, we need Cam to start scoring again if we hope to be a competitive team in the near future.
Please Don't Come Back in 2017-18…or Ever for that Matter (GL): Dalton Prout
Yeesh, I know he has one more year on his deal, but find a way to ditch this train wreck of “grit and intangibles.”
The Eric Boulton Memorial "Double-Digit Appearances Without Recording a Point" Award (MS): Luke Gazdic
The Not-Missed-That-Much-This Season Award (JF): Shootouts.
The Devils only made it to six of them this year. They even won three of them. Alas, this meant the Devils lost quite a bit in overtime (eleven times).
John Hynes’ Hot Seat Meter (AP): 6 out of 10.
Rebuild has gone sideways. If that happens 2 years in a row, he is a goner. Needs to improve next year, arguably in a significant fashion.
Worst Fundamental of the Game Executed Night After Night (JF): For the third season in a row: passing the puck.
The Talking Red Damon Severson of the Year (JF): I asked David and he said it was between Damon Severson and Miles Wood. So...I’m making it both!
Moment Most Likely to Make You Wonder If It's a Little Dusty in Here or If Maybe Someone is Chopping Onions Nearby (NP): Announcement of Patrik Elias' retirement. We will miss you, dear friend.
Da Real MVP (NP): You fans, for still paying attention to this crap sandwich of a season.
Best Readers (JF): You.
You’re ‘Da Real MVP,’ it has to be you.
Thanks to Devin, CJ, Mike, Brian, Alex, Gerard, Chris, Steve, Matt, and Nate for their contributions to these awards. I thank all of the writers for contributing to this site all season long. We don’t plan to go anywhere. I certainly don’t plan to leave. The season may be done, but an offseason full of analysis, prospect posts, free agency posts, and more is ahead. The Devils may be done for this season, but hockey never stops at All About the Jersey.
Thanks to you for reading what is the longest post of the season. Again, please have your say about the awards in the comments.