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What Could Be in 2017-18

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The Devils can’t ice the same team in 2017-18 if they want to show their fans that things are headed back in the right direction. This article looks at a few ways the Devils could augment their squad to be more successful next season.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I would think that it is fair to say that with a 28-37-14 record, our New Jersey Devils have been a bad team this year; okay, maybe “bad” is understating it a bit, but still it fits well enough. With the team now looking at half a decade of seasons in a row with no playoffs, GM Ray Shero needs to find a way to put a better product on the ice next season. While most things are not owed in sports, icing a competitive team after a long, unsuccessful drought is owed to fans who have stuck by and watched this train wreck on skates.

The 2017-18 New Jersey Devils will have some new pieces, some by choice and other by necessity. Today, I look at where we could be if everything goes right for us this offseason in terms of both drafts as well as free agency, and how this could potentially impact the team next season.

Forwards

At this point, it’s safe to assume based on their play this season that Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac will be protected. Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, John Quenneville and Joseph Blandisi are all expansion exempt (at least according to Cap Friendly) and could be on the opening night roster as well. The Devils will definitely use Devante Smith-Pelly to satisfy an exposed forward requirement, and could use Michael Cammalleri to fill the other slot; if they can get a Restricted Free Agent to re-sign before the Expansion Draft, I think he is retained for either a trade or the hope that he can turn this poor season around.

Let’s assume for our purpose here that Cammalleri is kept, and DSP is not drafted. I think those are some realistic expectations for the team at the moment. Also, let’s assume that Stefan Noesen, Jacob Josefson and Beau Bennett are also re-signed, but not taken by Las Vegas; the forwards would essentially be:

Henrique - Zajac - Palmieri

Hall - Zacha - Bennett

Cammalleri - Blandisi - Quenneville

Wood - Josefson - Noesen

DSP

The way our staff uses DSP means that he is not an every night player; Bennett, Quenneville and Noesen on the right (or possibly Cam and Q flip-flopped) doesn’t inspire much confidence for me with our RW depth. Henrique gets moved to LW as that has been the new norm for him with either Zajac or Blender as his pivot. This is a pretty bleak reality, as we basically have the same forwards in this lineup as to what we’re icing currently. Unless the Devils get lucky in free agency with T.J. Oshie, I don’t see large improvements here without them coming internally from player growth. I do expect Michael McLeod to make the team next year and get some time at RW. With him involved, we get:

Henrique - Zajac - Palmieri

Hall - Zacha - McLeod

Cammalleri - Blandisi - Quenneville

Wood - Josefson - Noesen

DSP - Bennett

Not great, but if Zacha and McLeod can provide some offense, and Henrique and Cammalleri can return to 2015-16 form, it could be a decent group.

Defense

Here’s where our real issues are; we have way too many bottom pairing defenders on this team; looking at who we have, here’s what I would like to see next season before any moves are made

Greene - Severson

Merrill/Moore - Santini

Kapla - Lovejoy

The reason I have John Moore and Jon Merrill in the same spot is because I believe that whichever one of them is left unprotected will be Vegas’ choice from New Jersey. Michael Kapla has not looked out of place, and should only do better with a full training camp and preseason under his belt next year.

Now this is where the Devils need to go big; the Kevin Shattenkirk rumors project that he wants to play somewhere close to New York, if not within the city. I don’t see Our Hated Rivals being able to clear enough cap space to sign him, and the money and minutes we can afford to offer should make us an enticing team in free agency. New Jersey needs to push hard to acquire a marquee name; if it’s not Shattenkirk, then Ray Shero might opt to throw some money at Karl Alzner, or even both of them! The inability to keep pucks out of the net, coupled with not having defenders that can move play towards the opposing goal is a large part of what kills this team. Again, let’s play some fantasy GM here and assume the Devils get Shattenkirk and Moore goes to Vegas due to his speed and puck moving skills:

Greene - Shattenkirk

Merrill - Severson

Kapla - Santini

Lovejoy

I don’t know about any of you, but that looks like a MUCH improved defense to me, provided our coaching staff wises up, looks at underlying advanced stats, and realizes that Lovejoy is a 6/7 at best. The fact is that the Devils need to lock up a free agent D-man to improve the team; even Alzner would help greatly, as he could push everyone on the left down a slot (maybe not Greene), and again it would just take some recognition from the coaches that Lovejoy needs to be on the bottom pair.

You’ll note there’s no Dalton Prout mentioned anywhere here; I don’t care if he’s bought out, sent to Albany, or whatever, but he needs to go.

Goaltending

Not even going to go beyond two sentences here; with an improved defense, Cory Schneider should bounce back to his elite self. Re-sign Keith Kinkaid as the backup and you’re good to go.

Outlook

Is it possible that the Devils strike out on all of the big name free agents? Absolutely; however, they have a large amount of cap space and need to start taking the appropriate steps towards becoming a competitive team once again. Signing one or two talented free agents would be both a positive sign to the roster and the fans that the ship is being righted after years of mismanagement. The Devils will also need to make some tough decisions, trim some roster fat, and (please, please, please) cut Ben Lovejoy’s minutes.

How do you think the Devils roster will shake out for next season; are we too far away still to predict? If not, do you think they will sign any of the more sought after free agents? Will they make necessary moves such as ridding the roster of Prout? Is there another move you see them making that I did not mention here? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!