Last week, I decided that I wanted to make some positive predictions about the New Jersey Devils. Yes they are expected to have a down year, and there is really no way to spin that. However, the goal this season is to see improvement, and to see that this team is moving forward and will perhaps become a competitive, playoff-caliber team sooner rather than later. By seeing improvement in certain areas, that could be possible. Last week, I said that there is a decent chance that we could see three forwards score 30 or more points at 5v5 play. Last season, only Taylor Hall was able to reach that number. If we see more players reaching that goal, it means positive improvement has been made by some, and that is a good thing.
While last week my prediction relied on only a couple of skaters stepping up, this week I want to make a positive prediction that would shine a positive light on the entire team. Today, I want to suggest that the New Jersey Devils will improve their goals for percentage. Last season, I had the misfortune to think that the team could actually end the season with a positive GF%. Boy, was I wrong. They ended up with 180 goals for and a whopping 241 goals against. They weren’t even close to having a positive ratio.
This year, considering where they ended up last year, I would be a fool to predict that the Devils will have a positive ratio. That is most likely an unrealistic expectation. However, it is not in any way unrealistic to expect an improvement, and as for that I do think it is very possible. The main area for improvement here is clearly with goals against. The Devils have always been a defensive-minded team; combined with strong goaltending, they have always had one of the better goals against numbers in the league. Last year, however, New Jersey gave up the 6th most goals in the league. That flies in the face of what you would normally expect when watching the Devils, and I think it could be a random outlier. I would not expect a trend to start where the Devils are regularly in the bottom 10 in the league in goals against each season.
Because of that, we can reasonably expect improvement in that department. That improvement will start and will rely upon a resurgence from Cory Schneider. Last year was a down year for him, everyone knows and admits it. I do not believe what we saw last year will be the norm from him from now on, and we should expect some positive regression from his game this season. That there alone will improve the team’s goals against number. It won’t bring it into the top 10 of the league all of a sudden, but an all-star Schneider gets this team back into the middle of the pack. Last year, the middle of the pack in terms of goals against was Tampa Bay with 224 goals against. That is 17 less than what the Devils gave up. Could an improved Schneider save 17 more shots that he let up last year? I do not think that is an unreasonable expectation, especially if he returns to all-star form.
That improvement in goals against doesn’t even mention a possible improvement in defense. This year, the Devils have gotten young on the blue line. Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy make up the veteran presence there, but you then have Damon Severson, Steven Santini, and Mirco Muller who are all quite young, John Moore who is under 30, and perhaps Will Butcher should he make the team out of camp. I know most fans are down on Lovejoy and Moore given their underlying stats, and that is hard to argue, but if we continue to see improvement from Severson and Santini, a likely prospect, and if we see even decent play from Muller and/or Butcher, that would most likely constitute an improvement over last season. I mean, let’s be honest, it would not take much from the defense this season to consider it an improvement over last year. Even just a small boost in defensive play could mean a few less goals against, thus improving that overall GA number even further than what Schneider will do to improve it.
That then leaves the offense. Can they produce more goals than last season? Well last year they were at 180 goals for, which was good for 3rd worst in the NHL. Frankly, there is almost nowhere to go but up. Could they do worse? It is possible, Colorado did only have 165 goals for last year. But that was epically bad, and I don’t think we see that from New Jersey this year. For one thing, Ray Shero did work to improve the talent. Bringing in Marcus Johansson immediately improves the forward corps. I know Travis Zajac being out at least half the season hurts, but a half season with Zajac and a full season with Johansson is better than not having Marcus and having a full year of Travis, at least in terms of producing goals. You then have to take into account that the star of the team, Taylor Hall, is now in year two of John Hynes’ system. He now should be more comfortable in the system. That can only improve his production. And, if he plays alongside Johansson, those two could really work together to create a formidable top line, especially if they have decent center play.
From there, you can also bank on the possibility that Pavel Zacha improves over his goal output from last year. If he is given consistent top 6 minutes, which is a real likelihood given Zajac’s injury, he will almost undoubtedly improve upon his scoring total from last year. And throw in Nico Hischier, who I predicted has a shot at 30 even strength points this year, and that could all lead to an improvement in goals for this season.
So, where does that leave us? In terms of goals for, I would think that the improvement there is not going to be as pronounced as the improvement we see in goals against. Last year the team was at 180 goals for. This year, let’s say they improve to 190. They score 10 more goals than last season. That is one extra goal every 8 games. That should be a very realistic possibility. I mean, 190 goals for last year would have still put them at 3rd worst in the NHL. Then, let’s say that they improve their goals against by 20. Last year they were at 241, this year they make it to 221. Overall, that is an improvement of 30 goals in the GF ratio. 10 more goals for, and 20 less goals against. Does that sound like a large improvement? Yes, it does. In the end, however, it would still leave the team with a pretty bad GF%. 190 GF versus 221 GA is good for a 46.2 GF%. That is not great. But is it improvement? Absolutely. And that is the type of improvement we need to see this year. Incremental improvement that showcases that the rebuild process is working and that this team is moving in a positive direction is key. Let’s hope it is possible!
What do you think? Do you think the New Jersey Devils have any chance of improving their GF% this season? If so, do you think they can improve it by 30 goals like I just predicted? Do you think they can improve it by more than that? Or, are you more pessimistic and do you think they really cannot achieve that level of improvement? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.