As the title states, history is repeating itself for the New Jersey Devils and not in a good way. There were some noticeable concerns that fans and writers alike had last season, and the Devils organization themselves probably did too. Unfortunately, when a team loses more often than not, the glare of those errors is much brighter than when it can be masked by winning ways. Last season’s playoff chase and berth helped to gloss over some errors that still haunt the Devils to this day.
The Devils defense continues to be a problem; CJ wrote yesterday about the volume of Vatanen and I wrote last year (yes, year) about how Steven Santini shouldn’t be the odd D out. While Vatanen being an issue is somewhat new, the Devils defense being porous isn’t; the fact that he hasn’t been the revelation that he was last season has been part of what has brought the Devils defense to below mediocrity. Sami came to New Jersey and played with somewhat of a chip on his shoulder; with the chip gone, he just hasn’t had the same impact that he first did.
The dearth of depth has continued to affect the team as well; Ben Lovejoy is for some unfathomable reason still being deployed over Santini. While Santini alone surely isn’t an answer for the defensive woes, Lovejoy has been absolutely atrocious this season. He has some of the worst advanced stats among defensemen, and when viewed during games, the image is even worse. Garbage exit attempts, blown coverage frequently, boneheaded penalties and even running his own goalie Tuesday night are just some of the “low-lights” of Lovejoy’s 2018-19 campaign.
On top of that, Mirco Mueller has reverted to 2017-18 Mueller, Egor Yakovlev hasn’t been the answer, and Andy Greene continues to regress at an alarming pace. Damon Severson has been good, but is still prone to some of the same mistakes he always makes. Binghamton doesn’t seem to have any answers either, although Josh Jacobs might warrant a look for his ability to actually play defense. The defense, arguably, might even be a bigger problem than last season, so history isn’t only repeating on the back end, it’s becoming more dystopic.
The front lines are looking bleak as well, but the issues aren’t anything that was seen last season. We’re seeing a different crop of players struggle for the most part, while players who had rough years last year are contributing. There’s a player or two overlapping that is having a disappointing season offensively (Pavel Zacha comes to mind) but the general theme here is underachieving.
The same coaching problems continue to plague the team as well. John Hynes has a terrible inability to adjust in mid-game, either when a team figures out his strategy or when his team is struggling. His assistant coaches aren’t any better, as evidenced by the fact that the team’s power play continues to employ the same predictable drop back pass that they did last season. I’m not saying a coaching change is needed, but adaptability certainly is; players need to be able to adjust to their situation quickly, so the Devils coaches need to do the same.
The bottom line is that with elements of history repeating, the Devils’ fate has been worse due to the fact that most of the remainder of the NHL is not stuck in the past. While Jersey’s Team certainly plays a more exciting, modern brand of hockey than they used to, they haven’t taken what they had in place from last season and grown in further. The same decisions are being made game in and game out now and because f that, the team continues to suffer. At some point, something with the roster or the way they’re coached needs to change...otherwise it may be the entire coaching staff that winds up changing.
What are your thoughts on the history of last season repeating itself; is it fact or fiction? Do you see a troubling pattern with the way the roster is managed? Is it the personnel who should feel more responsible? Do the Devils need to start experimenting with more of the players available to them? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!