In case you don’t remember where this season started, take a look at this stroll down memory lane to the predictions from your writers here at AAtJ and then the predictions from elsewhere. NO ONE outside AAtJ had us making the playoffs and no one here did either except for Gerard, who had a shockingly accurate prediction for how the season would play out.
This helped foster the #NJDvsEverybody rallying cry. This tight nit group of misfit toys, and Taylor Hall, were able to come to work every day knowing that they were doubted and they were trying to prove people wrong. And it was warranted as the season was not without adversity. We faced a run of truly confounding officiating that even included an apology at one point. We also dealt with injuries of significant time to Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle, Brian Gibbons, Mirco Mueller, and Cory Schneider. And STILL despite that, and all of the doubters — claims of us not being “for real” in the beginning of the season — and despite the 5th cheapest team in the league, we still put together a playoff season.
The core of this team is young. Every one of our top 8 scorers is 26 or younger -- some much so. The Devils had 4 rookies that finished 23rd or higher in rookie scoring. So this is a team that, on paper, should increase their point total without even doing anything just by natural player growth. Here’s the thing. This is the NHL. That doesn’t always happen.
Last year, the Calgary Flames got 94 points and were comfortably made the playoffs before getting swept in the first round. Their top 5 scorers included a center, two wingers, and a defender that were ALL 23 or younger. They had a league average PDO. There was no reason to expect a big step back, and yet that’s what we got. The Flames this year, have the exact same set of top 5 scorers, they actually upgraded at starting goalie, and yet, ended up 10 points worse than 2016-17. The only big difference was a Sh% dip of 1.5% which was third lowest this year. But those variations happen. Before you think we’re THAT different:
2016-17 Flames: 9.3 Sh% / 0.910 Sv% / 100 PDO / Goal Differential +3
2017-18 Devils: 9.3 Sh% / 0.910 Sv% / 100 PDO / Goal Differential +3
The point I’m trying to make here is that success is far from inevitable for next year’s Devils. This is a team that lost more games than it won from December 28th and then lost 4 out of 5 to Tampa Bay. Furthermore, they already have doubters for next year. Dom Luzzzzzzzzyn who infamously predicted the Devils to be the worst team in the league this year, recently was on the PDOCast and said he thought they were “fluke” and “this year’s Sens”.
But that’s sure to be a rarity, especially within the fanbase. After Shero made the win-now decision to acquire Maroon and Grabner in exchange for multiple picks and prospects, the expectation is that the Devils are officially on the climb towards a championship. And for a team that has thrived on proving the doubters wrong, playing with expectations presents a new challenge. Pressure will be on the sophomores Bratt, Nico, Butcher, and Coleman to prove this year wasn’t a fluke and that they can continue their growth as NHLers.
This year, everything was gravy. We were playing with house money. Playoffs were icing on the cake. But next year is the reverse. If players don’t improve, the criticism will start flowing in. And this is a challenge, because it’s very possible. We made the playoffs by 1 point this year. Next year is not a given.
The 2018 Devils were the team that beat expectations. The 2019 edition will need to be the team that meets expectations.
Are you guys expecting playoffs next year? How likely do you think back-to-back playoff births are? Who do you expect to improve/regress next year?
Leave your thoughts below and, as always, thanks for reading!