We are finally arriving to the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season. The New Jersey Devils will play their final preseason game tomorrow. On Saturday, they will open the season in Gotenberg, Sweden against the Edmonton Oilers. As is tradition, we will have multi-part season preview throughout this week prior to the Devils’ start of the season. What is new is this very post. I sort-of write something like this around this time of the season. It works just as well as a “Part 0” of the whole thing. I would like to discuss the various guarantees for this very season before it begins.
There are basic things that will absolutely happen in this season. There will be 82 games. There will be 40 home games in Newark, 1 home game in Sweden, and 41 road games. The playoff format remains the same. All teams must have 23 men on an active roster, a maximum of 50 standard player contracts, and be compliant to the salary cap throughout the whole season. These are very simple truths. You know these. There are a few more that are more relevant to the Devils in this coming season that you may or may not know:
There will be games where the Devils will look great. There will be nights where everything seemingly works. The passes are crisp and on target. The decisions made off the puck tend to work. The execution by the Devils is superb. On most of these nights, they will win and most likely by a decisive result. At which point we will be excited in various ways. Some fans will marveling over how good the team can be when everything clicks. Others will question why they just can’t do this every night. Even others will just take it as it is. We all must be careful with these local high points in a season in that it does not lead to heightened expectations or something else to be grouchy about.
There will be games where the Devils will look terrible. Some nights, you’re the windshield; and other nights, you’re the bug. We can hope the Devils are the former but there will be those games where very little goes the Devils’ way. It could be from self-inflicted issues. It could be from just poor execution on a random night. It could be hindered by unusually tight refereeing. It could be a night where the bounces just go against the Devils. For these nights, the opposite concern from “Devils looking great” will come up. Is it a sign that the Devils are truly not bad? Are these games closer to the “true level” of the team? Maybe we should just shrug off the result and risk ignoring some real issues? Various fans will have different answers. We all must be equally careful with these local low points in that it does not lead to despair or something to lament when it may not be so warranted.
There will be some heartbreakers. Giving up a game-tying goal to a team that pulled the goalie. Losing in overtime or in a shootout. Losing due to a power play as a result of a harsh call. Losing from a really fluky goal or unfortunate deflection. Points will be dropped and, in a way, these games may feel worse than the games where the Devils just get bodied. Namely because a positive result could have happened - and it did not for various reasons. When they do happen, suddenly it becomes “This always happens to the Devils;” “They never get the breaks;” and “They can never win the big one (suddenly the game becomes The Most Important Game)” Again, we have to be careful to separate the real issues from the other ones. And, no, they do not always happen to the Devils.
There will be some “clutch” moments. Games where the Devils do the heart breaking. Nights where they get the OT or shootout winner. Games where the Devils win on the back of a goaltender, skater, pairing, line, or unit having a great game. Games where the Devils get late equalizer or go-ahead goal to steal the points. We should be happy when that happens, but we should not necessarily expect them to happen regularly or that the Devils should be in those situations.
There will be many close games. Last season, the Devils played beyond regulation in 20 out of 82 games last season. Nearly half of them (9) went to shootouts. These numbers may not repeat but the Devils aren’t going to play solely 60-minute games all season long either. Say what you want about the shootout; there will be shootouts and points to earn. Say what you want about 3-on-3 hockey in overtime; they will happen and the dramatic play can lead to some thrilling victories and dampening defeats. While there will be those nights where the Devils will rout or be routed, a lot of games will be competitive for at least a part of the game. For the Devils to be the team we want them to be, they need to win those competitions too. It also means that expecting blowouts (good or bad) is a poor choice.
There will be injuries. I don’t like seeing anyone get hurt, but hockey is a sport and injuries are a cruel reality. Some involve contact. For intentional ones, we can be appropriately mad about someone doing so. For unintentional ones, we must recognize that accidents do happen. And injuries do not even need contact with the opponent - or at all. While the magnitude of the injury and who is injured will cause various impacts, this means that there will be call-ups to fill in for injured players. That player who did not make the team out of camp may get a chance to prove himself in a season game - a great opportunity for them and something to recognize for the team. As for the injured player, severity will determine whether he is only scratched, place on injured reserve, sent to Binghamton for conditioning purposes, and what he may be able to do upon return. I cannot tell you who will get hurt and we can debate who we should really hope stays healthy all season long, but there will be injuries at some point with the Devils.
There will be players going on streaks. 2017-18 NHL MVP and Superstar Taylor Hall went on an epic point streak in the 2018 portion of the 2017-18 season. Yet, the Devils did not always get winning results from that streak. Maybe it kept them in games on some nights. On a few, it was one of the few bright points of the game. And on others, it was absolutely critical. We should hope the Devils make the most of whoever has the hot stick or hand. On the flipside, we should not be so quick to dismiss a player for being bad when they have a couple bad games in a row. Sometimes, you just have to work through a cold streak or try some adjustments before calling for a benching or a demotion.
There will be games outside of the Devils that will impact the Devils. New Jersey does not play in a vacuum. How their upcoming opponent may perform against them could very well depend on what the Devils should expect. For those interested in the Devils making the playoffs in 2018-19, then you should pay attention to what is happening in the Eastern Conference. There is something to the idea that the Devils should not always tailor their style to their opponent and stick to what their gameplan and tactics. But adjustments should be made appropriately. Paying attention to the league as a whole has value for a team who barely made the playoffs last season and may shoot for doing it again. Even if you don’t, what the teams around the Devils do will go a long way in determining whether the Devils will play beyond April 6, 2019.
There will be players who will go on to have one of the best seasons in their career. Maybe they stay healthy. Maybe they get hot enough for long enough to put up some big numbers. Maybe they figured out their tools and how to put them in the proverbial toolbox. This may or may not coincide as to whether they will need a contract in 2019.
There will be players who will go on to have a worse season than in 2017-18. Maybe it is because they did so well in 2017-18 that repeating it is just not likely to happen and so it does not. Maybe it is because they could not avoid injury. Maybe they hit enough cold streaks. Maybe they truly declined as a player. As much as I would want to see it, not everyone is going to be trending up.
There will be changes on the roster. Whether it is a called-up player who does so well to warrant a regular role, a player getting demoted or play their way out of the lineup, or Ray Shero making a move, it is highly unlikely that the 23 men who will be on the active roster in Sweden will be the same 23 men who will be on the active roster in Sunrise, Florida for the season closer on April 6, 2019.
This season is a marathon and not a sprint. There are 82 games. A good start is good, obviously; but it does not guarantee that the season will be good. A good run to close out the season is good, obviously; but it does not guarantee that it’ll salvage or a secure the Devils’ spot by Game #82. Please keep in mind that points in November count as much as points in March. Ideally, we want the Devils to expand the good runs in their season and minimize the bad runs. But that also means that a bad run is not a sign of the season being doomed. Alternatively, a good run is not a sign of the season going to be filled with sunshine, lollipops, and boatloads of wins. We should want the team to succeed. But the season will not be sunk by Thanksgiving short of a total collapse; and playoffs will not necessarily be guaranteed if the Devils are in first in the division by January 1, 2019.
Relevant to this site, All About the Jersey will remain all about the Devils. This is the tenth year that I and the site have been a part of SB Nation and the twelfth season that I’ve blogged abut. Business will return to usual for this blog: previews, recaps, gamethreads, and posts in between with opinions, reactions, updates, and thoughts about our favorite team. There will be posts about prospects. There will be posts about the Binghamton Devils. There will be weekly division snapshots (expect them to start on October 14th). There will be speculation. There will be analysis. There will be more than cliches because you can get those anywhere. Here, it’s real and you know it is. If it takes over 2,000 words with graphs and tables and video clips and quotes and so forth to make and justify an argument or a point, then we’re making it. We will continue to do things this way in the face of an online hockey media scene that is increasingly looking like the old one that blogs and such were supposed to take over and revolutionize into something I still don’t know what. (Maybe that’s a key issue.) There will be some behind the scenes with families growing, lives changing, real life interfering, and so forth. But this is a Devils blog by Devils fans for Devils fans. I can guarantee that will not change while I’m around, directly or otherwise.
As one other final guarantee: The Rangers and Flyers still and will forever inherently suck. May we hope that Our Hated Rivals and the Second Rate Rivals fail miserably in 2018-19.
These are guarantees and they apply to this coming season as much as they apply to previous and future seasons. It is still a starting point for a season preview series. Part 1 of the All About the Jersey 2018-19 Devils Season Preview will be up tomorrow. It will focus on the forwards. Thank you for reading and please check this site out all week.