Now 44 games into the 2018-19 season, our New Jersey Devils have so far collected only 41 points, which at just a simple glance certainly isn’t good enough for a playoff team. The team has been hurt by a variety of factors this season, mainly poor goaltending, poor defense, injuries and an inconsistent power play. Some of these issues are improving: the situation in net is seemingly being stabilized by MacKenzie Blackwood, which is in turn masking some of the defensive issues. Also, the injures are starting to lessen and the Devils are inching closer to having a complete team once again. The question must be asked however: is it too late to save this season?
I guess the first issue here is it all depends on your definition of “save” for this season. If it means to try and win as often as possible and push to still steal a wild card spot, then yes, it’s entirely possible that it is too late. If saving to you is more of evaluating the talent on the team, looking to see what the goalie situation looks like moving forward, and possibly moving some pieces for draft picks at the trade deadline, then yes, the season cane be salvaged.
I don’t mean to be a downer; heck, I picked the team to win one of the three divisional playoff spots prior to the season, rather than either a wild card or missing the playoffs. Watching the team play this season though has just dampened a lot of the hope that existed prior to the season actually starting. This was a playoff team last season and there were very few additions and subtractions over the summer; so what happened?
Part of the problem is that players drafted highly have yet to take a step forward. Michael McLeod and John Quenneville, for instance, were supposed to be players pushing for spots as contributors this year. McLeod has spent most of the season in the AHL, and while Quenneville has spent two stints in New Jersey this season, he has zero points in 15 contests. Both are young players, and while it may be too early to write them off, they certainly aren’t appearing to be impact players either.
Additionally, there’s a number of underachieving NHLers hurting the cause as well. While no one will complain about Pavel Zacha’s defense, it’s certainly fair to complain about his lack of offense, and the giveaways leading to goals. Will Butcher is enduring a sophomore slump this season as well, and the Devils continue to have to feed him sheltered minutes. Stefan Noesen and Miles Wood have each taken a step back as well, so the depth of scoring has been hurt.
That’s not to say there haven’t been bright spots: while he may try to do too much on some nights, Taylor Hall (pre-injury) has been fantastic. Kyle Palmieri already has 20 goals on the year and Nico Hischier is one young player who seemingly is taking a step forward. Blake Coleman has been a revelation, and his frequent linemate Travis Zajac hasn’t looked too shabby either. Brian Boyle is playing well above the expectations of a fourth liner, though perhaps his PP minutes should be lessened; Damon Severson has been good in leading scoring from the back end despite his occasional defensive blunders. Finally, the aforementioned Blackwood has been the shot in the arm the Devils need in net.
While again there may be two camps at this point in the season (the go for it versus evaluating for the future), my personal opinion is that the Devils need to evaluate and sell going forward. The most important numbers are 12 and five; the Devils currently sit 12 points out of a wild card spot and they would have to jump five teams (including the second WC team) to qualify for the playoffs. With the way the team has played so far, I just don’t see this as a realistic possibility; the damage has already been done with the number of road losses this season.
If Ray Shero is doing his due diligence in this scenario, he will more than likely sell off some pieces to gain additional assets at the trade deadline. In doing so, there will also be some roster openings where younger players will have a chance to show their potential. This is the correct choice for how to go about the remainder of the season in my opinion, as it will allow the Devils to better evaluate their needs, and hopefully address some of them this summer.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on if the season is over or not; will the Devils be focusing on selling and developing or do you think they find a way to make a push? Who has let you down this season? Who has impressed you? What can the Devils do to ensure their 2019-20 doesn’t trend the same way as this season? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!