To say the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils season so far has been a mixed bag of results would be a positive, and probably far too kind spin on a season where many of us were predicting a postseason return. The coaching is stagnant, too many players are underachieving, some offseason moves have not panned out, and the team is just in general disarray right now. It’s easy to point out a number of things to be down on, but today I thought it would be nice to note a few things we should feel positively about as well. Without further ado, here are the Ups and Downs of 2019-20 at this early juncture:
Hughes has had a few stinkers of games so far in his young career, but those have mostly come when he’s been paired with players who don’t complement him. Additionally, he is still adapting to the professional game as well after being drafted this past summer, so there’s still some degree of a learning curve as well. So far in his rookie campaign, Jack has registered nine points in 17 games, good enough for third on the Devils. He has made some absolutely incredible plays that have not resulted in goals as well, making you wonder what his point total would be if a few of our underachievers were finding the back of the net more often. All in all, for an 18 year old to be performing this well, Hughes has to be given an up.
With his recent play, I have to take back some of what I said previously about Simmonds being done as an NHL, because it look as though he’s found his reserve tank. He may no longer be the premier power forward that he was during the prime of his career, but if he continues to be good for a point every other game, he still has value. Seven of his points have come in the team’s last eight games as well, so this could be a good sign that Wayne is heating up and will continue to contribute as the Devils try to right the ship.
Currently out injured, Vatanen has been one of the few (the only?) defender on this team to look competent on a nightly basis. He has routinely made the correct play, helped to get the puck moving in the right direction and has four goals and four assists in 15 appearances. Speaking of four, did I mention that he’s tied for fourth in team scoring alongside Simmonds and Pavel Zacha? I’m sadly not sure if that’s more indicative of how well Sami is playing or how terrible some of his teammates are. It’s a contract year for Vatanen which has resulted in him playing hungry hockey; if he keeps up his current pace, he could be looking at one last large contract this summer.
The Defense Aside from Vatanen and Possibly Andy Greene
There have been some bright moments for individual players, but generally speaking, everyone not mentioned in the title of this blurb has been a letdown. Greene gets a pass because he is one of the few defenders actually playing fairly well defensively and he hasn’t really gotten coned much this season either; additionally, he’s 37 now, and even with Father Time slowing him down, Greene is still finding a degree of effectiveness.
P.K. Subban hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been good either; ditto for Damon Severson. They each have some games where they look like bona fide top pair players, and then others where they make mistake after mistake after mistake. Will Butcher has been good for chipping in points occasionally and for exiting the zone when the puck is on his stick, but that’s about it. Let’s just group these three together as inconsistent, with Severson being the most inconsistent of the trio.
Connor Carrick has only appeared in four games due to injury, but he hasn’t been a difference maker. Then there’s Mirco Mueller and Matt Tennyson; I’ll give Tennyson a bit of a pass, as he’s been thrust into regular duty mainly due to injury, when his signing in the offseason was really to aid Binghamton. Don’t mistake that for me saying he’s been alright (he hasn’t been) but he’s not responsible for his deployment on the ice, so he can’t be completely blamed.
Mueller is the much larger disappointment, particularly when you remember the Devils gave up a second and fourth round picks for him. Draft picks aren’t everything, but when you trade two for a player who wasn’t performing well for a better team, that’s the definition of poor asset management. He’s been nothing for the Devils since they acquired him, as he is not an offensive minded player and he struggles to get the puck out of his own end.
A controversial choice perhaps, as Hall has 15 points through the team’s 17 games, but there’s a lot wrong with what Hall has been doing on the ice. Last night’s game in Ottawa showed some of his issues, as he kept trying to force plays that weren’t there, and he was directly responsible for the empty net goal that put the game out of reach.
I’m not sure if the forcing is due to Hall’s absurdly low shooting percentage, the team’s record, or some other factor or combination of them. At the same time, Hall seems disinterested, possibly due to the lack of success; while certainly understandable, it doesn’t bode well when a leader on the team displays the body language that he has.
I’m keeping this short, as it’s been written about to death both here and elsewhere in the media. The coaching isn’t adapting when needed, they’re making questionable decisions with lineups, their strategies are predictable and ineffective (which might help explain the poorness of the defense) and in general, they don’t seem to be aiding the team in improving. The Devils aren’t a powerhouse franchise right now, but with the talent they have, they shouldn’t be “Last in the East” bad, which as of this writing, they are.
I’ve made my picks for up votes and down votes so far this season and now I’d like to hear yours; who do you feel has been a positive and who do you feel has been a negative? Are there any of my choices that you agree with or disagree with? Are we piling blame too heavily on the coaching, or is it legitimately one of the team’s biggest problems? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!