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A Decade of Necessary Changes Part 7: The 2015-16 New Jersey Devils

The 2010s are ending and so will end a decade of New Jersey Devils hockey where past glories ended and difficult necessary changes were to be made. This part summarizes the 2015-16 season: the first under Ray Shero and John Hynes; overachievement in the season; and the One for One Trade at the end of June in a calmer offseason.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils
Kyle Palmieri and Cory Schneider shined in 2015-16.
Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

The 2010s will end on January 1, 2020. It was a tumultuous ten years for the New Jersey Devils franchise. Big trades, a player controversy, and massive changes in ownership, management, coaches, and players surround seasons where the Devils fell from past glories. It is not a decade that will be fondly remembered with some exceptions. It is a decade that forced the Devils to make some difficult, messy, and necessary changes. And as this decade closes, we can only hope that the changes that continue to be made will lead the Devils back to making the playoffs regularly, challenging for Stanley Cups, and perhaps being the model franchise for others once again. Before it ends, let us look back one more time at the 2010s with a now daily series of posts summarizing each of the previous ten seasons up to New Year’s Day.

In the seventh part of this series, this post will summarize the 2015-16 season. This was uncharted territory for Devils fans who were not around in the BL (Before Lou) times. Ray Shero was the general manager and in control. John Hynes was the head coach. Right before the season, Andy Greene was named captain. Initial moves were already made to clear cap space and move veterans out to prepare for the future in a full-on rebuild of the organization. Expectations were not high between the rebuild that was about to happen and the three previous seasons of missing the postseason. Yet, the season turned out better than expected.

This is meant to be an overview of that season and the resulting offseason. I hope to capture all of the major events. And if you feel there were things I missed or there was someone or something that you really liked (or disliked) that should have been highlighted, then feel free to share it in the comments.


The 2015-16 Season

The Record: 38-36-8, 84 points, Seventh in the Metropolitan Division (Source: Hockey-Reference)

The Head Coach: John Hynes

The Team Captain: Andy Greene

The Top Scorer: Kyle Palmieri - 30 goals, 27 assists, 222 shots, 57 points

The AAtJ Season Preview: We went back to the five-part format from earlier in the decade for this season’s preview, the first under our new name. Here are our predictions with links to the previous parts of the 2015-16 preview.

The Biggest In-Season Move: The Devils were rebuilding so they were sellers at the NHL Trade Deadline. On February 29, 2016, they made three deals. Two were clearly for selling players for picks. Lee Stempniak to Boston for their fourth rounder in 2016 and their second rounder in 2017 was a great asset flip. The Devils signed Stempniak from training camp after a successful tryout. He turned into two picks: Evan Cormier and part of the package that brought Mirco Mueller to New Jersey. Not a great long-term return but, hey, it was a lot for a player that first came to the organization on a PTO. The second selling move was sending Eric Gelinas to Colorado for a third rounder in 2017, which would be used on Fabian Zetterlund. It was something for a defenseman whose contributions were becoming less and less valuable. A great shot, but not much else.

But what we picked in the season was the one trade that was not a sell. The Devils sent Stefan Matteau to Montreal for Devante Smith-Pelly. Matteau settled down after an difficult 2012-13 season. But he was not really developing into a NHL contributor. He made 20 appearances in 2015-16, most of which were anonymous. DSP was not much more than a fourth-liner but he was at least a NHL player. And a right winger, which the Devils were lacking at the time. So the Devils made a short-term upgrade with this deal. Smith-Pelly got hot upon joining the Devils so he earned plenty of fans quickly. Matteau, well, did not. While DSP would cool off, the Devils still won the deal and any win was a good one for a rebuilding team.

Playoffs?: No. The Devils finished twelve points behind the second wild card spot owned by Philly. That was at least improvement over the 2014-15 team missing the playoffs by twenty points. As an aside, the Devils finished twelfth in the East that season. They finished two points behind tenth-place Carolina and three points ahead of fourteenth-place Buffalo. It was tight outside of the wildcard spots except for Toronto and Columbus.

The Months in Review: Here is a link to each of the Months in Review for the season - which includes the Devil of the Month (DotM).

Yes, I combined the last two months as a change of pace from past seasons. I also went wishy-washy for two months about the honorable mention thing.

The Number Retirement: The Devils retired three numbers in the 2010s. The second one was for Martin Brodeur. On February 9, 2016, #30 was raised to the rafters of the Rock. The Devils also edged Edmonton 2-1. I was really sick with the flu at the time so I did not see this one live and I barely caught the game at all on TV. I wish I did.

All the same, we celebrated Brodeur’s number retirement with a week-long series of posts in the run up to the 9th. Mike wrote about his value. Gerard summed up a long, long list of Brodeur’s accomplishments in his illustrious career. CJ wrote about how Brodeur played the position like few others before him. Alex wrote about several of Brodeur’s stand out performances. On the day his statue was unveiled on February 8, I wrote about how Brodeur was a top-ten goaltender of all time. Brodeur’s career may have ended with a whimper in New Jersey, but any of those duller times from the past seasons were outshined from what he did from 1994 through 2012. To this day, Brodeur is arguably the greatest Devils player in franchise history.

The Player Awards by the Blog: We were now All About the Jersey but we kept up the season-end (or near season-end) tradition of player awards for the season. Here were our selections for 2015-16:

  • MVP: Cory Schneider
  • Best Defenseman: Adam Larsson
  • Best Goaltender: Cory Schneider
  • Best Rookie: N/A (Again, we didn’t have this award because the rookies were many but few really stood out. So we didn’t have it again. Gerard named Joseph Blandisi in his superlatives. I would agree in retrospect.)
  • Best Defensive Forward: Travis Zajac
  • Best Offensive Forward: Kyle Palmieri
  • The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Adam Henrique

The 2015-16 Season Stats: This is similar to the charts in the By the Numbers sections in the current month in reviews. For this series, I put 5-on-5 stats, expected goals for 5-on-5 and all situations, power play, and penalty kill stats all in one chart for the season. Rankings in green were top ten in the league in 2015-16; red is for stats in the bottom ten. The stats primarily come from Natural Stat Trick with special teams stats being pulled from NHL.com.

2015-16 New Jersey Devils Stats and NHL Ranks
2015-16 New Jersey Devils Stats and NHL Ranks
Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com

2019 Thoughts About the 2015-16 Season: The one word to describe 2015-16 would be overachiving. Everyone knew this was going to be the first season in a rebuild. However, the Devils performed better than anyone expected. The goaltending was still quite solid between Schneider and Kinkaid. The defensive effort was still really stingy and returned to be very good at statistically keeping the opposition at bay. The penalty kill was impressive. The offense, well, is still lagged behind the rest of the league in terms of creating opportunities and especially in 5-on-5 scoring. But the power play ran hot throughout the season and overachieved as well.

Looking back, the Devils benefited from plenty of pleasant surprises. Lee Stempniak was signed out of training camp and the 32-year old journeyman winger fit the team like a glove. No one was expecting 41 points out of 65 games from him and he did it anyway. Mike Cammalleri’s season was cut short due to injury. Before then, he was putting up points like the player who was signed to his big contract: 38 in 42 games. The team also benefited from Smith-Pelly’s post-trade run or waiver-wire pick up Bobby Farnham putting up eight goals. Let us not forget goaltender Scott Wedgewood’s call up. He needed to appear in four games and he was a brick wall as he let in just five goals out of 126 shots. And despite the team’s relative lack of offense, Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique each put up 30 goal seasons for the first (and currently only) times of their respective careers. Devils fans were excited for Palmieri and always liked Henrique. Seeing both account for about third of team’s total goals in 2015-16 is above what was expected. These individual efforts that few (if anyone) expected helped the Devils finish in a position that few (if anyone) expected.

This led to a notion at the time that perhaps the Devils’ rebuild would not be so long or be so painful. We know now that was not going to happen. The pain of rebuilding was on its way. But these performances combined Schneider being excellent in the crease and the fact that the Devils suffered plenty of significant injuries in 2015-16 would lead anyone to think that maybe the Devils could improve again in 2016-17 and beyond with a healthier roster led by Schneider, Palmieri, Greene, Larsson, and others. Again, that did not happen and so that is why I characterize 2015-16 as an overachivement rather than a step forward.

While some may look at this season and point out how the higher finish in the conference hurt the rebuild in the long term, I think how 2015-16 turned out was important than picking a few spots higher in 2016’s draft. Assuming ownership was on board with the idea of a rebuild, there was no downside if the Devils truly cratered in 2015-16 after that awful 2014-15 season. But by being more competitive, it showed to the fans and perhaps even ownership that the big changes made in 2015 were not only necessary but correct. The unexpected success of 2015-16 showed that perhaps John Hynes was the right head coach for the job and, more importantly, that Ray Shero was the right GM for the job. Palmieri’s initial success in 2014-15 justified that trade being made at the 2015 NHL Draft. Larsson having a very good season justified that contract extension Shero gave him. The success of Stempniak and his eventual trade to Boston plus Matteau-for-Smith-Pelly helped Shero get a reputation of being a shrewd dealer. Given that Lou set up so much success for the Devils and was the only GM most fans knew, Shero having some early success started him on the right foot with the fanbase - even without a playoff appearance.

If you think of this decade like a rollercoaster, then 2015-16 was climb up to a small height. Not a big one, certainly not as huge as the one in 2011-12. But it was an improvement over the 2014-15 season and there was some reason to hope that further heights would be made. Alas, a drop was coming. Hot runs and surprising streaks do not last and they did not. That will be covered in Part 8 of this series.

As one last note, there would be another notable end in the 2015-16 season. On April 10, 2016, the Devils hosted and torched Toronto in a 5-1 win. Patrik Elias played 14:27, took three shots, scored the last goal of the game (not an empty netter), set up Palmieri’s empty-netter for his 30th of the season, and received a secondary assist on Henrique’s 29th goal of the season. It would turn out to be Patrik Elias’ last game. Fans cheered wildly for Elias and there was a “one more year” chant for the legendary forward. Some were holding out hope for a comeback in 2016-17 but it was not to be. Elias announced his official retirement on March 31, 2017. The 2015-16 season may have not been a playoff season, but it ended memorably with one last great performance by Elias. Elias will forever rock in Devils history.

The 2016 Offseason

This would not be as major as the 2015 Offseason. Still, plenty of events happened with respect to the rebuild. Here are the main points, with two in-season news to start off.

  • The first in-season item of note is that the Devils announced a partnership deal with Barnabas Health - now RWJ Barnabas Health - on March 16, 2016. This included the naming rights to the practice rink attached to the Prudential Center - which is now called the (RWJ) Barnabas Health Hockey House. It is not exactly a name that rolls off the tongue. I just call it the practice rink and I (eventually) learned to stop calling it the AmeriHealth Pavilion.
  • The second in-season item of note is not so much Devils-specific and technically was announced near the end of the 2015-16 season. On March 30, Tom Gulitti announced that he would be leaving The Record in early April to take a regional writing position with NHL.com. This also meant that he was also leaving Fire & Ice - the Devils blog for the Record. Gulitti was a fantastic beat reporter for the Devils and he made Fire & Ice the most important Devils blog on the Internet. It was an essential site to be read daily, if not more than once a day. He did not partake in silly rumors and gossip. He was very professional in his dealings. He did not succumb to trolls or fools trying to undercut or insult him online. Gulitti had his finger on the pulse of the Devils and reported things fully, promptly, and with updates as needed. As blogs like this one were rising near the end of the 2000s, plenty of fans suffered from reduced or removed coverage from local media. The Devils fans were spoiled to have both Rich Chere at The Star Ledger/NJ.com and Tom Gulitti at The Record/Fire & Ice. Gulitti is still at NHL.com and has been great over there, primarily covering Washington. I miss Tom Gulitti covering the Devils and I thank him for his excellent work in covering the Devils. If you are an aspiring beat reporter or if you’re covering the Devils, then I suggest finding whatever you can that Gulitti did that is available or even reaching out to him and follow his example.
  • By the way, Gulitti’s replacement was Andrew Gross, also of The Record. Gross was the beat reporter of Our Hated Rivals. Gross would go on to a good job in Gulitti’s place.
  • You know how I noted in the 2019 Thoughts for 2015-16 section that the team was injured? Schneider and Patrik Elias both had surgery in May and the Devils announced that they were successful on May 12. Elias’ surgery was on his right knee and Schneider’s was for a core muscle injury. This is noted because this was when Schneider’s injuries started to become an issue.
  • Another surgery took place in May. defenseman Jon Merrill received shoulder surgery and would be out for 3-4 months, as announced by the team on May 25.
  • On May 27, Shero made his first free agent signing of 2016. He was able to ink HIFK Helsinki defenseman Yohann Auvitu to a one-season entry level contract. Auvitu was named the best defenseman of the Finnish SM-Liiga in 2015-16, which carried more intrigue into the signing.
  • In 2016, the NHL and NHLPA would have the World Cup of Hockey. On May 27, the rosters for all eight teams were announced. Only one Devil was named to a roster: Schneider was named as one of three goaltenders to Team USA. I wanted Andy Greene on the roster if only because Jack Johnson made it and Johnson was (and is) not anywhere close to being among the top-six American defensemen in the league. I also wanted Adam Larsson to make Sweden, but whatever. At least Schneider got some respect for his performances.
  • One aspect of the 2015-16 team was that the Devils had plenty of cap space. Ahead of 2016-17, the Devils were below the cap floor. Shero took advantage of having plenty of room to take on another team’s bad contract along with an asset. On June 10, the Devils traded Graham Black and Paul Thompson to Florida for Marc Savard and Florida’s second round pick in 2018. Savard was never going to play hockey ever again, so the Devils really took his contract. The real asset was the pick even if it was a few years away. All it cost the Devils a long-shot-at-best prospect and a minor leaguer. The pick would be used as part of the package that brought Marcus Johansson to the Devils next year.
  • On June 24 and 25, the 2016 NHL Draft took place. As usual for this series, this will get its own section.
  • One for One. Close to the start of Free Agent Frenzy, on June 29, the hockey world was shaken up at the announcement of the Devils trading Adam Larsson to Edmonton for Taylor Hall. As Bob McKenzie infamously tweeted, it was One for One. No picks. No conditions. No other players. Just Larsson straight up for Hall. Edmonton’s GM, Peter Chiarelli, wanted a right-sided defenseman that badly. So much so that when he inquired about Larsson, Shero supposedly remarked he wanted Hall. I do not know if he was serious but Chiarelli said OK. I thought this was a great deal then. It is still an amazing deal now. The Devils moved a useful defenseman for an all-star caliber scorer, the likes of which the Devils had not had since Ilya Kovalchuk. Hall would go on to have his best season ever with the Devils. Larsson would go on to be the second best Swedish defenseman in Edmonton. One for one became a catchphrase that both dissed Edmonton and would elicit the equivalent of a cheap pop among Devils fans online. If Shero had a good reputation for trades before this one, he certainly had it on that day. By the way, P.K. Subban was traded to Nashville for Shea Weber and that was announced not long after this one. It was a huge early evening for NHL news.
  • July 1 arrived and Ray Shero was active without spending a ton of money. Two UFAs were signed: defenseman Ben Lovejoy was signed for three seasons for $8 million and center Vernon Fiddler was signed for one season at $1.25 million. The team also announced that Merrill (two seasons), Smith-Pelly (two seasons), and Beau Bennett (one season) were re-signed. Some other signings were made for Albany too. I thought it was a busy yet reasonable day for Shero; I liked it then. It would turn out to be one of his busiest days as Shero did not do a lot on future July 1st days. It irked me at times but it made sense as the team was rebuilding and therefore did not need to spend a lot of money and be stuck with ugly contracts while the team was not yet a playoff caliber squad.
  • On July 5, the team announced two more signings. The team re-signed Jacob Josefson to a one-season contract worth $1.1 million. They also signed UFA winger and former teammate of Hall, Luke Gazdic.
  • On July 6, the Devils announced that they re-signed Sergey Kalinin for one more season. The depth forward was retained for $800,000.
  • A much more significant signing was announced on July 7. The Devils announced that they agreed to terms with Kyle Palmieri for a five-season contract extension worth $23.25 million. Palmieri was great in his first season with the Devils and filled a glaring need for a top-six right winger. The extension is through the 2020-21 season, which will end with Palmieri being 30 years old. All of this for a cap hit less than $5 million per season. This was a very good signing and the contract has not been an issue since then.
  • On July 12, the Devils announced that Ryane Clowe would join the coaching staff as an assistant coach. The initial plan was for him to be in the press box and communicate to the other coaches what he is seeing from how the team plays that the coaches behind the bench may not see. He would also assist in multiple ways off the ice. Clowe retired as a player last Summer and he was still on Long Term Injured Reserve on the Devils’ books. This would be the first step in his new career as a coach.
  • On July 20, Palmieri was added to the roster for Team USA for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. This was deserved and also needed as Ryan Callahan was injured.
  • The final free agent for the Devils to re-sign was signed on August 10: The Devils re-signed Reid Boucher to a one-season contract worth $750,000. Boucher would not last in New Jersey in 2016-17 although he went on a waiver adventure in the following season. First, New Jersey placed him on waivers to send him to Albany. Nashville claimed him in December. Nashville placed Boucher on waivers to send them to their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee and the Devils re-claimed him in January. Shortly after that, the Devils had to put him on waivers to send him to Albany and then Vancouver claimed him. He has remained in the Vancouver organization ever since.
  • The 2016 World Cup of Hockey took place in September and Team USA flopped. As Mike noted in this post on September 23, Palmieri and Schneider were barely used. In a word: Welp.
  • On September 28, the Devils added a veteran depth defenseman in Kyle Quincey. The Devils announced on that day they signed Quincey to a one-season deal worth $1.25 million.
  • Before the end of preseason, the Devils announced that they signed Michael McLeod to an entry level contract on October 7. They also demoted Blandisi and March 2016 signing Nick Lappin while Gazdic went to injured reserve.
  • Right before 2016-17 would begin and Brodeur’s statue would be officially honored, the Devils claimed P.A. Parenteau off of waivers on October 11. Believe it or not but this was not an aging winger just picked up to see what he could still do. There was reason to believe he could help right away, as CJ explained in this post.

After a 2015 offseason loaded with a lot of changes, the 2016 offseason was a lot quieter. It definitely peaked with the One for One trade that brought Hall to the Rock. It was also notable for being the Summer where Lovejoy was signed and Palmieri was extended with the contract he still has today. In a way, it was relieving to have a mostly quiet Summer for the Devils. No coaches were fired or needed to be replaced; only Clowe was added to the staff. No players of significance left in free agency; the most valuable player was Schlemko. Management may have had some under the radar trades but none of it, if any, were as significant as the changes in 2015. Not a lot happened to New Jersey in August and September. A few signings, a prospect challenge in Buffalo, and preseason. The World Cup of Hockey broke things up a bit, not that it mattered much to the Devils since Schneider and Palmieri did not play much in it (and Team USA crashed out of it). I can appreciate it

The 2016 NHL Draft: The 2016 NHL Draft was not quiet at all for the Devils. Plenty happened as the Devils had plenty of picks for a change. Seriously, past drafts did not have a lot of players selected by New Jersey. In 2016, they had nine to fill in a prospect pool that needed more prospects. The Devils had eleventh overall, traded down a spot with Ottawa to pick up an extra third rounder, and selected Michael McLeod at twelfth overall. I was not a huge fan of the pick at the time; I thought it was OK but I wondered if the Devils should have stayed at 11 and taken Logan Brown or Jakob Chychrun. In the second round, the Devils drafted McLeod’s teammate from Mississauga, right winger Nathan Bastian. A conditional pick from 2015 became a third rounder for New Jersey and that was used on Joey Anderson. The extra pick from moving down a spot in the first round was used in the third round to select Brandon Gignac. The Devils initial pick in the third round, 77th overall, was traded to Pittsburgh for Beau Bennett - a NHL player. The remainder of the draft went as follows: Mikhail Maltsev, Evan Cormier, Yegor Rykov, Jesper Bratt, and Jeremy Davies.

This was a class characterized by its forwards, although the defensemen had their own value. Rykov would be used in a historical trade in 2017. Davies’ growth led him to be part of the package that brought P.K. Subban to New Jersey in 2019. There is hope that Reilly Walsh has a real future in the NHL and hopefully with New Jersey. Not that the forwards should be discounted. Bratt was a late round pick and surprised everybody by competing for and taking a NHL spot in 2017-18. He is a big and early success from this class. The remainder are still a work in progress. Anderson and McLeod both had significant call ups in 2018-19 and McLeod got another chance in this season. At the time, I noted how Paul Castron’s first draft brought in a lot of offensive prospects. This was a need at the time as the prospect pool was shallow in that area. For a GM who wanted the Devils to be “Fast, attacking, and supportive,” the prospects picked were at least in alignment with that goal. I liked the class in my preliminary review and I appreciated the Bennett pick-up. It is still a bit early to judge the class, but it is already superior to some of the drafts in the first half of the decade even with players still developing.

Site Notes and Etc.

As with the team, 2016 was quieter for the site. There was another call for writers. Matt Mowrer had to go and I wanted to try to keep fantasy hockey a little while longer. I also wanted to add someone to help Nate with Devils in the Details and make it daily. Lastly, I needed help with previews and recaps. In past seasons, I would ask the other regular writers to help. I realized that it would be more fruitful to have someone dedicated to it. So once again, I asked the community for volunteers to help with those three on August 15. In less than two weeks, I announced that Matt Torino (fantasy), Trevor Post (Devils in the Details), and Devin Yang (previews/recaps) as the ones selected to fill in those spots. Devin is still with us today, helping with game previews and recaps. Matt and Trevor put in their time with the site for the following season. I thank all three for agreeing to help out with the site. I also thank everyone else who inquired for either position.

On a more personal note, I spent the 2016 summer tracking zone exits from the Devils’ penalty kill for the second straight year. I tracked them by time as I wanted to know how much time did the Devils actually kill on a penalty kill. Hence, I called it Killing Time. I did it for the 2014-15 season, when the penalty kill was not so good, and the 2015-16 season, when the penalty kill was great. I was able to compile my results for another set of posts for the site, but I was granted the opportunity by Ryan Stimson to present it at the 2016 Rochester Institute of Technology Hockey Analytics Conference. It was a real good experience for me as I got to rush through a lot of slides covering two seasons in a short time span to a lecture hall filled with people that were, for some reason, not Devils fans. The live stream recording had technical difficulties, but I did present a more casual version of presentation in this post - which went up as I spoke live. In past offseasons, I would spend time tracking goals allowed against Devils goalies, goals and points earned by players, and Killing Time. It did not lead to a lot of views or comments or additional interest in the site; so I primarily did them because I wanted to do it. It turned out to be rather time consuming, which is why I stopped such projects after 2017. Still, being able to put two seasons worth of work together and presenting it on September 10 was highlight of my hockey writing “career” as well as what casual research I was doing. I sometimes still have thoughts for projects but do not have the desire or energy to carry them out myself or get a group together to do them. Maybe one day I will. Anyway, I thank Ryan and the RITHAC staff for including me. I also thank Ryan for including it as part of his summary of the event at Hockey Graphs. (And a special thank you to Bruce Peter.)

A Short Preview of Part 8, the 2016-17 Devils: I knew rebuilding was not going to be pretty but goodness, gracious, this sucks.


Thank you for reading. Part 8 will be up tomorrow as the series continues.