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 daily series of posts summarizing each of the previous ten seasons up to New Year’s Day for an index and final thoughts.
In the tenth part of this series, this post will summarize the 2018-19 season. After a successful return to the playoffs in 2017-18, good feelings were back in New Jersey. The Devils did not add much to the roster in the 2018 offseason. Still, expectations were set that the Devils could at least challenge for a playoff spot again in 2018-19. That did not happen. The team spiraled back to the depths of the standings while being wrecked with a lot of injuries at forward, including some significant players being held out because of it. The season ended up being more or less a repeat of 2016-17’s awful season. But with another first overall and a much more aggressive offseason, there was renewed hope and excitement going into the current 2019-20 offseason. That lasted until October 2019.
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 2018-19 Season
The Record: 31-41-10, 72 points, Eighth in the Metropolitan Division (Source: Hockey-Reference)
The Head Coach: John Hynes
The Team Captain: Andy Greene
The Top Scorer: Kyle Palmieri - 27 goals, 23 assists, 224 shots, 50 points
The Biggest In-Season Move: All of the in-season moves that were not picking up Kenny Agostino off of waivers were trades to sell players for assets down the line. Among them, the biggest one was moving Brian Boyle to Nashville for their second round pick on February 6. This pick would be used as part of a trade down to pick up an additional third in the 2019, which I think was used on Michael Vukojevic. The reason why it was big was because the Devils turned a 34-year old bottom-six useful player into a second round pick. In past seasons in this decade, veterans the Devils picked up would not often yield picks in the first two rounds. Boyle did, which speaks to his value and how he is regarded. Plus, it gave fans a rooting interest in the playoffs as Boyle would at least be in the postseason in 2019. A close runner up would be the Devils sending Ben Lovejoy to Dallas for the third round pick in 2019 (used on Graeme Clark) and Connor Carrick on February 23.
Playoffs?: No. The Devils finished last in the Metropolitan by six points and 26 points behind the second wild card team, which was Columbus (who barely got in despite making some of the most “go for it” deals in recent memory). The only teams the Devils finished ahead of were an equally terrible Los Angeles team (71 points) and a remarkably woeful Ottawa squad (64 points) that did not even have its 2019 first round pick as a playoff-bound Colorado team owned it from a previous trade.
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).
- October 2018 - DotM Honorable Mention - Damon Severson; AAtJ DotM - Kyle Palmieri
- November 2018 - DotM Honorable Mention - Jesper Bratt; AAtJ DotM - Blake Coleman
- December 2018 - DotM Honorable Mention - Mackenize Blackwood; AAtJ DotM - Kyle Palmieri
- January 2019 - DotM Honorable Mention - Travis Zajac; AAtJ DotM - Blake Coleman
- February 2019 - DotM Honorable Mention - Jesper Bratt; AAtJ DotM - Cory Schneider
- March 2019 - DotM Honorable Mention - Blake Coleman; AAtJ DotM - Kenny Agostino
The Player Awards by the Blog: Similar to 2016-17, we had our end of season annual awards post. This was not as fun as 2017-18’s season. Voting was also done before the Devils’ final game of the season, which I do not think impacted the results. Here is who we selected:
- MVP: Nico Hischier
- Best Defenseman: Damon Severson
- Best Goaltender: Mackenzie Blackwood
- Best Rookie: Mackenzie Blackwood
- Best Defensive Forward: Blake Coleman
- Best Offensive Forward: Kyle Palmieri
- The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Blake Coleman / Travis Zajac (tie)
The 2018-19 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 2018-19; red is for stats in the bottom ten (which is 22nd through 31st). The stats primarily come from Natural Stat Trick with special teams stats being pulled from NHL.com.
2019 Thoughts About the 2018-19 Season: Ugh.
In a way, it is easy to write this season off due to all of the injuries involved. From Hall needing knee surgery to a point in 2019 when more than half of Binghamton’s forwards were playing in New Jersey. No team can really succeed with so many players out. Depth can only go so deep. It also added to why this team finished so poorly. There is a reason why most AHL players are in the AHL. They are either not ready or never going to be ready for NHL competition. That was on display as 44 different players suited up for the bedeviled ‘NJ’ in 2018-19 season.
However, the truth is rarely that simple. The team performed really badly before the mass of injuries in 2018-19. The team went 12-16-7 by Christmas last year. New Jersey had a hot start to their season where upon they beat Edmonton in Gothenburg, pantsed Washington in the actual home opener in Newark, edged a good (except in net) San Jose team, and shut out Dallas. Those four wins were great. Then it took another 23 games before the team would get to ten wins in the season. The team cooled off, the losses mounted, and after a seven-game road trip in November, the harsh reality that the Devils may be done for the season started to set in. They did not just go 1-6-0 on the trip, they were outscored to 34 across all seven games. They gave up four or more goals in five of their six losses. After the trip, the Devils’ record was securely in the red and they would never recover. Any faint hope of a comeback was crushed with a six game winless streak from Thanksgiving Eve to December 3. Taylor Hall still put up 37 points in his 33 games and tried again to put the team on his back. But even he could not overcome a defensive effort that declined into being a bottom-ten defensive team, lift up an offense to being decent, and salvage the terrible goaltending. The only part of the 2018-19 Devils that can be called objectively good was their penalty kill, which was legitimately great. It also shows that having a great PK is not necessarily going to lead to a lot of success.
The terrible goaltending deserves a special spotlight. The Schneider-Kinkaid pairing was fine earlier in this decade. Despite the success of the 2017-18 season, the tandem had issues. Schneider was so awful in the 2018 portion of that season such that Kinkaid took the starter’s spot, who proceeded to lose it when he cooled off in the postseason. After that hot start, both goalies were just plain bad. Schneider went winless in regular season games in 2018 (that regular season win finally came on February 16, 2019) and was hurt again. Kinkaid was overwhelmed and underperforming to a point where he was traded for a future player who is not likely playing junior hockey yet. The Devils called up Mackenzie Blackwood, who did not post up good save percentages in the AHL, in part because they needed a goalie and in part to see what he could do. Blackwood ended up outperforming both of them. With Schneider’s injury issues and contract, the Devils pretty much took anything Kinkaid - a 2022 fifth-rounder from Columbus - so Blackwood could be in New Jersey again. That is in part how we got to where we are with the goaltending today.
Even looking back to last season, there were other decisions for and in this season that would not last through the year. Hall’s injury ensured that there would be no contract extension discussions in the season. His situation became similar to what happened with Zach Parise ahead of the 2011-12 season. But unlike Parise, Hall would not remain a Devil. He was traded to Arizona, who sent a package to the Devils to rent Hall’s services for the remainder of 2019-20. John Hynes received a multi-year contract extension on January 3. He did not last in New Jersey for the calendar year and by the time he was fired, the extension looked like a poor idea in retrospect. While the Devils called up a lot of players to see what they could do, only Blackwood started the season with New Jersey in 2019-20. Shero did go out and get more talent but also few of the Binghamton players really impressed in their call ups. The next Mark Fayne was not found as he was in 2010-11. And the result of this season showed the folly of doing as little as possible in the offseason after the 2017-18 made the postseason. Yes, no one can predict injuries or account for the amount of them the Devils had in that season. However, the team was just about dead in the water before Hall got hurt, which further ensured a lost season. Shero would not repeat that in 2019.
This season was effectively the 2016-17 Devils Part 2. It could be argued that this season was worse in that the expectations were higher after what happened in 2018-19 and the Devils failed to come close to meeting them even before the rash of injuries happened. Pick and choose as you would like; I do not think anyone would argue this was really a good season at all. It was not.
The 2019 Offseason
In this season, hope made a comeback with the New Jersey Devils fanbase. That was not realized in 2019-20, but a lot happened that generated legitimate reasons to be excited in the Devils once again. Here were the bullet points of what happened:
- This technically happened before the end of the season but two points of note took place on April 3. The Devils announced that they signed Jeremy Davies to an entry-level contract. Davies dramatically grew as a player at Northeastern and the contract ensured he would go pro with the Devils as well as not hitting the free agent market after what would have been his senior season in college. This would be important later in the offseason. They also announced Tyler Dellow as the VP of Analytics. Dellow went from being one of the early analytics bloggers, taking a job with Edmonton as one of the first public analytics hires in the NHL, getting run out of Edmonton, going back to blogging for a bit, and then going back to New Jersey. Dellow would not be the only hire in this vein in 2019. The analytics department had underwent some change since being introduced in 2014 and not really publicly. The gist of it is that Sunny Mehta was first, Sai Okabayashi would join later, they would go in 2017, someone named Rachel Doerrie led a video department with Kate Madigan which is kind of analytics-adjacent with a lot of assistance from (I think) Dan MacKinnon, Doerrie was let go around the same time as Hynes received his extension, and so Dellow came into the fold officially by season’s end. Again, he would not be the only hire related to analytics in 2019.
- The first real news item of note for the offseason was right on the day the Devils broke down for the offseason. On April 8, Hall spoke to the media and he made his message clear: he wanted a return to the playoffs and he wanted more talent. Shero and ownership received and acknowledged the message.
- On April 9, the NHL hosted and ran the NHL Draft Lottery. The Devils finished 29th in the league with two wins to close out the season. They could have finished 30th but they did not. It was a good thing too as the Devils ended up winning the lottery for first overall. (The 30th place team ended up picking fifth overall. Don’t chase lottery balls too hard.) For the second time, Shero and the Devils were unofficially on the close. Instead of Nico vs. Nolan, the question was Hughes vs. Kakko.
- The first signing of the actual offseason was announced on April 16. The Devils announced that they signed goaltender Gilles Senn to an entry level contract. Senn would go on from his team in Switzerland to Binghamton to start 2019-20. An injury at the goaltending position led to a call-up and he made his first NHL appearance and made his first NHL start in December 2019. The 2019 year ended up being a big one for Senn’s career.
- In May, word got out that Matt Cane was hired by the Devils as a Director of Analytics. Elliotte Friedman congratulated him in his 31 Thoughts post which was published at Sportsnet on May 12, 2019. Presumably, Cane was hired shortly before then. Cane was big in the public field with respect to free agent contracts, data on when to pull goalies, and more. This hiring along with Dellow was another reason, perhaps a small, behind-the-scenes reason, to think that 2019-20 would be better.
- Speaking of ELCs, Jesper Boqvist signed his ELC with New Jersey on June 10. This would open the door for Boqvist to possibly play for New Jersey in 2019-20. It must be noted that given the European assignment clause in his contract, his options were either going to play for New Jersey or going back to the Swedish Hockey League and play for Brynäs.
- On June 21 and 22, the 2019 NHL Draft took place. The draft itself will have its own section. But the two trades on June 22 deserve their own bullets.
- First, the minor one: John Quenneville was sent to Chicago for John Hayden. This ends the saga of 2014 first rounder Quenneville. The pick was awarded by the NHL to shorten the Kovalchuk penalty. Quenneville went pro in 2016-17 and just could not get to the next level. He could not even carve out a regular spot on the Devils in 2018-19, a team where opportunities at forward were absolutely available and even after making the team out of camp. The team moved on and got a fourth-liner/13th/14th forward in return.
- Second, the major one: P.K. Subban became a Devil. Nashville not-so-secretly wanted Matt Duchene in free agency. They need to make cap space so they made the man with the $9 million cap hit available given that Nashville’s defense was strong with or without him. Shero came through and made a deal happen with a favorable package. The Devils acquired Subban for Steve Santini, Jeremy Davies, the team’s second rounder in 2019, and the team’s second rounder in 2020. It was a big, blockbuster-like deal without the Devils giving up something major short of Davies or the two picks becoming great. I loved this deal at the time. So did many fans. It was a big sign that the Devils indeed were getting more talent for 2019-20.
- On July 1, Ray Shero made an early splash. The Devils signed UFA Wayne Simmonds to a one-season contract worth $5 million. The cap hit was large but necessary to make it a one-season deal. The Devils also made three free agent signings primarily for Binghamton: Matt Tenneyson, Ben Street, and Dakota Mermis. The B-Devils announced that Ryan Schmelzer was also signed too. The day ended up being a relatively quiet one. I expected more at the time, but it was more than what was done in 2018. I wanted the Devils to get another winger. Will they get one? (Spoiler: Yes.)
- On July 12, Jack Hughes signed a maximum entry level contract with the Devils. Just like fellow #1 pick, Nico Hischier did in 2017.
- On July 16, the Devils re-signed defenseman Connor Carrick to a two-season contract worth $3 million total. Carrick came to New Jersey in the Lovejoy trade and did well enough to be kept for a couple of seasons.
- The Devils re-signed another defenseman on July 22. The team announced that Mirco Mueller was signed to a one-season contract worth $1.4 million.
- A winger was acquired before the end of July and it was a name that excited the fanbase. The Devils traded their third round pick in 2020 and their second round pick in 2021 to Vegas for the rights to RFA Nikita Gusev. The Devils promptly signed Gusev to a two-season contract worth $9 million in total. Gusev was signed by Vegas during their playoff run in 2018 but did not play. As one of the best players to not be in the NHL, Gusev would get to make his NHL debut for New Jersey. The Devils got a winger I thought they needed and it capped off a summer where the Devils would add Subban, Jack Hughes, Simmonds, and Gusev. Throw in the potential inclusion of prospects Jesper Boqvist and Ty Smith and it looked like 2019-20 would be a lot different than 2018-19. Honk it up.
- The last move of the month was made on July 31 as the Devils announced that they re-signed Will Butcher to a three-season contract worth a total of $11.2 million. I called this a reasonable deal at the time and it was justified by his two first seasons in the NHL, which went quite well.
- On August 29, former Devil defenseman Ben Lovejoy announced his retirement. His last few games in Dallas were his last as a professional player.
- During the 2019 Prospects Challenge, Eliotte Friedman noted that Tom Fitzgerald had a change in his title with New Jersey. He is now an Executive Vice President and assistant GM.
- There were brief rumors that Pavel Zacha, the last remaining RFA for the Devils in the 2019 offseason, was considering the KHL. They did not materialize. The Devils announced on September 10 that they re-signed Zacha to a three-season contract worth a total of $6.75 million.
- As part of Eliotte Friedman’s 31 thoughts post at Sportsnet on September 25, Friedman thought Hall and the Devils were making serious talks about an extension. This is only included to show where things were with Hall back in the 2019 offseason. A lot can change in a matter of months and they totally did.
- On October 1, before the season would begin, the Devils announced their 2019-20 opening night roster. It did not include Ty Smith. The young defenseman was sent back to Spokane after a preseason where he did not do enough to earn a spot on the team. It did include Boqvist, who would remain with New Jersey for the season. He did not and will not go back to Sweden.
- Also on October 1, the team announced that they hired Catherine Bogart as a host and associate producer. Another step by the team to own their media and online presentation.
Taylor Hall wanted more talent. Shero obliged. In addition to selecting Jack Hughes first overall, he made significant deals to bring P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev to the organization. The Devils added a veteran winger in Wayne Simmonds too. He kept their restricted free agents to reasonable deals and the ELC signed to Boqvist added another potential option out of camp. Combined with the fact that Schneider and Blackwood both looked rather good in preseason, there was a real reason to get excited for the 2019-20 season. A healthy Hall plus a third-year Nico Hischier plus Kyle Palmieri plus Damon Severson and Will Butcher returning plus P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds joining the team all equals a more competitive roster. One that could challenge for a playoff spot. One that could be entertaining even if they do not. I was excited. So were many Devils fans. All the team would need to do is not fall flat on their faces, be given non-optimal tactics, placed in non-ideal roster combinations, the skaters get going right away, and hope Blackwood and Schneider would be as good as they showed in preseason.
That did not happen. More thoughts on that in the last post in the series.
The 2019 NHL Draft: Let’s go through the draft that featured the second #1 overall pick in Devils history. As the draft became closer, the consensus was still Jack Hughes over Kaapo Kakko. The Devils agreed and selected Jack Hughes. The center set all kinds of records with the United States National Team Development Program. The people in the poll for the pick loved it. I thought it was the right call too. How confident was he that he would jump right into the NHL? As far as I could tell, he made no college commitment and there was no hint that he would report to Mississauga of the OHL (they drafted his rights in 2017). It was the right call as Hughes jumped right into the New Jersey lineup and has played regularly with the NHL team this season. He is very much a rookie, but his flashes of greatness are starting to occur more often on offense - even if they do not result in a goal.
The Devils opened up the second day of the draft with their two trades: the blockbuster for Subban and the Quenneville-Hayden swap. They had nine picks to make in rounds #2 through #7 before the day began and ended it with ten made. The Devils traded down from 55th overall for two more third round picks, and then turned one of those third rounders (91st overall) into two more later picks. The following were taken in order: Nikita Okhotyuk, Daniil Misyul, Graeme Clark, Michael Vukojevic, Tyce Thompson, Case McCarthy, Cole Brady, Arseni Gritsyuk, Patrick Moynihan, and Nikola Pasic. Jenna’s review of the draft was positive in that the Devils pulled off all the stops, leaving Vancouver with Hughes, Subban, and many prospects to fill the pool. I liked the Devils’ back end of the draft more than what they did in rounds two through four. Specifically, I thought the Devils did not need to pick Okhotyuk and Misyul and Vukojevic and McCarthy as they all seemingly projected to be defense-only defensemen in the future. Time will tell if the draft class will work out. Already it has one big success and he could be a special one for the Devils. Plus, it did yield a big-name defenseman. It was not at all a expect-little-do-less draft like, say, 2014.
Site News & Etc.
Speaking of Jenna, she was the new addition to the site’s staff in 2018-19. As I welcomed my son into the world, Mason, on January 4, I realized that my time for writing about the Devils could be limited. Plus, a spot opened up among the previewers and recappers. Both Devin and Chris would benefit from a third person to help them again. On January 21, the first posting for a writing job was made on the site. In past years, I asked for volunteers as I thought I needed them - which was usually in the offseason. With SB Nation compensating staff members, writing positions for the site would need to be handled more formally. So this was another change in how business is done at AAtJ. Jenna’s submission impressed me the most and she made her site debut on February 10 with this preview of the Devils-Carolina game. She has been a real asset on the site as her previews and recaps have been very good.
Jenna also represented the site in Vancouver for the 2019 NHL Draft. Jenna was available and willing to go out to British Columbia and attend the draft as a member of the media through SB Nation. As such, she was on site for Hughes’ selection. This would be the first time since 2013 that we had anyone from the blog attending the draft in an official capacity.
During the 2018-19 season, you may have noticed that Talking Red kind of faded away. There was no beef or drama or scandal. David just lost interest. With the help of SB Nation, I inquired the staff if anyone was interested in establishing an official podcast for the site. Dan Rozel, previously a volunteer posting news, was very interested and has had lots of experience with podcasts. We worked to put a show together. On August 7, the Garden State of Hockey was launched, the weekly podcast for All About the Jersey. Dan has been excellent in putting the show together and posting it up; I look forward to recording with him even if the team has not particularly good.
While this was not specifically site-related, as noted earlier, I welcomed my first child, Mason Fischer, into the world on January 4. He is now almost one and I could spend a lot of words about how much he’s grown (and yes, every parent who has told me this time goes so fast, you were all right). I am very happy to have him in my life as he continues to be a marvel. I was not the only member of AAtJ to have a child in 2019. In this March 29 post, Mike announced that Connor Stromberg was born in the prior month Connor has also been a big marvel for Mike as well. Incidentally, both Connor and Mason will become draft eligible in 2037. As an example of how long Mike and I have been at this, we have become dads in the process. It has been an eventful decade for us on a personal level as well as the site.
As the 2019-20 season is ongoing (look for the December 2019 in Review on January 6), there will not be a separate post for that season. The last post in this series will include thoughts on how the 2019 portion of the 2019-20 season has went for the Devils, a few suggested takeaways from the decade for the Devils fan, a summation of all of those Devil of the Month award winners, and links to all of the other parts in this series. That will go up tomorrow on New Year’s Day. I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve. Thank you for reading.