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Devils Friday Mailbag: First Rounder Complaints, Tank Troubles, and a New AAtJ Arrival

The 2018-19 Devils Sadness Mailbag is back for another go around, and today in the Sadbag we have questions on the rarely discussed John Quenneville/Michael McLeod/Pavel Zacha disappointment triumvirate, worries about the tank not tanking enough, and outlook for next year and beyond.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New Jersey Devils
Pictured: Schneider making a save. Not pictured: A bunch of people mad at him for doing so.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Hello folks, welcome to another edition of the AAtJ mailbag, or as it is lovingly dubbed in this heap of a season, the Sadbag. I’m going to assume that you all know and understand the mailbag format: readers ask the questions and I attempt to answer them. So without further ado, let’s get right into it. Today we’re covering disappointing draft picks (as ever), tank anxiety, and another potential future AAtJ draft hopeful.


Who finishes with more goals: Kurtis Gabriel or Quenneville and McLeod combined?

Well, appropriately for the Sadbag, the first question out of the gate is a sadness grenade. If you head over to, Hockey Reference, or wherever is your preferred stats clearinghouse, you will indeed find that John Quenneville and Michael McLeod, in a combined 35 games, have fewer goals and points (1g, 1a) than Kurtis Gabriel has in his 22 (2g, 2a), while each getting close to twice the minutes a night that Gabriel gets.

What amounts to Quenneville’s “show me” season in the NHL has mostly been a disaster. He finally broke through with his first goal/point earlier in the month in the blowout win in Edmonton, but it seems likely that Quenneville has sealed his fate in New Jersey. Maybe the Devils keep him around in Binghamton and he gets another shot as an injury call-up or he latches on with another organization as a reclamation project given his strong production in the minors, but it feels like he may be fresh out of runway in New Jersey.

As for McLeod, well it hasn’t exactly been a momentous arrival in the NHL for him either. Sneakily, he has now been roughly as unproductive over a similar stretch of hockey this season as Quenneville. He has looked a bit better in some recent games, but remains without a goal and has just one assist in his 16 appearances. With the massive rash of injuries in New Jersey, he’s had a big opportunity to make a mark and add a bright spot to an otherwise lost season. That really hasn’t happened, though. Instead, players like Kenny Agostino, Kevin Rooney, and of late even fellow maligned first-rounder Pavel Zacha have been the most notable players to step into the void since the injury bug really bit. McLeod is still just 20 and has plenty of time left to develop, but it’s been a fairly disappointing start overall for him.

Anyway, back to the question at hand. Given that JQ was sent back to the minors and I’m unsure if he’ll return, it’ll be up to McLeod to close the gap with scoring powerhouse Kurtis Gabriel. McLeod will need to break through with his first goal to get he and Quenneville even with Gabriel for the season and he’ll need Gabriel not to score another. Gabriel shouldn’t be too much of a threat to score more, since his 13 of a shot per game means he’s slated for about two more shots total this season. I have a feeling McLeod might find a way to sneak one goal onto the board in the last week, so it think there’s a decent chance of a push here, but gun to my head I might have to go with Gabriel, since he has the commanding one goal lead at the moment.


In terms of this year’s draft class, what’s the worst # pick we can conceivably get and why are we guaranteed to pick there?


Hey Mike, should I be sad when Schneider keeps up the the .926 SV% the rest of the year and kills another tank season, like 2015 & 2016? I’ll hang up and listen.


How certain is it that Schneider shutouts and Zacha goals will get NJ enough wins to pass the Rags and Sabres on the last day of the season?

Lot of tank anxiety among this bunch, but I think people are setting their expectations for badness a bit too high. This is the NHL, it’s tough to lose every single night, but the Devils have done a solid job with pleasing Sherman Abrams to this point. They’ve gone 5-9-1 since the deadline, which is a very last-y 60-point pace. Most of the teams at the bottom are pretty skillfully tanking

People seem pretty scarred by the time that Cory Schneider dragged the Devils to a towering sixth to last place finish in 2015. Given how that draft went, the Devils still had ample opportunity to score themselves a major difference-maker in that spot, they just didn’t pick the right guy. Also, going back and looking at the numbers, Schneider has been quite an effective tank commander in lost seasons, even in spite of some good overall stats in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Let’s look at Schneider’s stats and record down the stretch (for the purposes of this question, we’ll look at game 60 and beyond, truly the heart of tank season) in the lost 2014-15 to 2016-17 seasons:

2014-15: 5-9-4 || .928 sv% || 2.25 GAA

2015-16: 2-7-0 || .888 sv% || 2.89 GAA

2016-17: 1-10-3 || .891 sv% || 2.25 GAA

So outside of 2015, when the Devils were forced to fail in spite of him to an extent (and he still dutifully lost his final 8 starts), Schneider has been allowing the Devils to fail as they see fit and even helping at the end of these lost seasons, including being an integral part of the 2017 nose dive that ended in a lottery win and Nico Hischier. Since game 60 this season, Schneider does have a 4-5-1 record (and 3-4-1 since the deadline), which is alarmingly close to mediocre, to go with a .926 sv% but the Devils have still kept pace with their tanking rivals and actually slid behind Detroit into third to last with a Red Wings OT win over Buffalo last night. With the Kings picking up an OT point last night, the Devils are within 2 points of second to last.

It’s possible that the Devils have a disastrously sucessful last week-plus of the season and land in fifth to last, but they could also just as easily end up with the second-best odds heading into the lottery. Tonight’s game in Detroit looms large on that front so all you tank fans need to prepare yourselves.


Would the Devils be a playoff team if Shero spent $9 million on James Neal and Jay Beagle?

Yes. By not signing James Neal to a disastrous five-year deal, Shero did very much doom the franchise.

In seriousness, I do understand the angst with last summer given the results this season, but once the few big fish were out of the market there really was not much left out there. Was a guy like Calvin de Haan, who has been okay(ish?) this year in Carolina, really the difference between this team contending and finishing in the bottom five? I don’t think so. I think there’s a bit clearer picture of what needs to be addressed this summer and if the Devils were to stand pat this time around, I’d be much more inclined to pick up my pitchfork.


When will this team be good again?

I am loath to push in any chips on when the Devils will be competing for the playoffs again, but with the right moves and the goaltending holding together and not being the unmitigated disaster it was earlier this season, I’m inclined to think things can turn around pretty rapidly. We’re all pretty browbeaten by this season, but I think you can throw most of what has transpired in the last few months away between injuries and playing out the string. Prior to that, there were some rough performances, but I think a lot of the Devils woes in 2018-19 come down to how far south things went in net early on.


Is Pavel Zacha just an m.c. escher illusion designed to perpetually look like he’s turning a corner but never does?

Pavel Zacha is Turning the Corner Season is one of my favorite seasons of the year. You never know quite when it’s arriving but its always a joy when it does. Zacha has four points in three games since his return to the lineup after missing about a month and is now up to 17 in his last 28, which is almost certainly the most productive stretch of his young career. It’s certainly much better than the four points he put up in his first 28 games this season.

The problem for the Devils is while it’s certainly possible that this time Zacha really has Turned the Corner™, there is no way you can head into next season just trusting that that is the case. If you’re looking for reasons beyond the goaltending mess that the Devils faltered early on, Zacha’s failure to center an effective top-six line has to be in the mix. The Devils very much need Zacha to be a plan B at center, rather than heading into another season hoping he can be a consistent top-six contributor and getting burned again. If he really is finding his game at the end of this lost season, then great, that’s gravy for New Jersey, but there is no way in hell that Ray Shero should be heading into 2019-20 saying “THIS is the year that Pavel Zacha at 2C works for sure.”

Fearless Leader John-

1. Don’t call it a sad bag.

2. If Ty Smith has an inside track for a NHL job next season, how would you set up the blueline in preparation? Do you deal anyone? Still look to FA to beef up the talent level?

3. Don’t call it a sad bag.

John, thank you for your response. I am unable to answer 1 and 3 as they have not been phrased in the form of a question. Based on the other responses I got though, most everyone is quite sad about this Devils season, for the record.

On Ty Smith, it is a bit of a sticky situation the Devils find themselves in heading into next season. The Devils will have Andy Greene and presumably Will Butcher under contract as left-handed defensemen next season for sure. Mirco Mueller, assuming he is qualified by the team, is probably in the current picture as well, but I figure he could be in rotation as a 7th D/injury fill-in. That makes the potential depth chart on the left some order of Ty Smith, Greene, and Butcher. I won’t muddy the water with the Jeremy Davies question, but he could figure into the mix if he ends up signed as well. The problem really comes down to this: who plays on the top pairing?

We have pretty ample evidence at this point that Andy Greene is no longer equipped for that role, though if I were forced to place a bet on who lands there to start the season, it would probably be him by default. Butcher has transitioned into a bit of a polarizing player among the fanbase, but of the three I think he might be the best candidate to shoulder the most minutes on the left next year, but we’ll see if that happens. Smith could very well surpass the both of those two at some point in the near future, but I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a rookie to step in and take on top-pairing minutes, so the Devils are stuck with the status quo at the top unless they make a move.

As far as what moves they could maybe make if they don’t like the status quo, I’ll throw out an option that could make some sense. The team could go hard after, say, Jake Gardiner in free agency and explore trading Andy Greene to a team in need of a steady veteran second/third pairing guy that can soak up tons of PK minutes at a high level. That would give the Devils a younger, more dynamic player shouldering the top pair minutes, while still maintaining some veteran presence on the left side. Gardiner is not a perfect player and wouldn’t come cheap, but he would be a substantial even-strength upgrade and fits much better in the window the Devils are trying manufacture for themselves than Greene does.

Stike Mromberg-

Any updates on AAtJ-affiliated 2037 draft hopefuls?

Funny you should ask, definitely real person that isn’t just me trying to shoehorn some personal news into this post. Yes, the AAtJ 2037 NHL Draft Class has expanded by another player, as Connor Sean Stromberg was born just over a month ago and is home, happy, and healthy. He arrived at 10lbs-2oz and was 22.5” long, making him a very big boy that will perhaps someday be equipped to play big boy hockey. If he maintains his currently-95th-percentile size, that should give him a leg up at the draft to potentially be selected over some smaller, more skilled player and make some lucky fanbase mad. My wife and I have taken to occasionally calling him Connor McBaby, so if that nickname proves prescient, perhaps in 18 years we’ll be talking about the Devils tanking their hearts out to have the best chance at getting him at the top of the draft. Perhaps Connor Stromberg and Mason Fischer will be 2037’s Taylor and Tyler or Nico and Nolan. Even in the infinitely more likely case that he is not 2037’s 1st overall pick, though, my wife Kelly and I are thrilled to see our family and the Devils’ fanbase grow by one more person. Go Devils and Go Connor McBaby.