A losing season is tough to swallow in 2018-19, both for the New Jersey Devils and for their fans. After the progress the team made last season to once again qualify as a playoff team, the large drop-off to being back towards the basement of the Eastern Conference (and the entire NHL) has left a sour taste in the mouth of many. While the poor goaltending, below average defense, and some underachieving players certainly affected the overall on ice product, there’s another factor that has hurt the Devils this year: man games lost.
Man games lost (games lost due to player injuries) has resulted in the ravaged forward group that we have seen iced for the past couple of weeks. The Devils are missing their star players, their role players, and even goalie Cory Schneider missed more than one stretch of action this season. Numerically speaking, we’re looking at:
Taylor Hall: 34 games (and counting; in contrast he appeared in 33)
Joey Anderson: 33 games
Stefan Noesen: 24 games
Cory Schneider: 22 games
Sami Vatanen: 18 games
Jesper Bratt: 16 games
Marcus Johansson: 13 games
Miles Wood: 11 games (and counting)
Pavel Zacha: 9 games
Ben Lovejoy: 6 games
Nico Hischier: 5 games
Brian Boyle: 5 games
Kyle Palmieri: 4 games (and counting)
Blake Coleman: 4 games
Mirco Mueller: 3 games
Travis Zajac: 2 games
Will Butcher: 1 game
When our home broadcasts say “infirmary” they aren’t joking; the above is a grand total of 210 games missed, with 34 of those belonging to the most important player on the team. I might have missed some games somewhere along the way as well. While it isn’t the highest number in the league from various sources I’ve viewed (and while some players are also no longer with the team) it shows how many important pieces have been gone for an extended period this season.
The bigger issue that arose from all of these missed games is the number of times that key players being out overlapped; the Devils aren’t a super deep team as we are all aware, so losing two or three contributors at once is essentially a deathblow to this team. The biggest problem has been the extended absence of Hall; following the conclusion of Tuesday night’s game, Hall has now officially missed more games this season than he has appeared in.
Now maybe missing Hall alone wouldn’t be a huge issue, as players such as Hischier, Palmieri and Bratt have been having relatively good seasons. But as I said above, it wasn’t just Hall; the Devils would be down multiple key players at once while still getting that lovely sub-par defense and dreadful goaltending that has seen them drop games (and on a few occasions, be outright embarrassed) even when at full strength. It’s now gotten to the point that a healthy Stefan Noesen, in his first game back since January, was moved up to the top line with Zajac and Coleman after Bratt was injured during the course of the game. That’s how many able-bodied NHLers the Devils are down now.
While any fans of The Tank will surely love the above facts, the number of games missed should give anti-tankers some hope for next season. The Devils will finish with a fairly high draft pick (even if they get shut out of the lotto ball podium), which will make them a bit deeper, and a full offseason will allow key members of the team so fully recover and be ready for opening night. Combine that with better goaltending next season (I fully believe MacKenzie Blackwood is a big upgrade on Keith Kinkaid) and the hope that either Ray Shero or Ty Smith will fix the defense, and the Devils could be looking much better record-wise this time next season.
What are your thoughts on the number of man games lost this season? Do you think one of New Jersey’s biggest problems has been multiple key players missing at once? Do the other factors (defense/goaltending/underachievers) outweigh the missing players? How do you think the Devils will do next season if they stay healthy, or at least healthier than this year? Leave your thoughts/comments below and thanks as always for reading!