On Tuesday, the National Hockey League released the full regular season schedule for the 2019-20 season. The New Jersey Devils announced their own 82-game schedule on social media and their official website has the full schedule up for view. As with past years, this post will breakdown the schedule and highlight important dates. Unlike past years, I will even throw in a complaint.
The Schedule & Apparently the 2019-20 Slogan
First, the schedule as posted on Twitter:
Before jumping into the schedule itself, do note the four players in the left corner of the picture and what appears to the team’s slogan for this season. The foursome are Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, P.K. Subban, and Jack Hughes. It was announced at Hughes’ introductory press conference earlier today that he will wear #86. (The official website has videos of the jersey reveal and the press conference.) On Sunday, P.K. Subban confirmed he will keep his #76 during his first media conference call as a Devil. You can see that the marketing people picked up on that and adjusted their photoshopped picture accordingly. Good job. These four should be promoted (and heavily) by the Devils.
The slogan is “We are the ones.” I am not exactly moved by this slogan. “Now we rise” was a great one at the time that turned badly. This one does not seem like it will spoil, but what does it truly mean? Hall, Hischier, and Hughes were all first overall draft picks. Subban was not; Montreal drafted him 43rd overall in 2007. I suppose Subban is the #1 defenseman but that is still in-congruent. And what of the other Devils not pictured? Most of them weren’t ones either. The captain was an undrafted free agent and should not even be the top defenseman on the squad anymore. Even if we do not think of it in that way, this lends itself to more questions than anything. It’s like the slogan is missing a second half. We are the ones who will make the team better? We are the ones who will get the Devils to where they want to be? We are the ones because someone in the office really liked Son Lux? I’m not feeling it. I would rather get my jersey (back) on.
The 2019-20 Devils Schedule by Opponent
The 2019-20 season for the Devils begins on October 4, ends on April 4. While all schedules end up with 82 games, 41 home games, and 41 away games, the structure for the Devils varies. There is a consistency in that there is no month - April aside - where the Devils will not have an inter-division game, a game with an opponent from the Atlantic Division, a game with a Western Conference opponent, or a back-to-back set. But some months more than others lean on certain traits. For example:
- October 2019 is a home-heavy month with January 2020 being a road-heavy month.
- December 2019 is the month where the Devils will take on more Western Conference opponents, while March 2020 is where the grinder that is the Metropolitan Division will really take hold.
- November 2019 is when the grind of the schedule takes hold, although the Devils will start this season with a back-to-back set and have their second of the season a week later. The grind hits back hard in February - 14 games in 29 days - and March with 16 in 31. In contrast, October 2019 and January 2020 are relatively light months.
The days when the Devils will play these games definitely jump around in this season’s schedule. Here is a quick overview from that perspective:
Saturday is definitely the heaviest day for the Devils this season. They play at least one Saturday game in every month, even in the two-game-long April. There are only five Saturdays where the Devils are off in their schedule, and one of them will be the All Star Weekend. The Devils have both the most home games and the most road games on Saturdays, with a notable edge towards road games. If you’re interested in making plans to see the Devils, do check the calendar to make sure where they are on a Saturday. Also of note, four of those nine home games have afternoon start times: 10/19 vs. Vancouver at 1 PM; 11/30 vs. Our Hated Rivals at 1 PM; 2/22 vs. Washington at 1 PM; and 3/28 vs. Philadelphia at 2 PM. Only one of their thirteen road games on Saturday starts in the afternoon; the 2/29 game against Los Angeles starts at 4 PM ET.
In contrast, the Devils are going to be at The Rock more often than not on Fridays. Eight of their twelve Friday games will be in New Jersey. But be careful here too. Seven of those eight are in the 2019 portion of the season. If you’re making plans for 2020, then Friday is going to be a rather sparse day. There are only two games scheduled after the turn of the calendar.
Sundays are lighter than last season. They had ten games on Sundays in 2018-19; they have seven for this coming season. There is a slight lean for road games. Curiously, only two of those three home games are matinee games. And I’m stretching that definition since one of them is a 6 PM start against Columbus on February 16. I wish they were all earlier in the day, but the schedule makers went in a different direction. After 17 pre-7 PM start times last season, it has been cut back to ten for 2019-20. I personally like matinee games. It is easier from a writing and a participant perspective. Perhaps seventeen was too many but it is not as if the Devils only have three for this coming season.
As far as the working week goes, there is an odd quirk in this season’s schedule that a day is just empty for a given month. Tuesdays and Thursdays are traditionally common weekday games for the Devils and other hockey teams. Somehow, the Devils have no Tuesday games in October and no Thursday games in December. Also, the Tuesday slate of games is consistently busy with 3-4 games per month while Thursday only becomes heavy in the 2020 portion of the season. Odd. Speaking of odd, the Devils have no Wednesday games in 2020 and three of the four they have are home games. I cannot imagine those will do great business but we’ll see. There is one date that is notably worse, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
The 2019-20 Schedule of Back-to-Back Sets of Games
As the New Jersey Devils do not have to travel far within their division compared to other teams in the NHL, they typically have to play a lot of back-to-back sets as consolation. In 2017-18, the Devils had sixteen back-to-back sets of games. Last season, the Devils had fourteen. The Devils are back to sixteen sets for 2019-20. Here is the full list of what they are and when they are:
There is plenty to highlight here. First, a lot of these back-to-backs at the end of the week. Eight of the sixteen are Friday-Saturday sets. Another four are weekend sets; a pairing of Saturday-Sunday game dates. The Devils only have one Monday-Tuesday set (12/2 and 12/3)
Second, there are no home-and-home sets of games in both senses. In each of these sixteen sets of games, the Devils will face a different opponent in their second consecutive game. There are common opponents involved but never consecutively. There are also no home-and-home sets in that there are no games where the Devils are playing twice at the Rock in two days until the end of March (thanks to alslammarz for correcting me here). They’re either starting in Newark and traveling elsewhere, or they’re outside of New Jersey and returning for the next night. That’s tough. Especially since the Devils have four sets where they’re on the road in each game.
Third, nine of these sixteen sets of games involve the Metropolitan Division in one or both games. But the opponents involved are not balanced. The Devils will play each divisional opponent four times each; twelve of 28 of them are in these nine sets of games. Three of their four games with Philly and Carolina are in these sets. Half of their season series with Washington and Pittsburgh are in these sets. However, the Devils will only see Our Hated Rivals and Columbus in the second-half of one set each all season. They will not have the Islanders in any set at all. It is another quirk in a schedule full of them. (Here’s yet another one: both games against the Edmonton McDavids are in these sets.)
The Devils will have to play more back-to-back sets and it is indeed more of a challenge given the range of opponents, the lack of home-and-home sets, and that they come at the ends of weeks.
There are some silver linings related to back-to-back sets and the schedule as a whole. Micah Blake McCurdy tracks fatigue in the schedule; or games where the team played the night before and games where their opponent played the night before. According his count for this season, the Devils will actually play eleven games where their opponents played the night before compared to ten games where the Devils will play a “rested” opponenet. It is not a huge advantage, but it is slightly favorable. In terms of when those games will be, based on my view of McCurdy’s massive map of those sorts of games (plus games where both teams played the night before and games where both teams enter the game rested), the Devils will have fewer instances of this as the season goes on. This makes sense. Recall from the first breakdown table the number of back-to-backs. Ten of the sixteen are in the 2019 portion of the season. It gets better in time in this regard, at least.
Lastly and not leastly, shout out to the schedule maker for giving the Devils a rare February 29-March 1 back-to-back set. It is part of their California trip, which is a good segue into notable games and trips.
Notable Games & Trips - And a Complaint About One Game
Let me get the complaint out of the way first. It is about the stupidest game on the schedule from a timing perspective. The New Jersey Devils have a 1 PM start time on Monday, October 14. This is Columbus Day. This is not an actual holiday where most people will get off work and be off of school. This is not a day where even if they did have the time off, they will flock to the Prudential Center to see the Devils play Florida. Sure, the Devils have more juice from a star-perspective and that can help. However, this is almost guaranteed to be a low-drawing crowd. I know this because I saw it firsthand the last time the Devils did this.
Seriously, the last time the Devils had an afternoon game on Columbus Day was in 2011. They hosted and beat Carolina, 4-2 (my recap is here), with a 1 PM ET start time. The NHL.com game summary claimed 12,096 were at the Rock. I took time off my day job and went to that game. I can assure you that was not a legit number. It was a decent crowd given the circumstances but it could have been a larger crowd had it been at 7 PM ET or not on a Monday at all. The Devils did try it in 2010 with a 4 PM ET start time and the official attendance was marginally better with a bigger opponent in Pittsburgh. While 12,000 or so people is not the very worst, the Devils dropped it like a bad habit. The Monday afternoon game on the non-holiday went away for years. In fact, the Devils have not had any home games on Monday in October since that 2011 game. Seeing it return makes me think that someone in management failed to learn the lessons of the past.
The sad thing is that with Hughes, Subban, Hall, and a buzz about the team that will likely last into their third home game of the season, the Devils are undercutting themselves attendance-wise with this 1 PM game on a Monday. I’m not saying that a Devils-Florida game will sell out if it were at the traditional 7 PM ET. I am saying an evening game would do much better. Instead, the Devils have likely doomed one of their 41 games to have fewer people and a lower gate than what they could have done. Boo.
OK, I’m done complaining. Let’s highlight specific dates and stretches:
- The Home Opener is against Winnipeg on October 4. We knew this but it is still notable.
- The first meeting with the Second Rate Rivals will be in their building on Wednesday, October 9. We also knew this. But can you predict what their lineup will look like by then with the $50 Million Hayes as their latest overpaid centerpiece?
- The first meeting with Our Hated Rivals will not take months into the schedule like last season. It will be on October 17. The Devils are up for this one already. At least, their Twitter account runners are up for this one.
- Other games against OHR: November 30 will be at the Rock; January 9 and March 7 will be at the World’s Most Overrated Arena.
- The longest break in the schedule that will not involve the All Star Weekend appears to be early. No games from October 20 through 24. It is book-ended by a matinee game with Vancouver on Saturday, October 19 and Arizona on Thursday, October 25 - both at home.
- The 41st Devils game of the season will be on Saturday, January 4, 2020 against Colorado at the Rock.
- The longest home stretch of the season is six games: From that stupid afternoon game on Monday, October 11 against Florida to Friday, November 1 against Philly. In between they will host Our Hated Rivals, Vancouver, Arizona, and Tampa Bay. This run is followed by another stretch away from the Rock.
- The longest road trip for the Devils will be five-games long. They will have two of them. The first five-game trip includes the Western Canada swing. It starts on November 2 in Carolina (yes, that’s after hosting Philly on November 1) and runs through Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and ends in Vancouver on November 10. The Alberta games are in a back-to-back set, too. The second five-game trip incorporates the state of California. Starting on February 25 in Detroit, the Devils will head to San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim (back-to-back with LA), and ending in Las Vegas on March 3. The first trip will be a test to see how real the Devils will be this season. The second one may be right after the NHL Trade Deadline, so we will know the state of the season by then.
- In addition two five-game trips, there is a four-game road trip in December with Nashville, Dallas, Colorado, and Arizona from December 7 to December 14. And trip also starts with the second half of a back-to-back. About a third of the Devils’ 41 road games this season are on one of these three trips. Let’s hear it for consolidation!
- P.K. Subban will return to Nashville on Saturday, December 7. Nashville will be cool about it. Hopefully the Montreal media will also be cool when the Devils visit the Canadiens on Wednesday, November 28. If you want to see the Preds live, then come to the Rock on Thursday, January 30, 2020.
- If you want to boo a Russian winger on L.A. but do not want to leave the state, then you want to come to the Prudential Center on February 8, 2020.
- If you want to boo an American winger on Minnesota, but do not want to leave the state, then you want to come to the Prudential Center on November 26, 2020.
- The Devils will take on the 2019 Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues first on February 18. This game will be in St. Louis, which is odd since the Devils have a home game two days earlier and two days later.
- For reasons I cannot understand, the Devils will not see the Islanders until Thursday, January 2, 2020, which will be in Brooklyn. By then, the Devils would have played Our Hated Rivals, Pittsburgh, and Philly twice; and Washington, Columbus, and Carolina once each.
- The last Western Conference opponent of the Devils’ season: a game in Minnesota on March 26.
It is a quirky schedule with definite leans on some days, an increase of back-to-backs and their challenges, a decrease in matinees, one long home-stretch of six to go with two road-stretches of five each, and a stupidly scheduled afternoon game on a Monday that really is not a holiday.
Now that you read this breakdown, I want to know what you think. What do you think of the Devils’ 2019-20 schedule overall? What’s up with all of the back-to-backs at the end of weeks? What’s up with the lack of home-and-homes? What’s up with that October 14 afternoon game? Which dates are you looking forward to? What would you do differently if you could make the schedule? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils’ schedule for this coming season. Thank you for reading.