This is the week that the 2019-20 National Hockey League regular season will begin. On Friday, October 4, the New Jersey Devils will play their first of eighty-two games on a quest to make it back to the postseason. It is only fitting that plenty of places have come out with their previews for the upcoming season.
We at All About the Jersey will be no different. For this Monday through this Friday, we will have our now annual work-week-long season preview for 2019-20. We will go over the forwards on Monday, the defensemen on Tuesday, the goaltenders on Wednesday, separate posts on special teams and coaching and management on Thursday, and our predictions for the season on Friday. In a world where entire takes and arguments are given in bite-sized portions, we will deliver you a smorgasbord of words laying out what happened, what changed, and what to expect for this coming season.
As you are reading this site, you likely support the Devils and therefore are one of the People Who Matter. Ergo, I know you are eagerly awaiting for our predictions. But you will have to wait until Friday for that. In the interim, let us go over a sample of other people’s predictions about the Devils. Not everyone did it in the same way but I will link to it and provide the basic gist of it. At a minimum, we can see who else outside of AAtJ is confident in our beloved team, who is not, and whose takes may need to be remembered in the future.
Dom Luszczyszyn - The Athletic
Luszczyszyn has made previews for all NHL teams at The Athletic for a few years now, utilizing a model he developed for each. It comes out with a projection and includes probabilities to allow for variation. It also goes into detail as to what the team’s strengths and concerns are. As the The Athletic is for subscribers, you would need to subscribe to read the whole preview for the Devils ($). I have one. I can tell you it is quite good. Fortunately, Luszczyszyn did tweet out the basic prediction he had for the Devils:
2019-20 NHL Season Preview: New Jersey Devils— dom luszczyszyn (@domluszczyszyn) September 13, 2019
There are many reasons for optimism in New Jersey, starting with an off-season that saw the Devils bring in Subban, Gusev, Simmonds and of course Hughes at the draft. It might be enough for a playoff spot.https://t.co/CsJJgaq4bU pic.twitter.com/HEFNZguzFB
Luszczyszyn’s model rated the Devils low last season. For 2019-20, it has the Devils making the playoffs 51% of the time. Improvement over last season’s 72 points is not only expected but his model came up with the Devils improving by a significant margin. 21 points, to be precise. Compared with his other team, he has the Devils finishing fourth in the Metropolitan and 15th in the NHL. In other words: they’re a bubble team. Based on his other previews, NJ would get into the playoffs as the second wild card spot - Florida would get the first one. For what it is worth, Luszczyszyn has Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Washington as the top three teams in the Metropolitan and in that order.
Kevin Allen - USA Today
USA Today does provide coverage of hockey and like many media outlets, they did publish a general season preview. Kevin Allen has the byline and it was published on September 26, 2019. The section about the Metropolitan Division begins with, “Every team in this division could make the playoffs and every team could miss it. That’s how evenly matched this division is.” To that end, they predict that second place (Pittsburgh) could finish with 90 points and finish just ten points ahead of eighth place - wait, this can’t be right - New Jersey?!
I did not misread that. They predict the Devils to finish dead last in the Metropolitan Division again and earn 80 points. That they would fall behind everyone else again. Allen and USA Today smacked the Devils with a hand of disrespect in their prediction. Ouch.
Micah Blake McCurdy - HockeyViz
McCurdy primarily sticks to making visualizations, heat maps, and graphs based on his modeling of the NHL teams. He does put out season previews and he put together a fairly detailed one for 2019-20 at his site, HockeyViz. Like Luszczyszyn, Mccurdy’s model does display variation through probability. Unlike Luszczyszyn, he is not jazzed about the Devils’ chances in 2019-20.
In McCurdy’s model, the Devils have the lowest probability of making the playoffs in the Metropolitan with a 41% chance. His visual graph found that the Devils have a 17% chance of finishing eighth, which is the highest among the eight teams in the division. Overall, his model has the Devils finishing last in the Metropolitan. Weirdly, his model’s top three for the division is Washington, Pittsburgh, and the Rangers. Seriously. His model must really, really, really like Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. Also weirdly, he has Carolina on the bubble. I guess McCurdy’s model does not value possession hockey.
McCurdy did give a special mention to the Devils. It is kind of a mitigating factor:
New Jersey is an especially curious team since so I expect a lot of their minutes to be played by three forwards who have never played in the league, namely Jack Hughes, Jesper Boqvist, and Nikita Gusev. I expect them to have the lethal finishing talent that will win some games and look dominant in places but not the shot volume that permits sustained success.
Even McCurdy thinks Jesper Boqvist makes the team. If I recall correctly, McCurdy’s model does not really handle new players very well. Perhaps this is an acknowledgment that New Jersey could surprise him. I think they will just by not finishing last.
Peter Tanner - Moneypuck
Ah, Moneypuck. My (and what should be your) go-to source for daily playoff odds. The staple of the post-All Star Game Metropolitan Division Snapshot did put together preliminary predictions for the 2019-20 season. Unfortunately, Moneypuck’s method was also not kind of the Devils.
Moneypuck’s algorithm has the Devils with a 36% of making the postseason with a projected number of 87.2 points. Not only is this the lowest among the eight Metropolitan Division teams, it is the fourth lowest in the entire league. The Devils’ odds are only better than Buffalo, Los Angeles, and Ottawa. That is rough.
I will point out that Moneypuck’s method is particularly harsh on everyone. For one example, the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division by their odds are Carolina, Pittsburgh, and the Islanders. For a second and better example, the team with the highest odds of making it at Moneypuck, Tampa Bay, only has a 73.78% chance of making the playoffs with a projected point total of 99. That is definitely low-balling it. Even if you project someone to be better than Tampa Bay, the eventual President’s Trophy winner will likely have many more points than 99. I suspect Moneypuck’s method is definitely driven by results remaining as opposed to projecting out quality. It makes for a great way to track odds in the middle of the season. Less so for the start of the season. So I would take this one with a grain of salt instead getting salty about Moneypuck.
Joey Alferi - Pro Hockey Talk / NBC Sports
Pro Hockey Talk is the brand for NBC Sports’ NHL second on their website. They have blogged for years about the NHL and have provided plenty of content covering the league as a whole. As expected, they have put together a season preview for all 31 teams. On September 23, Joey Alferi posted the Devils’ season preview. Alferi recognizes that the Devils are definitely going to be better than last season. Alferi highlights the team’s young center depth as a strength while noting that the goaltending as a weakness. Neither is unexpected. But what about a prediction? Alferi had this conclusion:
Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. A healthy Hall, the addition of Hughes and Subban, plus the development of Hischier lead the Devils to the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. This is bold, but it’s entirely possible.
Alferi’s prediction is pretty bold. Third in the division is an automatic playoff spot - and definitely a mark of progress for a team that cratered in 2018-19.
Ryan Lambert - Yahoo! Sports
Puck Daddy may be no more, but Ryan Lambert is still with Yahoo! Sports. As columnist for Yahoo! Sports Canada, to be precise. As expected, he writes about hockey. He previewed the Metropolitan Division as a whole on September 27, 2019. He highlighted different teams and mentioned the Devils as the division’s “Gamecenter Pick (Most Watchable).” Here is what he wrote about the team; it is pretty much a preview:
Say what you want about their playoff prospects this season, there’s little doubt this team will be fun to watch.
This summer they added No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, high-scoring Russian import Nikita Gusev, PK Subban, and Wayne Simmonds, which should juice an offense that was sixth from the bottom in scoring last season (albeit with a few notable injuries hampering production).
Plus, after Cory Schneider came back from his injury last season, he was the same old “.920 forever” goalie you’d be forgiven for forgetting existed just a few years ago. The team defense overall was middling last year, but poor goaltending saw them tie Edmonton in goals against, and you don’t want to be tied with Edmonton in literally anything.
Do all those additions plus a full season of Taylor Hall give them the 30-35 goals they’ll need to have an average offense next year? It’s a firm “maybe.” Does a full season of above-average goaltending make this team more fun to watch? That’s a firm “yes.”
In the end, they probably miss the cut by a couple of wins, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were a wild card team.
True to the last statement, Lambert’s prediction for the division has the Devils finishing fifth with 87 points. He has the Isles finishing fourth and taking the second wild card spot with 91 points; his top three are Carolina, Washington, and Pittsburgh.
Todd Cordell & James Tanner - HockeyBuzz Hotstove / HockeyBuzz
Todd Cordell covers the Devils and Calgary for HockeyBuzz. He is someone to follow if you follow the Devils online. James Tanner covers Arizona also for HockeyBuzz. But they came together to go over the Metropolitan Division and predict how all eight teams will finish in it on September 26, 2019. Cordell, who again covers the Devils, have New Jersey finishing fourth - behind Washington, Carolina, and Pittsburgh. Here is what he wrote about the Devils:
4. New Jersey – I think they might be the most improved team in the league. With Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, Wayne Simmonds and Jesper Boqvist joining the fray, there is wayyyyy more talent up front than a season ago. Getting Taylor Hall back is massive, too, as is the addition of P.K. Subban. If Cory Schneider and/or Mackenzie Blackwood can provide competent goaltending, they’re making the playoffs.
Tanner was not as big on the Devils. He had them finishing fifth in the division behind (in order) Carolina, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia (!?), and Washington. Here is his short reason behind it:
5. Devils - If they get goaltending, they’ll compete with Carolina. I love their roster, I love their ability to use ELCs to go all-in, and it’s possible they’re the league’s surprise team. But Corey Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood do not inspire confidence.
That is rather bold seeing that Tanner thinks Carolina will take the whole division. Hopefully, the performances from both goalies in preseason carries over and answers Cordell’s and Tanner’s “ifs” in the best way possible.
Jim Biringer - Last Word on Hockey
Last Word on Hockey is one of the best resources for prospect profiles in recent years. They also cover the NHL throughout the season. Site manager Dan Mount put up this preview of the Metropolitan Division on September 20, 2019. Mount, Jim Biringer, and Nick Mancini contributed to the overview of all eight teams. The Devils finished fourth in their division prediction, behind (in order) Washington, Pittsburgh, and Carolina. Biringer wrote up the Devils section with this concluding part:
Outside the defence, which will be better, the biggest question mark is the goaltending. Are MacKenzie Blackwood and Cory Schneider good enough to carry this team to the playoffs? The Devils are deep at the forward position and will surprise teams this season. They will battle for a playoff spot and look to sneak into a wild card spot. With the final spot in the Metro division up for grabs, if the Devils play the right way they could even grab that spot.
It is not clear here whether the prediction means that the Devils would get a playoff spot or not. I did find that Biringer does think the Devils can make it to the postseason. Biringer authored a more detailed preview of the Devils as part of Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Preview. The preview itself is dated on September 5, 2019, so it is before preseason took place. This is the conclusion of that preview:
Taking everything into consideration, the Devils are one of the most improved teams in the league. The Devils will not be an easy out once the regular-season starts and have the team to make it to the playoffs. Once the season ends in April the Devils will have one of the two wild cards in the Eastern Conference.
I do not know whether Biringer would change his mind about that now, but it is still a favorable prediction.
Pete Blackburn - CBS Sports
Over at CBS Sports’ NHL section, Pete Blackburn posted this breakdown of the Metropolitan Division on September 26. Blackburn calls it the most difficult division to predict. Blackburn took the approach of including a reason to believe in each team and a reason to doubt them. The post does not specify whether a team outside of the top three would make the playoffs. Consider that as the Blackburn has the Devils finishing fourth behind Carolina, Washington, and Pittsburgh. Here is what Blackburn wrote about the Devils:
Reason to believe: They had an incredibly exciting offseason that saw them add first overall pick (and potential franchise-changing talent) Jack Hughes, as well as P.K. Subban, Nikita [sic] Gusev and Wayne Simmonds. Add in the fact that former MVP Taylor Hall will be returning to the lineup after missing more than half of last season...well, the Devils will, at the very least, be a lot more fun to watch. They also have plenty of wiggle room on the cap so don’t rule out this team’s potential of improving mid-season.
Reason to doubt: Hughes is an incredible talent who should get plenty of chance to shine in New Jersey next season, but he’ll likely have to navigate some growing pains as an undersized first-year center. But how far the Devils go this season will most likely hinge on goaltending. Cory Schneider is 33 years old and he’s looked like a shell of his former self for most of the past three seasons. The question is whether he can stay healthy and good enough to help the Devils be taken seriously. If not, the team will have to turn to MacKenzie Blackwood, who had a strong rookie campaign last year but is still largely unproven.
Unlike other previews, Blackburn correctly points out that the Devils do have some cap space and that is a strength. As the season goes on, having at least $6 million available in cap space becomes very valuable. They could theoretically add a lot as needed. Also unlike other previews, Blackburn does note that Hughes may need to adjust to the NHL - which I cannot disagree with. The other reasons he has for both are common in other previews as well as true.
Final Thoughts & Your Take
This is but a sample of other people’s predictions for the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils. The general consensus is that just about all of them - yes, even the USA Today one - expect the Devils to improve over last season, that the Metropolitan Division is going to be a difficult division, and that the Devils are some kind of wild card. It is questionable as to how much the Devils will improve. Optimistic ones, such as the ones by Cordell, Alferi, and Luszczyszyn, have the Devils just getting into the playoffs. The pessimistic ones, such as the ones by McCurdy, Allen, and Peter Tanner, have the Devils with a shot but ultimately missing by quite a bit. Credit to McCurdy for allowing some mitigation and variation in his result.
Overall, other people’s predictions figure the Devils to be a bubble team for the playoffs. I do not think that is controversial. Last season’s team was really bad and there is a lot to make up. After all, the 2018-19 team had its playoff hopes pretty much shot by January 1, 2019. The goaltending is still a question, preseason performances notwithstanding. The amount of improvement provided by their additions can vary. Combined with what figures to be a very competitive division plus strong efforts put forth from the Atlantic for the wild card spots, I can understand the lack of consensus that the Devils are a playoff team.
What do we predict for the Devils in this coming season? You will find out on Friday. I will give you a tease from my prediction: “The Devils will absolutely finish ahead of Our Hated Rivals; that is not a question to normal, well-meaning people who know the Devils are good and that the Rangers inherently suck. But there is more to life than just dunking on a rival.” You will read the rest later.
In the meantime, please let me know what you think of these other people’s opinions in the comments. Which did you agree with? Which did you disagree with? Which one did you like the best? This is just a sample of other people’s opinions, so if you know of any predictions from others sites and hockey media/stat person, then please share it in the comments and include a link so we can all read it. Thank you for reading.