Given that the Devils were one of the worst teams in the NHL last year and they traded away their best offensive forward (Hall), defensive forward (Coleman), and defensive defenceman (Greene); and have a GM/HC combo each in his first full year with in the position for the team; it’s fair to wonder if the Devils can ice an even remotely competent this season. I’ve had that concern myself.
Furthermore, I think some fans don’t even mind struggling again. We now appear to be in the beginnings of rebuild 2.0 and it’s understandable for the new GM to take a year to get us to contention and raise our draft pick value in the process. But, for a change, I think the attitude is actually a little too pessimistic about the Devils chances this season. And, while Cup contention is clearly years off, the Devils could absolutely contend for the playoffs and it shouldn’t really even be that much of a surprise.
In a piece for Infernal Access about why the Devils should address their backup goalie position (Thanks Fitzy!), I included the chart below, which should prime you for how realistic this conversation is.
Think about how bad the past two years have felt. Think about how out of it you’ve perceived us to be. Now look at Mackenzie Blackwood’s 82-game point rate. Ninety two points is right on the playoff bubble. So if we can close the gap between the backup and the start, then that point rate should still probably be attainable. And, sure enough, according to THW’s Alex Chauvancy’s roster created using Sean Tierney’s Lineup Creator, our current roster (assuming a few league-average bottom-sixers) does, in fact, project to be a 92-point team.
Here’s a more visual example of what I’m talking about. I recorded the xGA for every Devils game last season and simulated 4 possible seasons (1000 times each) to see how many points the Devils would have gotten in each goalie scenario:
1) Random assignment of 2020 NJ goalie game performances
2) Random assignment of only Blackwood’s games
3) Random assignemnt of only Crawford’s games
4) Random assignment of Blackwood’s games post Hynes and Crawford’s full season
These were the results.
Consider two things about this graph. First, look at the vertical lines representing the average point totals the 2020 Devils would’ve been expected to get over 82 games with the goalies shown. Second, look at the area of each curve that exists above 95 the dashed black lie). The first represents how we would’ve expected to perform, and the second represents how likely a playoff birth would be in a typical season (95.3 is the average conference 2nd wild card over the past 5 seasons). In table form, that looks like this:
Relative to what actually happened in 2020, the Devils would pick up about 8-9 points if Blackwood had been the post-Hynes Blackwood all year and another 3-4 points with the addition of Crawford. And all the sudden, we are knocking on the door with a 36% chance of making the postseason LAST YEAR. Do you remember how bad we were last year? In simulations, last year’s Devils roster made the playoffs once ever 3 times with Blackwood/Crawford tandem.
Now, in saying we could ride this to the postseason this year, I’m making a few assumptions. For instance, there’s no guarantee that Blackwood doesn’t do what he did in the first half of the season again. There’s also no guarantee that Crawford doesn’t fall off the age cliff. And, finally, it’s definitely possible that the team in front of them is worse than last year. But these sims are just meant to illustrate the point that this is not a lost season. The Devils potentially have one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL now and when you have that, you can end up finding yourself in the postseason much earlier than expected.
What do you guys think? How likely is it actually that we could make the postseason with the new and improved goalie tandem? How much can these two cover up? Which of the assumptions I listed do you think don’t hold?
Leave your thoughts below and, as always, thanks for reading!