I’m sure we’re all aware of this, but there likely won’t be an 82 game season. Hell, in this rate we might end up with an even shorter season compared to last one. With the rise in cases again through this pandemic, it’s hard to predict when the season will start or how it will look.
On the bright side, a shorter season brings many surprises. In baseball, the Miami Marlins, a team projected to finish in the bottom 5, shocked many with a hot start and finished with a playoff spot by the shortened seasons end. Flip the script back to hockey and we now see an opportunity for a team such as the Devils to go on a hot start and potentially go on a postseason run.
How likely is this to happen? A combination of pieces must fall into place for this to even occur. I will highlight what I believe to be the most important factors and give an opinion on how the Devils will do in each aspect.
Condition 1: Great Goaltending
Teams with more potent offenses than the Devils currently have have seen their demise due to poor goaltending. Now, the new look Devils have a new goalie in town in the form of longtime Blackhawk Corey Crawford to pair with incumbent starter Mackenzie Blackwood.
Last season, Crawford played in 40 games with the Blackhawks, where he recorded a 16-20-3 record, though with a solid .917 save percentage. While his record leaves a lot to be desired, Crawford had a lack of support from his team during his starts, and actually had a higher quality start % than Robin Lehner, now a starter with the Golden Knights. Compare him to Schneider and Domingue, who both had sub .890 save percentages and combined for six wins, and you can see a clear improvement.
Mackenzie Blackwood, on the other hand, was solid for the Devils last season. The 23 year old recorded a 22-14-8 record, with a .915 save percentage. If Blackwood shows continued growth heading into the following season, the Devils may have their goalie of the future.
As long as Crawford doesn’t show a sizeable regression in his play (which is possible given his age), the Devils should be more set in terms of goaltending.
Condition 2: Development in Youth
For the Devils to truly take a step forwards, some prospects need to take a step forward.
The easy prospects to pick on are Jack Hughes and Jesper Boqvist. Both players had huge expectations heading into last season, but showed they may have been too raw for the NHL.
Hughes wasn’t awful, but proved that his build was too small and he didn’t have enough strength for the NHL. In his rookie campaign, Hughes recorded 7 goals and 14 assists through 61 games - not horrible numbers for an 18 year old, but not something that matched the hype of the 1st overall pick. During this prolonged offseason, Hughes has been given significantly more time to develop his body in preparation for the coming season, and that may be what makes his impact in a shorter season more noticeable than a normal NHL campaign.
Boqvist, in very limited NHL action, only put up 4 goals with no assists through 35 games. Similar to Hughes, Boqvist showed up very raw, but showed flashes of skill which hold well for the future. In the following campaign, Boqvist should be given more ice time as well, as he spent the majority of the previous campaign stuck on the 4th line with Hayden and Rooney. An extra year under his belt should hopefully do wonders for his production.
Other players to watch out for include Jesper Bratt, who could take another step up as a top-tier player, and Ty Smith, who seems likely to make the team this year. Prospects to keep an eye on are Mikhail Maltsev and the surging Yegor Sarangovich.
Condition 3: Luck
Realistically this isn’t even a condition, but the Devils need some insane luck to sneak into the playoffs. The future looks incredible for the Devils organization, but the current roster is likely good enough to truly challenge for a playoff spot. This is where the shortened season really plays a factor. If the Devils can start off on a hot streak, a shortened season makes it so it is more difficult for other teams to play catch-up, due to the more limited quantity of games. On the contrary, the opposite also holds true - a slow start likely spells the end for the Devils. As such, us as Devils fans need to hope that something sticks, and the Devils can find a way to play back to relevance. If not, we can just attribute it to a growing team with a new coach.
How do you feel about the Devils chances in a shortened season. Do you even want the Devils to make a push? Do you see this extended offseason boding well for the younger players in terms of conditioning? Will any of this matter? Let me know in the comments below and take care!