The 2019 portion of the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils season in Eastside Hockey Manager has went wonderfully beyond expectations. The Devils ended December with a big win over Boston and sit first in the Eastern Conference and the Metropolitan Division. They achieved this in spite of some significant injuries to Nikita Gusev and Blake Coleman as well as a minor one for Taylor Hall that kept him out of the final few games of the year. Unfortunately, the good times did not continue in January 2020.
Ahead of documenting what happened in December, GM Abrams and I would like to thank those who commented from the previous post and offered their suggestions on what to do. Thank you to alslammerz, EliasStillRocks, acasser, OfManNotMachine, smelph, and Veron for their suggestions. They wanted Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian called up. They wanted Joey Anderson to be sent down and did not want any veterans going through waivers. They also wanted February to be split up into two posts, which is what will happen because the trading in EHM-NHL became very active after January 1, 2020 began. They also wanted Abrams to begin negotiating with Hall. These were all at least attempted. Let us go over what happened in January.
The Games of January 2020 in EHM
Abrams did not party hard on New Year’s Eve. There was a game played - and won - against Boston. There was work to do at the turn of the calendar, if only to show to the People Who Matter that Abrams does indeed pay attention to them. Anderson was fully recovered just before January 1 and was eligible to be removed from IR at that point. He was re-activated and then sent back to Binghamton.
Abrams proceeded to call up two forwards: Nathan Bastian and Michael McLeod. Bastian was having a great time with the B-Devils with 10 goals and 28 points in 34 games and an average rating of 7.53. McLeod had a lower average rating of 7.41, but he was more productive with 22 goals and 41 points in 34 games. Only Ben Street was having a more impactful season than both but as Bastian and McLeod represent the future, it was more fruitful to see what they could do. Plus, no one demanded to see Street in New Jersey.
Lastly, Abrams decided to open negotiations with Hall. The board was willing to give Hall the maximum amount of money, which would look something like this.
(Aside: EHM 1.4.1 allows bonuses for under-35 players and does not have no movement clauses. It is also limited in signing bonuses, the maximum I could select was $4 million.)
Abrams did not offer Hall the maximum possible deal. He instead started with $40 million over the next four seasons flat with a no-trade clause. Hall said he was not interested in negotiations but the offer was given to his people for review.
With that all sorted, the 2020 part of the season began on January 2 in Long Island. McLeod and Bastian were kept in the press box for the team’s first game of the new year. Abrams figured that the lineup that beat down Boston was good enough to go into Nassau and beat the Isles. Seven defensemen with Andy Greene was the 7th defender and penalty kill leader. Noel Acciari scratched for the seven defensemen and Kevin Rooney at center. Would it work again? No. The start was promising enough with late first period goals by Wayne Simmonds and Pavel Zacha. But then the Isles blew away the Devils in the following two periods. In a time period of less than three minutes, Barzal got the Isles up on the board and Bailey scored twice. The Devils were down 2-3. Computer John Hynes pulled Mackenzie Blackwood for the extra skater, only for Lee to sink in an empty netter. Then Hynes did it again and Beauvillier got an ENG. The Devils lost 2-5 to start the month.
On January 4, the Devils hosted Colorado. Abrams scratched Holden and brought in Bastian and McLeod to fill in the fourth line next to Miles Wood. In this EHM season, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Ratanen all average over an ‘8.’ Only eleven players in the whole league have an average that high, including Hall. The thing is that Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Ratanen are all on the same line. Colorado has the most fearsome first line in the NHL and they demolished the Devils. The trio were involved in all three goals in the first period, with two scored by MacKinnon. Nichshukin scored in the second period which forced Hynes to replace Blackwood with Jake Oettinger. Shane Bowers was the first to beat Oettinger early in the second period. Jesper Bratt did at least prevent the shutout loss after finishing a feed from Jack Hughes. But MacKinnon responded for his hat trick and the Devils ate a 1-6 loss to a terrifyingly talented Colorado team. At least McLeod and Bastian made their season debuts and were among the few Devils to have a good game.
The Devils regrouped over the next few days. Hall rejected the contract offer from Abrams, so Abrams offered him a more lucrative deal. $11 million per season for five seasons. In the meantime, there was a chance for revenge against the Isles. This turned out to be an offensive barnburner. The start was disappointing with goals by Brassard and Beauvillier, but Kyle Palmieri scored his first of 2020 to make it 1-2 after the first period. P.K. Subban rifled in a power play goal early in the period to make it 2-2. Khunhackl put the Isles up briefly at 2-3. The Devils would answer back late in the second. Hughes scored with 1:01 left on the clock and Nico Hischier scored with four seconds left in the period to make it a 4-3 lead. Would it last? No. Pulock converted a power play from distance in the third period to make it 4-4. But the game did go into overtime and it did require a shootout. Barzal, Eberle, and Bailey went up for the Isles; only Eberle scored. Alas, Hall, Vatanen, and Subban - the next man up in terms of dekes and creativity after Gusev - could not beat Greiss. The Devils lost 4-5 through a shootout. At least the Devils got their first point of 2020.
Ahead of the January 9th game against Our Hated Rivals, Abrams scratched Damon Severson and returned Holden into the lineup. Severson did not play well against the Isles and so he wanted to see if Holden could play like he had a point to prove. At the World’s Most Overrated Arena, New Jersey looked like they were on track for another bad loss. Panarin and Kreider scored power play goals and Brendan Smith scored on the shift right after Kreider’s goal. However, the Devils would chip at the three-goal deficit. McLeod scored his first with the Devils off a feed from Vatanen, which included a secondary assist for Bastian. In the second period, Travis Zajac found a loose puck from a Ranger and stashed it in past Shestyorkin. Halfway through the third period, The Big Deal Jack Hughes powered a shot in close to tie up the game. It was back and forth in overtime, but a bad turnover by Zajac went right to Panarin, who went off on a breakaway and ended the game. The Devils’ winless streak extended to four games (0-2-2) with the 3-4 loss to the one team no one wants to lose to.
There was pain after the game. Abrams received the following news after the overtime loss in Manhattan:
Jesper Bratt was moved up to the second line as a replacement for Coleman. He also played on the second power play unit. Now Bratt is unavailable for a month. This was rough news amid a winless streak. Abrams was frustrated.
The frustration continued on January 11. It was a back-to-back weekend and with Blackwood having some rough games, Oettinger got the start in Washington D.C. With Bratt out, Abrams wanted to go back to seven defensemen instead of giving Acciari minutes, having not been satisfied with his past performances. Bastian was moved up to play with Hughes and Zacha, leaving Simmonds to skate with Boqvist and Zajac. The Caps were unfazed. The Hischier line had a rare bad night and Washington stormed the Devils early and often. They scored three in the first period from the likes of Boyd, Dowd, and Ovechkin on the power play (you know the last one at least). Impressively, the Devils mounted a three goal comeback in the third period. It came from Zacha, McLeod, and Simmonds, all within the first twelve minutes of the period. Alas, the Devils botched that renewed chance at a result. Kuznetsov was wide open to make it 3-4 late in the third and Ovechkin sank in an empty netter to make it a 3-5 final score. The Devils were winless in five games and starting to sink in the very tight standings in the East and the Metropolitan. The team needed a win and badly.
The next game was on the next day. It was at the Rock against Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay was a good team, much like all of the Devils opponents in this month prior to the All Star Break. You would not have known that if you were at the Rock that night. The Devils took out all of their frustrations on the Lightning. Blackwood got the start and he was perfect. Abrams swapped Hischier and Hughes and that led to one of the best performances of the season for Hall and Hughes, with Palmieri having a great night too. Bastian looked solid in 20 minutes of action and Simmonds was a monster on the ice.
Hughes and Hall each had four point nights in a 6-0 dominating performance over Tampa Bay. It was a great way to end a winless streak. Hall spoke to the media about how happy he was about the win. More importantly:
The powers that be were pleased. The good news of the night continued as Hall was named to the Eastern Conference roster of the All Star Game. (This version of EHM does not have the current All Star Game round-robin 3-on-3 tournament.) This made sense as he was one of the best players of the league. Alas, the good news would not lead to an extension. Hall rejected the second offer, repeating that he is not interested in discussing a new deal right now. Abrams tried a six-season, $12 million/season extension. Abrams assumed Hall was negotiating by rejecting the deals. I think Hall honestly meant he did not want to discuss a new deal.
As great as the win over Tampa Bay was for ending the streak, it did not kick start a streak of its own. On January 14, the Devils went into Toronto. As with the Washington game, Toronto went up 0-3 before the Devils started scoring. Bastian provided his first goal of the season to get the Devils on the board in the second period. Simmonds got the Devils within one. However, a late rally was snuffed out when Tavares scored his second of the game into an empty net. The Devils lost 2-4 and were back to being concerned. The Devils would only have two more games before a week off going into the All Star Game weekend.
On January 16, the Devils visited Washington again. The same Washington team that saw New Jersey make a big comeback and ultimately prevailed in regulation less than a week earlier. This game would be different. There was a lot less scoring. All of it was on the power play. Kuznetsov put the Caps up first, 0-1, near the end of the first. In the second period, Vatanen and Hall converted power plays to put the Devils up 2-1. Blackwood was on fire in keeping the lead. Zacha took a potentially costly hooking minor with less than two minutes in regulation. The Devils had to survive a 4-on-6 situation. Thanks to Blackwood and plenty of heads up plays by Vatanen, the Devils held on for a 2-1 win. It may not have been a shutout but Blackwood earned his ‘10’ that night. (Aside: Holden was benched and Acciari was placed on the fourth line right wing spot for this game. It did not go so well for Acciari.)
In the team’s final game before their bye week and the All Star Game weekend, the Devils went to Ohio. Unlike reality, Columbus was not having a good season in EHM. The Devils still needed a win to offset their earlier losses in the month. Abrams had the team go back to seven defenseman, still not satisfied with Acciari’s game, and went with Blackwood again. The start of the game went quite well with Palmieri and Simmonds scoring in the first period. However, Columbus mounted a comeback. Texier scored in the second period and Josh Anderson scored an equalizer with nine minutes to go. Would the Devils blow this game as well? No. Hischier converted on a power play two minutes later to make it 3-2. Hughes scored minutes later to make it 4-2. And Boqvist sealed the win an ENG for a final score of 5-2. It was nice to be on the right side of such of game. It was nicer that the Devils went into the break with consecutive wins.
However, the win came at a cost:
Sami Vatanen was playing a lot for the Devils as the team’s first pairing right-side defenseman. He was the lone defender on the first power play unit as well as a first-choice defenseman on the penalty kill. Losing such a player for multiple weeks is always bad news. While the Devils were off for the following week, the schedule picks up for New Jersey after the All Star Game break. Not having one of the most productive defensemen in the league available hurts the cause.
Abrams decided to hold off on calling anyone up as he had seven defensemen on the active roster to begin with. After using seven defensemen regularly for the past few games, the team had bodies to fill in. Subban moved up to play next to Will Butcher on the first pairing. Damon Severson moved up to the second pairing to play next to Ty Smith, who has been the definition of solid and why Abrams was rotating Holden and Severson. Holden was moved to the right side next to Andy Greene, who was now occupying a third pairing spot.
There would be better news on January 19. While the Devils were off, one player was ready to return when the season resume:
Blake Coleman was missed. While Simmonds picked up the pace in terms of scoring and Bastian held his own next to Hughes and Hischier, Abrams had the team running with three right wingers. This allowed the seven defensemen option to be used, but it also meant heavy minutes for Palmieri, Bastian and Simmonds. Coleman’s return would allow Bastian and Simmonds to take a lighter load. He could return to the penalty kill. And Coleman and Hischier would make for a fine combo as Hughes was playing very well in between Hall and Hughes.
Speaking of Hall, he was the only Devil to be named to the All Star Game. I do not know if Vatanen would have made it without his injury. I do not know why Palmieri was snubbed or whether Hughes, a top rookie, was considered. Still, it is a fun exhibition game at the end of the day. Hall had an excellent game, scored a goal, and played just 12:45 without any incident as the East won 6-4. Panarin won the All Star Game MVP but that is whatever to Abrams and, presumably, the People Who Matter.
What does matter is the resumption of the season. The Devils had to visit a hapless Ottawa squad right after the All Star Game. Bobby Ryan was on a hot goal scoring streak going into the break and he continued it by scoring first. Less than a minute later, the returning Coleman picked up where he last left off by scoring an equalizer. Hischier finished a play by Coleman to put the Devils up 2-1. Less than a minute after that, Zajac completed a play from Bastian to make it 3-1. The score held through the third period. Anisimov gave the Sens some hope by scoring early in the third. But Blackwood would not concede another goal; and McLeod provided an insurance goal with just over five minutes left. Hughes sealed the win with an empty netter for a more-or-less comfortable 5-2 win.
The month ended with a home game against Nashville. Nashville has had a poor season in this simulation and fired their head coach, Peter Laviolette, at the beginning of the month. The Preds were well outside of the playoff picture. They did not look that way on January 30. The Devils went up 2-0 in the first period, with two great plays by Hall leading to goals for Hischier and Hughes, respectively. However, the Devils sagged their way through the second and third periods. Sissons and Grimaldi scored in the second to tie it up; Duchene provided the tie-breaker before the halfway mark in the third; and Haula scored an empty netter. It was a good performance for twenty minutes for New Jersey and so they lost 2-4 to end the month.
There was one bit of bad news after that loss. Ty Smith cut his hand in practice the next day. He would be out only day-to-day. Still, Abrams did not want a less-than-100% rookie in the lineup against Dallas on February 1. He called up Connor Timmins from Binghamton and he is expected to make his New Jersey debut in February. Additionally, Bratt, Vatanen, and Gusev (!) were each reported to begin light practice at around this time. This meant they were on the way to recovery and, soon, being able to play again. With the stretch run in the regular season looming in the near future, a fully healthy Devils team would be very welcomed by all.
The Devils & NHL at a Glance After January
It was not a good month for the Devils as they went 4-5-2. But their position remains strong.
The Devils still lead the Metropolitan Division at the start of February. Despite their struggles during the month and the hot run of the Isles (7-2-1 in their last ten), the Devils are still just ahead of them. They are by no means safe. They are just four points ahead of fifth-place Washington. It is a tight one in the simulation as it is in real life. However, the Devils are nine points ahead of Toronto and Philadelphia, who are outside of the playoffs. So there is at least some security with respect to making the postseason.
With respect to the league standings, the Devils have fallen back a bit more. Winnipeg has been absolutely dominant in the season. They have ten more points than Montreal and Las Vegas. They have five more points than the terrifyingly talented Colorado squad. I am glad the Devils do not need to face Winnipeg or Colorado again. By points, the Devils have the seventh most in the NHL so they can still be seen as one of the better teams in the NHL. It is still a very tight group at the top. The Devils are just ten points ahead of 20th place Minnesota, after all. Much can and likely will happen in the coming two months.
Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Jack Hughes is tied with Ratanen for fifth in the NHL in points. Hughes had a massive January with seven goals and seven assists; he was held pointless in just one game. He is not just the leader among rookies in scoring, he is outright one of the top scorers in the league. Down a bit on this list, you can see Hall and Palmieri next to each other in 14th and 15th, respectively. They continue to go strong and frequent the scoresheet. Now with Hughes in between them, they should continue to benefit. This is not to mean that Hischier has fallen behind. He is tied with Krieder, Stamkos, Monahan, Lebanc, and Meier with 44 points for 26th in the NHL. Hischier continues to get his production going.
Hughes is not just leading all rookies in scoring. He is ahead of Kakko by 17 points. Short of a significant injury or a massive slump, Hughes should be able to finish the season as the league leader in rookie scoring. It would be fair to expect him to be a finalist for the Calder at this rate. As for other Devils rookie scorers, Boqvist is tied with Glass and Texier for 34th with ten points; Ty Smith is tied with Chartier and Burke with 8 points for 38th place; and McLeod’s four points in ten games is just enough to get him on the list at 48th tied with Hirose and Wahlstrom. Bastian needs another point to get on the list; he’s been playing well but not necessarily producing a lot.
It took an injury for Vatanen to be usurped as the league’s leader in scoring among defensemen. Dahlin took over in short order and has a three point lead on him. With Vatanen still about a week away, Petry, Klingberg, Faulk, and the many with 30 points could jump him soon. But then Vatanen will be back and provided Abrams puts him back in his role, he will rise back up. P.K. Subban has not been getting prime power play minutes or shooting the puck all that much. Yet, he continues to rack up the assists and so he is tied for twelfth in total points with 29. In Vatanen’s absence, he is in his role and perhaps he could close the point gap as well. These two defensemen are the only Devils within the top 50 defensemen in scoring. They will continue to be the source of production from the blueline.
Taylor Hall continues to be one of the most outstanding players in the league. By average rating, he is second only to Ratanen. What is telling is that only eleven players are averaging a rating above an eight at this point of the season. Palmieri was close but he fell off a bit. Plenty of top players are close. But these eleven are the cream of the crop. For Hall to be ahead of all but one of them speaks to how amazing he is in this game. Trading him away would be a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, and bad idea. As an aside, I repeat that Colorado’s entire first line is in this elite group.
Palmieri is still in the top 50 in the league in this stat. His average rating of 7.78 puts him in a tie for 34th along with Grubauer, Hedman, and Weber. Gusev is still in the top 50 at 7.79, tied for 31st. When he returns, he will be able to improve on that or possibly drop it. Still, it is good to see two other Devils play hockey on a regular basis better than the vast majority of the league.
Hughes is the team’s leading scorer with Hall, Palmieri, and Hischier also surpassing the 40-point plateau. It is entirely possible that the Devils could have four players with at least 60 points this season. That would be wonderful. Zajac had an inconsistent month in terms of performances as his average rating sank to a 6.8. However, his four points in January were enough to keep him ahead of the pack. Coleman did return with a two-point night to break the 30-point mark and Simmonds’ five-goal, four-assist month propelled him into that category as well. Zacha started off January fairly productive with three goals and two assists, but ended it with just one assist in his last five games. Bratt was also off to a good start on the score sheet with two goals and an assist in four games prior to his injury. The replacements of McLeod and Bastian have not produced a lot but they are on the board at least.
Goaltending was an issue during that five-game winless streak. Blackwood was not good and was pulled. He turned it around with that 6-0 shutout win over Tampa Bay but his numbers remain far from ideal. Oettinger only had spot duty as Blackwood has been the only goalie of record since the Tampa Bay win on the 12th. But his spot duty was not enough to boost that poor save percentage either. At least the Devils are not getting entirely sunk by less than average goaltending.
The Devils by average rating show many players in the seven range as opposed to below it, which is good. What is not so good is that do-everything center Zajac is in the latter category. He struggled this month and I fear he may need to be bumped down to the fourth line for a game or two just to give a different perspective. Still, he is a key part of the penalty kill as well as a leader on the team, so a scratch would be an issue there.
Holden’s and Severson’s performances have also been less than ideal, which is why they have been swapped in and out. Say what you want about Ty Smith, but an average of 7.2 with mostly ‘7’s coming from him makes him a solid choice. Greene remains solidly in the six-range at 6.76. His minutes have been cut on some nights to seventh defenseman plus PK duty. It has not helped him out. This means that about half of the blueline is not performing all that well. When Vatanen returns, Abrams can go back to rotating players in and out or going to seven defensemen. But it has not been ideal. McLeod’s average rating of 6.6 is not so hot but it is far better than Rooney, who has an average rating of 6.11. He is at least an upgrade on the fourth line. Bastian rocking a 7.1 is impressive given how much of a role Abrams put him in.
In terms of other notable changes, Simmonds and Hughes rose up to the 7.4 range, which reflects their good performances in the month. Blackwood, despite his rough start to the month, did rebound and effectively swapped rating spots with where Oettinger was last month. On the flipside, Hischier fell from a 7.5 to a 7.38 - which led to the swapping of Hughes and Hischier. With Coleman now back and Bratt coming soon and, later, Gusev, that line should be more talented. That can help Hischier out. Still, he is one of the better players on the team. Wing would still be the need for New Jersey, although when the team is healthy, that will be stronger too.
The Devils’ poor 4-5-2 month still has them ahead of the pack in the Metropolitan Division and still in striking distance for first in the East. A crucial month awaits, which will go a long way in determining whether the Devils are for real or not in this simulated season.
Abrams will want your input for the trade deadline and so Part 6 of this series will be played up through February 18. The Devils have a game in St. Louis that night. They will play San Jose (20th) and Washington (22nd) before the deadline itself. That will give Abrams - and you - a chance to assess the team with a little time before the deadline to see how things play out. The trade deadline in this EHM season is on February 24, same as it was in real life. Unlike real life, Vatanen, Coleman, and Simmonds are playing well. And Hall is one of the best players in the NHL. And the Devils are leading their division and not sitting in the basement. Abrams will hear your opinions, but keep in mind that the situation is very different than reality.
No, Hall did not accept a contract extension. Abrams tried multiple times and he refused, stating he did not want to discuss it at this time. As tempting as it may be to state, “Trade him without an extension,” Abrams wants to remind you that he is the best player and one of the key reasons why the Devils are where they are. This may be an EHM thing where most players will not discuss extensions until after the season ends anyway.
Speaking of EHM things, the AI general managers in this game discovered their trade proposal features. Throughout January, Abrams has been receiving emails of rumored deals, teams shooting down said rumors claiming that a player is untouchable, and proposed trades that would get you laughed off a message board or social media. Such as Ottawa - the worst team in this season - offering Maxime Lajoie, two second rounders in 2020, and a third rounder in 2020 to Philly - who is on the playoff bubble - for Claude Giroux. Yeah, they are not good. That Abrams keeps receiving messages and reports of teams wanting Giroux, Evgeny Dadonov, Jonathan Toews, and Anze Kopitar suggests these players could be more available than originally thought. It is something to keep in mind. So far, the only “major” deal that was made was Ottawa moving Ennis and a prospect to New York for Georgiev. Abrams anticipates more trades to happen as February moves on.
So for Your Take, Abrams wants the People Who Matter to go into the comments and answer questions like:
- What do the Devils need by the trade deadline? Keep in mind, Coleman is back, Bratt and Vatanen should be back in action soon.
- Who, in particular, should the Devils go after? I can look it up ahead of playing the game on Thursday night to provide any details.
- Who should the Devils not be willing to give up in a deal? Rather than asking who is expendable, Abrams wants to know who is really untouchable.
- Should the first round pick be on the table? Remember: the Devils do not have their second or third round in 2020.
- Should Abrams have free reign to make a deal if the AI offers a good one? I doubt this will happen, but you never know.
As ever, please leave your answers and other suggestions about what you think Sherman Abrams should do with the 2019-20 Devils through February 18 in the comments. Again, Part 6 will cover up until that date and then break for one last round of feedback for deals. My plan is to simulate February’s games on Thursday night, so do not hesitate to get your suggestions and comments in. Thank you for reading.