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Let’s Re-Do the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils in EHM Part 2: October Surprise

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This is the second part of the Let’s Re-Do the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils season in Eastside Hockey Manager series. The regular season began and the team gave GM Sherman Abrams a surprise. A very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very pleasant surprise.

What’s this I see? Wins? In October? Like more than 2?
What’s this I see? Wins? In October? Like more than 2?
Eastside Hockey Manager

In the first part of the Let’s Re-Do the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils in Eastside Hockey Manager (EHM) Series, some mistakes were made. A big deal for young goalie came at the cost of taking on a player who cannot play for a year. No one in EHM wanted Cory Schneider or Miles Wood. Training camp came without a proper preseason or other players to actually battle for a roster spot - prospects, minor leaguers, and even players on professional tryouts. The first month for General Manager Sherman Abrams was eventful. Would things get better when games would begin in this simulation? Spoiler: Yes. Did Sherman Abrams expected it? Spoiler: No. And neither did I.

Where Abrams left off was on September 25, 2019 when the other 30 teams in the league put players on waivers and/or the trade block. The GM sought out the opinions of the People Who Matter. Thanks to alslammerz, luozhen, Veron, EliasStillRocks, LedHotZeplinPepr, acasser, Bayoceur, and norton-nemsis for their comments. This is what Abrams was able to do.

The End of Preseason

As the comments indicated, it was agreed that Schneider should be waived. So he was.

Cory Schneider waived by Sherman Abrams
Cory Schneider waived by Sherman Abrams

No one put in a claim for Schneider. He was demoted to Binghamton and has been there ever since.

There was some suggestions on who to pick up from waivers. Abrams was not sure but the only name that came up multiple times - twice, thanks alslammerz and Veron - that he noticed was Noel Acciari.

Sherman Abrams put in a claim on Noel Acciari and succeeded.
Sherman Abrams put in a claim on Noel Acciari and succeeded.

This move effectively keeps Kevin Rooney as a scratch at a minimum. It also allows the Devils to rotate in Acciari into the bottom-six when someone is hurt, has a bad game, or could use a different look. The AI John Hynes thinks he should be killing penalties ahead of Blake Coleman too. Thankfully, Abrams stepped in.

In last week’s post, alslammerz commented that there was still time to schedule an exhibition game. Abrams took the first date available - September 30 - and invited the New York Islanders to the Rock for a warm-up game. They accepted. (As a quick aside, I noticed that other NHL teams had some interesting exhibitions against non-traditional teams. I wonder if this is a holdover from the FM engine?)

Abrams scheduled a preseason game with the Isles
Abrams scheduled a preseason game with the Isles

Before that took place, official numbers had to be submitted. Since this game is based on the The Blue Line Rosters v12.3.1 database, Taylor Hall had #91 (his Arizona number in real life) and Andy Greene had #4 (his number with the Isles in real life). Those were changed to #9 and #6, respectively. Acciari kept his #55. Abrams gave Nick Holden #5 and made a snarky line about how he could now be dealt one-for-one with Edmonton in the future. No one laughed.

Jersey numbers for the 2019-20 season.
Jersey numbers for the 2019-20 season.

That “Inj” for Hall was a minor arm contusion. He missed no time in the regular season and even played in the exhibition game. At around the same time, Abrams assigned out all of his scouts except for Paul Castron. He would save him for special scouting for trades and, as the season goes on, the NHL Entry Draft.

Before that game took place, another set of previews came out from a writer from something called a “newspaper.” Whatever that is. Two Devils were highlighted. First, the projected top ten rookies for the season:

Projected top ten rookies in the 2019-20 EHM season
Projected top ten rookies in the 2019-20 EHM season

Amazingly, no forwards were on that list. I guess the newspaper writer loved their defenders. Second, the projected top ten left wingers for the season featured a familiar name:

Projected top ten left wingers in the 2019-20 EHM season
Projected top ten left wingers in the 2019-20 EHM season

Taylor Hall was listed at second. He was sandwiched in between Alexander Ovechkin of Washington and Artemi Panarin of Our Hated Rivals. With Claude Giroux and Jake Guentzel rounding out the list, it is another sign of the strength of the Metropolitan Division. It is even present in this hockey simulation game.

Speaking of game, it was time for the exhibition game against the Isles. As set up in the game, Abrams left the coaching up to AI Hynes. He did set up the lines and tactics, which were agreed to be offensive as that are the wishes of the People Who Matter. This game did not go so well.

Devils lose the exhibition game, 3-5
Devils lose the exhibition game, 3-5

The Isles put up a lot of rubber on Mackenzie Blackwood and torched the Devils’ penalty kill. Killing just one out of four calls was painful. Equally painful was Sami Vatenen getting a five-minute major for clipping in the third period, which led to the game winner by Ryan Pulock. EHM is not shy about the obscure penalties coming up in a game. Still, this was a warm-up game for the season to start. As it turned out, this would be the only regulation loss in the entire session.

October 2019 - Ten Games, No Regulation Losses

Ahead of the home opener against Winnipeg, Abrams took a look at the EHM preview. This will not be posted for every game, but it is included here as another nice feature EHM has in its game. There is a general snapshot of how the game rates the two squads:

EHM Game Preview - Devils vs. Winnipeg
EHM Game Preview - Devils vs. Winnipeg

There is an overview of all of the team’s stats. There is nothing “advanced” here. Just goals, penalties, shots, and basic special teams information. Winnipeg played and lost in Philly on the previous night, so Abrams felt his team would have an edge.

EHM Game Preview Pt. 2 - Team Comparison
EHM Game Preview Pt. 2 - Team Comparison

There is even a breakdown of who are the team’s leaders and an assessment of various players, such as who is the best leader or the most underrated. It is a nice complement to the pro scout giving you general information for the next opponent. Yes, Abrams set up a scout to do just that for the season.

EHM Game Preview Pt. 3 - Player Stats
EHM Game Preview Pt. 3 - Player Stats

There is even a history section for the matchup. However, the database does not seem to have that information loaded, so it was blank. But if you run a longer game, you could see whether or not the opponent has been a particular thorn in your side.

Abrams felt pumped. He vowed to watch every game, or at least the key highlights of each one. The New Jersey Devils took to the ice on October 2, 2019 (in EHM). The hope was for something different in reality. The result was a post-regulation loss to Winnipeg. Again.

Devils’ first game of 2019-20 - an OT loss to Winnipeg
Devils’ first game of 2019-20 - an OT loss to Winnipeg

This one went quite differently. The Devils mounted a come back from being down two goals. Nico Hischier provided a last-minute equalizer to send the Rock into a frenzy. Alas, Nick Shore provided the golden goal within the first minute of overtime. Despite awesome performances by the Abrams-made line of Hall, Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri, the Devils failed to win.

AI John Hynes requested that he set the lines himself for the team’s next game in Buffalo. Abrams agreed. He also thought to himself that should Hynes’ lines bring in a ‘W’ maybe he should let him pick the lines. Sure, Abrams did not want to see Blake Coleman not on a penalty kill or Travis Zajac centering Hall and Palmieri or Jack Hughes riding with Miles Wood and Wayne Simmonds. But it is about results. And Hynes did not get them with another 3-4 OT loss. Between that and Hynes starting Blackwood back-to-back, Abrams took back control of setting the lines. He tweaked things out for the Philly game and the result of that was the team’s first win of 2019-20.

Devils’ first win of 2019-20 - a 5-2 win in Philly
Devils’ first win of 2019-20 - a 5-2 win in Philly

The game was a marvel. Hughes worked in between Coleman and Nikita Gusev. Wayne Simmonds had a big night with two assists. Will Butcher played rather well too. Only Acciari and Hischier had off nights. The team was extremely well-disciplined as they took no penalties. It would be the first of many wins.

  • The Devils then hosted Edmonton, who was without Connor McDavid. As they played in Philly the night before, this would be the Devils debut for Jake Oettinger. The Devils helped him out as they went up big-time with a four-goal second period to rebound from 0-1 to 4-2. While Kailer Yamamoto made it interesting late, Gusev sealed the deal with an ENG for a 5-3 win - the first of Oettinger’s career as a Devil. Butcher and Palmieri were particularly excellent. This game also featured the NHL debut of Ty Smith, who had a good game and picked up a primary assist on a goal by Simmonds. He replaced Nick Holden, who went on to play rather well since the scratch. This meant this was Smith’s only game of the month.
  • The Devils went up to Boston and it turned out to be a difficult game. But a PPG by Butcher tied it up at 4 each in the third. The game dragged into overtime and no one could beat Blackwood or Tuukka Rask. A shootout took place. This is notable because I could not find the shootout choices part of the roster and so AI John Hynes made his choices: Hall, Vatanen, and Gusev. Yes, that Sami Vatanen. He did not score. Thankfully, AI Bruce Cassidy went with Torey Krug (!?), David Pasternak, and Brad Marchand. Only Gusev scored and so the EHM Devils were streaking with a rare win in Boston.
  • Goaltender Jake Oettinger made his Devils debut on October 17 against Florida, which was sensibly held in the evening. Both teams combined for 75 shots as defense was optional. Both Oettinger and Sergey Bobrovsky earned their money. Gusev broke a tie in the third period only for Aleksi Heponiemi to bang one in minutes later. But Taylor Hall scored his second goal of the season in overtime to send everyone home happy, and extend the winning streak to four.
  • Abrams was especially excited for the game against Our Hated Rivals. The Devils players did right by him in a big way. The Devils not only won 4-2, but they out-shot them 45-20 and took no penalties in comparison to the six by the opponents. Damon Severson and Travis Zajac had huge nights (each rated as a 10!); Hall extended his goal streak to three games; and Jesper Bratt recorded his first goal and assist of the season.
  • On the 19th, the good times kept rolling against Vancouver. It was close until it was not in a 6-3 victory. The game included a terrible giveaway by Blackwood during a Devils power play, which yielded an easy shorthanded goal for Elias Petersson. But the Devils’ PP responded seconds later with a blast by Travis Zajac. Abrams made him the center of the second unit with the first unit having Hughes at a point and Hischier at center. It has worked. The Hall-Hischier-Palmieri line sparkled again with ratings of 10-9-10, respectively.
  • Before the Arizona game on the 25th, Jesper Bratt sprained his wrist in practice. He missed about a week. With the schedule being so spaced out, he only missed this game. This one featured four goals in the first period and the goalies took care of everything else in regulation. Tied 2-2, would the Devils prevail in OT to extend their winning streak to seven? Yes. Hischier was the hero when P.K. Subban sprung him into space behind Nicklas Hjarmalsson and Nick Schmaltz. Hischier beat Kuemper on the breakaway to make it a 3-2 win. The only streak that ended was Hall’s goal streak.
  • The final game of the month was against Tampa Bay. Bratt returned although he probably should have stayed out another night due to his poor performance. The Devils as a whole played quite well, but they could not solve Andrei Vasilevskiy more than twice in regulation. The two teams traded power play goals in the first period. They traded even strength goals in the second period. There could be only one in overtime. On this night, it was the Goose. With Taylor Hall watching from the box as he was still serving a misconduct penalty from the third period, Acciari played Gusev towards the right wall. Gusev went towards the goal line, cut in, and put the puck around Vasilevskiy for the goal and the team’s eighth straight win. Even the PK was good on this night as the Devils killed six out of seven power plays.
Summary of Scores for the Devils in October 2019
Summary of Scores for the Devils in October 2019

Overall, it was a fantastic month. The Devils went 8-0-2. Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri have both been wonderful. Sami Vatanen, Damon Severson, Nikita Gusev, and Nico Hischier have all been great too. Despite the winning, the team has not stayed entirely in place. Abrams has tinkered with the lines since the win in Philadelphia, namely among the bottom six when someone had a rough game. Jesper Boqvist, Miles Wood, and Noel Acciari have been in a kind of rotation. There would be one on defense but no one has really been bad for a stretch of time. Mackenzie Blackwood has received the majority of starts in October, Oettinger will be used more in coming months. The only Devil on the active roster who has not seen any action yet was Kevin Rooney. You may not agree with the choices or who the game thinks is good, but it is working very well so far and it is all good.

Potential Transactions

There was an attempt by Abrams to make a deal happen. After receiving word that Petr Mrazek tore his UCL in a game in the middle of October, he immediately made a proposal to Carolina. Schneider for Jake Bean. Carolina rejected that on the grounds that when everyone was healthy, they would be over the cap. But they made a counter offer.

Carolina rejected Schneider for Bean, but made this counter offer. Abrams rejected this.
Carolina rejected Schneider for Bean, but made this counter offer. Abrams rejected this.

Abrams rejected it. He recalled luozhen’s desire to see the team as-is for a bit. Plus, he did not want to give up two picks plus Patrick Moynihan to get Bean. With Ty Smith not getting regular time and Conor Timmins stuck in Binghamton, there was no real reason to really acquire Bean anyway. He just wanted to strike while the iron was hot to possibly get Schneider off the books. Alas.

The Devils & NHL at a Glance After October

The Devils won eight straight heading into November. As a result, they are near the top of the Eastern Conference as well as the league standings.

Eastern Conference Standings as of November 1, 2019 in EHM
Eastern Conference Standings as of November 1, 2019 in EHM

The Devils have games in hand on everyone and their 90% point percentage is utterly astonishing. Washington and the Islanders are not that far behind them in the Metropolitan, but they have a solid six point lead over fourth in the division. About halfway through the month, the Devils were scoring a lot and giving up a lot. That has settled down a bit. Their penalty kill success rate is stunningly low, but it has not burnt them.

Elsewhere in the East, two other teams have been very surprising. Buffalo has had a fantastic start to their season. Their power play success rate is a hair under 30% and they have been successful offensively. The other is Detroit. It is something else to see Detroit be in any kind of mix. There they are, just a point behind Boston for a wild card spot. If only they can stop conceding so many goals. By the way, check out the B’s losing all three of their shootouts. It was not just New Jersey who has prevailed in that area. On the bottom end, it is warming to me to that Philadelphia is near the bottom. Ottawa utterly fell flat on their face in this EHM season. With just four points earned, I doubt they will rise up anytime soon.

League Standings as of November 1, 2019 in EHM
League Standings as of November 1, 2019 in EHM

Again, by points percentage, the Devils are far and away in first. They are just four points behind Las Vegas for the NHL lead. Although Vegas is also likely concerned about St. Louis, who won their last four games and have conceded just 26 goals; and Calgary, who is just a point behind them and leads the NHL in goals scored with 52. Winnipeg and Dallas have also been hot by the end of October with five straight wins.

NHL named Hall the Offensive Player of the Month for October
NHL named Hall the Offensive Player of the Month for October

The NHL did recognize Hall’s awesome October. He was named the Offensive Player of the Month as well as the NHL’s Player of the Week for October 14-21. While others have scored more points in the first month of the season, putting up 13 in 10 games is still impressive. He was only held pointless in his last two games of the month, where he still received ratings of 8 and 7, respectively. His average rating of 8.6 is the highest in the NHL at this point of the season. (Palmieri’s 8.4 is fifth by the way)

Speaking of leading scorers in the NHL, here is Jeff Skinner and Dylan Larkin leading the entire league in points:

NHL Leading Scorers as of November 1, 2019 in EHM
NHL Leading Scorers as of November 1, 2019 in EHM

Hischier and Hall each have 13 points. As Hischier has eight goals and more goals than the others who also have 13 points, he is technically 20th. While most of the names here are who would likely expect, there are some real surprises. Like Andreas Johnsson being fifth in the entire NHL. Or Brock Nelson already having ten goals and fifteen points. Marcus Johansson has been healthy and very productive with Buffalo. While McDavid has been out, Leon Draisaitl (expected) and Kailer Yamamoto (not expected) have been leading the scoring charge. We’ll see how long these and others last on the list as the season goes on.

NHL Leading Scorers among Defensemen as of November 1, 2019 in EHM
NHL Leading Scorers among Defensemen as of November 1, 2019 in EHM

The Devils are better represented among scoring by defensemen. P.K. Subban is already on the cusp of double-digits in points and is tied for seventh in that sense. What is surprising is that he only has six shots on net. I do not know whether that should be adjusted since he has been a good player so far. Sami Vatanen, who has been receiving prime power play time, is not far behind himself. The real surprise here is Leon Gawanke, who Winnipeg selected in the fifth round in 2017. He made the team out of camp and has racked up twelve assists. This also places him first among rookie scorers.

NHL Leading Rookie Scorers as of November 1, 2019 in EHM
NHL Leading Rookie Scorers as of November 1, 2019 in EHM

Jack Hughes has had some ups and downs in his first month, but he has worked his way up to an average rating of seven. While he has just the one goal, he does have seven points and he is averaging close to two shots per game. Sticking him primarily with Coleman and Gusev while placing him on the point on the first PP unit has been positive. It is also nice to see him ahead of Kappo Kakko. Looking at the other names, EHM thinks very well of Cale Makar and a lot less of Quinn Hughes.

The list of top goaltenders by save percentage does not include Blackwood or Oettinger. They are not close to the top. Why? Because these are their stat lines so far (I took the player stats after the win against Tampa Bay since their month ended with that game):

Devils goaltender stats at the end of October 2019
Devils goaltender stats at the end of October 2019

Neither Blackwood or Oettinger have a save percentage of at least 90%. Granted, it is still early in the season. That they have average ratings above 7 suggests they have not been particularly bad. However, despite their amazing 8-0-2 start, the Devils will be a lot better off in this season if Blackwood and Oettinger can get close to the league median in terms of save percentage (it is 91% as November starts). The Devils’ offense has been supremely potent. They are averaging 4.1 goals per game. However, that may slow down and when it does, the goalies will need to step up for the team to keep getting wins.

Devils player stats at the end of October 2019
Devils player stats at the end of October 2019

Hall and Hischier are leading the team in points with Palmieri, Zajac, Gusev, and Subban close behind. The top line of Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri lead the team by far in shots and has remained together except for that Buffalo game where Abrams let AI Hynes pick the lines and wanted Zajac - who is having a good season! - in place of Hischier. Everyone except for the goalies, Holden, and Boqvist has registered at least a point already. Even Smith did it in his one appearance whilst shotless.

Devils player stats on special teams at the end of October 2019
Devils player stats on special teams at the end of October 2019

The power play scoring has been passed around. Subban has the most power play points with five, which are all assists. Hischier currently leads in goals with three goals. Zajac and Palmieri are tied with him in terms of power play points. Curiously, Hall only has the one assist. No one has scored a shorthanded goal.

In terms of special teams, it has been one-way for the Devils. Believe it or not, it is in favor of the power play. The Devils’ power play has a success rate of 25.6%, which is tied for twelfth in the NHL. They are 10 for 39. They are tied for eleventh in goals and tied for sixteenth in opportunities. The Devils have been relatively unsuccessful on the penalty kill. Their success rate of 65% is next to last in the NHL (Winnipeg is somehow worse). However, the Devils have only been shorthanded twenty times in the NHL. No team is even close to being as shorthanded as few times as New Jersey. The team has allowed just seven power play goals means they are tied for the seventh fewest PPGAs in the league. Still, with few opportunities, the success rate is going to suffer for it - and it did. It may rebound to “normalcy” in coming months.

Devils players by average rating at the end of October 2019
Devils players by average rating at the end of October 2019

Rating is more indicative in this game in how the players have played. Again, Hall and Palmieri has been sensational. The Goose is soaring as is Vatanen. Hischier is playing great. Most of the roster is at least a 7 or better, which is great.

Unfortunately, Andy Greene has had some not-so-impressive showings to close out the month. He may need his minutes adjusted or something. As he is the captain, scratching him is out of the question. Bratt has not done so well. Abrams has been keeping him from the fourth line but to little avail. The waiver pickup of Acciari has not been that impressive. Miles Wood is showing why no one in the NHL really wanted him when offered in trades in Part 1 and Boqvist is not making a case to stay in the lineup ahead of Wood. Still, given that the players averaging less than a six are all receiving limited minutes, it has not been too damaging for the season.

Here are the lines set by Abrams from the win over Tampa Bay.

Devils lines from October 30, an overtime win over Tampa Bay.
Devils lines from October 30, an overtime win over Tampa Bay.

Lastly, and definitely not least, the owners are happy with how things are going. Presumably, the fans are too since the Devils are 8-0-2 and leading the division.

The owners are happy after the first month of games of the Abrams Era.
The owners are happy after the first month of games of the Abrams Era.

Your Take

With the New Jersey Devils leading their division after October, Abrams does not think he needs to make big changes to the roster. Still, he wants to hear from you, the People Who Matter, about what he should do - if anything at all. Here are some points he came up that he would like your input on:

  • Should the Devils think about a call-up? Michael McLeod has been fantastically productive in Binghamton with 15 points in 10 games. Bringing him up would require someone to go down (or to be moved off the roster).
  • Should the Devils think about moving anyone in the organization at this moment? Just as the game moved to November, Rooney now has a “Wnt” icon. For some reason, San Jose and Pittsburgh are interested in him.
  • How about offering any contract extensions to a player? Abrams is not sure if he will be the GM beyond this season. But with Hall and Hischier playing so well right now, would November be a better time to attempt a negotiation than in June?

As ever, please leave your answers and other suggestions about what you think Sherman Abrams should do with the 2019-20 Devils in the comments. Even doing nothing is an option. After all, the team is 8-0-2 right now.

For Part 3, I plan posting on what happens in November in the game. I will likely simulate November on Thursday night, so do not hesitate to get your suggestions and comments in. Even about what you would like to see in Part 3. Thank you for reading.