Last time on Let’s Re-Do the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils in Eastside Hockey Manager (EHM), General Manager Sherman Abrams was wheeling and dealing a whole lot more than whatever the game’s AI was doing at the NHL Trade Deadline. Abrams made a big deal for Phil Kessel that the fans and board did not like at all. He made a bunch of smaller deals that brought in Derek Forbort, Winnipeg’s second and third round picks, Nolan Foote, and two minor leaguers in Derek Sprong and Brandon Gaunce. With February completed, all that remains in the season are the games in March and the season ending two games in April. The Devils finished strong in February to be in a great place for the stretch run to the playoffs. In this post, I will detail how the Devils performed. Remember the goal for this series of posts after running a simulation of 2019-20 without any involvement by GM Trial Run:
Trial Run’s time is over. As interesting it would be to simulate a season without any involvement, it is more fun to play games. I do not play EHM regularly, so there is the added possibility of possibly entertaining failure. But I do want to effectively re-do the 2019-20 season for the Devils in EHM. I will use the same database as the Trial Run used, with a few more playable leagues for the sake of drafting and call-ups if I can get it to work. I want to see if I can get them at least into the playoffs. I want your help to do that.
Now we will know if we succeeded or not.
At this point, there is not much to opine about. No one can really be traded. No one can really be signed and based on the game’s scouts, there is no one really worth signing out of college or Europe at the moment. The team’s lines could (and did) change but for the most part, the team is the team. Nonetheless, I want to thank the following among the People Who Matter who offered their take on what Abrams did and agreed to just include the last two games of the season in this post: luozhen, smelph, OfManNotMachine, acasser, Chris Calabrese, EliasStillRocks, and alslammerz. This post is an absolutely massive one, but I think you will appreciate the results.
The Stretch Run: The Final 18 Games of the 2019-20 Season in EHM
The Devils ended February with a decisive win against a hapless Los Angeles on February 29. The Devils’ five-game road trip continued with a game on March 1 against a similarly hapless Anaheim team. Before that game could be played, the league made the following announcement:
Taylor Hall was named both the NHL Player of the Month and the Offensive Player of the Month with a staggering 22 points in 14 games. Hall was awesome in February. Would he continue to be awesome? Spoiler: Yes.
What was not as awesome? The game against Anaheim. If you love offense and hate defense, then this game was for you as both teams combined for 88 shots on net. The game started off in splendid fashion with Nikita Gusev scoring just over a minute into the game, Pavel Zacha scoring just over the halfway mark, and Taylor Hall scoring 13:35 into the first. However, Anaheim would claw back and make this game more dramatic than needed. Getzlaf converted a late first period power play to make it 3-1. In the second period, Gibson thwarted the Devils and Kase put in a rebound to make it 3-2. Early in the third period, Henrique finished a play to convert another power play and make it 3-3. The Honda Center was rocking. The Devils needed a spark. The Big Deal provided one, finishing a killer diagonal pass from Severson to make it 4-3. Later in the third, Kessel scored from a pass by Gusev to make it 5-3. Steel clawed a goal back with under three minutes to go and Anaheim understandably pulled their goalie on the next shift for an extra skater. But Hall stepped up and scored an ENG to avoid a heartbreaker of a result at Anaheim. The Devils won 6-4 in a game that made Abrams wished there was a feature to tell the players to not look past lesser opponents. At least they won. (Quick aside to smelph, Abrams used your line suggestions for this game. Then something happened that caused Abrams to not use them again.)
But it was a costly win. Early in the Anaheim game, Travis Zajac left due to an injury. After the game, the team learned of the severity of the injury.
The prognosis was not as serious as one would fear. In a crucial and busy month, losing a regular for at least ten days on special teams would hurt. Abrams called up Michael McLeod from Binghamton to at least have a natural center for the fourth line. McLeod would slot in next to Miles Wood, who came in for Nathan Bastian after Bastian did not have a particularly good game in Anaheim, and Wayne Simmonds. The road trip would end against a strong Las Vegas squad.
I do not know if EHM has the “Vegas Flu” but the Devils skated in a fog for the first half of this game. Roy scored 27 seconds into the game. Hague finished a feed from Stastny and ex-Devil Connor Carrick (who picked up his 40th point on this play!) to make it 0-2. Karlsson made it 0-3, which probably led to a lot of people on the East Coast who stayed up for this game to turn it off and go to bed. Those who did stay up did see a comeback effort of sorts. Hischier finished a great pass by Forbort to make it 1-3. Jesper Boqvist ended a goalless streak to make it 2-3 near the end of the second. The Devils battled throughout the third but they could not solve Fleury. Pacioretty stole a puck from Will Butcher near the end of regulation and iced the game with an empty netter. The Devils ended their trip with a 2-4 loss. Disappointing as that was, the Devils did go 4-1-0 on the trip. Unfortunately, there was one other downside from the Las Vegas game.
I do not know how serious a stubbed finger is, but it has to be pretty bad for a hockey player to not play with it. This happened after Boqvist scored in that game. The good news is that he was just day-to-day with the injury. Instead of calling anyone up, Abrams just ordered AI John Hynes to place Bastian back in the lineup before the team’s home game against the mighty St. Louis Blues. They were one of the best teams in the NHL. This would be a true statement game.
The statement was an emphatic one by the Devils within the first two periods. The Devils out-shot St. Louis 30-12 and rang up three goals in the second period. Hall converted two power plays with Zacha firing one in at even strength around the halfway mark of the period. It looked like the Devils were going to pick up a big win over a strong opponent. Then the Rock got to see how strong St. Louis could be - and how fragile the Devils could be as well. Bozak and Schenn scored within two minutes of each other within the final ten minutes of the third period to make it 3-2. The Blues tilted the ice heavily in those ten minutes. With Binnington pulled, Perron scored the equalizer they fought for with 59 seconds left. The Devils botched a three-goal lead in fewer than ten minutes. They escaped overtime, including a late power play, and went to the shootout. It took four rounds but St. Louis prevailed to hand the Devils a 3-4 shootout loss. It was not so much the loss but how they lost that rankled.
New Jersey could not dwell on it for they had to go visit Our Hated Rivals the next night. Boqvist was back to 100% so he went in for Wood. McLeod was struggling as a fourth line center but Abrams recalled how Boqvist played at center previously so he decided to deal with McLeod. Jake Oettinger had the St. Louis game experience, so Mackenzie Blackwood was fresh. This game was a real back-and-forth affair. But the main man of the night was Phil Kessel. He scored 50 seconds into the game for an early 1-0 lead. After Ennis equalized later in the first, Hall converted a power play to make it 2-1 on the only goal Kessel was not involved in for the Devils that night. After Kessel made Staal look like a pylon, he set up Gusev - who burned Trouba - for a score. But Severson took a charging penalty shortly thereafter and Buchnevich made the Devils pay for it. Minutes later, Zibanejad tied it up. The third period was all over. It looked like overtime loomed and another multiple goal lead was blown up for good in regulation. Then with less than five minutes left, Hall fired a pass from the right corner to P.K. Subban in the high slot. Subban’s shot hit off Fox and Kessel slammed in the loose puck to make it 4-3. The Devils held on to beat Our Hated Rivals and take the season series at 3-1-0. It was a great victory.
It was not perfect, though. There was some bad news revealed after the win.
The Big Deal played through the injury - seriously, I got this message about an injury from practice after the game was played - and potted an assist. But Jack Hughes would be on the shelf for a few days. Replacing his spot was easy. Nico Hischier was re-united with Hall and Kyle Palmieri; and the power play spot went to Will Butcher. But it stretched the depth further. Zacha and McLeod had to move up a line. More importantly, having one of the league leaders in assists not be able to play for a week is never a good thing.
On March 10, the Devils received the word from the medical staff that Ty Smith was ready to return to practice full time. Derek Forbort was in Smith’s spot on the defense next to Subban while he was hurt. Forbort has been playing very well and so Abrams decided to hold Smith out from the March 10th game against Pittsburgh and at least get a practice in. With Hughes out, Abrams called up Brendan Gaunce. He was unhappy in the Anaheim system, he figured to give him a look since he could play center. McLeod was re-united with Bastian and Boqvist;and Zacha was in between Gusev and Kessel. Oh, the opponent was also flying up the standings too so this game was going to be a challenge.
It started off very well. Kessel scored 51 seconds into the game and Hischier potted one in before the three-minute mark. Alas, this lead would not hold. Kahun got the Pens on the board and within the final four minutes of the period, Rust tied up the game. Early in the second period, Crosby made his mark by finishing a feed from Rust. The Devils did have a quick response; Hischier scored on the very next shift. However, a bad turnover by Blake Coleman to Rust led to Rust feeding Guentzel in front. He made it 3-4 - and that score held throughout the third period for the regulation loss. While it was not a bad game by the Devils - Butcher had an amazing night - but they were made a stepping stone as the Pens ascended the Metropolitan Division standings.
Gaunce and McLeod did not play very well. Abrams decided to send Gaunce back down and then wondered what to do with Smith. Smith was playing well for the Devils, but Forbort was great next to Subban. He decided to go with seven defensemen for the game against Carolina. Smith was given the third pairing spot next to Severson, moving Andy Greene to the #7 defenseman role. To make room, he scratched Wood and had Boqvist play center in the hopes this will go better. With a left wing spot open, Hall, Gusev, and Coleman rotated. Perhaps this would help McLeod out too.
The game started with yet another very quick goal by the Devils. The Hall-Hischier-Palmieri line rushed up and Hall scored 27 seconds into the game. The Canes answered back with two PPGs in the first period. First by Teravainen and second by Necas. Would the Canes upset the Devils at home? No. Early in the second period, Hall finished a play from Palmieri and Hischier on a power play to make it 2-2. A few minutes later, Zacha fired one in just after McGinn served a roughing minor. At 3-2, Blackwood was holding it down and Carolina’s offense faded. Early in the third period, Boqvist finished a feed from Smith in the slot to make it 4-2. Unlike previous games, this two-goal lead held up and the Devils won 4-2. The seven defenseman plan worked for the night. It did not return for the team’s first game in Florida on the weekend. The Big Deal was ready to come back.
As Hughes was ready to go on Friday, Abrams put him back in the lineup before the team’s game in Florida the next night. This meant he was back with Hall and Palmieri and he had his spot on the left point of the power play again. Hischier went back with Gusev and Kessel. Zacha went back to the third line. McLeod was returned to Binghamton and Boqvist centered the fourth line with Wood and Simmonds. Smith was scratched to have 12 forwards; Abrams mulled over going back to 7 defensemen against Tampa Bay on the next night. But first things first, the Florida game.
The Devils did not score a quick goal against Florida. In fact, they gave up the first one just over 11 minutes in. Dadonov finished a play involving Yandle and Hoffman. This was notable as all three men were involved in tens of trade proposals and rumors only to not be dealt away at all. While Hughes did have a great game in his return, the answer to this goal came from the second line. Gusev set up Hischier for the equalizer a few minutes later. Late in the period, Gusev set up Kessel perfectly amid four Panthers who were around Kessel but not in a position to do anything to him. Kessel fired and beat Bobrovsky to make it 2-1. Oettinger was great in crease for the following two periods and Hughes set up Palmieri for a breakaway. Bobrovsky stuffed him and his rebound try. On the ensuing faceoff, Hughes won it, sent it right to Palmieri, and the Pride of Montvale, New Jersey fired a shot off Stillman and past the goalie to make it 3-1. This lead also held up for a solid win.
On Sunday, the Devils visited the more talented and more challenging team in Tampa Bay. Abrams switched goalies as he does for back-to-back sets. He also brought Smith in for Boqvist. He confused AI John Hynes by telling him to play with three centers. Against Tampa Bay? Yes, against Tampa Bay. Would it work out? In some senses, yes. While Johnson scored early in the game, the Devils responded with a flurry of three goals. Hischier set up Wood (!) for an equalizer; Hall finished a pass from Hughes less than a minute later; and Hischier himself completed a pass from Subban by beating Vasilevskiy. Things were looking good as the Devils continued to bombard the Bolts with shots. Alas, like the St. Louis game, this would not last. Paquette scored late in the period to make it 3-2. After a scoreless second period, Gourde was alone in front to tie up the game just before the 49-minute mark. The game would require overtime. Early in the 3-on-3 session, Hynes sent out Kessel, Zacha, and Forbort to start it. Gusev was serving a misconduct penalty he got after a trip (how bad was the trip? or what he said after?), but his was an unexpected group. Zacha won the faceoff, Kessel drove in, and as the forwards attacked, Forbort was superb at retrieving the puck and keeping it in the zone. It led to Forbort setting up Zacha for a shot in the slot and Kessel putting in the rebound at close range for the 4-3 win. The Sunshine State yielded two more wins for the Devils.
The Devils went up far north to Ontario on Tuesday, March 17 and kept the same lineup going. They visited Toronto and early indications showed that this was not going to go well for New Jersey. Johnsson scored just over five minutes in and Kapanen doubled the lead with fewer than two minutes left in the first. The Devils did not have much going. They did stem the Leads in the second but were scoreless. Until Gauthier took a hooking penalty within the final two minutes of the period. Hughes converted the power play with help from Hall and Vatanen to make it 1-2. The Devils threatened a lot in the third period but as time ticked off, the hopes were fading. Until Kessel found Hall for a breakout pass and darted down the right wing. Hall sent him a great cross ice pass into the offensive zone. Kessel skated to the circle to Andersen’s left and fired a fantastic shot. With 56 seconds left in regulation, the Devils tied it up. Overtime solved nothing and the shootout yielded no goals through the first four rounds. but in the fifth one, Nylander scored to give Toronto the win.
The Devils still took 5 out of 6 points on this trip, which is still very good. Would the Devils clinch a playoff spot soon? St. Louis and Colorado clinched a few days prior. If the Devils kept on earning points, their time would come sooner rather than later. On March 19, the Devils returned to the Rock to host Calgary. Abrams took Smith out for twelve forwards with Boqvist as center. He wanted fresher forwards to go up against Monahan, who had six goals in his last five games.
While the Flames struck first with Frolik scoring the only goal of the first period, the Devils’ bottom six emerged in this one. Blake Coleman ended a short goal drought with an equalizer. Wood made it 2-1 later in the period. Blackwood was great in net. While Lindholm finished a pass from Monahan early in the third to convert a power play to make it 2-2, the Devils did not waver. Zacha scored at even strength over 90 seconds later to restore the lead. Palmieri provided a big insurance goal with a PPG of his own a few minutes later. The Devils held on to win 4-2. The fans went home happy - and they became much happier when the league made this announcement.
The whole goal of this game was to see if we could get the Devils into the playoffs. We did it. With eight games left in the Devils’ season, they guaranteed that they will play hockey after the season. I reached out to Abrams to get his reaction:
Me: “Sherman, you did it! The team you’re running - with the feedback of the People Who Matter - qualified for the playoffs! How do you feel?”:
Me: “What? You fall into some mud or something?”
Abrams: “I took 4 showers today already. I still feel dirty. From all of the success.”
Me: “Come on, don’t be like th-”
(Abrams hung up)
Well, whatever. While the Devils qualified for a playoff spot, their actual spot in the playoffs was far from set. The Islanders - the Devils’ next opponent - also qualified and had designs on taking the division. Pittsburgh and Our Hated Rivals were very much in the mix. If the Devils started to slump now or take games off, then they could find themselves in the wildcard spots by the season’s end. The season was far from over. They needed to keep things going, starting with the Isles on March 21. Before the game, the Devils received some good news.
Even though he was ruled out for 10 days, Zajac was out for 20. The recovery took longer than expected. While the Devils were still getting results, McLeod and Boqvist were not playing well at center. Abrams did keep trying, but he was pleased to at least have a veteran back in the lineup who could do multiple things. He would wait until after this game to put him in, though.
The Devils’ started off great against the Isles. Even though Pulock scored just over two minutes into the game, the Devils hammered Greiss with shots and goals. Gusev scored at 3:33. Hischier scored at 8:39. Kessel scored at 9:05. There was no response in the first period but a late penalty by Pulock. Just as that one was about to end in the second period, Hall converted the PPG to make it 4-1. The Devils continued to pile up the shots and ended the game with 51. Alas, they did not win this one. Seriously. Lee scored a PPG in the second period to make it 4-2. About halfway through the third, Bailey scored a PPG of his own. Blackwood was looking worse and worse as Greiss was looking better and better. Eberle scored the equalizer at the 53:27 mark and the Isles fans at the Rock erupted. The Devils fans, previously jubilant about the big lead and the playoff spot being clinched, were distraught. The game went to overtime - and that solved nothing. In the shootout, Eberle and Leddy scored and no one on the Devils did. So the Devils had a 4-1 lead and ultimately lost 4-5 through a shootout. At home. To a divisional opponent who was battling with them for playoff positioning. It was not a fun time.
Things would get worse on March 23. The Devils hosted Columbus, who had their playoff hopes fade away weeks ago. This should have been a good pick-me-up. Especially with Zajac returning. It turned out to be a real stinker. As Blackwood did not play well against the Isles, Abrams put Oettinger in the net. He had a bad night. With the exception of Hall and Palmieri, most of the Devils had average to poor nights. Columbus jumped on them in the second period and never let up. PPGs by Peeke and Bemstrom put them up early. After Subban scored (!) at even strength (!!) to make it 1-2, Texier made it 1-3 to close out the second. Texier scored early in the third and Jones made it 5-1 minutes later. Palmieri finished a power play for a consolation goal in a 2-5 loss to a Columbus team with lottery aspirations. They were out-shot 28-19 too. Ugh.
Would New Jersey avoid a winless streak? They needed to play much better in Minnesota. Abrams went back to Blackwood, back to seven defensemen with three left wingers, and hoped for better. The team got a lift when Andy Greene scored his second of the season, right off an offensive zone faceoff win by Hischier. Zucker scored late in the first period to tie it up. Blackwood was playing much, much better than he did against the Isles. He kept the Wild scoreless in the second. Meanwhile, Greene set up Zajac for an early second period goal to make it 2-1. And at the halfway mark of the game, Zacha finished a play by Coleman and Bastian to make it 3-1. Could the Devils hold onto the lead? Worries arose when Parise beat Blackwood in front early in the third period to make it 3-2. But Blackwood denied everything else. Coleman sealed the win with an ENG to cap off Greene’s best game of the season and a 4-2 victory to deny a winless streak.
Amid all of this, Ray Shero retired. No team hired him since Abrams took over.
On March 28, the Devils returned home to host Philadelphia. By this point, all eight teams in the East qualified for the playoffs. Philly did not come close to being one of them. I would like to think Abrams told the players to do right by the fans after the losses to the Isles and Canes. If not, then someone did because they dominated the Orange and Black. Elliott started the game. After goals by Zajac, Hughes, Severson, and Palmieri among 10 other shots by the Devils, Hart came in for him at the 12:55 mark of the game. Hart was beaten early in the second period on a long shot from Subban, which made it 5-0. It was party-like atmosphere as the Devils were crushing the Flyers and Blackwood was on the top of his game. Unfortunately, Giroux spoiled the shutout with just over four minutes to go. The 5-1 win still felt good. It was a great way to start the final weekend of the season.
However, the game on Sunday against Carolina was not good. There would be no revenge for the previous stinker against the Canes. Dzingel scored at the 9:05 mark. A couple of minutes later, Hischier was called for clipping - which is a five minute major. And it must have been particularly nasty as he was given a game misconduct. The Devils limited the damage to one PPGA by Staal, but they were down two and without one of their top two centers. The Devils kept firing away but Oettinger was not so confident and Mrazek was in the nets. Early in the second period, Martinook made it 0-3 which made the home fans groan. But there would be some hope. Hughes scored later in the second period and Zajac converted a PPG with help from Simmonds (welcome back to the scoresheet) and Kessel (who never really left it) to make it 2-3 by the second intermission. Then a terrible thing happened in the third period. With seven minutes left, Butcher scored an own goal from a bad decision to pass the puck to Oettinger. Teravainen was credited although he did nothing about it. While Hynes pulled the goalie late, all that yielded was an ENG for Svechnikov. The Devils lost 2-5 to the Canes again. It was not a good way to end the weekend.
Carolina would be the last non-playoff team the Devils would face. They had a game in Pittsburgh on the 31st, their home closer against Buffalo on April 2, and a trip to Long Island on April 4. At this point, the division was very much up for grabs. Pittsburgh got ahead of the Devils and the Isles, but each still had a chance to overtake the Pens. Our Hated Rivals were also very much in the mix and Washington was way better as a wild card team than Tampa Bay and Buffalo. These three games were important ones and potentially a preview for the Devils’ first playoff series. The first one would be made more difficult with the following news after the game:
Hischier’s gross misconduct yielded a one-game suspension by the league. Abrams had the option to appeal it. He did not because he did not want to incur the ire of the league right before the postseason and three big regular season games. It is what it is. The Devils would have to go into Pittsburgh and get something without one of their most important forwards. Abrams decided to slot Boqvist as a center, move Zacha into Hischier’s role, put Hughes at center on the power play, and hope for the best.
The game felt very much like a playoff game with how tight and loud the game was. The game was scoreless for the first 26 minutes. Despite three power plays for the Devils, it was 0-0 for 26 minutes. In the 27th minute, Crosby broke through with a goal. The home crowd erupted, but both teams did their best to not let things go out of hand. In the third period, the fourth line stepped up with a big goal. Wood finished a feed from Zajac to make it 1-1. Just about a minute later, Hall set up Hughes to make it 2-1 to stun the Pens and the crowd. But the Penguins knew the division was at stake and did not relent. Wood’s good night took a turn for the worse when he took a roughing minor. The Pens bombed the net and seconds before Wood could rejoin the game, Guentzel put a puck past Blackwood to make it 2-2. There would be no breakthroughs as the game went into OT. Hughes made a mistake and tripped up a Penguin. 3-on-4 in OT against Pittsburgh was a bad situation. Malkin ended the game. The 2-3 OT loss kept the Devils close in points and just ahead of the Isles. But the win all but secured the division for Pittsburgh.
There was some good news from the league prior to the team’s last two games of the season. Hall was honored yet again.
Taylor Hall was named the NHL Player of the Month of March. He put up 19 points in 16 games and put up a ‘7’ rating only once. Every other game ranged from 8 to 10. If you read all of this so far, you have seen Hall’s name a lot. He has been that important to the Devils. Oddly, the league named Marchand the Offensive Player of the Month. Whatever. There were two big games remaining.
Newark, New Jersey would see hockey later in April so the game against Buffalo was only the final regular season home game for New Jersey. It was still important as the Devils were at risk of losing home ice to either New York team. Buffalo was set at third in the Atlantic, but they did not want to limp into the postseason. Hischier was back in, Boqvist was out with Zacha and Zajac taking the two center positions in the bottom six, and Wood was rewarded for his goal with another game. The Devils came onto the ice and played like they were on fire for the first five minutes. Gusev scored 56 seconds into the game. Palmieri scored a PPG less than two minutes later. However, as with many games in this month, this early lead would not last. Hutton was too good that night to let up a third in regulation. While Blackwood was not bad, Okposo finished a power play before the halfway mark of the first period to keep Buffalo in the game. Hickey provided another PPG in the second period to make it 2-2. As much as the Devils tried, they could not beat Hutton again. Not even with a late 5-on-3 situation. The game went to overtime. The Devils did not make a big error in OT, but the shootout was needed to decide this one. The first two rounds were goalless. In the third round, Gusev went up and scored. With loads of fans hoping Buffalo would blow it, Ristolainen stepped up. Blackwood stopped him. The Devils won their final home game of the season 3-2 and stayed ahead of the New York teams for another day.
Resting players was not in Abrams’ mind. A win against the Isles would secure home ice for the first round. Losing would mean having to start on the road against either the Isles or Montreal, depending on how the Rangers did that night. The Isles had to win or hope the Rangers lose to secure at least third in the division and possibly second. This game had huge implications. Which is why the Devils fans who made the trip to Uniondale were deliriously happy after the first period. Bastian (!) scored just before the five-minute mark, Kessel scored about three minutes later, and Wood roofed a rebound from a Greene shot just before the ten-minute mark to make it 3-0. Blackwood was looking great and the team had a big lead. However, the happiness transferred to the Islander faithful as the home team clawed back into this one. Lee and Mayfield each scored a goal in quick succession to make it a 3-2 game with over 30 minutes left. The game was tight as neither team wanted to make a big mistake. Blackwood was on his game and Greiss recovered from the early flurry. At 16:40, Vatanen took a puck away from Devon Towes and cleared it behind him. While Towes recovered the puck in the neutral zone, he coughed it up to Vatanen. Vatanen charged past the defender, skated to the circle to Griess’ left, cut towards center, and saw Hischier streaking into the slot. Pass, shot, score. 4-2 New Jersey. Hischier’s 32nd goal of the season was a beauty of a one-timer and an important insurance goal. The Devils shut the Isles down for the remainder of the game to win their final game of the season. The Devils fans in Uniondale, at team-sponsored watch parties in New Jersey, and every one of them all around the world following this game erupted with cheers. The Devils were going to the playoffs - and with home ice.
The win secured second in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind Pittsburgh. Our Hated Rivals shutout Chicago 3-0 that night. This put them in a tie with the Isles in points. However, Our Hated Rivals had 42 ROW to the Isles’ 36. This means they took third place on the final day of the season. This also means the Devils will take on Our Hated Rivals in the first round.
The Devils & NHL - End of Season Stats at a Glance
The Devils finished March and April with a record of 10-4-4. While there were some bad performances against lesser teams by the end of the season, it was a very successful stretch run. The Devils were atop of the East for a day or two and in the mix for first in the Metropolitan right up until the last week of the season. They still secured home ice in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. Seriously, look at the final standings in the East:
Look at Washington. If they were in the Atlantic, they would have finished just behind Montreal for first in that division. If they were in the West, they would have had the fourth best record. Here, they finished fifth in the division. As 2020 struck, the East turned to a group of haves versus have-nots. The haves feasted on the non-playoff teams as they became entrenched below the eight place mark. They especially feasted on Columbus, Ottawa, and Detroit - who sniped last in the East with an epic 18-game long winless streak. In the West, only Los Angeles was truly terrible - worst record in the NHL - so there was much more drama for the last playoff spots. Which Edmonton took from Vancouver on the last day of the season.
Let us go back to the Devils and marvel. In real life, they were nowhere near this good. When I ran an EHM game where I did nothing, the Devils missed the playoffs. With your help and changes to the roster that we could make, the Devils put up an astounding record: 48-21-13 for 109 points and a points percentage of 66.5%. That is absolutely fantastic and well above my expectations for this game. To put it in perspective, it would have been the second most points in a season in franchise history. Only the 2000-01 team earned more points and had a better point percentage, per Hockey-Reference. This was accomplished in spite of both goalies not reaching a 90% save percentage for the season and a penalty kill that was not that successful. They accomplished this record on the strength of their superior offense. (And it says a lot about Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Colorado, and Winnipeg - the only teams in this season that finished ahead of NJ in points.)
That superior offense was led by Taylor Hall. Taylor Hall earned those two NHL Player of the Month honors with a stunning 41 points in 27 games prior to April. He rarely had a not-great game. He rarely was held off the scoresheet. As it happened, he rose past MacKinnon and finished as the only player in the NHL with other 90 points. He also took the assist leader position from Hughes with 56 assists. And the 280 shots shows you that Hall was firing away too. Of course, the Devils’ offense was more than just Hall. The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, was a rookie sensation and then some with 81 points. He’s fifth in scoring as Draisaitl had more goals. Palmieri finished tied with Ovechkin in points, which is always an achievement. He did not get to 30 goals but with 51 assists, who cares? Hischier was fantastic in the stretch run and rose up to finish 18th in scoring. Four Devils in the top 20 in league scoring. You love to see it.
Poor Sami Vatanen. Dahlin had more goals than him, so he finished the season as the runner up in scoring by defensemen. Still, 53 points is an awesome amount. So is only taking 16 PIM. His rating does not lead me to believe he is a Norris candidate but we shall see. P.K. Subban in EHM could better claim to be one of the top defenders of the league. While Vatanen received more minutes, Subban managed to put up 46 points despite only getting power play time on the second unit and primarily playing with the second line down the stretch. If he did, then he could have been first on this list. For what its worth, Butcher finished the season with 30 points despite no regular PP time. The cut off for the top 50 in scoring by defenseman was 36.
Jack Hughes outscored all of the rookies in the league by at least 26 points. He really should be the Calder Trophy winner. I will point out that his stretch run was not so impressive from a rating perspective. Plenty of ‘6’s and ‘7’s. But he continued to produce an impressive amount. Makar and his 7.78 average rating may be his biggest threat. (The rookie goalies in this season were not nearly as impressive.) I still think it should go to The Big Deal. Boqvist, Bastian, and Smith finished in the top 50 in rookie scoring, but neither had more than 20 points.
EHM rates a player’s performance in every game. Their average rating is a representation of how well they perform. Producing helps a lot but that is usually because producing points is a sign of success. In any case, Hall jumped past Ratanen last month in average ratng and he retained the top spot with an outstanding 8.37 average. This means he was the best player in the NHL. This should secure him a second Hart Trophy. Awards season is going to be fun for the Devils in this game.
Only two other Devils made it into the back half of the top 50 by rating. Palmieri and his average rating of 7.77 placed him in a tie for 34th with Dubnyk, Gaudreau, and Pietrangelo. Gusev and his average rating of 7.75 put him in a slightly larger tie for 40th with Price, Fleury, Panarin, and Rask.
Speaking of the Devils, here are their season-ending stats. First, by points:
Again, the offense was driven by Hall, Hughes, Palmieri, and Hischier with plenty of support by Vatanen and Subban. Despite his rating and demotion to the fourth line, Zajac did very well from a production standpoint with 20 goals and 47 points. Coleman’s own scoring slowed up, but he still finished with 27 goals and 43 points. Simmonds also cooled off but 18 goals and 41 points from him is nothing to be mad about given his limited ice time. Gusev and Zacha tried but they fell short of the 20 goal mark. Still, the Devils had six skaters with at least 20 goals and two - Hall and Hischier - with at least 30. It was very much a scoring by committee.
Please focus on Phil Kessel and Derek Forbort for a moment. Kessel more than proved Abrams right in that trade. At least in this season. Kessel scored ten goals and put up seven assists along with 63 shots in 21 games. Kessel was on the point on the second power play unit and he was the second line right winger, so he was not necessarily receiving the prime minutes he had in Arizona. But he was playing excellent hockey opposite Gusev’s wing and he was a big reason why the Devils finished the season so well. Forbort took Smith’s spot on the second pairing and never did anything to lose it. Despite no power play time and taking just seven shots, he put up 10 assists in 19 games and also played very well. He nearly matched Greene’s entire season and Smith’s half-season worth of production. I did not expect him to do so well; I am glad he did. The trade deadline deals have been a short-term success.
What has not been a success has been the goaltending:
Oettinger was a 90% save percentage goalie for a hot minute in March. Then he sagged back down to the 89th percentile. Blackwood did well in the last three games to at least come very close to 90%. Still, both goalies did not do well from the perspective of stopping lots of pucks. That is a concern since that is the point of the position. That said, the Devils’ offense was strong enough to overcome both goalies. And each goalie did not have a lot of bad games given that they maintained an average of at least 7 all season long. While I would want better goaltending and I’m sure you would too, it has been at least good enough for the 2019-20 Devils in this season of EHM. Perhaps replacing Schneider’s abysmal 86%-ish season from the Trial Run game made that much of a difference.
Lastly for the team, the Devils players by average rating at the end of this season:
As further evidence of how great the deadline worked out for the Devils, Kessel and Forbort were among the best Devils performers in their time in New Jersey so far. Smith has to be rotated in and out because Forbort has been too good and taking out the team captain is not something Abrams wants to do - especially before the playoffs. All the same, seven Devils average at least a 7.5 with the team this season and they almost all all play significant roles on this team. Hischier bounced back after a not-so-good February; Hughes slid down from 7.44 to 7.33. But both are still important players who really do not have bad games all that often. Even with drops in production, Coleman and Simmonds maintained their good ratings. And, as you see with Bastian, he has proven to belong despite not producing very much.
If Abrams could do it over again, he would have changed the captaincy positions around such that Zajac and Greene would not have played as much as they did. Still, the worst performing Devil by season’s end by average rating was Zajac. Getting rid of Acciari and Rooney was addition by subtraction. As many chances as McLeod received, sending him back was appropriate. It is not a positive to see Zacha and Boqvist fade down into the high 6’s, but it could be worse. The team has five regulars below a seven average rating and one of them - Boqvist - may end up being a scratch to start the playoffs.
The playoffs are now on. Who do you got?
What’s Next & Your Turn
This super-long post is near its end. Again, I thank you all, the People Who Matter, for reading and your suggestions. We accomplished the initial goal of making the postseason. We did it without save scumming or manipulating the game. We did it with offensive tactics for what was clearly set up to be an offensive team. Now let us see how far the Devils go. For that, I want your feedback on how to approach the postseason.
This is how the Devils lined up in their season-ending victory against the Isles.
Boqvist and Smith were scratches. Should the Devils stick with this or change it up? Greene and Zajac are essentially not options to remove. I would recommend against taking Wood out given how he finished the season. I would also recommend taking Forbort out at all. But if you want Smith in as a seventh defenseman or Boqvist in the lineup, then let me know who to take out and where. If you want me to make changes to special teams - Abrams, why did you put Hall on the PK? - then you can do that too.
I highly suggest giving me your thoughts quickly, though. The playoffs in EHM will be played this evening.
In the interest of time and interest, I am going to split up the playoffs throughout this week rather than writing another super-long post next week. The first round results will be posted on Tuesday night. If the Devils win that series (and I hope they do), then the second round results will be posted on Thursday night. If they go the Eastern Conference Finals, then the results will be posted on Saturday night. If they go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, then you’ll see those results next Sunday. Whatever is the last post will have final thoughts on this season. There will be one bonus post after the playoffs end and then we will begin a new EHM adventure. A big “What if?” adventure with help of a fellow writer at this site. I will not answer any guesses at this time.
So the next post will be up on Tuesday night. Please let me (and Abrams) know what you think of the team’s season, what they should do with their lines to start the playoffs, and how do you think the playoffs will go in EHM. Thank you for reading.