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AAtJ Devils Mailbag: Corey Crawford Bails, Ty Smith Arrives, and Corner-Turning Abounds

Welcome to a season-opening edition of the AAtJ Mailbag. Today we are trying to figure out how mad we should be at Corey Crawford, who is turning the corner now, and whether Ty Smith will become familiar with the Adam Larsson suite in the press box this season.

Corey Crawford
Happy trails to Devils Legend Corey Crawford.
Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome to the All About the Jersey Mailbag, where we periodically ask you about what Devils players/coaches/management types are making you mad on a particular day. Today is a season opening edition of the ‘bag, where we are all still filled with feelings that are vaguely tangential to hope. Off we go!

@Jacques_Jams: If Kovalchuk was a 10 and Parise was an 8. What score does Crawford get for screwing the Devils?

Well, barring any further news on a personal family issue or something coming out, I think we can make a ruling on this one. Crawford is obviously well within his rights to determine that he has nothing left in the tank and hang up his skates, which seems to be what happened here. That doesn’t mean we can’t be annoyed at the timing and acknowledge that he did kind of leave the team in the lurch. This is obviously nothing near the scale of the Parise and Kovalchuk departures, given that Crawford never even played a game for the Devils, but it does leave the team scrambling with limited options to adequately replace what they thought they were getting from Crow.

Instead of a proven, veteran, Cup-winning goalie with a great track record to split time and act as a mentor for Mackenzie Blackwood, the Devils instead have what amounts to a stable of AHL goaltenders behind MB29. It’s a big blow the Devils’ hopes of maybe being competitive this season, and the timing coming after training camp opened made it nearly impossible to properly rectify. Again, if the player decides he’s done, it is what it is to an extent, and there’s pretty clearly no bad faith at work here. As a Devils fan, though, it still sucks because it badly hobbled this team basically a week from opening night, and with due respect to Eric Comrie and Scott Wedgewood, it’s going to lead to a worse product on the ice. So I’m going to rate this a 4.5 on the “Did the Devils get screwed?” scale. Mainly, you wish he had arrived at this decision before day two of training camp. Or better yet, maybe before he signed the contract in the first place. The Devils probably weren’t going much of anywhere anyway, though, so it also garners a little bit of a shrug in the grand scheme of things.

@SeanK117: Will Hughes score above or below 0.5 points per game? Will Nico score above or below 0.75 points per game?

This question obviously cuts to the heart of what is likely the most important thing to watch this season: will the Devils’ top two centers take a step toward being the formidable one-two punch their draft position portends? If the Devils are hoping that some version of the team they are building can contend for a title in the future, it pretty much needs to happen. Will it? That is tough to determine at this point.

As far as the specific questions, we’ll start first with Hughes. If we go back to last season, Hughes put up 21 points in 61 games, obviously well short of 0.5 pts/game (0.34). Hughes had a mind-bendingly low shooting percentage last season for the amount of shots he took easily worst among regular Devils’ forwards at 5.7%. Even elevating that to a still-pretty-meager-for-a-forward 9% gives him another four goals and puts him up to .41 pts/game. The overall on-ice shooting percentage with Hughes out there was similarly in the gutter, particularly at 5v5. A rebound in that puck luck probably nets him a few more points as well. So even without any improvement from the way he played last year, he could hit 0.5 points per game. I think we’re all pretty much banking on at least a modest jump in his overall ability with some muscle and maturity added to his game. He feels like a solid bet to clear the bar you’ve set.

As for Hischier, I think that’s a tougher one to answer. So far in his career, Nico has hovered around 0.65 points per game in all three of his seasons, so he’ll have to buck that trend and take a step forward to make 0.75. Nico has always been pretty strong at 5v5 since arriving in the league, it’s really his lack of power play production that has held him back in overall scoring. Nobody is expecting him to produce like 2017-18 Taylor Hall on the power play but he’s going to have to outpace Travis Zajac’s PP scoring clip to improve his overall perception as a scorer. We talk a lot on this blog about how 5v5 is the most important game state to be good at, something that is very much the case for Hischier, but that doesn’t mean that the power play isn’t important to be effective at as well, and it continues to be something Nico needs to work on. If I’m placing a bet, I think he’ll scrape just by the overall 0.75 points/game mark this season with an uptick in PP points, assuming this leg injury doesn’t linger.

@PADevil4: Ty Smith, the next Nick Lidstrom or Peter Harrold?

I hate to set myself up for criticism like this, but I’m going to go far out on a limb and say that Ty Smith will be worse than Nick Lidstrom but better than Peter Harrold.

@gee_hoag: Give the nature of the impending season (anarchy), should the Devils do everything to win as many games as possible or should they just be focusing on the future aka tanking?

We’ve been having this debate for what feels like an eternity in this fanbase and if you’re like me, you’re pretty sick of it at this point. Generally speaking, I think the Devils approach this season like any other, the players and staff should (and will) be trying to win games to the extent possible, and the season will play out however it does over the first few months based on that model. If they are clearly out of the playoff picture when the deadline rolls around then, as ever, Tom Fitzgerald should probably be trying to move rentals to pick up some extra picks or prospects to bolster the team moving forward, which will have the second-order effect of likely pushing the team down the standings further.

Honestly, though if this team still sucks bad enough to compete for last in the league, I’m skeptical that one draft is going to fix what ails them, particularly with the 2021 draft seeming to lack anything that looks like a “generational” talent right now. People should be rooting for this team to at least look competitive most nights. There are a lot pieces of a theoretical “core” here already and if they can’t at least put the team on the cusp of respectability (particularly when the current absentees return), we are probably in for more years of pain, regardless of draft position.

@snwbdgislife: Is the only reason that a 36 y/o Cup winning goalie with great analytics signed with NJ that the rest of the NHL was scared off because they knew he was considering retirement?

I’m skeptical that anyone really saw this coming, as I didn’t see it reported as something that was being mulled by Crawford before he signed. As fans, we’re always operating with incomplete information, but if teams were aware, it seems like word would get around to the Devils at some point. And even if it was a consideration before he signed, once you have the guy inked to a (fairly lucrative) two-year deal, I don’t think you’re really expecting him to walk into camp and go “Nah, nevermind,” and leave forever. Honestly, I suspect he signed in New Jersey because his workload would be managed but he wouldn’t really be relegated to backup status. It was a situation that made some sense on its face, I just think that, for whatever reason, he had a change of heart. Hopefully it wasn’t something like he took a look at one practice of the defensive group slated to be in front of him and went “NOOOOPE,” and ran for the hills.

@MrJaredMoore: Where is the nearest Arby’s for me to drown my sorrow?

According to Arby’s official restaurant locator, there are 16 locations in New Jersey, though if you are a North Jersey native like myself, you will find that only two of those 16 are north of the Raritan River/Driscoll bridge, in Watchung and Rockaway. If you live in North Jersey and need to ponder the vast, empty meaninglessness of the universe over a Big Beef ‘n’ Cheddar after the Devils blow a 3-0 lead in a loss to the Buffalo Sabres at some point, those are your best bets.

@mrmxyplidzik1: re: kulikov/tennyson/carrick/vatenen: can ty smith fill the adam larsson sized hole in the pressbox couch or will he need to sit in kevin bahl’s lap

Well, I’m cheating a bit because I’ve already seen the opening game at time of this writing, and Smith looked pretty good in it, but I’m hopeful that we will not see benchings reminiscent of the PDB/Larsson years where the Devils are running out a Carrick-Tennyson or Kulikov-Carrick third pairing with Ty Smith eating chicken fingers in the press box 25 times this year. I don’t know Lindy Ruff’s tendencies well enough at this point to feel comfortable in that assessment, but early indications seem to be that he will provide opportunities for the young players on the roster to make an impact. The late Vatanen acquisition makes things crowded enough that I’m at least nervous about the Ghosts of Press Box Past, though. At least Ty can work on his magic tricks if it does go that direction (or based on the below video, maybe his stage presence).

@HellblazerVice: Will Mike McLeod turn a corner and score a goal

@jkrdevil: Is Mike McLeod turning the corner?

This is mainly people being wise-asses and asking the same question that has been asked 1000 times (and continues to be asked) about Pavel Zacha, but for his disappointing first-round pick successor, McLeod. I’m going to answer it anyway, though. I’ll keep it brief and say I don’t see a ton of corner-turning in McLeod’s future, personally. I do think he might get a goal by mere happenstance at some point, though. Like maybe one will bounce in off his ass or shin pad or something. Though the Devils were held without a shot on goal with him on the ice last night, so maybe not.

Alright let’s end this mailbag on a high note.

CJ: I don’t actually have a question, I just want to see like 5 gifs of miscellaneous Gusev facial expressions. Gets me pumped.

Alright let’s see what we can do about that. You ready, Nikita?

Too bad. I’m going to expand it slightly beyond facial expressions, if you don’t mind.

Alright, we’re all on the same page now. Here’s a fun one:

He he is looking perplexed.

And of course, my all time favorite.

Thanks for reading.