It's no secret that the Devils have had a rough go of it over much of the past decade. What little success there has been has been isolated and any stretches of good hockey have only come in fits and starts. It's been a tough era to be a Devils fan and not only because of the constant lack of success. It's been perhaps even worse because many of the past nine seasons have had some hope for success, only for the team to fall flat on its face, either straight out of the gate or shortly after.
The most prominent example of this disappointment probably came in 2019-20, when after an active summer that saw the arrival of Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, and PK Subban, joining a roster with names like Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier, the Devils looked poised to make noise in the division. As we know, they... did not. At least not any of the type of noise Devils fans were hoping for. This letdown, within the context of a generally disappointing nine years of Devils hockey, has left the fanbase somewhat jaded on the results of the team.
In the summer of 2021, though, the Devils made some major moves to revive some of the hopes of their fanbase. Getting the summers biggest free agent in Dougie Hamilton, along with a number of other significant acquisitions and a group of young players theoretically all on the rise, put the team back on people’s radars around the league as a potentially competitive club. Within the fanbase, people remain a little bit guarded but optimism is definitely present once again in New Jersey.
As the prospect challenge gets underway and training camp begins, excitement will build towards this season. Fans by nature are always hoping that the next season will be different but there is a difference between just hoping things will be different and actually believing things will be different. With the work that the Devils have done this offseason and the development arcs of many of their players, people are actually starting to believe they can potentially make a jump in the right direction. Can the Devils actually deliver this time, though?
Obviously, that is a question that can only be answered by the results on the ice, but this really does seem like a team that is built to be actually competitive this season. They have a legitimate #1 defender. They have a relatively decent defensive corps behind that top guy. They have two young and highly talented centers to drive their top six and suddenly a bunch of wingers who can potentially put the puck in the net. They even have a much-improved goaltending situation (barring any more surprise retirements) after bringing in a solid tandem-mate for their young starter. If you look at it all on paper, this is a team that should at least in shouting distance of the playoff bubble.
Of course, I have been convinced before that this Devils team was ready to turn the corner only to be slapped in the face by a much harsher reality. If the Devils crash and burn again this season, it’s going to be a tough pill to swallow. I’m already pretty cautious about opening myself to believing in this team, if we get an October 2019 redux out of the gate, it’s going to be pretty hard to talk myself back into any chance of success for the foreseeable future. So my advice to this team is pretty simple. You actually have a beaten down fanbase starting to believe in you again. Try not to blow it this time.