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Why Have the New Jersey Devils Struggled with Basics for Years?

The New Jersey Devils have not been good for essentially the past decade now. Year after year, basic mistakes (along with some other factors) appear to be affecting progress. We take a look today at why that could be.

NHL: Dallas Stars at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

So this might be more of an anecdotal piece rather than anything with tangible statistics to back it up, but I feel it is worth addressing nonetheless. Since the New Jersey Devils began to dip and decline after 2011-12, there was a noticeable uptick in some areas of the game that you don’t want to see said uptick in. I’m talking about giveaways, poor passing and (especially this season with repeated “too many men” calls) bad penalties. The Devils of old that played responsible hockey seemingly vanished, only to be replaced by players that were making these mistakes repeatedly.

For a few of the lean years right after 2011-12, these mistakes were easy to understand. Back then, the team was bad, as they had initially replaced the players who had been big contributors with aging veterans who were no longer able to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of the league. This resulted in bad passes being intercepted, and said giveaways ending up in the back of the net. The hope at the time was that as the Devils accrued more talent through either drafting, trading or free agency signing, that the issues would dissipate.

I don’t think there is anyone who would argue that the Devils have more talent both on the roster and in the pipeline than they did roughly seven-eight years ago. While they may not have the same level of ineptitude in terms of the three named categories, the problems still persist. Even after coaching changes and the aforementioned increase in talent, the Devils are still struggling with basics. Maybe there are some fans who disagree, however watching the games tends to show the same issues: players getting pushes off of pucks, stretch/bad passes that get picked off and sent the other way, and having one too many players on the ice no matter the situation.

So why does this keep happening? Despite all of these changes, the Devils still struggle to implement a structure that results in a positive push for the team. Is there some kind of curse on the team? I’m not willing to say there is (yet), but I think there’s some constants that could perhaps explain some of the issues that are recurring.

The first would be the defensive structure under Alain Nasreddine; now this is not one of the many articles where I’m going to straight up blame Nas. Rather, I think this could perhaps be a disconnect between the system he’d like to run and the personnel that he has available to him. This could lead to missed stretch passes, turnovers due to miscommunication, and odd-man rushes that lead to goals against.

This could be a coaching problem in general with the personnel that the Devils have employed. Even over multiple regimes, perhaps they’re just not playing into their players’ strengths. At the same time, perhaps it is the Devils players trying to do too much at once, leading to inaccuracy in passes and positioning.

The Devils have been able to practice regularly this season (as opposed to last) so that excuse is out the window. The players, coaches and everyone involved with this team maybe needs to take a closer look at what is happening during practice. Because when the team takes the ice every night, we seem to see the same issues muddling the team’s performance. Granted there’s still some moves the Devils could make to improve the team, and still some factors (goaltending) that are negatively impacting them. it doesn’t mean that the team should ignore the basics that keep going wrong on a seemingly every game basis. If the Devils want to be successful again and soon, it’s time to shore up the simpler stuff.

What are your thoughts on the Devils general struggles; have you noticed many of these same issues plaguing the team for the past decade? What do you think needs to change to be able to fix the same problems from happening over and over again? Do you think I have overblown or overexaggerated some of these issues? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!