Through the first month of the 2022-23 NHL season, the New Jersey Devils have been the most pleasant surprise in the NHL. Some would say they have been on an epic heater, winning 13 consecutive games to tie a franchise-record and jumping out to an eight-point lead in the toughest division in the NHL. The Devils have kicked ass, taken names, and left the hockey media, both traditional print-media and new-age, no choice but to talk about how fun, wonderful and great this team is playing. As someone who has followed this team through their dynasty years in the late 90s and early 00s and through a prolonged rebuild, even this is new territory for the Devils. The Devils may have been good in the past and they may have been fun, but they rarely got credit for being both.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped the critics, naysayers and the haters on the internet from nitpicking, taking digs, and finding something to criticize. This isn’t surprising. It’s 2022, and its easy to sit high up upon your pedestal and criticize someone or something rather than consider each individual move in the greater context. It’s easier to do that than give credit to those people who make the decisions that maybe they actually do know what they’re doing. It’s very easy for someone to sum up their thoughts in 280 characters or less, write their own blog post, or leave a comment somewhere to get their shots in.
Fortunately for you, The People That Matter, I have receipts. You might think that I have been too busy to pay attention but I have. I know who said what. You people can’t hide from me, and now, it’s time for me to expose you for the frauds you are.
Consider this opinion from when the Devils acquired Vitek Vanecek, for example.
“If nothing else, Tom Fitzgerald did the bare minimum of getting a capable NHL goaltender as insurance. I’d personally like to try to do a little better, but that might be a big ask given what the UFA contracts for Campbell or Kuemper will look like.....”
Fortunately for the Devils, the Oilers are paying Jack Campbell $5M annually over 5 years to be awful. Campbell has been dreadful for Edmonton, posting a .873 save percentage and losing playing time to Stuart Skinner. Kuemper signed a similar deal to what Campbell got, making $5.25M AAV over the next 5 seasons, and while he’s been better (.907 save percentage) than Campbell, its still a big dropoff from what Kuemper did last season in Colorado. It’s also not much of an improvement over what Vitek Vanecek did in the first place in Washington, which was the whole reason why Brian MacLellan jettisoned both of his netminders this past offseason.
By the way, Vanecek has posted a .916 save percentage while emerging as a fan favorite and the Devils #1 goaltender. One of the biggest arguments against the Devils in general is against their goaltending. The argument, as you’re well aware of, is that its not even average, let along good. Simply put, Vanecek has been better than average. He’s been legitimately good and a big part of the reason why the Devils are where they are in the standings. Between this and the success of the Jonas Siegenthaler trade, MacLellan might want to stop taking phone calls from Tom Fitzgerald for a while when he comes calling asking about one of his guys.
How about Miles Wood and his fit on the Devils after a lost season last year?
“Its fair to question how effective Wood can be coming off a fairly major hip injury that essentially cost him a year. He’s reliant on straight line speed, so is he now physically compromised?”
Buddy, have you watched Miles Wood this season? He looks like the player he was during the 56-game season! Not only does he still have that speed, but he’s been lighting the lamp, bringing physicality, and has been a big part of the Devils fourth line being tough to play against. Sure, he’s still prone to a boneheaded penalty every now and then, but he plays with an edge and brings an element the Devils sorely lacked last season.
Much has been made about the size of the forwards on this team, but as you should be well aware by now, its not necessarily about the size of the dog in the fight so much as its about the size of the fight in the dog. And the 2022-23 Devils have some DOGS on this roster. Don’t get me wrong. Miles Wood isn’t a small guy. But he does bring sandpaper to the lineup that last year’s team sorely missed.
Of course, there have been skeptics when its come to the two first overall picks that are at the center of this Devils rebuild in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.
“I look at a franchise where Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes play well in stretches, but haven’t quite taken that next step towards NHL stardom.”
Nico Hischier has been arguably the Devils MVP to this point of the season, with 9 goals and 13 assists in 18 games and playing brilliant two-way hockey to the point where he’s been talked up as a Selke Trophy candidate. The Selke would be nice, as he’d be the second Selke Winner in franchise history (John Madden), but I’m not so sure he shouldn’t be in the mix to be the second Hart Trophy winner in franchise history as well.
Meanwhile, Jack Hughes is pulling off the rare feat of perhaps the most underwhelming PPG plus season in NHL history. I mean that as a compliment, of course. There have been a lot of points left on the table and Hughes hasn’t quite exploded into Beast Mode yet, but he’s been productive with 21 points in 19 games and must be accounted for whenever he’s on the ice. Its the sign of a truly great player. On top of that, he’s also playing the best two-way hockey of his career. I don’t think anyone will mistake Hughes with Patrice Bergeron for being a defensive whiz, but it has been clear watching the games that he’s put the work in over the summer, bought into the system, and has improved that area of his game to become a more well-rounded player.
The Devils often go as their two star centers go, so its not an accident that the team’s rise to the top of the standings has coincided with how their two best forwards have played (with all due respect to Jesper Bratt who has also been awesome).
Of course, you can’t bring up the Devils this year without bringing up the fans first chanting “Fire Lindy” and then “Sorry Lindy”. Here’s a hodgepodge of some Lindy Ruff takes that are something else.
“We’ve seen enough of this organizational ineptitude over the last two years to know this isn’t going to magically get better. It’s time for a new voice.”
“It is never too late to admit you made a mistake. The Devils made a mistake with this hire and they have continued to double down on that mistake at every opportunity. I would implore Devils ownership to step in and correct this mistake before the Devils waste yet another campaign for no good reason. There is no reason why a team this talented should be this bad. None.”
“Lindy Ruff needs to go. Now. And since Tom Fitzgerald attached his fate to the fate of this coach, he can go too.....Enough is enough.”
Simply some of the worst takes on the internet, a platform where people make bad-faith arguments, cherry pick slivers of information to support those arguments, and then move the goalposts when they lose said debates. Do better.
Lindy has been great this year, and this is coming from a staunch critic of both the hire in the first place and the job he did through the first 2 seasons in Newark. Use whatever metric you want in regards to the advanced stats, traditional stats, eye test, or win-loss record. The Devils look great and as the head coach of the team, Ruff deserves credit. When the games are going well, he leaves well enough alone, and when they’re not going well, he seems to always have an answer with an in-game adjustment that works out, such as swapping Dawson Mercer and Fabian Zetterlund against Edmonton on Monday. He has the midas touch right now, and considering what the narrative was after starting 0-2 and the dominance of this team since, its tough to envision a scenario where he’s not in the conversation for the Jack Adams award.
Lastly, there’s this gem on the Devils in general going into the season.
“Why do I get this feeling that nothing will actually change? We have seen the Devils make drastic changes before in recent years. We have seen them make what we thought were well-thought out moves, fill holes, balance the lineup, and “win the offseason” only to have everything blow up in their face before Christmas”
It’s not unreasonable for any Devils fan to have felt this way going into the season because this is a factually correct statement. The Devils have made moves that made sense on paper, made big trades, made a free agent splash, and “won the offseason” only to not win hockey games. The difference this year is that the Devils have decided to go into “we’re not going to lose hockey games anymore” mode and do nothing but win. Personally, I’m a fan of this strategy as it rules, and I can’t endorse it enough.
Then again, that last quote sounds very familiar. I wonder what moron put their name on it.
So if you’ve read this far and are familiar with my thought process, you probably figured out the general theme of this article before I revealed myself. I was wrong on Vitek Vanecek. I missed the mark on Miles Wood. I wrote those takes on Lindy Ruff, expressed my doubt on this year’s iteration of the team, and everything else remotely negative about the Devils referenced in this article at one point or another on All About The Jersey.
Do I regret writing any of that? Not particularly. My general philosophy is that I only say (or write) what I believe to be true and I don’t just say things for the sake of having a hot take or to get a rise out of anyone. In all of these instances, I genuinely believed in what I was saying due to the facts available at the time. I don’t regret my opinions when I know what my thought process is when coming up with them. But with that said, opinions are allowed to evolve and change when presented with new information. This is something that has been lost in the gotcha, this you?, Old Takes Exposed era we live in. I’m not going to hide from my take that Lindy Ruff deserved to be fired or the general direction of the team. I said what I said and stand by it. But I can also admit when I’m wrong and take the L. It happens. And considering I’m right on roughly 98% of my takes, I guess that technically means I’ll be wrong 2% of the time.
Devils fans have been through a lot in recent years, including but not limited to, hot starts to a season that ultimately went nowhere, and its hard not to blame fans for keeping their guard up so they don’t get hurt again. As Mike pointed out a few weeks back, this is a deeply jaded fanbase. People are skeptical and rightly so. We all want to believe in this team, and this team is making us into believers, including me. This is a big step from a few weeks ago as I was debating with Triumph44 in the comments section after one of the wins that I’d rather be late to the party on this year’s team when he was insisting the party has already begun. As per usual, he was right while I appear to be wrong for approaching this as conservatively as I was.
No team wins 13 games (and counting?) in a row by accident or luck. This heater that the Devils are on has validated that this is a very good hockey team. It doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the successes of this team and celebrate smaller victories. The Devils might not have “proven anything yet” as Lindy Ruff pointed out after Monday’s game, but we can enjoy this run the team is on for what it is after years of ineptitude, rebuilding and bad hockey. Frankly, we deserve this as a fanbase. The secret is out on this Devils team. They’re good. Enjoy it and embrace while keeping your eye on the bigger prize.
The Devils will face adversity at some point. This winning streak will come to an end at some point. How the Devils respond when that time comes will tell us a lot about the makeup of this team, and we’ll all be ready with thoughts, opinions, and TAKES when that happens.
Speaking of takes, this article hasn’t included questionable, uninformed takes on this Devils team from people outside of the Devils bubble. That’s not surprising or anything particularly new since long-time Devils fans are very familiar with questionable, uninformed takes regarding this team from the 90s and 2000s. We’ve heard it all between the shots at the neutral-zone trap, attendance, and parking lot parades, so this is nothing new.
We are, however, entering a new era of skeptics and critics and pot shots in regards to the Devils. Now, its not polite to call out Keith Yandle, Mark Messier, Marc Methot, Paul Bissonnette, Adam Wylde, and others for their bad Devils takes by name, so we’re not going to do that. That’s not what we do. We’re also not going to call out the Aaron Portzline’s of the world for doubling down on tired old tropes like attendance when the Devils are curb-stomping the opposition. Again, that’s not what we do. This team is good and if they want to be late to the party, that’s on them. The Devils have built a wagon. It’s time for people to get aboard or get lost with their irrelevant critiques.
I’ll leave you with one last comment I previously made on these forums. I wrote this after their first win of the season in the comments section.
“It would be nice if they went on a run here and won 9 of 10 or whatever, getting competent goaltending, and keeping the defensive botches to a minimum.”
The Devils didn’t win 9 of 10 since then. They won 15 of 16, which is very nice. It’s not just nice that they’re winning, but it’s also nice that I managed to stumble into getting this one random comment right after being oh so wrong about this team.
You’ve heard enough from me though, so now its time to hear from you. Do you have any bad Devils-related opinions of your own you want to come clean over? Where can this team go from here? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!