The stated goal for the Devils around the organization heading into this season was to play meaningful hockey in the spring. Unfortunately, that particular ship sailed sometime in mid-December for this team, leaving us with another season mucking around in the league's basement.
That state of affairs has been dissected repeatedly this month by myself and many other writers on this blog. The Devils are disappointing in myriad ways but the thing that really stings is that they couldn't even sniff the almost embarrassingly modest goal they set out for themselves at the beginning of the 2021-22 campaign. That they couldn't make the playoffs isn't necessarily surprising for a team of their makeup, but the inability to allow us to all pretend it was a possibility beyond the month of November is most galling.
So, today, I am going to make an even more modest (or pitiable, depending on your mood) goal for this team the rest of the way: Do not finish last in the Metropolitan Division.
It's simple, achievable, and would count as a theoretical step in the correct direction. The Devils have finished last in their division in two of the past three seasons. In the only non-last-place finish, they only did so because Buffalo happened to stumble into the division because of the pandemic. If you account for just the eight teams who belong to the Metropolitan Division, the Devils have now finished eighth of eight in three consecutive seasons.
For a team that in the (now increasingly distant) past made the playoffs essentially every season and was a good bet to win the division a lot of the time, it has been quite a fall from grace. Being the perennial doormat of the division does not feel good and three years on the very bottom would be unthinkable not too long ago. Aiming for "not last" may seem like an absurd goal to set but it is real estate, at least relative to their typical Metro peers, that the Devils have not occupied since the Taylor Hall MVP season in 2017-18. Given that state of affairs, clearly it's not quite as silly as it appears on its face.
So, as of today, the Devils actually do not occupy the 8th place position in the Metropolitan. They jumped over the Flyers last night with their win over St Louis. If the Devils can manage to get to the end of the season in 7th or better, I will sadly accept that as the faintest morsel of progress. Nevermind that the Flyers are an equally pathetic outfit with a fanbase nearly just as disillusioned right now, I would be happy to see the Devils finish in front of them (or anyone at all) for once.
Can the Devils reach the impossible dream of not last? Only time will tell. But when you're down as bad as New Jersey's hockey team is, any faint sliver of hope or progress must be clung to as hard as possible. So here we go, Devils, let's make the lofty goal of 7th in the Metropolitan a reality.