As New Jersey Devils fans this season, there’s quite a few things to be unhappy about. You can take your pick from a buffet of slow starts, issues with the power play, shakiness in net, and general inconsistency While I’m certain the players and organization are just as disappointed (if not more), for fans/consumers this season has been a struggle to get through when many expected the team to instead take a step forward. With only 18 games remaining, the Devils sit tied for last in points in the Metropolitan division, well outside of a playoff spot.
Now while 2021-22 has been disappointing overall, it isn’t to say it’s been all bad. Up front, Jesper Bratt has had a legitimately awesome season, although the amount the Devils may have to pay him now as a result could be a tough pill to swallow. Jack Hughes, despite the injury, has shown he can be a true 1C in the NHL. Yegor Sharangovich bounced back from a rough start to continue being a solid contributor with enough possibility to still find another gear. Nico Hischier has begun to prove his doubters wrong and could finish this season with the highest point total of his career so far. Last but not least, the Devils have gotten a solid rookie season from Dawson Mercer, at just a mere 20 years old.
On the back end, Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, Ryan Graves and Jonas Siegenthaler have all ranged from good to great. All four of those players are poised to return in their top four roles, and the team will need them to continue to perform as they have. The pipeline on the back end in Utica isn’t empty, but there’s no one ready yet to replace any of these guys (no, not even Luke Hughes) so if the Devils want to find more success next season, they’ll need these four to continue to play at a high level...oh and no freak jaw injuries please.
So not everything has gone to plan, but not everything has been a complete pile of junk either. If the team’s management has been paying attention, they should have an understanding of who is contributing, who they need to move on from, and what acquisitions they need to make to fix the gaps in this team. In case they haven’t been paying attention, however, let’s look at the biggest area they need to fix if the team is to achieve it’s potential.
For anyone who was worried about offense this season, well that concern has been at least somewhat mitigated. While there have been nights where the offense has looked bad, overall it has been pretty good, landing 15th in the league in goals for per games played. This does lead to the problem, and no it’s not the defense; it’s, as most of us have recognized, the goaltending. Now injuries and otherwise have certainly affected the players involved here, but when a team in the top half of the league in scoring gets bottom five goaltending, the overall result is not going to be a positive.
While a healthy MacKenzie Blackwood could be a solution for this team, the Devils need an insurance policy to make sure they’re not trotting out waiver fodder and a rookie who isn’t ready yet as their tandem. Whether Jonathan Bernier is good to go for next season or not, the Devils should be looking into someone who will either push Blackwood for the starter role or usurp it from him. At the very least, sign someone who won’t be in the bottom half of the league in goals saved above average.
2022-23 could be the season that everything comes together for this young Devils core, but management needs to make the right decisions this summer to get them there. Free agents and trade targets will be available to continue improving the team, and as I said one specific position needs an upgrade. Certain coaches may need to go as well if it’s for the growth of the team. The Devils young forward stars are blossoming, the defense is surprisingly solid and the team can march towards relevance as soon as next season if the visible holes are plugged.
What are your thoughts on the Devils future; do you agree things could be bright as soon as next season? Do you agree with the players that I highlighted as successes? Any disagreements or players you feel I missed? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!