Well, here we are. The final day of the 2021-22 NHL season for the New Jersey Devils. Truly, it has been a terrible, terrible season. In the big picture, positive developments can theoretically be extracted from this wreck, but in the end, the record (27-45-9 with one game to play) speaks for itself. The presence of encouraging individual progress from a subset of players does not change what this season was: a complete failure on the team level. We have and will continue to partition the blame for that failure. The 28th place (or possibly 29th, depending on tonight’s results) finish is another in an almost uninterrupted decade of futility for a once-model franchise.
It wasn’t that the Devils failed in their goal to make (or at least compete for) the playoffs in the East. It’s that they never really even allowed us to entertain the possibility. They hit their high-water mark on November 11th, when a pair of convincing wins over the Panthers and Islanders pushed them to a pretty decent 7-3-2 on the season. Exactly one month later, a loss to those same Islanders would drop them below [cringe] NHL .500 for the first time. They would never resurface above that telltale line between mediocre and awful. The team was effectively eliminated from realistic playoff contention somewhere in the vicinity of Hanukkah.
The Devils weren’t just losing games, either. This team got hammered on the scoreboard constantly. They gave up five or more goals on 24 (!) different occasions — nearly a third of their games! Teams hung eight goals on them not once, not twice, but three times. They’ve assembled four losing streaks of five or more games, including the one we are currently enduring to close the season. I could probably keep going with any number of depressing tidbits, but I will leave it there. You all lived it; you know what we’re dealing with here.
In terms of disappointment, the 2021-22 season may top the list of letdowns in a decade truly packed with them. Even looking at, say, the 2019-20 season, a disaster in its own right, you can see the cracks in the plan and the assortment of things the Devils were relying on to go right to make it work. Looking at the 2021-22 season, though, it’s tough to figure — even in retrospect — how things went so very wrong. Not everything went as planned for the Devils, of course, but many elements of the season went reasonably well. Multiple key players had substantial breakout seasons and the underlying numbers look half decent in a number of areas. The offense, generally speaking, was relatively dynamic rolling up a pretty decent number of big goal outputs themselves. It didn’t matter.
The Devils were a miserable outfit to follow, and that is plainly evidenced by the dreadful attendance numbers for the season. The Devils had three recorded sellouts: opening night, the game against the Bruins immediately after that aforementioned high-water mark on November 11th, and the first of the two Rangers games late in the year (that’s right, they couldn’t even sell out both Rangers dates). I don’t think I’ve ever seen the fanbase this disgruntled, and who could possibly blame it on that front. The excitement and anticipation at the start of the typical recent Devils season has now been fully eclipsed in magnitude by the longing for the disaster to just mercifully end in those same seasons. Whether you blame the Devils woes solely on a horrid situation in net and a highly inept power play or not, it didn’t make the results any more enjoyable to watch.
Well, salvation awaits on the other side of the meaningless tilt tonight against the Detroit Red Wings, my friends. We are loading this wretched season into the airlock and blasting it into space. The hope will be that 2021-22 was the last in an interminable line of disastrous seasons. Whether that ends up being the case will depend on how the Devils approach this offseason. They will have a guaranteed top-seven pick to work with at the draft, theoretically a core of young, highly talented forwards entering their primes, and hopefully an improved situation in net and new voices behind the bench to go with them.
Every year it gets a little harder to believe this nightmare stretch will ever end for the Devils, but even so, hope will spring anew as it always does. Maybe 2022-23 will be the season things fall into place, who knows. If Devils management wants attendance numbers to avoid sinking to even deeper depths than they already reside at, they should probably pull out all of the stops to make that happen (and maybe even open more than 50% of the concession locations while they are at it). All I know is that I am going to bask in the glory of it no longer being the 2021-22 season after tonight, I recommend you all do the same.