Now that the 2021-22 National Hockey League regular season is thankfully over for the New Jersey Devils, it is time for players to break down their lockers, have their final exit interviews with management and staff, and have one final media availability before their offseason begins. For reasons I do not know, the Devils are having their final rounds with the media over a two day period. Today was the first. Tomorrow will be the second.
Often times, there are plenty of notable quotes and juicy tidbits of information that come out in these final media sessions of the season. Some hint at a player’s future. Some reveal an injury they were playing with. Some have statements that make some of you, the People Who Matter, give a dejected sigh about where this team could be going. While this is more of a late reaction piece to earlier news, it is worth breaking down what happened in the final media availability of the season Or the first of two for this season, rather.
By the way, super big thanks to Neal McHale, who writes about the Devils at Inside Hockey and was present to provide a lot of the player quotes to the larger social media landscape. Ditto for Mike Morreale, who works for NHL.com. The team had their own coverage, but who wants to only see or hear their take on all of this?
World Championship Invitation Status
The New Jersey Devils missed the playoffs. This means their players are available to represent their nation in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships. A number of Devils confirmed their status for the tournament, which begins on May 13 in Finland this year.
- Switzerland: Nico Hischier (source) and, if available, Jonas Siegenthaler (source)
- Slovakia: Tomas Tatar (source)
- Canada: Damon Severson (source)
Jack Hughes was invited to represent the United States, but he turned it down on the basis of wanting to be fully healthy for next season.
This is the juicy part as it gives some insight as to what the players think about the season as a whole. I will go player by player and offer some thoughts:
Damon Severson: “Next year if we’re still here talking when other teams are still playing...it will be a huge disappointment for the organization.” (source) and “The rebuild is hopefully over.” (source) Severson did state that he is interested in a contract extension.
My Take: Last part first, I can understand the desire to want to keep someone who has been a Devil since being drafted in 2012. What Tom Fitzgerald does in July is going to really tell us whether they see Severson has someone to lock down or someone to move on from. Statistically, keeping Severson makes sense. However, he’s been a cornerstone of the blueline for better or worse and still makes mindless errors even with his experience. A lot of it going to come down to how much. But that is an issue for later.
Severson will not the only player to express disappointment with how the season went. That said, Severson is very much a part of why it went that way - he did play in the games- and while I can appreciate the desire for something better, I heard the same from management after the 2021 season. I am taking that, and similar sentiments, with a grain of salt.
Jack Hughes: Word on the street was that he was a fan of Lindy Ruff. Hughes confirmed that with this quote:
Jack Hughes on Lindy Ruff: "I really like Lindy and I want him to be around next year, but we'll see what happens, but I really appreciate what Lindy has done for me the last two years."— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) May 1, 2022
And he dropped these lines too:
Hughes on the team identity: "The team right now isn't the team we're going to be successful with...we're building something right now with our pieces."— Neal (@nealmchale) May 1, 2022
My Take: The second set of quotes from Hughes may be at odd with Hughes’ appreciation of Ruff. It does matter that The Big Deal is endorsing Ruff publicly. The Devils signed him to a Big Deal back in November and everyone knows he is part of the franchise’s core for the foreseeable future. Hughes saying that he likes Ruff and wants him to return means a lot more than, say, P.K. Subban saying that. That stated, Hughes knows full well the team has not been good enough to compete. He’s calling for changes. Not as blatantly as when Taylor Hall did so after the wasted 2018-19 season. In my view, part of those changes may mean replacing the coach he likes, which has led the team to a combined 46-76-16 in his two seasons with the Devils.
It is also at odds with another member of the franchise’s core.
Nico Hischier: The Captain had a different take about the head coach.
When asked if he would like to see the coaching staff return next season, Nico Hischier said, "I'm not going to comment on that." He also said, "the coaching staff has lots of experience, they worked w/ us every day to give us that experience they have."— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) May 1, 2022
He did echo Hughes’ point about there needing to be some changes in Newark.
Nico Hischier: "There are still some pieces we need to get."— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) May 1, 2022
My Take: It is not good when the team’s captain - a person that Ruff presumably had some say in the process of naming to that role - cannot even give a polite message of bland support. No comment basically means “I have nothing good to say,” in this context. And this is not just some guy on the team. This is another big money player signed to a big contract and plays a significant role on the team in addition to wearing the ‘C.’ If it was not for Hughes endorsing him, I would take this alone to think that Ruff’s and his staff’s days are numbered. It may still be. I cannot imagine Hischier is the only one who could feel this way on the team too.
That both Hischier and Hughes are calling for more to be added to the team is A) sensible given how the team performed and B) a big message to Fitzgerald to do more. We know Fitzgerald can be active in the offseason. But the two budding talents the team should be building around are not being quiet about it.
Dougie Hamilton: Speaking of New Jersey Devils players with big contracts, Hamilton got to speak today as well. First, the broken jaw was a more significant injury than initially realized.
Dougie: "I put a plan together to fix everything and some stuff that was bothering me. I'll be ready next season for sure."— Neal (@nealmchale) May 1, 2022
Says his jaw is still "not normal" and he's not sure when it will be normal. Said there's some nerve issues and numbness in lips and mouth
And that was not the only injury that the defenseman was managing. Per Sam Kasan, who works for the team:
Hamilton told @MattLoug and I that the game before he broke his jaw, he suffered a broken toe. And that the toe was a nagging injury he dealt with and fought through for the rest of the season, in addition to dealing with the jaw issue.— Sam Kasan (@samikasan) May 1, 2022
My Take: Both statements would explain why Hamilton was slower, less reactive, and just not as good as he was before the broken jaw. Surely, the toe will be fine in time. The bigger hope has to be that at least his jaw will be fully recovered by 2022-23. Then he can feel more normal and play more like he did before the incident. This begs a different question: Why didn’t the Devils shut down Dougie Hamilton? It was not like the injuries were exaggerated. It was not like the Devils needed Hamilton to go out there and play since the Devils had nothing to play for when he did return. Given that Hamilton was less than effective because he was not 100%, then I do not see why they could not have given him some games, see that he was not performing well, and put him on the bench? This is similar to what the staff did with Mackenzie Blackwood. It makes no sense to me. I get that players want to play and medical staff may have given the OK. But anyone with eyes would have seen Hamilton play a lot worse and knowing he was not 100% played a role with that - so why play him at all? That all stated, I am more confident that we will see Hamilton’s best form return next season. Which is good because that contract he signed was large and he needs to provide value on it.
Jonathan Bernier: You remember Bernier, right? Veteran goaltender signed by Fitzgerald to be the ‘1B’ to Blackwood’s ‘1A?’ Played pretty well until that horrid night in Winnipeg and his subsequent hip injury? Held out for the season due to his hip surgery? About that:
Bernier says the hip injury happened a bit over time but it really started in preseason and the pain wasn't sustainable to play.— Neal (@nealmchale) May 1, 2022
Says he's still working to get healthy. "It's slow but I'm making progress."
My Take: This is definitely bad news. It was an issue before the season began, playing in 10 games plus practices made it worse, and now it is questionable if Bernier can return. Bernier did state he is aiming to be back for training camp. There is a lot of time between now and then. But between his age (will be 34 in August) and the type of injury (hip issues sunk Cory Schneider), I am not very confident that Bernier will be able to do it. I want him to just because he is a player and he is making the effort. The Devils need to be more objective and rely more than hope for a Bernier return with respect to the goaltending situation. If they do not think he can make a recovery and be competent upon returning, then they may need to move on somehow.
Ty Smith: Ty Smith felt he was getting some of his game back in the second half of this season per McHale. The statement after is more interesting:
Ty Smith said he was thankful working with Nasreddine over the last two years. Says he's worked with him on his defending and used video with that, too— Neal (@nealmchale) May 1, 2022
My Take: Maybe this was McHale, but this reads to me like this could be a goodbye of sorts for Alain Nasreddine. This may be a clue as to some changes with the coaching staff. I would not mind that to be the case. Given how far off Smith was in his second season compared with his first, I really do think he needs a different voice to help him out. I also respectfully disagree about Smith getting some of his game back in 2021-22 given how the past few weeks alone have featured Smith being toyed with by opponents for goals against.
Miles Wood: Miles Wood confirmed that his own hip injury caused him to be shut down after a few games this season. He would also like to stay with the team. Wood also gave one of the silliest quotes of the whole day:
Wood says he thinks the Devils are "super close" and wants to be part of it— Neal (@nealmchale) May 1, 2022
My Take: Miles, the Devils finished 37 points behind Washington for the final playoff spot. Even with league average goaltending, they would have finished well above 10 points behind. You are supremely more confident than I am if you think the team is “super close.” Or we have different definitions of what that means. Anyway, Wood claims he will be the Wood of old (I do not think this is a totally good thing) and wants some more veterans to a team that was young in 2021 and got a year older but remains young.
P.K. Subban: P.K. Subban may not be the celebrity he was when he joined the team, but he commands attention all the same. While he had the discussion with Fitzgerald before the trade deadline that he may not return, Subban indicated something else:
Subban says there is interest to stay in NJ. "My teammates haven't been shy about telling me they want me here."— Neal (@nealmchale) May 1, 2022
Says he wants to be part of a competitive culture and thinks NJ can be one of them
My Take: I can understand that the Devils players would like Subban back. It seems that they get along well, and that does mean a little something in any business. It does not mean whether Fitzgerald or anyone else in management agrees, but it is something. I do have to question how much fun Subban was having amid all of the losing, but perhaps that has to do with what happened off-ice. Which, again, is not a bad thing in a business. Camaraderie is a plus. I do not think it is enough of one to keep someone on a team. Interestingly, Subban thinks the Devils could be competitive - which means he knows full well they are not. Which was true because they were not in 2021-22 (and in 2019-20 and 2021).
Tomas Tatar: Tatar said he was “disappointed” and confirmed his WC appearance.
Ryan Graves: Not much of note from Graves but he did note he played in a bigger role than he ever did before. That may explain his performances becoming all over the place as the season went on.
Lastly: As per Kristy Flannery of The Hockey Writers, who also attended the breakdown day, information for Monday’s breakdown / media sessions:
That's a wrap on the first day of exit interviews for the #NJDevils. Tomorrow we will conclude with the rest of the players and HC Lindy Ruff.— Kristy (@InStilettos_NHL) May 1, 2022
That Lindy Ruff is having a media availability session tomorrow implies he may be staying. Either that or Fitzgerald is going to do any staff evaluation after tomorrow. Do I like this news? Not really. Should Ruff be confirmed to return as head coach for 2022-23, then Fitzgerald has essentially tied his own fate to Ruff’s, which will be tied to how much better the Devils can be quickly next season. Is it possible that Ruff announces he’s done? Sure, but why have a media session when that can be announced separately and without a live microphone to tell anyone who will listen how he really feels about it? In short: sigh.
As for the other players, I would be very interested in what Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Andres Johnsson, and Yegor Sharangovich have to say. Of course, what Ruff says is also of key interest. I would not expect anything from Alexander Holtz, Nolan Foote, Fabian Zetterlund, Nikita Okhotiuk, and Kevin Bahl. They have been already sent back to Utica ahead of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Thanks to McHale, Morreale, Flannery, and Kasan for having quotes to reference from today’s breakdown. What did you think of what was said? Does any of this change your opinion of how they played? Or what the Devils should do in this offseason? Will Ruff be retained? We will find out more tomorrow. Please leave your answers and other reactions in the comments. Thank you for reading.