2 years ago, I said this team would be ready to compete in 3-5 years. From what we've seen over the last 2 seasons, I would say "5" is the magic number. The Devils drafted Simon Nemec today, and while many of us were irate over passing on Shane Wright, it was the correct pick.
This offseason, no matter if the devils bring in a top goalie, Phillip Forsberg, or Johnny G, they are still likely missing the playoffs behind the caps, pens, rangers, or canes. If we pull up any of their rosters on hockey-reference you will see more production from nearly every position on those respective teams overall. Add to the meat grinder middle of the division, which includes an Islanders team that made the ECF back to back seasons prior to this one, a CBJ team that achieved a middling point total and has now added 4 high first rounders the last 2 seasons(including Jiricek), and a Philly team with a similar roster to their playoff team 2 years ago, with the addition of torts to shore up the defense....points will be hard to come by.
Simply put, even with an addition the above teams are currently deeper, have more experience, and will stop the devils from piling up the likely 100 points needed for the playoffs in 2022-2023.
The upside? The Devils can address each potential "problem" piece by piece in the coming years.
The "original core" Nico, Hughes, Bratt, Goalvich will all be 24-26 in 3 years, still in their prime.
The "new core " Holtz and Mercer will both turn 23 in 3 years.
Nico and Bratt broke out at age 23, Hughes broke out in his 3rd season. We can likely expect the same from Holtz.
Top Defensive Prospect L.Hughes is only 18, Cale Makar didn't start his NHL career until he was 21. Hughes will be the same age in 3 years. Ditto for Nemec.
So we essentially have 3 seasons until "the perfect storm".
In the meantime, they have KHL Rookie of the year Gritsyuk, Former "not to be traded" 2nd rounder Boqvuist who came alive at time end of last season(.5 ppg in last 20), Breakout AHL'er with a good NHL stint Fabian Zetterlund(8 points in 14g), and ppg collegian athlete, and ppg AHL'er Tyce Thompson all in their early 20's.
The "open slots" should not be used for Tomas Tatar, Adreas Johnsson, or some "win now" replacement. They should be used to find out which of these guys can hack in the NHL, because the talent is clearly there for a few of them. These gems will offer the devils cap flexibility when it matters, instead of being in a hurry.
From what i've read many posters believe the defense is a talented unit, but leaks goals due to horrid goaltending.
Some also feel that the system Lindy Ruff has imposed has lead to their high GA. Both of these can be addressed in the coming years.
We should find out which is true. Because due to a Crawford retirement and Bernier's Injury the goaltenders have all been AHL'ers, which makes it impossible to assess if the system is at fault.
goaltending is addressed with a goalie that has performed well on BOTH good and bad teams. Two FA goalies that fit the bill are Jack Campbell and Darcy Kreumper. MB29 has also apparently been injured the last 2 seasons. MB29 gets a shot at a recovery season in 2022-2023, because, IMO, the devils odds for making the playoffs are not high. Even if they did, they would not be talented enough to win a cup..yet
The Defense opens the year with
Seigs-Hamilton Graves-Serverson Bahl-Walsh
Walsh gets his shot to start the year, and if he is successful, can be used as a tradable asset for when Nemec arrives. Bahl needs a full season (perhaps two) to see where he stands. If he struggles, Ty Smith gets his last chance.
The forwards open the year with
Tatar and Johnsson sit in the press box unless one of the young guys struggle. Boqvuist and Zetterlund get full NHL seasons to assess them. Tyce Thompson steps in for injured players or struggling right wingers and is given a shot as well.
If the goaltending is improved, healthy, and the team still is hemorrhaging goals, the SYSTEM theory is now to be tested. Ruff is fired, and replaced with a new coach.
Devils go back to drafting a high round winger or bedard. Severson is re-signed, Graves is let go. Competition between Bahl, Smith, and Shak for the 3rd LD spot.
Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec make their NHL debuts. Probably struggle defensively out of the gate but improve.
Gritsyuk gets his shot if he's able to come over from russia and one of the "non-core" young guys falter.
The devils have now improved the goaltending, system, coach, Nemec and L.Hughes have NHL experience, we know what we have with Bahl, Shak, Smith. Seigs, Hamilton and Severson are seasoned vets leading the way.
We've witnessed the ceilings/prime of Nico, Bratt, Hughes, Goalvich. Mercer, and Holtz are now reaching their peak and likely to breakout as Nico, Bratt and Hughes have in 2022.
We've separated the gold from the pile of Boqvuist, Zetterlund, Thompson, Gritsyuk, and every other mid round prospect...and they should also be at their peak.
We've likely added a couple more top prospects in the 5-15 pick range for future runs OR for win now acqusitions at the trade deadline or in the offseason.
Perhaps there's a 1st round worthy goalie to draft as well in 2024-2025, our own knight/askarov.
Most importantly...there should be retirement, or a steep decline looming for the major contributors of the Caps, Pens, Bruins, Isles...and cap hell will ensue for the Rangers. The perfect storm will be there to take over.
This will be the time to strike. For all of those concerned with Campbell or Kreumper not being the long term solution, Saros is a UFA in 2024-2025 and the Preds are unlikely to keep him with Askarov on the roster.
The Devils enjoy a decade of Hughes-Nemec as the eventual top pairing. Dougie/Severson/Seigs eventually age and move down the depth chart with less minutes Andy Greene style. Fitz (yes he's still here) makes the appropriate win now moves and we enjoy a run of 7-10 years (till the core is in their early 30s) where the devils have a legitimate shot at a cup. The playoff regular devils eventually succumb to the same desperate dance of the Penguins/Caps and cling on to their aging core, but hold on to their playoff chances for a bit longer.
2035- at which point we hire back Lou at 90 years old, to go all in at all cost 1 more time, trading away future assets to make win now moves.. He hires Martin Brodeur as the coach and the devils go on to place 1st in the metro. Then like old times Lou fires Marty on the last day of the season, and coaches behind the bench himself. Unlike the 2011-2012 devils, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 islanders that came close, the devils go all the way. The Devils win it in 6 games, against the LA Kings. Pavel Zacha wins the Conn Smyth after returning to the devils as a deadline acquisition at 37 years old. Nico raises the cup once more, screaming he loves to hockey, handing the cup to Pavel who missed the previous cup run, as he celebrates with the fans at the rock that once semi-loathed him. AATJ has a meeting at the parade that takes place at the rock's parking lot and we all meet after 24 years of bickering, fighting, and eventually celebrating. The website is re-named Inlouwetrust, showing all is forgiven, and then Lou then dismantles the team for the second time, and we all leave that mess for the next generation.
Patience my friends, success is on the horizon. See you at the party!