We are now under a week away for New Jersey Devils rookies reporting for training camp and under two weeks away from veteran players joining team. While a number of questions surrounding the team were answered during the summer, there are still some questions/narratives that continue to be brought up. Today, we take a look at three issues for the 2022-23 Devils team as well as some hypothetical answers when possible.
Can the Devils (and Jack Hughes in Particular) Stay Healthy This Season?
The Devils weren’t the most injured team in the NHL last season, but they did see stretches of the season where they were missing key members of the team. While some players only missed a few games, such as Jesper Bratt, there were some that missed hefty chunks of the season. Nico Hischier’s 12 games out of the lineup might not seem like much, but considering the minutes and matchups he plays, that’s a huge hole. Dougie Hamilton missing 20 games was another big blow, and while Damon Severson filled in admirably as the #1 RD, it weakened the team’s depth to be missing a player of Hamilton’s quality.
No quality player was missed more however than Jack Hughes. While he missed a team high 33 games, Hughes still managed to finish third on the team in points and tied for the lead in goal scoring. A player of his skill level who contributes at the pace he does can’t be replaced; if the Devils hope to turn things around starting this season, they will need Hughes to miss few to no games. He may be the most irreplaceable player on the team this year, and if he struggles to stay healthy (or multiple key players go down for long periods of time) then 2022-23 might wind up being a repeat of 2021-22.
Will the Personnel Changes Made This Summer Pay Off?
The Devils did more to re-shape their team via trade this summer than they did any other way. While some may argue the Ondrej Palat signing was the biggest personnel change of the summer, I think exchanging Pavel Zacha and Ty Zmith for Erik Haula and John Marino is the bigger overhaul. Zacha was a player that fans and pundits were frustrated by due to his inconsistency; just when it seemed like he was putting everything together, he would disappear on the ice. He would then surge again, only to repeat the cycle by disappearing when it again seemed he had rounded the corner. Haula comes in to seemingly play in a Bottom Six center role, and while Zacha’s inconsistency was upsetting, it remains to be seen if Haula can replace even Zacha’s sporadic totals.
Marino meanwhile appears to be a clear upgrade over Smith at a higher price tag. While Ty had a reputation as a more offensive-minded player, Marino’s game is more defense oriented. Smithy had an incredibly difficult 2021-22 season, but could still have the potential to reach another level due to his young age and lack of NHL experience. While he may blossom in Pittsburgh, the Devils could use the defensive skills brought by Marino. Even if Smith does rediscover his game, the Devils filled a need and as long as Marino helps to solidify the defense, I don’t think there will be many (if any) Devils fans disappointed by this move.
What Happens if the Team Fails to Meet Expectations Again?
While the chatter surrounding the team this offseason has been mostly optimistic, the question of “but what if everything goes wrong again” echoes in the minds of many Devils fans. There’s been some theories surrounding this question, including a coaching change (made easier by the hiring of former Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette as an assistant coach) and possibly even a general manager change. On the player end, we could see anyone not considered a member of the team’s core shipped out in an attempt to open cap and improve the roster. Hopefully the team plays well and stays in the hunt all season so that we don’t have to come back to this question. If things don’t go as panned however, I feel the coaching change might be tried (perhaps even in the middle of the season) to see if the ship can be righted. If that doesn’t work, we might see one or both of the latter two options next summer.
What are your thoughts on these issues surrounding the New Jersey Devils as we draw closer to players reporting; are you concerned about games lost to injury? Do you think it’s important for Jack Hughes to be durable this season? Do you believe the roster adjustments made via trade will improve the Devils? If everything does go south, would you be in favor or replacing someone (coach, GM, and/or player) during the season, or would you wait until next offseason? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!